Thursday, December 29, 2011

Good For Bishop Johan Bonny!

Rorate Caeli threw a hissy-fit today over this completely innocuous quote by a Belgian bishop:
I fully understand it. The Church can not avoid the debate about the criteria for ordination. Personally, I strongly believe in the value of the unmarried priesthood and a full availability for Christ and the Church community. But I also think that the ordination of a number of married men or deacons to the priesthood can be an enrichment for the Church. In the eastern Catholic Churches married priests are more the rule than the exception. That fact is therefore not unfamiliar for the Catholic Church. The ordination of women to priests is theologically far more difficult. In the west that concern is present in broad layers of society, but worldwide the support is extremely small. But I do think that there needs to be more discussion about the place and role of the woman in the Church. Women must be allowed to take on responsible duties in the Church, on all levels.
Okay, so he didn't say "theologically impossible," but only said "far more difficult." He also seems to suggest some notion that level of "support" somehow matters in whether we do it (and if the support did materialize worldwide, is he saying we then could do it? Ordination of women to the priesthood is impossible regardless of support level).

Still, the statement is in-itself entirely non-controversial, and I'm glad bishops are starting to say stuff like this. I think you have to say it when the average age of priests in your diocese is 75-80! Either the criteria for ordination must be loosened, or you collapse institutionally!

The fact that Rorate Caeli keeps acting like suggesting married priests is heresy and lumps it with other forms of actual dissent...means they're flying their crazy flag again. I did however find interesting the comment from the user Gabriel regarding the priesthood in the East:

For the record, I don't support the current movement to allow married priests within the Latin Rite. With that said, I sense more than a bit of derision toward the Bishop's choice to reference the unbroken tradition of the Christian East to allow married priests and deacons so long as the marriage occurs prior to ordination. (There are some variants even within the East. For instance, the Slavic Churches generally don't allow elevation to the Subdiaconate until marriage.)

Even so, there's room for some nuance here. For centuries, priests in the East (and I am referencing the Orthodox specifically, though this generally applies to Eastern Catholics as well) functioned as civil servants, serving the Liturgy once-a-week (and on some feast days) and performing baptisms, funerals, etc. Spiritual guidance was largely left to the monasteries and many monastics heard confessions more regularly than parish priests (secular clergy). Most secular clergy held what we would call "second jobs," either teaching or, in rural areas, tending to farming in order to support their families. The concept of a "full-time priest," which most Catholics take for granted, was simply not the case unless one lived in a major urban center or had a monastery near the village. Even in the U.S. today, most Orthodox parishes are open on Sundays (and maybe Saturday night for Vespers) and that's it. Most missions have a difficult time supporting priests because it means supporting their families as well. Moreover, the common assertion made by Orthodox (and some Eastern Catholics) that a married priesthood is superior because the priest can better relate to his flock strikes me as dubious. Yes, that may be true in some instances, but there are plenty of terrible married clergy in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.

I would also add that married priesthood in Orthodoxy (I can't speak on this in Catholicism) has some other downsides which few comment on. There is a longstanding joke within Orthodoxy, particularly in America, of the nervous seminarian praying his bishop won't ordain him before he can lock-down a bride (which isn't as easy as you'd think, given what the future will look like). There's also a tendency in Orthodoxy to treat the priesthood as a jacket you put on and take off, similarly to a pastorate at a Protestant church. This is reinforced, intentionally or not, by the fact that defrocking is a far simpler process in the East than the West; people quit being Orthodox priests all of the time, and there are no repercussions for it.
I, of course, have often suggested the notion that a married priesthood, as well as a part-time volunteer priesthood (ala the permanent diaconate), are absolutely essential at this point in history if we're going to save the Church from demographic collapse. I also think defrocking should be much easier, and that we must eliminate this idea that a priest can never be "fired" (to the point that some dioceses even give a sort of "alimony" to laicized priests, even as they are shamed and banned from all public service in the church), which protectionism was clearly a huge factor in the abuse crisis. The Orthodox get many things right.


Mark of the Vineyard said...

Any idea on how the different understandings of the secular priesthood came about?

Chassidic Catholic said...

With regard to the concept of "part-time" secular priests, I think this need presents itself most dramatically in hospital and nursing-home situations. Finding a chaplain in emergency room (and other) situations can be frightening and demoralizing at times.

Perhaps a kind of "demi-priesthood" whose only function was to be on call for confession and last-rites is in order. They can volunteer affliate with hospitals, police and fire companies, ambulance drivers, nursing homes, prisons, etc.

Robert said...

@Chassidic Catholic: The priest simplex was something which existed historically (perhaps it still does?). But I ask why would we limit these men? In the ideal world, a priest says only one mass each day (excluding Xmas, and all saints). So long as there is still a priest binating in the diocese why not ordain a man to say mass too (he will be bound either way to the office and forbidden to marry post ordination anyways)? And even if every priest were only saying a single mass per day, is there some cap on the total number of priests a diocese may have? It seems that many traditionalist and neo-cons are always praying for more vocations, but they don't want so many that you could have a parish with 30 priests. Hearing confessions is something which requires skill and tact. Saying mass is a simple process. In terms of externals, it is little more than an elaborate tea ceremony. If a priest could hear a confession, he could most certainly say a mass for a parish.

Chassidic Catholic said...


What you say is true.

I was basing my comment on my own subjective experience of dealing with many, many situations where someone in a hospital, in danger of possible imminent death and wishing to receive the sacraments, and finding that there was no full-time Catholic chaplain attached to the hospital, had to wait upwards of an hour for a priest to be found in the rectory of a parish some distance away.

One would think that seeing to it that those near death receive the spiritual succor of reconciliation and communion would be a PRIORITY for the clergy, and not some sort of secondary or tertiary concern. The celebration of Mass for a church full of the living can legitimately be postponed, while attending to the dying can not.

I just had the thought that if perhaps there were some number of priests (call them priest simplex or whatever) whose primary apostolate was seeing to it that these folks are not left in the lurch in that final moment of need, it would allow the parochial clergy to attend to their parochial duties with full attention, and without any fear that they would be neglecting the "faithful in the field".

Robert said...

@Chassidic: I work in a hospital too. We have difficulty finding a priest for the sick too. Usually it is just a pastoral associate who will provide "spiritual comfort" for the dying. Ugh, sometimes I want to spit at my parish priest.

Chassidic Ccatholic said...


I've even fantasized about the creation of some sort of new mendicant order called the "Calvary Fathers", or something like that, whoo literally go around looking for the sick and the dying to minister to.