Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: June 1991

June 1991

Only An Exception

As a Pastoral Provision wife of a Catholic priest, like Mary Vincent Dally, I must admit in all charity and candor that her article calling for optional priestly celibacy (Apribpcaused me some heaviness of heart. I did not go to the trouble of becoming a Catholic in order to disagree with the Holy Father — over anything. To be one of the Pontiff’s obedient children was the foremost reason for my conversion.

When people ask me about my husband, I explain that I’ll be eternally grateful to Mother Church for granting us this exception, but that is what it is — an exception. I then add that I wholeheartedly agree with the present discipline of priestly celibacy and see much beauty and wisdom in all the Holy Father has said about it. To do otherwise seems to be undermining the very one who has been so good to us.

The solution to the vocations crisis is prayer, especially family prayer. Little hearts lifted up each day will hear God calling them — and respond!

Mary Jane Watterson

University of San Francisco

West Palm Beach, Florida

Married Priests in Eastern Christianity

I have no quarrel with the articles on celibate and married priesthood by Mary Vincent Dally and David Hartman in the April issue; they were well written and sincere. My quarrel is with the editorial writer: How can the NOR seek to treat the important subject of married men being ordained priests without a substantial examination of the fully Catholic and apostolic traditions of the Eastern churches?

We Eastern Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) are not some dusty footnote, or a quaint ethnic ghetto. The renaissance of Eastern Christianity in Europe, the U.S., Africa, and Asia should put those notions to rest. More than 2,000 evangelical Christians across the U.S. and Canada did not become Orthodox en masse in 1987 because they wanted to join a museum; they recognized the consistent and vibrant teaching and worship of the Apostles, authoritatively alive and active in Eastern Christianity.

Only one of the some 10 or more (depending on how one counts) independent Catholic churches (Ecclesia Sui Juris in the 1983 Latin Code and, 1990 Eastern Code) makes celibacy the norm for its priests. The Roman Church, in its current practice, despite its enormous size and power, is a minority of one in the Catholic tradition on this subject. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches have always ordained married men to the presbyterate as the norm for parish clergy, while highly valuing the charism of monasticism.

Vatican II warns against the elevation of the customs of one Catholic church over the others (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, no. 3). The fact that the Pope of Rome has a special charism within the Church does not raise the usages of his Patriarchate to universal status. This reality was tragically ignored by Archbishop John Ireland and the American Roman Catholic bishops in the early years of this century when they refused to acknowledge Fr. Alexis Toth and the Greek Catholic clergy from middle Europe. Because of this rejection of legitimate Catholic tradition (including married priests), which had been acknowledged and guaranteed by popes and councils, between 250,000 and 500,000 Eastern Catholics returned to the Orthodox Church in the U.S. in the early 20th century. This injustice has not yet been righted.

Fr. Steven A. Armstrong, S.J.

Episcopal Diocese of W. Texas

San Francisco, California

Married Priests Not Second Class

The NOR is a robust magazine, and the writings it presents are provocative. Here are my reactions to your April issue, which focused on priestly celibacy:

Watching The Cardinal in the 1960s, I admired the strict religion of the Roman Church. Not only did true love get sacrificed in the film, but celibacy and authority held hands and purpose was fulfilled. Truly, the priesthood could only be lived by such courageous men.

A seminarian spoke bluntly to me when I first mentioned my feeling called to Holy Orders: “You can never be a priest.” I know now — suspected then — that it was because I wasn’t of the “true faith.” But what I thought about more in those days of my early teens was the idea of celibacy. Even though I admired those who could sacrifice their sexuality, I liked girls, and it was difficult to imagine that I might be a man without a family. I was not, as an Anglican, required to live the discipline of the Roman Church, but bumping up against that ideal made me flinch. I felt second-class when considering being a married priest.

For a while I thought God might be inviting me to monastic life, to a deeper, “better” commitment than marriage. Yet, as much as I came to respect the life of those dedicated to prayer, work, and study, something gnawing inside said, “This isn’t for you.”

