Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Next Catholic Synod?

In the news last week, multiple conservative Catholic websites (but no liberal ones) have reported on a rumor that Pope Francis intends to hold a synod, on the topic of married priests. The idea is that Pope Francis will announce it when he visits Chiapas, Mexico this February.

Chiapas is a place with a few dozen priests, and hundreds of married deacons. Church authorities thought it was weird that the Bishop there was basically only ordaining deacons for forty years, and so they suspended all deacon ordinations from 2000-2014.

The issue of married priests is an interesting one. Unmarried priests have been around since the time of Jesus, and in many places, it was the standard practice for Bishops to never ordain married men to the priesthood. The general standard of not ordaining married priests became a universal standard, during the reforms of Pope Saint Gregory VII (around 1050 AD).

Obviously, the issue has come up in the past 1,000 years, and there have been times when married men got ordained. The church's general response in these exceptional cases has been mandatory continence. Continence is basically celibacy for married people, the idea being that if a married guy wants to be a priest, he has to be like all other priests and abstain from sex. They use the different word "continence" for this situation, because it's lawful for a married man to have sex with his wife, whereas it's unlawful for a celibate priest to have sex with anyone.

Can the Catholic Church go back to the practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood? Yes. But the next question is whether or not there will be mandatory continence for these priests. People assume the answer is "no", because married deacons aren't required to be continent. Tradition, on the other hand, says "yes". Also, Canon Law 277 says, "yes".

I assume the second question will be, "Can current priests get married?". That answer is no. For one thing, all current priests have sworn an unbreakable promise of celibacy. For another, the order of events has been set in stone, so to speak, by Saint Paul in the Bible (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3). You have to be married before becoming a priest. Someone who is already a priest can't be married, and if you've got a widower priest (or deacon), they can't remarry.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wait, I'm pretty sure that Catholic preists outside the Roman rite can be married, correct? For example, a Coptic Catholic preist can be married by today's rules, right?

Michael Gray said...

Yeah, Eastern Orthodox Catholics are generally used as the example of married Catholic priests. There are some married Anglicans who converted to Catholicism, and became married Catholic priests that way.

Anonymous said...

Over 50% per cent of people who were born catholic in the USA left the church. I think if they let priests (and nuns!) marry and let women be priests it would maybe be more attractive to people. The non-marriage thing makes people think only predators join, and people want to protect their children.

Keeping priests and nuns separate in roles is very sexist and I am surprised it is even legal. Many people I know who were born Catholic and would like a spiritual affiliation won't be a member of the church because of how it treats women as lesser beings.

Maybe if priests married they would learn to see women as people and understand and treat them better.