Saturday, July 30, 2011

Semper Reformanda--A Church Always in Need of Reform

Bernini's famous statue of Saint Teresa in ecstasy
Santa Marria della Vittoria in Rome  
In my last post I mentioned the Church’s loss of membership as one of the reasons that we need a Reformation.  I really only spoke of North America, or actually the United States, though Anglophone Canada suffers the same and Francophone Canada much worse as a once devoutly Catholic people simply slide in secularism.  The Church is growing rapidly in much of sub-Sahara Africa and in parts of Asia and there is great vitality but Europe is in lamentable shape.  Indeed Pope Benedict has made the revival of Catholicism in Europe a chief priority of his pontificate.  Unfortunately , tragically, to date he has completely failed in this mission.  My opinion is that he has not known how to go about it and thinks that all it requires is a somewhat effete renaissance of he thinks to be “Catholic Culture” focusing on music and art rather than a vibrant and authentic “new Evangelization.”  I too love Mozart and Michelangelo, but neither the Freemason composer nor the gay artist can bear the weight of the Gospel.  A genuine Evangelization needs a Saint Francis and a Catherine of Siena and an Ignatius Loyola and a Teresa of Avila.  We need men and women who are on fire with the Gospel and who exude a love for God and the Love of God for us.  The art and the music come later.  I mean, Bernini’s skill needed Teresa’s passion to create his masterpiece, and first came Ignatius and then the marvelous Gesu.  The religious situation in Europe is terrible.  When I attend Mass in France, for example,  I have found—in Paris, Avignon, Bourges, Nantes, Angers—wonderful vibrant congregations that are warm and welcoming and in which the liturgy is well celebrated with beautiful music and deep reverence, but I have also seen that only a fraction of the population is at Mass. (In Rome, on the other hand, while only a fraction of the people are at Mass, I find the Masses hurried, uninspiring, minimal participation, empty homilies.)   This tells me that it is not a liturgical renewal that is needed—though I appreciate good liturgy—but a genuine evangelization.  Even where the liturgy is good we, as a Church, are not speaking to the hungers of the human heart.  I don’t think that the problem is that people aren’t interested in what the Church has to offer, but rather the Church is not offering in what the Holy Spirit is leading the hearts of people to desire. We are too confident in our own convictions to listen attentively to what God is calling us to become.  We think that our own “tried and true” approach to the faith is THE approach.  I am not sure what hungers the Holy Spirit is putting in the hearts of people today, but it obviously isn’t for the externals of religion that we are too often offering them.  I do think that there is a deep desire for an inner life, a spiritual life.  I think people long for paths to wisdom and compassion—paths our Catholic Tradition knows well (John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, The Ignatian Exercises) but too rarely draws on.  I think people are looking for integrity, honesty, transparency which are signs of genuine holiness but we offer a rather palid piety and superficial devotion.  To bring that down to earth—the need today is not for May Crownings and Holy Hours (though there is nothing wrong with either, other than that they are no more than frosting on the Catholic Cake) but a Church that practices the ideals that it preaches, a humble Church, a Church that delivers on its promise to bring good news to the poor, healing to the sick, freedom to the oppressed and announce a time of God’s Favor to ALL.  I think that people are looking for a Church that empowers them to be of service to others—both to individuals and to society.  They are not looking for a Church that will think for them or tell them what to do or how to make specific decisions, but will give them the tools to be self-actualizing and responsible disciples.  There are people, of course, who will look only towards their own good or their own hedonistic satisfaction, just as there are people who have no awareness of any religious hunger within their heart, but I honestly believe that most people, especially most people who were raised in Christian families, or even families that were only vaguely religious, have values that make them want to move beyond themselves and self-interest to the good of others.  They don’t need, or want, to be told that they have to oppose same-sex marriage or contraception or even abortion.  When it comes to concrete issues, they can make their own decisions but they want an opportunity to discuss and reason out the sound moral principles that will empower them to make those decisions.  Frankly, they are often just as intelligent, or sometimes even more so, than their priest or bishop and they resent being told how they should think.  They want a faith that engages them, that lets them bring their own experience and insights into dialogue with the moral heritage of the Church—not because they reject that heritage but precisely because they want to make that heritage their own, to contribute to its development, to bring heritage into a shaping dialogue with contemporary experience.  They day of telling the faithful what to think or how to believe is over.  The earthquake has begun, the tomb is rumbling, the stone starting to roll back and the Consensus Fidelium is being raised from its deathly slumber of a millennium and a half.  This will be the beginning of the New Evangelization, not a Mostly Mozart evening in the Nervi Hall.     

