13 September 2009

Married priests: the arguments against and for.

Kindly Roman Catholics in Ireland have often sought to show their soundness by telling me why they are in favour of allowing married clergy. "It will solve the problem of paedophile priests", they confidently assert. They tend to be surprised when I explain that allowing married clergy does not achieve this end. I can tell them all about Anglican priests - and bishops - who disprove this assumption. And I go on to tell them jolly tales about Anglican priests - and bishops - who have been sacked for adultery. And to point out that clergy wives can create their own scandals by running off with the Curate or the Rector or the chairman ... or chairwoman ... of the Parish Council. A priest who is trying to look after three young children singlehanded after his missus has Done What A Gal Needs To Do is not best placed to devote himself singlemindedly to the care of his people.

"And a married priest will understand marriage ... and women ... better", they cheerfully add. There's a great load of nonsense in this. An unmarried priest has, does he not, experience of the marriage in which he was nurtured? And does he not have a mother, sisters, nieces?

And yet ... there is something in this argument. But not, necessarily, what the speaker assumes. Take an example. "Father, I can't get to Mass regularly; I've three young children". A celibate, hearing this, might feel intimidated. If he replies "Rubbish; pull the other one", there is a risk that he might get an abusive earful about how he has no personal experience of being up all night with sickly or cantankerous children, and of being stared at by censorious worshippers when the kiddies start screaming in church. If, however, someone tries that nonsense on me, I can say "I remember when my wife had four small children and the latest in the carrycot and I never heard a squeak out of them all through Mass. And you have your husband with you to help, so that you're not - as my wife was - coping singlehanded while your husband liturgised and preached. And you've only got three".

And I have often found celibate clergy nervous about the the Great Tradition in its lack of enthusiam about unnatural methods of conception-prevention. Not long ago a kindly Benedictine was speaking to me with sensitive feeling about the enormous strain and the appalling difficulties which the Church's teaching places upon the Married. "Twaddle, Dom Thingummy", I replied. "Perfectly simple. Perfectly straightforward. Don't be taken in by these whinging pathetics". Well, perhaps I wasn't quite as abrupt as that ... but very nearly.

One more post will conclude this subject


Michael McDonough said...

Fr. H, I have heard practically the very same hardships you mention in your first paragraph brought up in a conversation I had with a Greek Orthodox woman: the "wife ran off with a Cuban tap-dancer" and the "wife died of cancer leaving him with 3 or 4 young children". And the Orthodox do not approve of second marriages for priests (although I've heard of cases where a certain "oikonomia" (I think that's the word) was used).

I very much like your expression: "the Great Tradition in its lack of enthusiam about unnatural methods of conception-prevention."

motuproprio said...

Of course there is also the question of the right kind of wife - though I think the Church of England no longer marks the records of potential high flyers with the acronym WHM (Wife has means).

Sir Watkin said...

"the Great Tradition in its lack of enthusiam about unnatural methods of conception-prevention"

Or indeed so-called "natural" ones (until recent times).