When ... happy, far-off days ... I used to spend my Anglican summers in the Kingdom of the West, County Kerry, chaplaining a couple of Church of Ireland churches ... kindly Roman Catholics in Ireland, anxious to sound friendly, often sought to show their soundness by telling me why they were in favour of allowing married clergy in the Catholic Church.
"It will solve the problem of paedophile priests", they confidently asserted. They tended to be surprised when I explained that allowing married clergy does not achieve this end. I could tell them so much about Anglican priests - and bishops - who have laboured vigorously to disprove this assumption. The English Independent Inquiry into sexual abuse recently described mercilessly the situation in one specimen Anglican diocese. My own Anglican ministry was overshadowed by the proximity of a bishop whose sadistic abuse of epheboi was at an industrial level.
And I could go on to tell jolly tales galore 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 a bunk with a deft and friendly organist is not best placed to devote himself singlemindedly to the care of his people.
"And a married priest will understand marriage ... and women ... so much better", the Irish cheerfully added. 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 a tiny something in this argument. But not, necessarily, quite what the speaker might confidently assume. Take this example: "Father, I can't get to Mass regularly; I've got 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 has tried that nonsense on me, I have always been able to say "I remember when my wife had four small children and the latest in the carry-cot and I never heard a squeak out of any of them all through Mass. And you have your husband sitting beside 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 two. I wonder why that is." (No; I don't think I ever really did say that last bit.)
But, strangely, Pope Francis has slightly mitigated my views on this matter of married priests.
If he had a wife, his equal who could Frankly point out to him his failings and misjudgements and unfairnesses and inconsistencies and hypocrisies ... that marvellous officium with which wives are so richly endowed ... would he be so cruel, spiteful, and hate-filled?
Do we need to rethink this matter? Perhaps, by confining the Apostolic See to ordained widowers?
Henry Manning might have been Pope!
You know it makes sense.