More on the Church's Need for a New Reformation

A Buddhist monk and a Catholic
Religious Sister stand together in
St. Peter's Square during the
Beatification of Mother Teresa
Another indication of an urgent need for Reform in the Church is the critical hemorrhaging of members.  The rapidly changing demographics as vast numbers of Americans move from the North East and Midwest to the South and South West as well as the huge influx of Catholic Immigrants from Latin America and the Pacific Rim has created a sort of shell-game that give the impression in some parts of the country that Church population is somewhat stable.  And indeed, because of the immigration the numbers are holding, unlike for Mainline Protestant Churches.  Even in the North East and Midwest, there is room for self-deception as complacent officials attribute the empty churches to the suburbanization of the Catholic Population and the decrease in family size from the post-war years where Catholic parents often had six or more children.  And, again, there is some truth to this.  But I am a great reader of death notices and when I find a McLaughlin or a Catanzarro or a Kowalski being buried from “Pine Ridge Bible Church” or having their “Celebration of Life” at McGinty’s Tavern and Bowling Alley –and I am finding a lot of these obituaries today—I realize that something has changed.   Several weeks back I did a series of entries on why people come (or don’t come) to Mass.  When people meet a priest at a social event they no longer feel any embarrassment or discomfiture at the subject of no longer being Catholic.  When I was growing up, admittedly in the Pre-Vatican II years, you heard “once a Catholic, always a Catholic.”  And that was true. It was impossible to ever truly leave the Church.  O you might go somewhere else, especially if there was a divorce and remarriage issue, but you always trailed your Catholicism with you.  No longer.  I once marveled at how Protestants could be Congregationalists until they moved to a town where the Methodists church was closer and they became Methodists.  “Abide with Me” lent itself to playing musical chairs much better than “Panis Angelicus,” but no longer.  Today you find Catholics sliding comfortably into a wide variety of other churches, other religions, and no religion at all. 
    Several years ago I met a fellow on a retreat.  He had been in his younger years, long ago, a member of the Society of Jesus—a Jesuit—though he left before ordination, married, and raised a family.  He and his wife are devout and faithful Catholics.  During the Cold War he served as United States Ambassador to one of the Soviet Satellite States of Eastern Europe where his wife and he were driven each Sunday  in the Ambassador’s car, flags flying, to Mass at the Cathedral in public witness of his personal faith and the American commitment to Freedom of Religion.  He regularly called on the capital’s Archbishop or sent the Archbishop gifts of food, firewood, and other necessities the regime made it difficult for the prelate to obtain as a sign to the government that nothing untoward should happen to the Archbishop or it would be noticed by the American Embassy.  The evening I was a guest at their home, we were joined by their daughter, a Buddhist nun.  This woman, raised a Catholic in the most devout of homes, is no flake.  To the contrary.  Not only is she a known and reputable Buddhist Scholar, but a practicing and well respected physician who, among other clients, is the physician for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in her city.  I have since arranged for her to speak on a number of panels with Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic scholars on the subjects of spirituality and peacemaking.   I have never discussed with her the subject of why she found her spiritual home in Buddhism, but I am reminded of Richard Rohr’s quote: Much of the Western world has given up on the Church and is going other places for wisdom.  Unfortunately, in these other places they are sometimes “willingly filling their belly with the husks the pigs are eating” (Luke 15:16) But we in the church must ask ourselves if we have not been the parent who sent them away because there was nothing trustworthy or life-giving at home.  (Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993, p. 26)  By no means do I want to compare Buddhism to empty husks--to the contrary--I am well read in Buddhism and appreciate its great wisdom and depth, for the most part quite compatible with our Christian faith and practice.  But the lack of appreciation among Catholics for our own profound mystical tradition and practice has left a hunger for many that drives them to look elsewhere for what is at home in locked cupboards.       I deeply appreciate Pope Benedict’s call to a New Evangelism, but it is in vain until we, as a Church, have a deep and soul-searching inner Reformation, individually and collectively.  After all, how can those who have not yet believed the Gospel be its heralds? 

Friday, July 29, 2011

More on the Need for a New Reformation

Two views of what the Church is about.  Which
one do you think has a greatercredibility in
bringing the message of Jesus into the world today,
the nun working with the poor, or the Cardinal in all
his glory?  
Yesterday I began an entry on why the Church stands in need of Reformation today just as it has in other periods of history.   I began with the axiom Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda—the Church, always reforming and always in need of reform but promised that I would look at some more concrete examples of why we need to have a modern Reformation—and my list is not meant to be an exhaustive list.  I am sure there are other reasons beyond the one’s I am going to enumerate.
     The first and most obvious is the sex-abuse crisis that has rocked the Church not only in the United States but throughout the Western world.  Even more indicative of the need for Reform than the sex-abuse itself, was the almost universal behavior of bishops attempting to “cover-up” the scandal rather than address its root causes.  And why this cannot be effectively reformed from within the ranks of the papal administration is that it is becoming increasingly clear that the bishops’ policies of cover-up were directed from Rome.  After the recent reports (The Cloyne and Murphy Reports) regarding  clergy sex abuse in several diocese of Ireland, the Taoiseach, Enda Kerry, issued a stinging condemnation in the Daìl (the Taoiseach is the Prime Minister; the Daìl is the Irish Parliament) of the Vatican for its role in orchestrating a policy of cover-up.  This problematic policy is not unique to Ireland.  The papacy of John Paul II was particularly unable to understand the crisis and deal with it openly and effectively and while Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, pressed for more effective policies to get to the roots of the problem, the obstructionist prelates in the Roman Curia who neither understand the seriousness of the problem nor are willing to effect the radical structural change that is needed to heal it are still in place. Probably the single most critical area for Reform in the Catholic Church today is the Roman Curia which has moved far from being an extension of papal power into an organization with immense power of its own, a power that transcends and even supersedes the authority of the pope himself.  (Sometimes when we do a series of entries on the Second Vatican Council we will look at how the Curia survived the Conciliar attempts of Reform and has emerged even more powerful than it was before the Council.) 
      A second reason indicating the need for a Reformation is the loss of prestige which the Church has suffered in the world over the last forty years.  This loss is due not to the Second Vatican Council.  Indeed those of us who remember the Council recall the immense boost of credibility and energy the Church enjoyed from that fateful January day in 1959 when Pope John XXIII announced he was convoking a Council.  The Catholic Church moved from being perceived as an arcane and cultic relic of the bygone days of monarchic absolutism with its millions of enthralled and docile adherents to being a vital and engaged participant in the world community.  The remote and other-worldly visage of Pius XII was replaced by the kindly and humane “Good Pope John.”   Part of the loss of prestige, and I believe a great part of it, has been the deliberate policy of a secular society and its advocates to push to the margins of public life any and all religion, but especially any religion whose influence could undermine the post-religious agenda of secular liberalism.  Again, those of us who remember the times of the Second Vatican Council remember that magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Life covered not only the Catholic Church but religious topics of all sorts with great regularity and a respectful tone.   One can search modern newspapers and journals, including the aforementioned Time and Newsweek, and will rarely find religious topics covered except for such topics as the ubiquitous sex-abuse scandal or some other story which can be viewed only from the critical perspective. This does not betray an anti-Catholic bias as some bishops have claimed, but an anti-religious slant.   Even non-Catholic churchmen of considerable repute such as Anglican Archbishops Rowan Williams or Desmond Tutu, or evangelical Jim Wallis are almost never in the pages of the press, though the more erratic such as Billy Graham’s son, Franklin,  or John Hagee occasionally show up because they reinforce Christianity as something eccentric or even hateful.   And of course, speaking of hateful,  one sees with some regularity the “God hates Fags” placards of the so-called Westboro Baptist “Church.”  Nevertheless, I don’t want to blame secularism for pushing  religion in general and Catholicism in particular from its once privileged position in the public eye.  The Church itself has contributed to its position of ridicule and contempt not only by its gross handling of the sexual abuse crisis, but by its increasing return to the authoritarianism of past epochs and the revival of so much archaic pomp as Cardinals Burke and Pell  strut around swathed in yards of watered silk and  Benedict himself seems to raid the Vatican attic for the most curious accoutrements from ages past.  I am not suggesting that Catholics should convert to Presbyterian drab, but rather we need to pay attention to the world in which we live and not attempt to inhabit a parallel universe of red queens, mad hatters, and protonotaries apostolic.  A Reformed Catholicism that focused on the Church’s mission of making the Gospel a force in the modern world, a Church that continued the Mission of its Founder ”to bring glad tidings to the poor….to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord" would recover the prestige that has  been squandered with the lack of transparency and the return to an arrogant and pretentious authoritarianism that is leaving the church “naked unto her enemies.”   well, more reasons in the next entry.   

