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Kicking the can down the road

November 18, 2014

No one within the pale of common-sense Catholicism thinks that the 120 year prohibition on (married) Eastern rite priests ministering to Eastern faithful in ‘Roman regions’ made sense. I never heard the ban against the ministerial migration of married Eastern priests defended. Not once. And now it is essentially lifted. Fine by me.

At the same time, though, no one within the pale of common-sense Catholicism thinks that lifting the ban on married Eastern rite priests ministering in predominantly Roman areas is a gesture of support for Western clerical celibacy. As is so often the case, whenever Roman rhetoric is raised in defense of celibacy (rhetoric I support), it’s usually on the heels of yet another Roman policy decision militating against celibacy.

Whether it be the ordination of tens of thousands of married men to the diaconate or of thousands of married men to Roman priesthood, or now the authorization of married Eastern clergy for ministry in historically Roman regions, the disconnect between pro-celibacy messaging in the Church and anti-celibacy modeling is growing steadily. If that disconnect is having an impact on single men considering holy orders, and I rather think it is, it should be considered and addressed forthrightly.

But, as I and some others have been arguing for years, the real question here is not so much married clergy (for celibacy, strictly speaking, is surely a disciplinary matter) but rather non-continent married clergy in ministry. Historical and canonical evidence that the Church accepted married men into her clerical ranks is widespread; historical and canonical evidence that the Church approved their continued living as married men is rare to the point of vanishing.

Now, so far, the approach to this deeper issue has been to (a) ignore the question, (b) deny the question is real, (c) purport to have answered the question, and (d) claim the question has been answered, so it can be ignored again.

But the question of married clergy continuing to live as married men is real and it has not been answered. The question can either be addressed competently and settled authoritatively, or, it can be kicked down the road to another generation.

Update, see also my “Five points regarding a married Roman priesthood” (14 may 2014).

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