Thursday, 4 December 2008

Married Priests Again

Okay. Let's try this again.

I said that the married priest seemed to think that those who don't want to abandon the discipline of celibacy for priests think that "familial love [is] incompatible with the vocation of a priest". I (reduntantly) pointed out that obviously the Vatican doesn't think so, or he wouldn't be in circulation.

Trouble is, I think that even if he was talking about incompatability (he may have actually used those words, but I'm not sure) it certainly can't have been what he meant. I imagine (it was a while ago now) that he was thinking more in terms of conflict, or tension. The interviewer asked a question which was something to do with whether married priests were considered second-class priests.

So, like I said last time, first thing I'd look at would be St. Paul:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. - 1 Cor 7:32-35
I think in fact that this priest has probably over-spiritualised the issue. He was saying that his love for his wife and for his children does not restrict his capacity to love and serve God as a priest, and this is of course true. The way I see it. however, is that it's hardly even a theological question (except in the sense that reality is a matter of theological interest): it's a practical question. Everybody knows that both being a husband and being a father entail everyday duties, concerns and responsibilities that someone who is not a husband, and not a father, does not have. We don't criticise fathers for spending time with their wives and children - we expect it, and so we expect it of married priests too. A priest accepts the task of being a spiritual father to every person in his parish as God is the Father of all mankind. By having a wife and children, I think the parity of the relationship is somewhat obscured. I don't think that married priests are second-class priests, only that for them a particular tension exists that doesn't exist for celibate priests.


Philip said...

What about the tension of loneliness for a single priest compared with th support from a partnerof a married priest. I could not do my job a s effectively without the support of Jill

Adrian said...

"for [married priests] a particular tension exists that doesn't exist for celibate priests."

I suspect that for most human males, the converse is also true!

Mark said...

I agree with both of you that it does cut both ways.

I think that whether or not a given man would be more or less capable of living out a priestly vocation with or without the support of a wife depends on whether or not that man has a vocation to marriage.

I suppose it would be possible from someone to take the complete opposite view and maintain that celibate priests were necessarily second-rate...

I obviously can't speak from personal experience about celibacy, but I do think that when it comes to sexual tension, there is a difference between being single and taking a vow of celibacy, something to do with the choice itself.

I've been very struck by the happiness of celibate men and women that I've met in the past few years, though obviously some regret it, as much as some people regret the marriages they've made.