|Mandatory Celibacy only is imposed on |
the clergy of the Western Church in the
Central Middle Ages, principally during
the Gregorian Reformation
As I mentioned in the last post, celibacy permits the Church Institution to hold the priest in a financial and often psychological dependency in which his loyalty to the Institution is strengthened. Some priests have felt “victimized” by this imposed dependency. Many, realizing the dynamics of this dependency, have fled the priesthood to salvage their identity as self-motivating and autonomous adults. Even more (fortunately) have developed healthy strategies to keep their maturity and psychological autonomy intact while continuing to minister to God’s people. But many priests have allowed their psychological and even spiritual growth to be stunted by what is an unhealthy system of rewards and punishments that bolster the power of the Institution over them and even over the weaker sheep in the flocks entrusted to them.
You will notice that I speak not of “the Church” but of “the Institution.” I want to make a clear difference here between the divinely established Community of Faith and the Faithful that we call “The Church” and the humanly and historically developed Institution that tries—with both holy and sometimes unholy means—to serve that Community. I also want to point out that I don’t make this distinction or use this language in any theological sense—which is beyond my capacity—but speaking strictly from a historical viewpoint, which is not beyond my credentials.
Sometimes it is argued that permitting priests to marry would be financially crippling to the Church. Actually, with sound and professional reorganization of Church finances it would be quite feasible, at least here in North America. This again though would challenge the power of the Institution as such financial reorganization would require a transparency and accountability that is not current practice nor long—if ever—has been such practice.
What is probably the greater fear of many who cannot see beyond the Institutional model of Church is that marriage would encourage priests to a psychological maturity that would undermine the power of the local bishop. A priest who has a wife (and children) has a divided loyalty. Marriage would not divide the loyalty of the priest to God, or to the Gospel he is ordained to preach, nor to the Church, i.e. the people whom he serves; it would however make him face choices between his family’s demands and those of his bishop. “We are not going there” a wife might say “our children need better schools.” Or “I am not raising our children in that house!” Or “I have my career too and I am not sacrificing it to move two hours away.” Gone would be the days of the docile Father O’Malley with his one valise and his straw hat getting on the street-car and moving cross-town to St. Mary’s, bells or no bells. Marriage does not make all men grow up, alas, but many a bishop would want to make sure than none of his priests made his life complicated by thinking for himself or having a wife who would have voice in his decisions. Marriage could bring down the whole system. And wouldn’t that be too bad!!!!