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Monday, April 28, 2008

Catholics can open priesthood, gain souls

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

My guess is that the American Catholic Church would see a resurgence beyond imagining if it welcomed women and the married into the priesthood. No one expected that Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to the United States would announce that he was overturning the centuries-long church tradition that closed the Catholic priesthood to women and married men. But some of the faithful can't be blamed for hoping that the change will come in their lifetimes.

I hope that the pope has returned to the Vatican with some lasting impressions of the American Catholic Church: its tremendous vitality despite the disturbing loss of clergy over the last several decades, and the yearning of the laity for an even more invigorated church that an upsurge in the number of priests would bring to it.

There are reasons against a change in the policy. One invokes Christ's intent, which he demonstrated by his own chaste and single life and the inclusion of men only among his apostles and at the Last Supper. We have to rely on interpreting his intent because it is not recorded, as far as I know, that he said with encyclical-like clarity that only men and single people could serve as priests.

The fact that he gathered mostly men around him as his disciples might have had something to do with the culture of his times: Men ran just about everything.

So, does Christ intend to carry on that system because it was the custom 2,000 years ago? Consider: If he and his disciples customarily traveled only by donkey and fishing boat, would it be right to assume that he meant that priests today could only travel by donkeys and fishing boats? Are we to assume that Christ intended that the chemical makeup of chromosomes would determine who was qualified enough to bring more souls to him through the priesthood?

On its face, it seems ludicrous. Why should he limit the spread of the faith and redemption in such a superficial way? Why should he leave more than half of the faithful out of this glorious and blessed work? Some might argue that (1) priests are special and therefore (2) they must be men. The logical connection between the two statements leads one through tangled thickets of illogic.

Before Benedict became pope he was quoted as saying about expanding the priesthood by accepting women and married priests: "The first question . . . is: Are there true believers? And then comes the second question: Are priests coming from them?"

Quality over quantity, as it were. Except for two problems. The first is shocking in its assumption: If the test for priesthood is "true belief," how can it be said that male true believers outnumber female true believers? If anything, from my observations, the reverse is the case. Second, as the priest who gave the homily in my parish said last week (while making a different point), sometimes numbers do count. The more priests, the more people coming to know Christ. How can gender differences be more important than that?

Ministering to the faithful is a high calling, and you cannot so easily dismiss the argument that you get better priests if they are not diverted by concerns of family and flesh. Chastity is a great virtue, testing one's discipline and elevating one's holiness. What greater surrender is there than devoting yourself wholly and completely to the priestly vocation? But, those virtues are as equally available to women as they are to men. Women, even married couples, can choose to be chaste. Those who wish to achieve this special higher level of holiness flowing from the chaste and single life are free to do so, voluntarily. Their holiness or their effectiveness is in no way diminished by opening the priesthood to those who have been joined in the sacrament of marriage and whose oneness has been celebrated in the blessed act of sexuality.

It is hard for me to imagine a God who would say it is more important to limit who will be priests based on genetic makeup than it is to bring as many souls as possible to eternal salvation. Why would he do so?

Some would argue that opening the door to women and the married would send the priesthood down a slippery slope. But that slope is not more slippery than the one the single, male priesthood has brought us.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dennis:

I have appreciated your commentary over the years, especially because you strive being fair and balanced in your assessment of the Catholic Church.

In terms of your analysis on the priesthood, I suggest you look into what John Paul II called the ‘ontological complimentarity” in his Theology of the Body.

This concept is radically foreign to western thinkers, but based upon the 2nd account of creation found in Genesis, where God creates woman as his masterpiece of all of creation. The femininity of woman and the masculinity of man express the deepest language of our bodies and the most comprehensive and adequate anthropology for humanity. All other anthropologies fade in comparison to this anthropology, because God Himself gave us this anthropology in the book of Genesis.

I suggest reading some commentaries on Theology of the Body (Ascension Press) or reading the actual 129 catechesis yourself (Paulist press) to further your inquiry into the truth.

Finally, I suggest some caution as you provide commentary on certain issues pertaining to the Church, for, as I am sure you are well aware, the spiritual maturity of the majority of your readers is so underdeveloped that all they do is read one line and then proof text it for their attacks on authority.


John Dembowski said...

Mr. Byrne
Frequently when I read your articles I find myself supporting you're points. Today however, I disagree with the point you make that the apostles were male only because that's what the times were like. There are many instances in the Bible where Jesus defied the Pharisees and Saducees. Here are four examples Matthew 15: 1-3, Matt 16: 4, Matt21: 12-17, Matt:21: 23-27. In these and countless others Jesus was not concerned with current customs. If Jesus had wanted women he would have appointed a women, and he probably would have married just as the Jewish elders.
The point you make comparing the way people traveled back then to changing the composition of the priesthood is not comparable. Jesus commanded them to pair off and spread the news but didn't tell them how to travel. Should we also conclude that the Ten Commandments are outdated as well? The Bible is God's word and the Pope is the seat of Peter upon which Jesus built his church. Relevant radio 930 and 950 AM has several priests on that theologically explain this better for you. Fr. John Corapi at 10:00 AM for one. Fr. Larry Richards at 7:00 PM, and Cardinal Fulton Sheen on EWTN internet every evening.

Respectfully, John Dembowski

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Byrne,

I enjoy reading your columns because of their clarity, insight, and the good points they raise. I do, however, disagree with your recent column regarding the Catholic priesthood. There are many theological points in the article that I could respond to, but I'll just address two.

First, we should be careful not to assume that the "limiting" of the priesthood to single males is an arbitrary thing. We must remember that Holy Orders is a sacrament, and like every sacrament, it requires certain elements to be valid.

For example, without water, a valid Christian baptism cannot take place. Without bread and wine, we would have no Eucharist. This doesn't mean that we are limiting God (because, of course, He can work however He wishes), but it does mean that the elements in the sacraments are not arbitrary.

We believe that God wants to communicate Himself to us in specific ways (i.e., the sacraments), and these sacraments must be celebrated in the ways that Christ has handed down to us through Scripture and Tradition. Thus, for Holy Orders, the maleness of the candidate is necessary for a valid sacrament.

Secondly, I would caution against dismissing the example set by Christ of choosing twelve single men for His apostles. For a great and well-researched discussion on this topic, please read "The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church" by Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT. Sr. Butler, by the way, used to be a staunch promoter of women's ordination, but now works to affirm and explain the Church's teaching.

Fr. Robert Schultz

Den N said...

Dear Dennis Byrne:

Usually I read your columns and throw the paper across the room. I was much surprised by this well-reasoned, enlightened column on priesthood. Keep it up.

Den N.

Anonymous said...

I think your first three posters are correct. Christ could have included women in the active ministry just as he spoke to women, and a Samaritan woman, at that. He chose not to do so. As far as I am concerned, the Church is already too feminized; if we don't want to drive out healthy men entirely, we don't need women preaching at them.

Perhaps married clergy would alleviate the crisis of the numbers of priests, but we would then add to the burden of maintaining schools with that of salaries and houses for families of the clergy. From what I see happening in my local parish, the celibate clergy is increasingly isolating itself from the legitimate needs of the parishioners after business hours, so they might as well have families to attend to.

What the Catholic church needs is orthodox, zealous men, not the crop of dissident, often homosexual, men that have gravitated to the priesthood and been encouraged by the seminary selection process since Vatican II.