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Need for a New Reformation

Croweds Gathered in Saint Peter's Square
the first night of the conclave that elected
Benedict XVI
We have seen that both the Carolingian and Ottonian Reformations were carried out not by prelates but by the Emperors and their officials.  These should not be considered as “external” reformations however as it was understood in both the ninth century (the Carolingian (which refers to the Emperor Charlemagne) and the tenth century (The Ottonian Reform under the Emperors Otto I, II, and III) that the Emperor, not the pope, was the Vicar of Christ and that the Church stood under his “Protection”—protection here being somewhat akin what Elizabeth I of England would later claim to be the royal “governorship” of the Church, eschewing the title “head” which was perceived in both instances as belonging uniquely to Christ.  The next Reformation we will look at is the Gregorian Reformation, named after Pope Saint Gregory VII, one of two popes Gregory known as “Gregory the Great.”  (Patristic scholars like to call Gregory I “the Great;” historians award the title to Gregory VII.  Both really deserve the title, but from different perspectives and for vastly different reasons.)  Actually the Gregorian Reform, though named after Gregory VII, began before him and was the work of a number of curial (if that is not too anachronistic a word) officials .  The reason I fear that it might be too anachronistic is this is the very early stages of development of what would today  be called the Roman Curia.  Influential in this Reformation, which will be the most successful yet, will be an illustrious array of men such as Saint Romuald of Ravenna, Saint Peter Damian, John Gracian, Bruno of Eguisheim-Dagsburg, and the monk Hildebrandwho will ascend the papal chair in 1073 as Gregory VII. 
       It is always ideal when Reformation comes from within the ranks of Church leadership whether through Papal leadership as it will with Innocent III or Conciliar Leadership as at Trent.  But what happens when the internal leadership either is not interested in Reform or cannot overcome its internal division in order to fashion and hold to a program of Reform such as happened after Lateran V in 1517?  (Don’t worry if you don’t know much about Innocent or Lateran V, we will look at those episodes in detail as time and blog entries unfold.)  As I am writing this I can’t but help think how these very days our federal government is so divided over various self-interests (Republicans, Tea-partiers, Democrats) that they can’t forge a program to meet a national crisis regarding the debt.  This is what happens when people lose their sense of the common good and seek only to preserve their own self-interest.  This happens in Church politics as well as national politics.  Original sin sits as heavy on a bishop’s mitered head as a politician’s fat ass.  
      And that is why I want to look at the question of Reformations in the history of the Church.  Today there is no Emperor to take charge and clean up the mess and the curias (or technically curiae) of John Paul II and Benedict XVI are too complicit in the problems for the their papacies to be effective in the needed reform the Church . 
     Why do I think that the Church today needs yet another Reformation?  Well, in the first place, the Church always needs a Reformation. Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda—the Church, always reforming and always in need of reform.  That is just a principle of history of the Church.  Just as no one of us individual Christians is ever quite “there” but continue to journey on towards the perfection to which we are called in our baptism so too the collective assembly of the faithful is never fully what Christ calls us to be as his Church. 
      I do have some more concrete examples of why we need to have a Reformation—and it is not an exhaustive list.  I am sure there are other reasons beyond the one’s I am going to enumerate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Celibacy: The Bulwark of the Institutional Church

