Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Just say no

I love the internet, because it makes it possible for you to find people who think what you think, but say it better. Example number one: Simcha writes about why married priests are a bad idea. She says what I've always thought, but have been too lazy to put into words. Also, she's funny.

Why doesn’t the Latin Rite Church just start letting priests marry again? If men can’t or won’t stay celibate, then why force the issue? Well, I peeked into the future, when married priests are commonplace, and this is what I heard in the pews:

“Well! I see the pastor’s wife is pregnant again! What is she trying to prove? Must be nice to pop ‘em out year after year, while the parish has to support all those brats.”


“Well! I see another year has gone by and the pastor’s wife still isn’t pregnant. A fine example they’re setting! I won’t have them teaching my children CCD, since his own wife is clearly on the Pill.”


“I went to the rectory the other day to talk to Father about my divorce, and those damn kids of his wouldn’t shut up for a minute. Sounded like a herd of elephants running around up there — I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. How can he give me advice about my family when he can’t even control his own?”


“I have to talk to someone about my kids, but I would never go to Father — his kids are so well-behaved, he could never understand what I’m going through. I swear, his wife must drug them or something — something ain’t right there.”

Read the rest.


August said...

Ah, now we get to the real crux of the issue- we can't allow married men to be ordained because Catholic women are atrocious gossips who don't need another thing to talk about!
The Eastern Orthodox tradition, meanwhile, continues to exist, and serves as a reminder that it does, would, and could work if we actually cared about having functional churches. If you wanted a real confessor (as it was in the old days when there was more spiritual guidance given, and less 'oh, don't worry so much- so you made a few mistakes!), how many people do you think one priest could reasonably deal with? My guess is around 150 (google the Dunbar Number), but even if you don't place the number quite that low, it still has to be much lower than the laity to priest ratio of today.

I understand the desire to defend celibacy from progressive attack, but I become more sure every day that progressive attacks have a certain devilish cunning; we unthinkingly lurch one way in order to defend what we think is under attack, but when we look back we see almost everything else is stolen out from under us.
(This analysis works for politics too.)

Darwin said...


That may all be beside the point, however. The Orthodox and the Eastern rites are themselves experiencing a priest shortage not very different from that in the Roman Catholic Church, despite the fact that they allow married clergy. Given that many Catholic parishes have several thousand families in them, you'd need more than then times as many priests to get down to the kind of priest to parishioner ratio you're discussing. Married or not, those kind of volumes of men simply are not answering the call at this time.

Frankly, speaking as a husband and father trying to balance career and family with a strictly secular job, I can't imagine that a married priesthood would be a good idea at all. I can, after all, fall back on saying, "Oh well, it's just a job." The priesthood, on the other hand, isn't just a job.

The Eastern Church has a long tradition of married parish clergy (monks and bishops must all be unmarried in the East) and it seems good and right for them to continue in their tradition. I don't think it's right that at times Roman Rite bishops in the US have tried to squash this practice among the other rites. However, the West has its own long tradition and I can't imagine that trying to replace it with the Eastern one at this late date would be a good idea.

mrsdarwin said...

August, the comments from clerical wives of various stripes, describing actual situations and not the hypothetical future that Simcha envisions, seem to indicate that the tendency to gossip knows no denomination. I'm sure there are priests who blow off confession as a kind of feel-good exercise, but I've never personally encountered the sort of confession-lite that you describe.

I would be pleased if you could share some statistics indicating the rate of growth of the Eastern Orthodox church to stand as a model for Roman Catholicism -- my internet searches aren't producing a lot of fruit.

I'm not sure that celibacy qua celibacy was so much the focus of Simcha's objections (and my own), but the fact that a married man must of necessity devote a great deal of time and energy to his wife and children (1 Cor. 7:33), which can conflict with a priest's total dedication to his bride, the Church. Our married deacon at our parish in Texas worked certain hours, and a full-time job outside the parish, and went home to his wife and kids. The priests, on the other hand, were at the service of the parish 24/7.

August said...

Why would the rate of growth of the Eastern Orthodox church matter? I mentioned confessors, and pointed out there's got to be a limit to how many one priest can do while still having some real knowledge of the penitent. I don't know if the Eastern Orthodox have this in practice either, though at least they've got theory.

The Church is the bride of Christ, and the Church had better not be engaging in polyandry! I realize celibate priests are more available, but in practice, what does that mean? More free time for that individual priest- depending on who he is that is either a spiritual good or a temptation. The relationships of marriage often help men rise above themselves.

And yes, gossip is everywhere, and therefore irrelevant.

Christina said...


Something else to consider would be the effect of married clergy on the selection of bishops. Correct me if I'm wrong, but even in Eastern Rite Churches there is still the provision that while men may be married before ordination to the priesthood, a married man cannot be a bishop. Would an influx of married priests significantly affect the pool of potential bishops? How would this play out? It's an honest question.

Furthermore, I think the question of growth in the Churches is quite pertinent, since it could point to a crisis of "vocation" in a broad sense, not just to the priesthood. I would be interested to see how our current 'vocation crisis' maps on to current trends in divorce, co-habitation before marriage, and all of the other symptoms of a culture that has lost the ability to make lasting vows.

Darwin said...


Certainly no attack on the Orthodox meant, but it seems like if the claim is that if the Roman Catholic Church followed the East in having married clergy, then as a result the Roman Rite would have so many vocations that it would be able to have a priest for every 150 Catholics, then it would be good to know if the Orthodox Church, which has long had the tradition of married clergy, in fact has booming vocations and no trouble at all having one priest for every 150 laity.

