Dear Rev. Know it all,
My wife, Anny, who has left the Church, does not believe in priestly celibacy. I tried to explain that the role of the priest requires total service, and if he had a family, it would not be fair to the congregation the priest oversees, nor to that priest's family. She said that because deacons can do just about everything priests can do, except the 5 sacraments only priests can do (Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick), why can deacons be married and not priests? I wasn't sure how to answer this. Can you help?
Mr. E. Z. Wayout
Dear Mr. Wayout,
Your wife doesn’t believe in priestly celibacy. I’m not sure that believe is the right word. I don’t believe in celibacy either. I believe in Jesus, and Jesus has asked me to practice celibacy, so I do. It’s a sacrifice He asked me to make for the sake of His Bride, the Church. He asked St. Paul to make that sacrifice, and He Himself made the same sacrifice when he lived in Galilee, 2,000 years ago. And believe me, it is a sacrifice. It becomes more and more sacrificial as I grow older. The sacrifice is not that I don’t have “intimate relations” (I try to keep this a family column). The sacrifice is that there are fewer and fewer people in this world to whom I am close, as people die or become distant.
At an age when people are bouncing grandchildren on their knees, and some randy old goats are bouncing a second or third batch of their own children on their knee, thanks to wife #2 and wife #3. Instead of being involved with family, I am facing the homestretch being involved with absolute strangers who think that there is an evil spirit in their computer hard drive or some such nonsense. (Even as I write, I can hear some of my confreres grumbling that I should be highlighting the positive.) We have the joy of such a large parish family that loves us so dearly, and I must admit that many of my parishioners have become very dear to me. It is true that we are loved by a lot of people and I am very appreciative of them, but I don’t always like their great grandmother’s recipe for boiled guava bark which they insist on making me try and watching me as I eat every last crumb.
I can hear people saying, “You know, Father, my home is your home. You’re always welcome to come over and relax.” Face it. Home is where you can scratch where it itches. If I come over to your house, pop open a beer and flop down in your Lazy-Boy to watch the TV, wearing nothing but my bathrobe and boxers you would probably have me arrested and end up joining the Episcopalian Church which is reputed to have a more refined fashion sense. The great struggle of most women is to get their spouses to wear more and cleaner clothing, at least when company comes over. With your own family you’re nothing special. A priest, however is always “on.” I have rarely been invited to anyone’s home where I don’t end up talking to some relative who is going through a crisis. I’ve actually had people run next door to get the neighbors who need to talk to a priest while I am struggling to get down the last bit of boiled guava bark. I usually can’t wait to get back to my lonely rectory where I can strip down to my bathrobe and boxers, open a beer and watch the TV.
“Boy,” you’re probably thinking “is this guy bitter.” I’m not. I like being a priest, but it’s a sacrificial way of life if you do it right. It’s supposed to be sacrificial. Christianity is sacrificial and therein lies your wife’s problem. She is not looking for Christ. He’s found on the cross. She’s looking for a good deal. Those are found at the mall.
I imagine your wife is reading the catalogue of woes I have just recited and is saying, “See. Celibacy is a bad idea! The clergy should be married and then they wouldn’t have all those problems.” No, they would have other problems. I have a friend who came into Catholicism later in life. He knows lots of ministers, their kids and has actually dated a preacher’s daughter saying, that he’s never met a clergyman’s wife or children who are actually happy. I’m sure there are preachers’ wives and kids somewhere who are happy, but for the most part, the sacrifices the clergy are expected to make have a way of spreading out to their wives and children, who end up living in the same display case that their clerical fathers (or mothers) have to endure.
I wonder if your wife has thoroughly investigated the church she claims to have left? I wonder if she knows that there are lots of married Catholic priests. There are millions of Eastern Catholics, just as Catholic as members of the Roman Rite. They listen to the pope. They love the Blessed Mother and the Communion of Saints. They believe what Jesus and Paul taught about the Real Presence and the Mass. They have the whole Bible, not just Martin Luther’s Reader’s Digest version of it, but, wonder of wonders, they have parish priests who are usually married! It is also becoming a little more common for Protestant ministers after joining the Catholic Church to become Catholic priests. So Catholic priests, under some circumstances, are married even in the Latin Rite of the Church.
The priests of the Latin Rite, such as myself, are generally celibate. Why? Most people think it’s a political-social convenience, and as you point out, it does make the sacrifices of ministry easier in some ways. I served thirty years in the worst neighborhoods, and certainly wouldn’t have done so if I’d had a wife and kids to worry about. Some people theorize that too many medieval priest were handing down their parishes to their children and besides if a priest doesn’t have to support a wife and kids it’s cheaper for the parish. I don’t think these are the real reasons for celibacy. Actually, married clergy are a good deal for a church. Protestant church hiring committees prefer hiring married clergy. It’s a two-fer (two for the price of one). They pay the minister and his wife works her tuchus off for free, doing the bake sales, the lady’s auxiliary etc. I wonder if, now that there are so many Protestant clergy women, that their husbands are expected to bake cookies. Where was I? Oh yes, Why?
To be continued...