CELIBATE EXCLUSIVITY IS THE ISSUE
Many insist that mandatory celibacy for priests is not the issue behind the malaise plaguing Roman Catholicism. They say that the problem goes far deeper and to suggest that allowing priests to marry will solve the Church's ills smacks of naivete at best. 1 I agree that celibacy is not the issue. I maintain, however, that celibate exclusivity is. This distinction is crucial. Understanding the ramifications of compulsory celibacy is the key that unlocks one of the most complex enigmas facing the Catholic Church. Moreover, the law of priestly celibacy has hidden implications for modern society as a whole.
Not everyone recognizes celibate exclusivity of the priesthood as the root problem. For example, the malaise in Catholicism is also blamed on clericalism, especially in the form of limited lay participation in ministry. A recent report on French Canada paints a rosy picture of Catholic congregationalism in Quebec— with decidedly feminine tones. Canadian Catholics report approvingly that “in Montreal, women publicly baptize on Sundays. In St. Jean Longueuil, women preach during Mass regularly. In Valleyfield and Labrador City–Schefferville, women are diocesan chancellors. ” Montreal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte strongly prefers the new lay-animated church. He affirms, “We have discovered the role of all the baptized people … [who] are responsible for the evangelization of the world. ” The archbishop insists: “To recover a Church of priests could be a facile thing…. We would remove celibacy, for example, as a legislation, then we'll find all these wonderful married men, and that would solve our problem, get the Church again in the hands of the clergy. That would be a frightening thing to me in the light of Vatican II. ” 2
In a similar vein, Monsignor William Shannon, a priest in Rochester, New York, calls for lay participation as the solution to the priest shortage. He writes: “Were this done, it would obviate the necessity of priests becoming 'circuitriders, ' going from one place to another to say words that only they can say. ” Circuit-rider is “a lonely, depressing position for the priest and a trying situation for the parish communities. ” The monsignor agrees with one of his friends who said he “would rather pump gas than become a 'circuit-rider priest. '” So Shannon concludes: “How much more sense it would make, in the absence of a resident pastor, to have someone who is known as the leader in that parish community preside at the community's liturgy. ” 3 Admittedly, congregationalism is one pos