I HAVE followed with interest Fr David Pascoe’s three-part response on the issue of a male-dominated celibate priesthood in the Catholic Church (CL 11, 18 and 25/2/01).
Fr Pascoe’s responses, whilst agreeing with a basic premise of the letter writer, argue that the male celibate ordained ministry, as we know it today “developed” through a relational nexus with Jesus and through the ongoing influence of the Holy Spirit. A statement issued on the subject from Rome a while ago, claimed “tradition” as the compelling reason for maintaining the status quo – no explanation however was forthcoming on how this “tradition” evolved.
With great respect to Fr Pascoe, I think his philosophically (if I can use that term) deduced theory and the “tradition” theory from Rome is just that – “theory”, in both instances conflicting with Scripture. Neither Jesus nor Paul, though celibate themselves, imposed celibacy as a requirement on early Christian leaders. Jesus, in Matthew 19:10 acknowledges celibacy as a special calling and not for everyone. Paul in his First Letter to Timothy and restated in his Letter to Titus advocates a married clergy.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ODCC) offers perhaps the most plausible explanations on which the celibacy rule was forged:
“(i) The influence of monasticism which gained papal favour during the Middle Ages through the influence of Benedictine, Franciscan and Cistercian monks (St Bernard of Clairvaux was adviser to two popes and Pope Eugenius III (1145-53) was a Cistercian monk himself).
“(ii) Financial loss for the ‘institutional Church’ as a result of the wives and children of married clergy inheriting property donated to parish priests.
“(iii) The strong anti-feminine sentiments foisted by Church hierarchy and reflected in church art, sculpture and literature (eg On the Misery of Man authored by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), the sculptured facades on the great abbeys/cathedrals of Europe).”
As for the “tradition” theory, celibacy became Church law only in 1917 when it entered the Code of Cannon Law. Till then enforcing the celibacy met with vigorous resistance, this despite numerous councils and decrees. That is the history.
The most vexing question for the 21st century though is “why does the Catholic Church hold on to a man-made law which is unnatural for the human species and importantly without Scriptural authenticity or authority?”. Precedence for change already exists in the 1500-year tradition of “Usury”.
Perhaps Fr Pascoe may wish to address this question in a forthcoming column.
LAWRENCE D’EKENAIKE Bray Park, Qld