Mandatory Celibacy only is imposed on
the clergy of the Western Church in the
Central Middle Ages, principally during
the Gregorian Reformation  
I want to continue my theme from yesterday on the reason the Church continues to maintain the requirement of celibacy for its priests and bishops.  I pointed out in the several historical entries that the practice was mandated by a series of local councils as early as the fourth centuries but that it became part of the universal law of the Church only on the central Middle Ages when the canons of these early regional synods were collected into a coherent body of Canon Law.  The unspoken issue behind celibacy was not about a sexually abstinent clergy but about the need to protect the properties belonging to the wide-flung network of parish and other churches passing from the patrimony of the Church into the hands of clerical families.  Declaring the marriages of the clergy to be null and void did not so much deprive the priest of the comforts of a wife and children as it did ensure that those children could neither be ordained themselves (illegitimacy being a bar to holy orders) nor make inheritance claims upon the lands pertaining to church where their father was rector.  Since the issue was not sex, much less any sort of “ritual purity,” clerical concubinage was tolerated and in fact a widespread practice.  As I said in my entries, such arrangements should be seen not as the priest “having a mistress” but more as having a (common-law) wife.  Generally—there are always exceptions—such clergy were (at least relatively) faithful to their partner, begat and raised children, considered themselves married and were considered by the common folk around them, especially in rural areas, to be married.  Indeed in the outlaying regions of Europe—Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, such clerical wives often held prestigious and even a semi-sacral position of their own even as the priest’s wife does even today in many Orthodox Parishes.  It would only be at the Council of Trent that celibacy of the clergy becomes not only the official position of the Church but the widespread practice. 
     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!!!!    

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Celibacy--Today's Situation

The Changing Face of the
Priesthood by Father Donald
Cozzens--certainly worth the
Professor Daniel Maguire of Marquette University wrote today in the New York Times “Letters” that   “The root of the problem (clerical sex abuse) is mandatory celibacy. There is a reason religions with a married clergy have no comparable problem — not that they are problem-free. Celibacy is not a bona fide occupational qualification for ministry.” I am a bit surprised at this because Dr. Maguire is usually better nuanced in his observations.  In the first place his claim that religions (or at least other Christian Churches) with a married clergy have no comparable problem.  I am not sure what parallel universe that Professor Maguire lives in, or perhaps it is just the rarified air of his ivory tower—and theologians have the more rarified air of all academics, allowing angels to have danced on the heads of pins for centuries—but he needs to talk with any Episcopalian or Lutheran Bishop or meet with the officials of any presbytery in the country to know that the problem of clerical sex abuse is not unique to celibate clergy.  On the other hand, he may want to visit a few Buddhist temples and inquire why their celibate monks (seem, at least to) stay out of the limelight in this disheartening problem.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am not defending mandatory celibacy. To the contrary:  I think it is sick.  Not  because it has to do with sex, but because—and here is where Maguire is on to something though he misdiagnosed it—celibacy and sex abuse (whether of minors or vulnerable adults) does have a common root.  Power. 
      The most common motivational issue behind sexual abuse is the need of one person to dominate another who is in a position of inferior power.  An adult incapable of healthy peer relationships seeks to control or otherwise dominate a person whose youth and naiveté leaves him (or her) vulnerable.  An employer or a person higher up the power chain in a corporation or an institution (for example the United States Military) has a need to flex power by exercising control over a subordinate, and what control is more total than demanding sexual favors.  Even in what might appear—and the operative word is appear—to be a healthy peer relationship, one person often has a need to dominate the other. 
      Celibacy too is about power and the need to dominate.  In 2000 Father Donald Cozzens of the Cleveland diocese published a book that “hit the nail on the head,” The Changing Face of the Priesthood.  This is one of the most insightful, indeed I think it is the single most insightful, analysis of the issues facing the Catholic Church in North America.  It deals with far more than celibacy or the sex-abuse crisis.  I think it is particularly insightful on reasons for the vocation crisis in the Church today and why parents, unlike fifty years ago, do not want their children to be priests or nuns.  It deals with how the abuse of power is structuralized in the Catholic Church. 
     In the last several posts, I have shown that celibacy historically was used to protect Church property against alienation to the families of priests in the medieval period.  That is not an issue today. Today I would suggest that celibacy is a key factor in creating a psychological dependency of the clergy on the hierarchy.  The priest is never allowed to achieve a full social maturity.  He is required to live in Church-owned housing.  With housing provided, he is paid a less than professional salary—enough to live on but not enough to give him any independence.  While some priests are able to supplement this dependency-income with family money or are canny enough to successfully transform their resources into something of a fortune sufficient to let them buy a home and have an income sufficient for independence, most clergy remain for their entire lives dependent on their diocese or religious community for housing, meals, automobile, and an income just sufficient for clothing and relatively modest vacations.  Such dependency creates a relationship with the Institutional Church and its representatives not unlike that of the abuse victim afraid to break the ties with his abuser.  Where can he go?  What choices does he have?  He comes to see himself as powerless over his life and life choices.  Who will have him if the abuser (or in this case, the Institution) turns him out?  The abuser (or the Institution) is someone that everyone esteems.  While he, the abused (or the priest) finds himself unhappy with the situation, it must be him and not the situation since the abuser (Institution) is so highly respected that they can do nothing wrong.  Or perhaps the victim (the priest) feels “honored” to be the recipient of the reflected glory and power of the abuser (Institution).  And there are rewards.  Just as an abuser might take his victim for a nice vacation, buy him or her some clothes, even a car, or give him access to money or a career.  So too the priest has the hopes of being sent on for higher studies, given a better parish, maybe even being made a monsignor, or—dare he think it?—a bishop! 
      This is not to say that that there are not good priests, sincere priests,—there are, hundreds, even thousands.   There are many men who have found an interior freedom that lets them function effectively in a dysfunctional institution.  They give generous service to others and have found strategies to maintain their own emotional and spiritual health despite the unhealthiness of the system in which they work.  On the other hand, many good priests have come to realize just how dysfunctional the system is and for their own welfare have chosen to find other vocational paths.  And, tragically, the Church has more than a significant share of men who have drunk the clerical Kool-Aid and live not in the freedom of the Gospel but in enthrallment to an Institution that is in dire need of Reform.  More on this in the next posting.          

