As his 95th birthday approached, Chicagos most revered priest, Msgr. Ignatius McDermott told me (as we sat eating corned beef sandwiches at Mannys) that he believed priesthood students should not be allowed to enter the seminary until they were in their late 20s. He did not elucidate beyond saying that they would be more mature then. As he wished to say nothing more, I pondered the reason why as we ateand came to the conclusion that he meant several things. First, yes undeniably men are more mature than when they usually decide to go into the priesthood which, in pre-divinity, is high school (Quigley). Secondly, and this may well be what he meant, there should be a time when they have lived a little bitdated, certainly. Then I remembered that in his era, priests and nuns came through Catholic schools and all but picked the smartest boys for the priesthoodthe picking being touted as an honor to devout Catholic families where there was subtle encouragement to follow the wishes of Father (who was better educated and certainly more devout than the congregation).
Ive thought about this often ever since. McDermott was a priests priest, one who not only was a model but an exemplar of compassion and feeling for the downtrodden. But since he was put on a course to the priesthood at age 14, perhaps he had misgivings that he should have started his trek at an older age. Certainly the immaturity and undefined sexuality that underscores many priests todayand in particular those caught up in sexual scandalswould argue against a later time. But more significant, I believe, a matter of choice given to those who are serious about the priesthood.
I have felt for a long time that celibacy should be voluntary. Thats not as draconian as it sounds. As all Catholics know, celibacy is not essential to the priesthood (as is the male nature of the priesthood). Peter was married (in fact Christ healed his mother-in-law) and for centuries, Catholic priests were allowed to marry. Some early popes were married and celibacy for the Latin (Western) rite did not become mandatory until the early Middle Ages. The Greek (Eastern) rite, still in communion with Rome, still allows priests to marry (in fact a friend of mine, married and the father of five, is a pastor nearby). Celibacy is not a prescribed rule without which one cannot be a priest, but is a discipline. The argument since Gregory VII is that celibacy is not necessary to fulfill the priesthood, is a disciplinary not doctrinal, injunction but is a discipline one should be prepared to undergo in order to be a better priest. There are auxiliary reasons. A man who has the responsibility of supporting a family regards this as his first tasknot the priesthood. Yet, marriage was never regarded as second to celibacy. It is a sacrament of equal worth to Holy Orders.
The changing times and the base culture of our times would warrantto me, at leastthat celibacy should be voluntary. By this I dont mean that those who skipped out of the priesthood to marry should be invited backnot at all
but that those who would qualify to be good priests should not be forbidden to marry. There will always be those who wish not to marry and want to put the priesthood firstthey should be honored. But increasingly I am concerned that many who enter the priesthood do not view celibacy as a sacrificerather than an opportunity to associate with men. And thats wrong. A distinguished priest I visited with once said that when he interviews prospective candidates, he asks them if they feel they can live with celibacy. Those who say full-heartedly that they can, he doubts very much, because he very strongly wanted to marry and have a family but put God first. I feel that many if not most of the priests who have erred have not felt this way.
Likewise, he would quite probably feel disadvantaged personally if the rule were to change. Here he made a tremendous sacrifice for the love of God and now its optional to allow those who put marriage and family equal to the priesthood can be satisfied. He has a very good point. But the decline of the priesthood is a very serious problem with the church as is the need to interfere with what I call the Lavender priesthoodmen who if not actively performing homosexuality have a strong inclination to it.
Now is the time to clear up, I think, the difference between celibacy and chastity. Erasmus wrote that not all celibates are chaste and not all chaste persons are celibate. Chastity can be pursued in both married and single lives. Celibacy requires a person refrain from marriage and, therefore, sexual intercourse. Chastity requires a permanent change of character that disposes one to maintain a reasonable moderation in everything pertaining to the passion of lust. Remember that the greatest of saints experienced carnality, witness Augustines famous prayer when he was a young man-about-Rome: O Lord, make me chaste but not right now!
You have the opportunity to make me smarterand right now by giving your views on this in Readers Comments. It would be helpful if you say whether or not youre Catholic
but Catholic, Protestant, Jew or pagan, go right ahead
or rather write ahead. Would it be prudent to support celibacy being made a voluntary option for priests?