Let's Not Rush into This: While a Married Clergy May Be a Smart Move in the Short Run, We Still Need to Ask Some Serious Questions about Who Does What at Church

Article excerpt

THE WORLD STOOD STILL IN NOVEMBER AS POPE Benedict XVI participated in a highly-anticipated meeting--though one unrelated to his high-stakes trip to Turkey. No, this was about a volatile intra-religious issue: celibacy. Though hyped by the media, the two-hour curial meeting resulted in the expected reaffirmation of celibacy. Still, only two weeks later the new prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, pointed out that "celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma of the church"--though the next day he denied that Rome was planning any changes.

For some, however, the fact that such conversations are taking place at all is cause for hope. If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only a pope known as a tough-minded traditionalist can finally tackle celibacy. Besides, the "priest shortage" has long been a problem needing attention. Today as many as 500,000 Catholics a year in Brazil, the country with the world's largest Catholic population, defect to minister-rich evangelical churches. With one Mexican priest for every 7,200 Catholics in that country, compared to one minister for every 230 evangelicals, the time for a serious discussion about celibacy is long overdue.

Common wisdom suggests that married priests would be a quick fix to the "vocation crisis," and many have argued persuasively for a change. But a married clergy may have consequences beyond the challenge of paying a priest with a family or the possibility that with married priests could come divorced ones as well.

Indeed it's possible that one casualty of a married clergy would be one of the greatest achievements of the post-Vatican II church: lay ministry. For the truth is, there is really no "vocation crisis" at all in Catholicism. We are, on the contrary, vocation-rich, with scores of lay ministers answering their baptismal call to teach, sanctify, and serve God's people. This phenomenal growth is no doubt related to the decline of ordained ministry--and some still see lay ministers as second-class replacements at best. But others would argue that this shift has been the work of the Holy Spirit, transforming a rigid, clerical, hierarchical church into a far more dynamic, charismatic, egalitarian people of God, one that reflects the vision of Vatican II. …


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