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reason for Celibacy: Protect the Property

this bas relief on an eleventh century Tuscan
parish church is actually a fertility symbol
Ok, here is the connection between Church finances and celibacy. 
The King of France dies, his oldest son becomes king.  The Duke of Aquitaine dies, his oldest son comes to the King of France and says: “Dad just died, the duchy is empty.  Make me Duke.”  The King has no choice, unless he can prove treason or some other good reason, not to invest the Duke’s heir with the duchy.  The Earl of Hereford dies, his oldest son comes to the King of England and says: “Dad just died, the earldom is empty. Make me Earl.”  The King, unless he can prove disloyalty on the part of the claimant, has no choice but to make him Earl.  The knight who is the warden of Rochester Castle dies; his son comes to the Duke of Kent in whose duchy the castle stands, and says: “Dad died, make me Warden of the Castle.”  The Duke—unless he can prove that the young man is not reliable—has little or no choice of making the young knight Warden.  Michel is the steward of the Duke of Berry; he dies and his son is appointed in his place unless the Duke can make for a very good case on why someone else should have the job.   Robert is the steward of the Abbot of Cluny—as his father was before him and his son expects to be afterwards. 
     Dad is the toll collector on the Canterbury road bridge over the river Medway and he dies.  The eldest son comes to the Abbot of Malmesbury who own the bridge and says: “Dad died, make me toll collector.”   It is his right to take his father’s place and the Abbot has no choice unless he can prove that the boy is incompetent.  The Reeve of Hampton dies; the Rector of the Church has to appoint his son to the job unless he can find good reason to the contrary. 
     Dad is a goldsmith and has a shop in Bourges.  He dies and his son who did his apprenticeship under his father’s best friend goes to the owner and gets the lease of the shop for his lifetime.   Dad is a silk merchant in Lucca and his son takes the business when he dies.  Dad is a butcher in Regensburg and his son is a butcher and takes the family business when Dad passes on.
     This is simply how things worked in the Middle Ages.
     So now we come to the Church.  We are talking mid-tenth century and Dad is the Rector of Fleury.  He dies.  Son number one goes to the Abbot of Duell who holds the Advowson and says—“Dad died last week, the church is empty, make me Rector.”  Of course—what is the problem. This is how the world works. The son had become a priest because Dad was a priest and Grandpa had been a priest and the Rector of Fleury in his day.  In a world of hereditary posts, everyone expects the church to pass—as does the duchy, the toll-bridge, the castle, the stewardship, the butcher-shop—from Father to Son.  My name is Smith because we are the smiths in the village.  My name is Taylor because we are the tailors.  My name is Chandler because we have made the candles and soap since God-alone-knows-when.  My name is Stuart because we have always been the stewards of the local Lord.  My name is Sexton because our family are the church sextons.  Got it?
      So what is the problem with junior taking over as village priest or city rector when his father dies?  Well don’t forget the parish church has land—sometimes lots of land.  Mrs. Jones left us this field.  Mr Brown left us that vineyard.   Mrs Green gave us that mill by the river.  All these rents come in to support the church and its rector.  And don’t forget the Glebe land that the priest farms—or rents to tenants to farm for him.   The Rector administers a lot of land.  And his daughter is getting married to the son of the sheriff and we need a dowry.  Well let’s give her that field.  And his younger son is becoming a monk at Rochester Cathedral priory—let’s give him that mill by the river as his monastic dowry.  And that vineyard—is that ours or the church’s, I can’t remember, but let’s give it to the nuns of Wapage Abbey to pray for Grandma’s soul.   Rectors are treating church property as their own personal and familial possessions.  Land belonging to the church (and thus the Church) is passing from the church (Church) into families.  The Church is losing its wealth.  How can we stop this?  How can we make sure that church property doesn’t go to the heirs of the priest?  Well, for one thing, we can make sure he doesn’t have any heirs.  But he has four children!  We can’t change that.  No, but we can take away their right to inherit by making them illegitimate.  And that solves a second problem as well.   Not only have bastards no rights of inheritance, but number one son (or number two, three, four or one-hundred-and-seventeen son) cannot claim the rectorship because bastards are ineligible for ordination.  He can neither be hereditary priest nor can he inherit the land.  All we need to do is declare that the marriage of the clergy is null and void and we have two problems solved at once.  Ain’t celibacy great?  
      Now this doesn’t mean that the priest can’t have a wife and children—it only means that the Church does not recognize the marriage and the legitimacy of the children and it is Church courts that settle inheritance issues.  Many priests, in the early and central Middle Ages most priests, were in a stable monogamous relationship.  They thought of  their partner as their wives; the women saw themselves as wives; and even the parishioners thought of the woman as the priest’s wife.   Celibacy may have been the law, but it was honored more in the breach than the observance.  The bishops didn’t mind; the pope’s didn’t mind.  Bishops and sometimes even popes often were—or had been—in such relationships and had children whom they raised as their own without apology.  As long as the property was safe from alienation, the Church was happy.  That would eventually change but celibacy would only be enforced with some degree of strictness throughout the Western Church after the Council of Trent.
      Well, why do we have celibacy today?  Isn’t that a good question.  Perhaps we can look at it in our next posting and from there on to our look at the next Reform—the Gregorian Reform.      

