The Changing Church

Breaking the Vows

The question of married priests is still very much unanswered.
The Catholic Church's principle of celibacy has been defined as a spiritual process of imitating Christ. But controversy has created a situation that is far from Christlike.

Setting aside, for the moment, the current whirlwind that has whirred among Catholic churches everywhere and taking a look at the large married priest population lays out a map of where the church may go with its pressing issues. First, one must consider that there is a priest shortage, and second that there are many priests who are married that would like to come back to the church.

"This is a matter that can now be discussed," said Roman Catholic priest, Father Howard Lincoln of Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert. "In the past it was a forbidden topic."

Today, there are thousands of priests who have left the priesthood to marry. They have taken on a variety of careers, many who still chose to devote their life to helping others in the name of their beliefs--from working in prisons to providing private counseling. Many of the careers that they have chosen use skills that they learned while they were priests.

There's even a group of priests who are involved in the organization of "Celibacy is the Issue" (CITI). These priests are part of "The Rent-a-Priest " referral program.

The purpose of this organization is to offer a solution to two issues: 1. The Church needs to eliminate the mandatory celibacy rules for priests and 2. The ordination of women. In doing so, the door will open for many more priests to fill the hole that's developed within the Catholic church.

Wrestling with the Vatican, though, can be a dicey process often leading to batches of hot air being blown at invisible targets.

"Now, it's a matter however that ultimately any decision about optional celibacy would come from Rome," explained Father Lincoln.

But there may be hope.

Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe has reported that at one time the church was leading the universities. But now there's at least one catholic educational system that's influencing the church.

There was a deadline set for June 1 of this year whereby the Catholic Church would evaluate all professors of theology so that they were within the restraints of the church doctrine.

Apparently, with the church in crisis, the evaluation program has not taken place, according to Lehigh, and, even more notable, is that Boston College, one of the oldest Jesuit, Catholic universities in the United States, is taking the lead in an assessment of the church along with the crisis in Catholicism.

Alberto Godenzi, dean of the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College and a member of the Boston Archdiocese's new Commission for the Protection of Children, has come up with lessons that the church can learn from the current crisis. From three tentative ideas, he arrives at the conclusion that "invites the Church to consider open, diverse, and participative environments and practices."

Optional Celibacy

Some have written that church greed has played a role in not letting priests marry.

Last May William Rourke wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that the celibacy rule is an "inheritance question" and that the church wants the priest's family wealth to go to the church. The celibacy rule was instated, he wrote, when the church wanted to prevent married priests from passing on their inheritances to their offspring.

In reality, the rule as viewed by the Catholic hierarchy (the pope and bishops) is just about set in stone and based on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

Just what did Paul say about marriage and priests?

"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord, but the married man is anxious about the worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided" (7:32-43).

His conclusion is that although marriage is good, celibacy is better (7:38).

One priest in the Valley disagrees with this assessment.

"Read the bible!" states Father Theophilos, a retired priest living in Palm Desert.
"All the apostles are married except for Paul."

"I believe the first Corinthians," said Father Theophilos, an Eastern Orthodox priest. "Where it says it is better to marry than to burn."

Although Father Theophilos is not Roman Catholic, his dissent regarding the issue of celibacy can be heard loud and clear.

He advises others to marry. "I'm married we (Eastern Orthodox priests) chose to marry or not to, (We must choose) before ordination. After we make the choice we remain in that category. If a priest marries after declaring celibacy, the church drops him. If you're married before being ordained, you made your choice, and its' okay, but you can only marry only once."

Father Theophilos has been married for 57 years. With the same wife and children.

CITI believes that a married priesthood during the first 1200 years of the Church's history should be reestablished.

The web site reads "Married priests are still priests and that all priests, even those who are married, must provide the sacraments when asked."

Perhaps the church establishment will hear them now.

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