The Pewsitter headline was amusing, as usual: “Did the Pope consider ending priestly celibacy?” They linked to the America blog here where the headline was: “Benedict Called for Church to ‘Investigate Celibacy’.”
This is a serious issue. It doesn’t need amateur journalists popping off a nonsense headline I might expect from the features section of a secular paper. What we’re talking about here is not lining up wives for all of today’s celibate clergy. The ancient tradition would not admit ordained priests to marry. The issue is whether married candidate should be admitted to the priesthood. Everybody who is ordained and celibate now, would remain so.
Commentator Pete Lake quoted the pope from a recent defense of mandatory celibacy:
Not getting married is based on the desire to live only for oneself, not to accept any definitive bond, to have life at every moment in full autonomy, to decide at every moment what to do, what to take from life; and therefore a ‘no’ to commitment, a ‘no’ to definitiveness, a having life only for oneself. (Celibacy) is a definitive ‘yes,’ it is allowing ourselves to be taken in hand by God, giving ourselves into the hands of the Lord, into his ‘I,’ and therefore it is an act of fidelity and trust. It is the exact opposite of this ‘no,’ of this autonomy that does not want to be obligated, that does not want to enter into a bond. (A)s the criticisms show, celibacy is a great sign of faith, of the presence of God in the world.
This quote sounds like the unmarried life is at root, a selfish life. I know the pope isn’t intending to be read this way, but we all know that a celibate priest without the discipline of a religious community, is well placed to lead a self-centered life. Most priests, we know, live a life of sacrifice and availability. And these men are a credit to Holy Orders as well as the celibate tradition.
As for the pope’s last sentence, I would have to say that matrimony trumps celibacy. It is a sacrament, and as such, it is a definitive sign of Christ’s presence both in the Church and in the world. It also is at the core of the smallest unit of Christendom, the domestic Church. A solo celibate unrooted in an explicit eremitic tradition has none of this. No sacrament for celibacy. No Church of one.
In addition, the handing over of personal autonomy is a great sign of sacrifice. A married adult offers an experience of kenosis toward the spouse, the children, and in the married witness in the Church and in the world.
My strong sense is that what is passing for a theological justification for mandatory celibacy is exceedingly weak. I think the Holy Father does well within a mystagogical tradition. He seems out of his depth with this quote above. Should’ve stuck with that letter back in 1970.