Priesthood and matrimony are not incompatible

Insistence on celibacy is an unhelpful relic of the early church’s anti-woman mentality

If ever celibacy becomes optional, though, this will require a change in parish structures and organisation.

If ever celibacy becomes optional, though, this will require a change in parish structures and organisation.

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 00:15

In all walks of life we find some people who are gay. These are good citizens and good neighbours. This being so, we have some gay priests, doing wonderful pastoral work, helping people with their spiritual life and in their following of Jesus.

Bishops know that among the rank-and-file of their clergy there are some priests whose sexual orientation is directed in this way and they allow them to minister, and this is only right.

The same hierarchy, though won’t allow a married priest, who has got a dispensation from celibacy to minister; for when a priest is granted a dispensation from celibacy, he has to give up public ministry.

A dispensed priest in the Latin Rite can no longer be a parish priest. A priest who is married in the church is just simply out. He can still do some pastoral work, like lay persons do, but he cannot celebrate the Eucharist in public, hear confessions in public or be in charge of other pastoral services , all because he has a woman by his side, a companion to walk with him through life.

Did Jesus tell the Apostles to abandon their wives when He gave them the command: “Go teach all nations”?

No, he didn’t. They continued to be married and their wives accompanied them on their missionary journeys (I Cor. ch 9, v 3 – 5).

In the evangelical churches, pastors can marry, as can priests in the Orthodox Church, so where is the problem in the Latin Rite?

Many will point to tradition, but up to the 12th century it was also tradition for priests to marry.

Thirty-one years ago I received a dispensation from celibacy and married. I continue to be a priest because the sacrament of Orders is permanent, just like Baptism and Confirmation.

Since then I have continued to do pastoral work ; the people call me and I will always answer their call.

My wife has been a true, loving companion during all these years. In no way has she or our children prevented me from doing pastoral work.

An inspiration
On the contrary she has been an inspiration during all these years.Together we plan and do pastoral work.

We have some gay priests ministering in dioceses and doing good work, but we can’t have married priests . We can accept one but not the other. Why? The problem is the woman. She has been seen as the temptress, the Eve who brought about the fall of Adam.

This negative attitude towards women goes back to the early Church and was based on the doctrine of dualism.

St Epifanio wrote: “A woman is a creature of the devil from her head to her feet. A man, on his part, is only such by half, from the waist upwards he is a creature of God. So the union in marriage between a man and a woman is therefore the work of the devil”.

In the 4th century the dominant mentality was that the believer who, for love of God, did not marry, was considered the typical Christian.

Priesthood and matrimony were seen as incompatible because you cannot reconcile sanctity and matrimonial sexuality.

St Ambrose wrote: “The pregnancy, the birth and the education of the children only cause sorrow and unhappiness.”

Today, thank goodness, this anti-woman mentality of the early church does not exist but the idea of a Catholic priest having a wife and family by his side has a long way yet to go before it is accepted.

If ever celibacy becomes optional, though, this will require a change in parish structures and organisation.

Instead of one parish priest in charge, the parish could be divided up into communities.

In these small communities married priests could be responsible for a community, so your parish would become a community of communities.

The married priest would have a secular job to keep himself, his wife and children and would organise his life in order to have time for pastoral ministry. I have been doing this ever since I got married and it is possible.

Hopefully the day will come when priests of different sexual orientation will be working together for the good of the Christian community.

Fr Brian Eyre is a married Catholic priest and is based at Recife in Brazil.
His email address is: br_eyre@hotmail.com

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