Goodbye Father: The Celibate Male Priesthood and the Future of the Catholic Church

By Richard A. Schoenherr; David Yamane | Go to book overview

14
GOODBYE FATHER

You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.

Mt. 23:9

In the 1944 movie Going My Way, Bing Crosby played an astute young priest, Father O'Malley, and Barry Fitzgerald a seasoned pastor, Father Fitzgibbon. Both were admired and loved by parishioners and friends and still are by video viewers two generations later. The film's nostalgic scenes remind us that calling a priest Father is as Catholic as the rosary and as American as apple pie. Similarly, Catholics and the whole world know Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II, a title with the same etymology as father.1 In most Romance languages the connotation is even more evident: The word for pope is papa, identical to the affectionate term for father. Many address the pope simply as Holy Father. Thus, whether referring to parish priest or supreme pontiff, the same title signifying monarchical control, patriarchal respect, reverential fear, and filial affection is used worldwide and has been for almost two millennia.

This book challenges Catholics and society at large to say goodbye to Father. Not, I insist, goodbye to the sacerdotal sacramentalism of priestly ministry, but to what the title Father has come to symbolize: male celibate exclusivity.

Of the ideal-typical traits characterizing Catholic ministry, two will endure and two will fall away. Sacerdotal and sacramental dominance will continue, but, one day soon, celibate and male exclusivity will no longer distinguish the Catholic priesthood. Of the two that will eventually disappear, patriarchal control attached to male exclusivity is a much more critical problem than the maritalstatus inequality attached to celibate exclusivity. I agree with those who find the ban against ordaining women to be theologically untenable and morally outrageous. Moreover, demeaning women by excluding them from positions of full power makes no political or economic sense in a voluntary organization whose membership is predominantly female. Overall, male exclusivity in the Catholic priesthood is more detrimental to authentic religion than celibate exclusivity. Granted, the enormity of the problem created by male exclusivity demands the Church's full attention, and the problem of celibate exclusivity pales in comparison. Nevertheless, the forces of history and the dynamics of social change dic

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