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Celibacy: Follow the Money

I mentioned in the last posting that churches were usually constructed by a wealthy benefactor who usually either financed the construction of the church or endowed it with lands sufficient to provide the income from rents to build and maintain it.  And sometimes churches were financed by a combination of both building the church and providing the initial endowment to which other benefactors would add as time passed. The idea of supporting the church through the Sunday offerings as we do in modern America was unknown in the Middle Ages.  Even today in the United States some Protestant churches—most Episcopalian and Presbyterian—would have large endowments that finance much of the congregation’s programming, though Protestants are usually quite generous, certainly more than most Catholics, in the matter of supporting the church to which they belong. 

Selby Abbey in England
    Building a church in the Middle Ages wasn’t simply a pious act.  The founder of a church, in addition to whatever spiritual benefits might accrue, had some more temporal benefits.  The founder of a church was the “advowson,” and that carried certain rights.  He actually “owned” the church.  That gave him the right to “present” (i.e. nominate) a candidate to the bishop to be rector (we would say “pastor”) of the Church. The church was “in his gift.”  The bishop could refuse the nomination but he needed good—very good—reason and it was rare so to do.  If he refused the nomination, the bishop could not then name his own candidate, but had to wait for the patron to submit another nomination which would be even more difficult to refuse.  
     The Advowson not only had the right of presenting, but he also had a share in the church’s income.  I mentioned that the church, if it was a parish church, was also supported by the tithes of the parishioners.  Normally one quarter of revenues went to the Advowson, one quarter to the support of the rector, and the remainder to the maintenance of the fabric and expenses of the divine service—vestments, vessels, candles, furnishings, organ, singers and minor clerics, etc.  Thus building a church was a financial investment.  
      The Rector, for his part, was often a priest who held the title and received the income but who had other work.  Perhaps he was a tutor to the children of the Advowson.  Perhaps he was an important official of the bishop or even the King.  Perhaps he was a scholar at the university.  Being rector provided an income for him while he did other more important but unsalaried work.  From his salary—sometimes quite handsome—he paid another priest—a “vicar” to do the actual work of pastoring the church and its flock.  
      The Advowson might give the church—and its rights and incomes—away.  Perhaps it formed part of a dowry for one of his daughters at her marriage.  Perhaps it was given to a monastery as part of the dowry for a son or daughter who was entering the religious life.  Perhaps he gave it to the bishop—or another bishop—in payment for a debt. Perhaps he gave it to the cathedral to add to their endowment.  When he gave it away the “advowson” transferred to a new owner. 
        A church might be in the diocese of Winchester, for example, but be given to the Bishop of London as a gift.  Then the church became a “peculiar”—it belonged to the Bishop of London and was under his jurisdiction even though it was geographically in the diocese of Winchester.  The bishop of Winchester had the right to confirm (or deny) the nomination of the new rector, but otherwise the church seemed to be in the diocese of London.  Or perhaps a church in the diocese of Orleans was given to the Abbey of Cluny.  The Abbot of Cluny still had to submit the nominee for the rectorship of the church to the Bishop of Orleans, but this would be just a formality and in effect the Abbot of Cluny was the Ordinary of the church and its congregation.  Sometimes too the Abbot would go to Rome and have the jurisdiction transferred in its entirety to himself—and then the bishop had no rights whatsoever over the church.  All this made church organization very confusing and complex.  And the question of jurisdiction was mostly beside the point—what I wanted to point out was mostly that the Advowson had fiscal rights and benefits that made churches valuable property and sources of incomes to their owners.  Next posting we will look at the problem of inheriting the rectorship of churches and how it influences the imposition of celibacy.    

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Celibacy--The Financial Foundation For a Sexless Clergy

