Dear readers and those who line bird cages with my articles,
After Easter I am finally able to return to the topic proposed by Sally Bates regarding the possibility of married priests in the Amazon River basin in South America. As promised, I will take on the real challenge: the wives of married clergy. Some people feel pity for the poor priest who must live their lives without the comfort of married life. Who are they kidding? There is a reason that we insist on marriages taking place in church. There are altars in churches and altars are where sacrifices are made.
I think much more of the poor wives of the clergy than of the poor clergy. Let us not forget that the protestant congregations who have married clergy are independent financial units whose physical facilities are not owned by the local bishop. This means that a congregation hires a pastor and any other clergy. They also set the pay scale for the clergy they hire, and they are reasonably looking for the biggest bang from the smallest buck. I have heard that some congregations will not hire an unmarried clergyman, not because they hold marriage and the married in such high moral esteem, but because if they hire a married clergyman for a substandard wage they are getting a “two-fer,” or two for the price of one.
The pastor’s wife is expected to run the bake sale, the women’s group the lady’s bible study etc. She is not paid. After all, they are paying her husband and sometimes generously providing a parsonage (rectory with a leaking roof, a flooding basement and a collapsing porch.) This justifies paying the clergy half of what they might earn in the world. Just try to pry a few extra shekels form a church board of tight-fisted business men and women. It is humiliating enough for an unmarried man, but to subject one’s wife to such financial scrutiny by a board is just cruel. This already happens in the Catholic Church without married clergy.
Increasingly, I hear horror stories of lay business administrators questioning what a priest eats and how warm his rectory is. Believe me it is humiliating to have one’s refrigerator scrutinized by a committee. Imagine if you are the wife of said clergy man whose very housekeeping skills are questioned by a committee of her neighbors. Of course, we can expect absolute confidentially from a committee of parishioners. In a pig’s eye, we can! (I love that phrase. So vivid, though I have no idea what it means.) One hears the gossip at the post liturgy feed. “Do you realize how much she spends on food? And on our dime! It must be nice.”
I often meet parishioners in grocery stores and quickly look to make sure there is nothing more than haute cuisine in my basket than beans and weenies. If we are going to have married clergy anywhere, even in the Amazon, they will have to be paid a living wage that will allow the pastor and his wife to maintain a separate and private residence and to provide their own sustenance. Don’t forget that we in the church expect that one is open to life. If a pastor and his wife have only one child or none, there will be speculation as to why. Perhaps they are not getting along. Perhaps they are practicing, horror of horrors artificial birth control. Public scandal! At least in the opinion of parishioners who have themselves always used the pill. A good pastor’s wife will be expected to run the “women’s work” so-called of the parish for free while simultaneously working outside of the home to make up for the poverty inflicted on her by the pious. Carrying all these burdens she will also be expected, being Catholic to pop out children on an annual basis. I am clearly exaggerating, aren’t I? Maybe. Maybe not.
I write all these horrible things to urge those wiser and holier than myself who run things in the church to really examine the issue by studying the wives and children of the clergy to see if it is as good an idea as everyone thinks. We may be just digging the hole wider and deeper.
I did get some interesting responses from people who seem to know about this stuff a little. “History is there for a reason and to know history should help us not repeat it when it is bad history.” My correspondent goes on: “One other point is that the congregation is asked to give more and if the preacher’s family is living better than others who are asked to give more there is scandal. Another consideration is that a college education for the preacher’s children is being paid for by a congregation who may have members who cannot afford to send their own kids to college. Why should they have to pay for the preacher’s children etc....?
Consider the classic problem of the PK’s (preacher's kid). Billy Graham’s own son Franklin was a prodigal for years. He finally repented, but I can imagine that was not sweetness and light at Casa Graham in those years. A pastor is a father to his congregation, at least in the current Catholic conception of things. For a father to love another’s child as much as his own defies nature and even sound morality. I have known a lot of PK’s who have bitterly resented the fact that they had to share their father and mother’s affection with a lot of other people. Marriage is a full-time job. Fatherhood is a full-time job. If we have married clergy, they cannot and should not be called father by their congregation any longer. A lot of preacher’s kids I have known have turned out wonderfully, but a lot have had very sad lives.
If we do go this route, we should not consider ordaining men who are still raising children. Younger than say, 55 years of age would probably be the minimum in this day and age. When the marriage has worked out and the kids are raised and out of the house, maybe then. Not before. Remember that the word priest is derived from “presbyter” the Greek word for elders. I was an elder at the age of 25. Who are we kidding? I was a jerk like most twenty-five-year-olds. If we are going to have a married clergy in the Catholic Church, we had darn well better make sure that they are elders. Haven’t we had enough scandals already?