Seeing The Cardinal again in the 1980s, and reading The Thorn Birds, I realized how much the Church misses when it lives by a rule of celibacy. The very making of the rule has stolen the essence of the gift. If celibacy is a gift — and I believe most of us would speak of it in those terms — it is no gift at all when forced upon everyone. I live out of a tradition that revived the option of celibacy for the priesthood; I believe it did so with great clarity. For the very reason that I felt respectful of the gift of celibacy but could not live it, I believe it is in the best interest of God that those God calls be allowed to discern their gift: God gives such things as marriage and celibate life. Pat asks Joshua in Girzone’s book entitled Joshua, “Is it possible that God can give the call to the priesthood but not the gift of celibacy?” The answer is clear, quoting Joshua, “No one can dictate a calling or demand a gift that is not there… Otherwise they will destroy what could be a beautiful work of God.”

I would not defend marriage of those in Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church as good evidence of how a married priesthood can work. In fact, it isn’t helpful to point to “them” as a model for optional celibacy. The truth is, there are more divorces among the clergy than among the laity. This doesn’t prove celibacy is a better discipline, but only how Satan is after every one of us to break apart fellowship. It only proves how sinful we are and how far we have come from understanding and teaching the meaning of Covenant relationships. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and desperately need God.

I am a married priest. Marriage has been a joy in my life, one hard earned and tried by many mistakes. But it is the sacrament it has always purported to be — an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of God. The witness of a successful covenant with my wife (by God’s grace) has given hope to those who are searching for evidence that God does want people to marry, that marriage as a sacrament has not outlived its usefulness.

Of course, priestly celibacy hasn’t outlived its usefulness either. The importance of celibacy will be witnessed by those called to it.

Holy Scripture shows us convincingly that from the beginning both marriage and celibacy were options. It is nonsense to say married priests cannot be as loyal to God as celibate priests when both come from the same God. Celibacy is no more heroic than marriage. God gives both gifts.

In my mind the Pastoral Provision, which allows married Episcopal priests into the Roman Church’s priesthood, is an affront to both Romans and Anglicans. There is still a second-class inference, and it is hardly ecumenical. It would be far better to get on about the business of making the Church one before receiving any more Episcopalians into Roman Holy Orders.

The Rev. Canon Mark L. Cannaday

Dept. of English, Providence College

San Antonio, Texas

A Married Catholic Priest Responds to Dally & Hartman

Your April issue, with its focus on clerical celibacy, prompts this letter. At the age of nearly 75, I am surely among the eldest of those ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood under the Pastoral Provision for married clerical converts from the Episcopal Church. Pope Pius XII is well known for having extended a similar personal privilege to some German Lutheran converts.

Developments such as these do not, however, point to any change in the norm of celibacy for priests of the Latin rite, as was made clear by the most recent Synod of Bishops. You are to be commended for supporting their stand in your editorial. I most strongly agree with you that, apart from exceptions such as those already mentioned, this hedonistic age is precisely not the time for the Church to “go with the flow.” If ever there was a time to stand, like Athanasius, contra mundum, this is it.

Mary Vincent Dally, who is married to a man ordained under the Pastoral Provision, writes in her article: “When I read reports and commentaries on the recent synod in Rome, I was distressed to hear our leaders say that the Church must maintain mandatory celibacy….”She pictures a priest in an empty seminary saying to her husband, “I offer the Mass daily for vocations, and you walk through the door. Is God trying to tell me something?”

In his article, David Hartman, a Protestant pastor who admittedly would put his marriage vows above his ordination vows, nonetheless offers a number of excellent reasons why God was not telling this lonely priest in his deserted seminary that Dally’s husband represented a symbolic answer to his prayers for a solution to the lack of seminarians. For Hartman certainly knows the real world of married clerical domesticity, including: the emotional drainage; the spotlighted Preacher’s Kids who must be better behaved than anyone else’s children; the demands of the ministry upon a wife and children who never took ordination vows, yet are somehow bound to keep them. And, as he puts it so well, “in what other vocation does a wife have to feel as if she is competing with the Bride of Christ for her husband’s affections?” Dally does say that both she and her husband are “wedded to our Lord”. But even in so extraordinary an arrangement, there must be some emotional conflicts.

Perhaps Hartman is not so well acquainted with the real world of Catholic priests, which is to be expected. He says that as celibates they can attain what he calls “a transcendent vision of the sacrament of matrimony.” I have yet to encounter any priest who does that, but I think that celibate clergy may more modestly claim to be more objective in dealing with marital problem than clergymen who are enmeshed in such problems themselves.