The portal at Chartres Cathedral
Because of the relics it holds, one
of  the more significant
pilgrimage cathedrals in Europe. 
To understand why celibacy for the lower clergy, priests in particular, became such an important issue in the medieval period we have to understand several other factors.  Sex is not one of them; the real issue was not sex but property.
      First we need to understand how churches—parish churches in particular—were financed.  Churches almost invariably were built by a wealthy patron.  Often it would be a nobleman building a church for the serfs who share-cropped his land. Usually the founder of the church, if it is a rural parish, also sets aside land for the priest to farm to help support the priest and his family.  That land is called a “Glebe.”   In towns or cities it might be a wealthy townsperson (towns were fairly small –a “large” city like Paris might have 10,000 inhabitants in the Central Middle Ages, say for example, the year 800) who builds a parish church out of an act of devotion or penitence.  A King or major nobleman such as a Duke or Count might establish an abbey of monks or nuns and provide the lands that in turn would provide the revenue to construct their abbey Church.  A Cathedral would receive generous donations from the townspeople that would be collected and along with ecclesiastical taxes placed on the canons (the Cathedral clergy who were also usually rectors of the principal churches in town) would finance the various building stages of the Cathedral Church which more often than not would take several centuries to build (and often to rebuild in more up-to-date architectural styles).  As churches were built various persons would make bequests, usually in return for prayers for their souls after they died. These bequests were not usually money or gold, but lands that the church would own but rent out to provide more income.  Grandma dies, and she leaves a vineyard to the parish Church and the rector rents it out and the rent brings in ₤ 2 s10 d 4 (two pounds sterling, ten shillings, and four pence).  That would not be much today but in the year 800 it might be equivalent to a thousand dollars or more in purchasing power.  (You need to remember that is more than two and a half pounds of silver). Or uncle George dies and in his will he leaves a shop in town to the Church and rent comes in at  ₤ 1 s5 d3.  It all adds up. Of course Grandma or Uncle George might not leave their bequest to the parish Church, but to the monastery church or even to the Cathedral. 
      Another source of income for rural parish churches besides the rents from lands left them, are tithes.  Each Christian (which at this point is just about 100% of the population, the Jews living mostly in the towns) is obligated to contribute 10% of his produce to the support of the Church.  This is not a free-will offering.  Quite to the contrary.  At harvest a man called the Reeve shows up with the Sheriff and collects the Church’s share of the harvest.  And usually they choose the ten percent, the best ten percent, to cart off for the church.  Livestock and poultry are usually factored in to this collection as well.  Coinage or produce are often substituted for eggs, milk, and other perishables.  In fact, as the Middle Ages progress and coinage takes the place of barter, people might make a financial settlement with the Rector in place of the tithe of produce. 
       Urban parishioners did not usually farm, but they were expected to tithe as well—in coin or product or labor given to the Church.  Goldsmiths, cloth merchants, and other guild members might donate vestments or church ornaments or even finance the construction of a chapel, a sacristy, or other building project.  This would be especially true in the city where citizens vied for the opportunity to give rich gifts to the Cathedral Churches.  Rural nobility, on the other hand, usually preferred to give their gifts of chalices or vestments or artwork to a monastery or abbey. 
         Monasteries only had a right to the tithes of the tenants on monastic lands.  As they were not parish churches their only “parishioners” were those who worked for the abbey or were parishioners for a parish church that might belong to the abbey.  But they usually received a dowry from the family of each new monk—a land grant more often than not—and as the monks came from the land-owning nobility this built up monastic land-holdings often to great wealth.  In England at the time when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries (1536-1541) the monasteries  collectively owned more land than the Crown!  That was one of the reasons he closed them down—and confiscated their lands.  In fact, the Church owned over a third of the land in England when Henry came to the throne! When he needed money who knew whose piggy-bank to break.  It wasn’t only about Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn that we have a Church of England today. 
          Monasteries often received bequests from pious folks—again primarily the wealthy as they had the lands to give.  Land was given in exchange for prayers for the living and/or the dead.  Grandma dies and leaves her vineyard to the monks; in exchange every year on the anniversary of her death they are obligate to offer a mass or sing a litany or hold a procession with prayers for the repose of her soul. 
         Monasteries and Cathedrals—and sometimes important parish churches, most in the cities—also acquired (either by gift or purchase) relics of the saints. If they were truly lucky they might acquire a relic of Christ or the Virgin.  Chartres still has a veil said to be that of the Virgin Mary.  The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris was built in the thirteenth century (a little later than most of our other examples) to hold the crown of thorns and other souvenirs that King Saint Louis IX of France brought back from the Crusades.  Relics were great money-makers.  Pilgrims flocked from great distances, hundreds of miles, to see relics or visit a particular shrine.  At the shrine they paid for meals and lodging at various inns, spent money on different amusements, and left their donations for the privilege of seeing a piece of bone that allegedly  belonged to an apostle, a bloody tunic that had belonged to a martyr, a piece of Christ’s cross, or whatever the local attraction was.  When the left, the officials of the Church showed up at the Inn or tavern or house of prostitution and collected the Church’s share of the income the pilgrims had brought.  And I am not trying to be funny or shock about the local brothel being part of the pilgrim economy.  This is a religion that still believed in Original Sin and knew it made money. 
         All this provided income for Churches—great and small.  How does that contribute to the enforcement of celibacy?  Well stay tuned.  We can’t fit the whole story into one entry. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Celibacy 2: Keeping Father from Being Dad

