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Book Review: Cattaneo, ed., Married Priests? (Ignatius, 2012)

March 4, 2013

I had been just about ready to comment on Married Priests? (Ignatius, 2012) when Benedict XVI announced his resignation and other matters came crowding in. Taking advantage of a respite now, let me return to this fine text.

It’s rare for a good book on a controverted topic to lend itself to a pick-up-and-put-down reading style, but Cattaneo and his essayists make possible exactly this approach to the question of married priests. These essays are short (many are under five pages), clear, practical, and faithful to the gift that celibacy in holy Order truly is.

As many following this topic know, I and others have been working for a resolution to the disconnect that currently exists between canon law and ancient tradition on one hand, and the assumptions of virtually all married clerics on the other, in regard to the obligation of continence as set out in Canon 277. Although Cattaneo’s text focuses on celibacy, his first several essayists lend, I suggest, still more weight to the argument that continence is the primary value at risk and that widespread inadvertence to continence makes it harder to appreciate celibacy in its own right.

Again, as I have argued elsewhere, celibacy, too, is in crisis today, from without the Church by those who blame it for—of all things—the sexual abuse of males by certain clerics, and from within the Church by the startling growth of a married diaconate (many American arch/dioceses now have more married clerics than celibate ones) and the sudden influx of thousands of married ministers as Catholic priests. Many Catholic men are wondering, Roman reiterations of the value of celibacy notwithstanding, whether actions speak louder than words and, if so, how it is they are asked to choose between Order and Matrimony (*) while so many others are not. Cattaneo’s writers help such young men think through these concerns with the mind of the Church.

I recommend this work warmly. + + +

(*) By the way, Cattaneo repeats a very common mistranslation of Presbyterorum ordinis 16 when he quotes it as saying that Vatican II “permanently [sic: lovingly (peramanter)] exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage [sic: the priesthood in marriage (in matrimonio presbyteratum)] to persevere in their holy vocation …”. For more on this translation problem, see my article in Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (Summer 2011).

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