The shortage of priests in America would not necessarily be overcome if marriage were made an option. I am quite sure that my wife and I could not have raised our seven children had I been living on the kind of salary the Catholic Church is compelled to pay its priests (I was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983, after our children had grown up).

Moreover, low-paying jobs are not attractive to young Americans, who see happiness in terms of an M.B.A., money, and the key to the executive washroom. Anyone who, like myself, has talked with upper-middle-class Catholic college students about vocations over the past 40 years knows that the priesthood is not very high on the list of options, if it is listed at all. In a consumer society dominated by bourgeois values, the priesthood appeals only to the occasional oddball rebel, who rejects our Coca-Cola culture and looks for some high and demanding ideal. In the crisis of faith currently afflicting the Church in the affluent nations of the West, most young Catholics are marching to a different drummer than the one who once called youth to the conquest of the world for Christ. Indeed, they too frequently encounter jaded clerics who would describe conquering the world for Christ as “the sin of Triumphalism.”

Of course, such jaded clerics are less likely to be found in the Third World, where there is in fact no shortage of priestly vocations, a state of affairs which shows precisely what the problem is all about in the affluent nations so erroneously described as “advanced.”

The Pastoral Provision in no way lends support to those who want the Church to restore to the active priesthood those who once exercised the priesthood and would like to do so again but are prevented because they have chosen to be married. Married men ordained as priests under the Pastoral Provision are ordained absolutely and not conditionally, which is to say that they never were validly ordained priests as the Catholic Church understands the term. They do not, therefore, constitute a departure from the principle that priests may not marry. Indeed, even in the Orthodox Churches, as in certain of our own Eastern Rites, marriage must precede ordination, if it is to take place at all, and is obviously impossible for bishops.

It does seem that L’Osservatore Romano was right in saying that “the reasons for celibacy are still valid and timely.” Hartman and I have arrived at a most ecumenical agreement. Most importantly, my wife of 45 years wishes it to be known that she also agrees with Hartman rather than with Dally. I am pleased to know that in this matter my wife happens to agree with me.

Rev. Prof. Paul van K. Thomson

Dept. of English, Collin Co. Community College

Providence, Rhode Island

Wagging Finger?

As an Episcopalian, I was offended by your innuendo regarding unmarried Episcopal priests (editorial, Aprib~ You beg the question when you ask us to assume “that an unmarried cleric is not practicing celibacy.” Worse, your assertion occurs in the same paragraph in which you argue that married Catholic priests would offer “no panacea” to the celibacy debate because they “would have no effect on priests who are practicing homosexuals.” Do I detect a wagging finger?

I wonder if there isn’t something inherently absurd about Catholic doctrine regarding sexuality inasmuch as it has been promulgated exclusively by celibate men.

Ed. Note: Was it “inherently absurd” for Jesus, a celibate man, to teach about sexuality? As for the Episcopal Church, we did not ask anyone to assume anything; what we actually said was: “it is widely assumed, rightly or wrongly, that an unmarried cleric is not practicing celibacy.” Is that prevalent assumption right or wrong? Take your pick. So why report it? Because appearances are significant, as with the man in a New Yorker cartoon who prayed to God, “please protect me from the appearance of wrongdoing.”

Prof. Tony J. Howard

Plano, Texas

Both "Who" & "What"

In his interesting review of Peter and Paul in the Church of Rome by Farmer and Kereszty (May), Richard J. Mouw states his Protestant preference for the “what” over the “who” in matters of ecclesial authority. Says he: “Thus the fact that something is declared by Peter’s successor in Peter’s city is not nearly as important as whether the declaration conforms to Peter’s published writings.”

Ah, but this begs the question of who decides how to interpret the “what.” Protestants have never been able to agree among themselves on matters of interpretation, which is why their position is self-defeating.

Moreover, it is not true, as Mouw seems to imply, that Catholic authority rests only on a “who.” Even the Pope is bound by the Deposit of Faith (the sum of revelation and tradition), which is to say, the “what.”

Mouw should think of the Deposit of Faith as analogous to the U.S. Constitution, and papal authority as the Supreme Court, which interprets and deepens that deposit. If we had no Supreme Court (or functional equivalent), but only the Constitution, there would be bedlam in this country, which is exactly what can be seen in the Protestant world.

J.T.N. Van Dyke

Portland, Oregon

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