A Proposal Of Marriage Could Be Salvation For The Church
By Greg O'BrienCodfish PressWhen in Rome do as the Romans do. In rejecting again the precept of married priests last week, the first Synod of Bishops under the tenure of Pope Benedict XVI held fast to a time-honored tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Or did it?Rocked by a sex abuse scandal that has occupied rectories around the world and faced with a dearth of priests that in some countries translates into one priest for every 15,000 practicing Catholics, the synod of more than 250 bishops from around the world discarded further discussion of the church?s celibacy rule. ?There has been a massive restatement of the importance of the tradition in the Latin church of mandatory celibacy,? Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sidney, Australia said at a news conference.Responding to the voice of the synod, Sister Christine Shenk, representing two American Catholic reform groups, wryly observed in the New York Times that the church has determined it is ?going to keep on doing what we?ve always been doing.?Yikes! It?s a sobering thought for an institution screaming out for change.A quick peruse of history shows that Catholic Church celibacy, dating back to the 1100s as an edit, had more to do with church finances than with purification, although there were many priests and prelates before the middle ages who had been self-possessed in sexual indulgence with multiple wives and mistresses. In medieval times, kings and princes donated valuable property to clerics in return for faithful service. ?A controversy arose when married priests left this property to heirs?celibacy soon followed as a requirement for ordination, so as to prevent such transactions,? writes theologian Raymond Grosswirth in a commentary on the subject. Precedence for marriage within the priesthood dates all the way back to Peter, the first pope, and to the 12 Christ-appointed apostles, most of whom were married. In fact, seven popes?from Peter to Felix V in 1439?were married, and collectively they fathered seven children, according to various church documents and histories. Eleven popes were the sons of other popes, and six popes reportedly had children outside of marriage.Enough was enough. The church was losing its worldly kingdom, as valuable property slipped into private hands. And so in 1074 Pope Gregory VII declared that anyone to be ordained a priest must first pledge celibacy. ?Priests (must) first escape the clutches of their wives,? he is quoted as saying. By the 1500s, half the priests were still married, prompting the Council of Trent in 1545 to state that celibacy was a higher calling than marriage.The rules of engagement, so to speak, were bowed in 1966 when Pope Paul VI allowed celibacy dispensations for married men who were converts from Protestant churches. Celibacy was no longer an absolute. Many Catholics today would agree that the church ought not change its unbending stand on key moral issues, but believe the subject of marriage within the priesthood is a healthy discussion?one that in time could lead to a much-needed rebirth in the church and priests, in many cases, with higher moral standards.