Do I think it would be great if we had that many clergy. Well, yeah, I guess so. Certainly, it would be great if we had more than we do. But, not to be cynical, the fact is it has never been the case that everyone had access to a personal confessor. Maybe everyone who was in the landed class or was of similar means could have a confessor -- especially if they were able to contribute to the church accordingly. But back in the day you didn't have every peasant in the field getting insightful spiritual direction.

And given that the relative status and privilege of the clerical life is much less now than it was even 60 years ago, I don't think that just opening the priesthood up to married men would result in a flood of vocations. I think that the experience of the Orthodox would probably back this up.

Brandon said...

And yes, gossip is everywhere, and therefore irrelevant.

Not to the question of whether a particular practical plan would be an improvement over the status quo -- which is even in the West not no married priests but celibate priests as the norm. In order to assess whether the latter should be changed requires considering the actual problems that would be created, including those created by gossip, etc., and then assessing whether, given the circumstances of most Roman Catholic parishes, the benefits would suffice to outweigh those problems. Ignoring how much a practical change will affect something like gossip is pretty much a guarantee of disaster: it's sign that one isn't realistically considering the practical effects of the change. Gossip is everywhere, but it's simply false to assume on the basis of this that everything gives it equal foothold.

August said...

It seems to me you discount a real good- we would definitely have more priests than we do now- for an improbable perfect- suddenly, a flood of converts and priests right at the level I like. Then, by pointing out that the improbable is improbable, you reject the possible. This sounds suspiciously like what young women do in the big city- surrounded by potential husbands, they start looking for superman. I do think there is a similar element of romance about the Church which is unhelpful when it comes to fulfilling it's actual mission.

I believe 'most people' likely grew up and spent their whole lives in one small place, which would mean they likely had one priest through the bulk of their lives. The difference for the rich would be they'd have the resources to be picky.

The tonic for gossip is repentance. It is irrelevant to the topic at hand, for both the celibate and the married can transmit that message. Indeed, perhaps the married would be better at it; we certainly seem to be getting a much more wishy-washy message than "REPENT!" from our priests these days.

Amanda said...

I don't think I've commented before but just wanted to say I loved that post, thanks for the link! As a Catholic wife of a Lutheran pastor, I am strongly against the church changing its stance on priests marrying.

Without going too much into detail, it is my experience that most wives of pastors are lonely, miserable, and sorely neglected despite these honorable husbands' best attempts at juggling ministry and family life. Everything gets done somehow, but at what cost? Usually something is lacking, and the rates of divorce and depression are ridiculously high among pastor's families.

As for the number of pastors, that seems to be a non-issue among Lutherans, but the crazy thing is they are lacking parishioners so they can't afford to pay pastors for every church when some churches have less than 50 members. I keep telling my dear husband if the Lutheran church would simply embrace bigger families and quit ordaining every man, woman, or child who "feels called" they might have more people sitting in the pews :) Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration but there is some truth to it!

Brandon said...


I can't make heads or tails of anything you are saying. What is being compared are two scenarios:

(a) retaining the celibacy norm for all except occasional exceptions

(b) lifting the celibacy norm (presumably also not without exceptions)

That there are goods involved in both can be taken for granted. What's really in question is the comparative superiority of (b) given the conditions that obtain for Roman, i.e., Western Catholics. There are several different arguments that could be given; Darwin's whole point was that one that seems to be given by Western Catholics a lot -- that it will solve the priest shortage problem -- needs to be actually assessed and supported if it is to be accepted. This isn't a "discounting of a real good for an improbable imperfect"; it's a response to an actual argument, indeed, what seems to be the most common argument given by Western Catholics.

The desiderata for an argument that actually supports the conclusion that the norm should be changed for Roman Catholics are:

(1) that it actually address and consider the real conditions faced by Roman Catholics (who, for example, have no stable and standing tradition of married priests);
(2) that it actually characterize the options ((a) and (b)) above sufficiently accurately for practical purposes;
(3) that it actually show that the benefits of a shift from (a) to (b) would be genuine for Roman Catholics (since there is no point to the change if it doesn't benefit them in particular);
and (4) that it actually show that the benefits of the shift are not outweighed by potential harms resulting from it.

It isn't clear from your response that you are taking into account any of these, whereas Darwin was showing that, with a particular common argument, (3) needs to be met, and Simcha was showing that (3) and (4) are harder to show than one might think.

On gossip, of course the only adequate remedy for it is repentance; but it's also a sign of pastoral imprudence to make massive changes without any regard for whether it would give people more occasion to sin. Pastoral changes like the adjustments to the norm of celibacy cannot be made on the assumption that everyone will suddenly become sinless, or see the errors of their way and repent. It needs to be asked what occasions for sin it might create, what causes for scandal it might create, what confusions it might create in ordinary, everyday Catholics, etc. Such things don't automatically mean that the change isn't worth it, but they really do need to be taken into account. Pretending that it is irrelevant doesn't help anyone's case, on either side of the argument. And, of course, gossip stands in as representative of more sins than itself, since gossip is one member of a whole interconnected family of sins; it's not as if what goes for gossip goes for gossip alone.

JMB said...

In my area, an average house costs 600K, with property taxes in the mid teens (12K average). I just can't see how the Catholic church could afford to purchase a house for a family and sustain the parish at the same time. Our rectory is used mostly as office and meeting rooms. Could they even have a family in the rectory if there are other priests in residence? All this is mind blowing to me.