It’s not there yet — allowing priests to marry; no, the crisis would have to explode yet greater, and continue over an even longer period than heretofore — but in the wake of the newest media focus on sex abuse, a campaign for this, an attempt, may arrive sooner rather than later. The prediction here: it will not happen.
Instead, the Church may become smaller and more pure — which is not a bad thing (if, in that purity, is future recovery). But so dynamic are current times that: who knows.
In many ways, it’s confusing: cases of clergy abuse have been reported publicly since at least 1985, and even a decade ago, the startling number of cases (thousands) was known widely. There were national studies. There were Pulitzer-Prize-winning news articles. There was even a movie. And there had been cases, especially that of Father Marcial Maciel in Mexico, more severe than what have been reported recently. All three of the most recent popes have been haunted by it.
But we are in a media moment, at an inflection point, and the argument is obvious: married priests, by and large, would be heterosexual and in relationships (if they are living out their marital vows) that are monogamous. Temptation toward perversion would not be as severe.
Or at least that’s what those campaigning for married priests would argue.
There is also the argument that if priests were allowed to marry, there would be an upsurge, perhaps an explosion, in vocations — not enough seminaries to hold them. Would they be better balanced? More attuned to laity?
Those questions would be explored — as we ignore the precious gift, the rarefied power, of celibacy.
As Benedict XVI said, “The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God.” (See here for what other recent Popes have said.]
Though Satan has exploited celibacy in the hyper-sexualized West, celibacy is not only not the problem, but confers a special anointing on priests that could be lost with married ones.
Not that betrothed priests currently in the Church are not anointed (allowed ordination because they had been Protestant ministers); one looks at men such as Father Dwight Longenecker, an insightful, charismatic, dedicated priest in South Carolina who had been Anglican (a chaplain in Cambridge) and already married when ordained a Catholic priest in 2006. He relates very well and fruitfully with laity.
But celibacy is a great sacrifice; it is a high form of fasting. Fasting brings spiritual power.
At the same time it must be admitted that if all the errant ones are to be purged, we’ll need priests and already are desperately short (Irish officials recently warned that without married ones, the Church there will vanish, and the recent abuse headlines will only dissuade young men considering a vocation).
And so it is also Satan’s plan: incite disordered lust among priests, blind and arrogate bishops, dredge up past abuse cases (the grand jury report in Pennsylvania goes back seventy years), and tie it into a big neat bow with folks like (former) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
In all fairness, relatively few abuse cases are recent — have occurred since bishops enacted emergency policies in 2002.
Have we been failed by many bishops and priests?
That answer is obvious.
What would the rank and file want?
Given a choice between a homosexual priest and a married one, most Catholics would choose the latter.
Would married priests solve the problem?
Or make the Church more protestant?
So sexualized indeed is our culture that it has become nearly impossible for priests to avoid temptation.
The devil is all around — as never. Look at what our priests are surrounded by. As a nun quoted Mary as foreseeing centuries ago, in a Church-sanctioned apparition, in Ecuador, “The spirit of impurity that will saturate the atmosphere in those times. Like a filthy ocean, it will inundate the streets, squares and public places with an astonishing liberty. There will be almost no virgin souls in the world.” Those priests who have remained holy need our support and are amazing.
A holy Church is the only defense; a holy Church — devoid of the idolization of the institution — will attract good men who choose the sacrifice of celibacy.
Bring out the Blessed Sacrament as the worship of Christ. Rid pride. Bring dry theology to a grinding halt. Attract the right kind by resurrecting 19th-century devotion.
A strange and perhaps pivotal time it is — a time for the Church to go back to truly deep prayer and liquidate episcopal mansions and purge homosexuality with tenacity or accept the consequences of its dalliance with worldliness.
[Footnote: In that message in 1632 to a nun in Quito, Ecuador, Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, Mary is quoted as saying: “The Catholic spirit will rapidly decay; the precious light of Faith will gradually be extinguished until there will be an almost total and general corruption of customs. Added to this will be the effects of secular education, which will be one reason for the death of priestly and religious vocations.
“The Sacrament of Holy Orders will be ridiculed, oppressed, and despised, for in this Sacrament, the Church of God and even God Himself is scorned and despised since He is represented in His priests. The Devil will try to persecute the ministers of the Lord in every possible way; he will labor with cruel and subtle astuteness to deviate them from the spirit of their vocation and will corrupt many of them. These depraved priests, who will scandalise the Christian people, will make the hatred of bad Catholics and the enemies of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church fall upon all priests.”]
[Picture of Saint John Vianney, patron of priests, from Catholic Saint Medals]