On July 15, Father Peter Daly, a retired pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, penned an article for the National Catholic Reporter (sic) with the astonishing headline, “The priesthood is being crucified on the cross of celibacy.” Well, that sounds just terrible, doesn't it? The priesthood being associated with the Cross! Wherever might the Church have gotten such an idea? Father Daly can't figure it out.
Upon reflection, I'm not surprised that Father Daly and his beloved N"C"R can't fathom a priesthood associated with the Cross; they find it scandalous for the life of any Christian to be cruciform, at least as pertains to sex and desire. Chastity? No contraception? Sex only in marriage -- once -- between a man and a woman? Horrors!
Father followed up his first effort with another column a week later, but it is more of the same fallacies, non-sequiturs and evidence-free assertions. What a mess! Let’s take a look at the first article.
We cannot bring about real reform of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless we do away with mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests in the Latin rite.
Why not? The Latin Rite has maintained the rule of celibacy for nigh on to 2,000 years. Does Father Daly believe the priesthood has been wanting all those centuries? That’s quite an assertion for him to make. Evidence?
Why would that improve the priesthood? It would make priests more honest about ourselves and sexuality.
What evidence does Father Daly have that married men are more “honest” than unmarried men?
With real parents in the priesthood, it would make us more aware of the vulnerability of children and more outraged at their abuse. (Does anybody really think that if bishops were also real fathers that they would have covered up so much child abuse?)
Father Daly has the nub of a point here: it is true that bishops failed to be true fathers. But then, so did the fathers who molested. But then, fathers who are married also molest. Is Daly subscribing to the argument that unless you have a personal experience with a problem, you can’t effectively oppose that problem? So the only cancer doctors worth seeing are those who have cancer? Apparently Father Daly believes empathy is too much to expect.
With husbands in the priesthood, it would make us more respectful of women and their opinions. Married priests would also break up the "old boys" clique that surrounds clerical culture in seminaries and chancery offices.
Optional celibacy would also substantially expand the pool of potential candidates for the priesthood. It would not only increase our numbers but improve our quality.
Evidence? Evidence? Oh, there I go again!
Let’s deal with the “substantially” expanded pool of potential candidates.
First, here’s something Father Daly knows, but doesn’t bother spelling out: in all the history of the Church, east and west, where priests were married, they were married prior to ordination. Could that change? Let’s just say it’s highly dubious and contentious. Meanwhile, there is the ecumenical problem. In recent decades, the Roman Church has gone to great lengths to tell our Eastern brethren that we’re mighty sorry for not consulting them in the past before making major changes. Father Daly is scrapping ecumenism now?
But let’s imagine Rome announces this new policy: you can be married and ordained, but you must marry first. Immediately, every youngish man giving the priesthood a look will be immediately relieved: no need to enter the seminary now; in fact, if I’m ever going to be a priest, my first job is to get married!
Goodbye, young seminarians! We’ll see you in 30 years!
Yes, 30 years! Imagine a fellow named “Peter.” He feels called to the priesthood, but he listens to the pope and gets cracking on marriage first, tying the knot at 24. He and his wife start having children two years later. Say they have four kids, about two years apart. When his youngest arrives, he’s 34; when that child graduates college, Peter is 56; now he enters seminary. (Based on what candidates for the permanent diaconate actually do, now, this is realistic.)
Seminary training now involves at least two years of “pre-theology,” involving lots of philosophy and some spirituality and Biblical languages, followed by four years heavy with theology, Scripture, canon law, pastoral training, preaching, and other things. Many dioceses and orders require an additional year of internship, as well as summers in various ministry activities.
If we pinch and tuck, maybe that seven years of full time preparation can be squeezed into ten years of part-time work by Peter: with no hiccups, he’ll be ready for priestly duty at 66 years of age. Psst: some priests have already retired by then, and most are preparing to retire at 70. Regardless of good intentions, actuarial tables don’t lie. Just how many years will Father Peter give to parish work, as opposed to travelling with his wife to visit his grandchildren?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have this new priest; and he'll certainly bring great gifts. But based on his likely years of service, we’ll need at least six more late-in-life vocations for each of the young guys who forego the seminary to marry -- and that's just to tread water! In order to really fix the dearth of vocations requires not six, but probably 18 such mature vocations. Father Daly guarantees such a flood.
One more time, evidence? We have no such flood of candidates to be permanent deacons, which involves a less rigorous (yet still demanding and time-consuming) training regimen. Do Eastern Rites -- long unhindered by the celibacy rule -- already enjoy such abundant vocations?
The Holy Spirit has been trying to tell us to abolish celibacy for the last 50 years, but we are not listening.
Funny thing: I’ve never met anyone claiming to know what the Holy Spirit “is telling us,” whose message from on high didn't exactly match that person's own preferences.
Here's one snippet from the second offering, which gives as much "flavor" as this insipid dish can afford:
Celibacy is not essential to holiness....Celibacy is not essential to Catholic priesthood. Kudos to Father Daly for absolutely destroying those straw men!
I trust Father Daly is a capable man, but not on the basis of this argument.
Meanwhile, I have a book given me at a conference last week entitled, Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest by Father Carter Griffin. Just leafing through it, Father Griffin talks about Scripture, tradition, the teaching of Church fathers, and the examples of the saints, Joseph and Mary among them. I wonder why Father Daly didn't have anything to say about any of that?