Pope Saint Gregory I
great-great grandson of Pope Felix III
Curiously enough, in the early centuries of the Church we have a number of instances where popes are the descendents of previous popes—all because even popes were—or had been—married.   As the Middle Ages dawned, however, it seems that few or no popes were married at the time of their papal ministry.   Felix III (pope from 483-492 ) was great-great grandfather of Pope St Gregory I; however we know that Felix was a widower when he became Pope.  Pope Saint Hormisdas (514-523) was the father of Pope Saint Silverius (pope from 536-537).  Silveius was born before Hormisdas received priestly ordination . Pope Damasus (366-384) was the son of a bishop; it is unclear whether or not his father had been in Orders at the time he was born.    
      Frankly, neither the legislation nor the actual practice regarding celibacy was standardized during the transitional period from late antiquity (4th century) through the early Middle Ages (7th century).  As we saw yesterday any number of regional synods had mandated celibacy for bishops and priests and sometimes for deacons, but the authority of these councils was limited and it seems that even where this authority held, the canons were not always enforced.  Certainly in this transitional period celibacy becomes the normal—but not universal—practice for bishops.  John Chrysostom was judge for the trial of one bishop, Antoninus of Ephesus, who was accused of having first separated from his wife but who, after being consecrated bishop, returned to cohabit with her.  The “Council in Trullo” (recognized in the East as an Ecumenical Council, but not in the West) legislated that the wife of man made a bishop should be veiled as a nun and sent to a convent.  That same Council, however, not only permitted priests, deacons and subdeacons to keep their wives but to maintain conjugal relations with them.  This pretty much became and remained the ecclesiastical discipline of the Eastern Churches. 
       The Western Church, on the other hand, continued to move towards mandatory celibacy for bishops, priests, and deacons.  In the ninth century various German synods mandated not only that priests had to abstain from conjugal relations with their wives, but they could  no longer cohabit. 
       As if the restriction on sexual relations with their wives did not impose sufficient burden on clergy, the restriction on cohabitation made life even more difficult for priests, especially in rural areas.  Wives had far more practical roles than sex partners.  Wives ran the household, prepared the meals, made the clothes, kept the fowl and animals that provided milk, eggs, and food.  (Even in town, people kept animals.)  Wives made the cheese, the beer, and the bread.  They smoked the meats and fish.  It was difficult for a man, even a priest, to live without a wife, so many of them did not.  The law was often ignored not for reasons of human concupiscence but for domestic economy.     
       Marriage in the early and central Middle Ages was often a somewhat informal arrangement.   While some, particularly the nobility, might have a marriage “blessed” with a religious ceremony, marriage was most usually celebrated according to varying local customs.  The husband might call on his intended at the home where she lived with her parents, present her with certain gifts, and then lead her back to his house.  Or the father of the woman might bring his daughter, veiled and dressed in her finest, to the house of her husband-to-be and place her hand in his.  A dinner following or a breakfast the next morning for family and friends would be more common a celebration than a ceremony in church.  Sometimes, often, people just began to cohabit with the understanding that they were husband and wife.  With these less than formal arrangements, no one much noticed should a clergyman take a wife.  
         There is a widely accepted view that in the Middle Ages priests were, if not highly promiscuous, then given to concubinage.  This is understandable given the references in the canons to clergy keeping concubines.  But I think it is a misperception.  What the canons call concubines we should probably think of as wives.  Yes, the clergy were not permitted to be married.  This meant both that a priest could not marry nor could a married man be ordained and continue to live conjugally with his wife.  That was the law.  But we should see that the majority of priests in the early and central Middle Ages (and later) were in fact married despite the laws.  The Church referred to their wives as “concubines” and to the marriages as “concubinage,” but they and the society in which they lived—the people around them, their parishioners and fellow priests if not their bishops—understood the relationship to be marriage.  We are not speaking, for the most part, of men who are serial monogamists, moving from one “mistress” to another, much less of men who are adulterers or otherwise promiscuous.  There were some who were adulterers or who were sexually active with a variety of partners, of course, but the majority seem to have been in stable relationships in which they begot and raised children as good and loving parents.  The lack of a formal Church Service to inaugurate the relationship would not have troubled people as most marriages in this period lacked formal liturgical blessing. What was needed for marriage in this period was mutual consent and offspring and that requirement was met.  What will be crucial is to see why the Church refused to recognize these marriages and the legitimacy of the offspring.  It won’t be about sexual purity; it will be about property.     

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Celibacy--Or Why Father Gets Cranky

Saint Jerome, an early propoinent of clerical
celibacy.  This statute stands in front
of St Catherine's Church, Bethlehem
Before we proceed to the Gregorian Reformation, we need to take a diversion on the topic of celibacy.  Our most recent entry spoke of Sylvester II attempting to impose celibacy on the Catholic clergy, and the idea of a celibate clergy go much further back, but it will become a central issue in the Church only at the time of the Gregorian Reform. 
     In the Apostolic and sub-apostlic eras (33 AD-100 AD) celibacy was a  highly admired but not required virtue for Christians of whatever status or ministry in the Church.  This was rooted in several saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and in the writings of the apostles, most notably Paul.  We do not know the marital status of any of the apostles except Peter who had been married, though as it is his mother-in-law and not his wife who is mentioned (and she is never mentioned) in the text whether he was married or a widower at the time of his encounter with Christ is not known.  It is generally taken from his writings in favor of remaining unmarried that Paul was not a married man, though there is a tradition going back as far as Eusebius that he was married but did not bring his wife with him on his missionary journeys.  The author of 1 Timothy says that a bishop should be married but once and have control over his children.  This text would indicate that married men became priests and bishops (in the sub-apostolic Church the distinction between these two ministries was not as precise as it is today).  However, by the fourth century Church fathers such as Jerome and Ambrose—neither of whom were married and Ambrose was a bishop, Jerome was not) were claiming that while married men had become bishops in the early Church they were obligated to refrain from conjugal intimacy (aka sex) with their wives once having assumed the office.  This is not anywhere in the scriptural text or any other source I know of from the first century so I am not inclined to think it holds up historically.  On the other hand, the oral tradition could have conveyed this condition through the two centuries separating these Fathers of the Church from the authorship of 1 Timothy.
      More likely an explanation for this interpretation, however, is the fact that in those two intervening centuries a very negative attitude towards human sexuality had begun to develop in the Christian community.  Tertullian (160-220), though himself married, wrote against sexual relations, and Origen (184-253) went so far as to castrate himself taking the admonition of Jesus that should an organ of the body be an occasion of sin, it should be cut away and cast off.  We also get in this period, the 3rd and 4th centuries, the rise of monasticism and its discipline of celibacy.  Indeed the number of men (and to a far lesser extent, women) who embraced the monastic life in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt in the late third and throughout the fourth centuries cannot be over estimated; certainly fourth century monastics in the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa would number over a hundred thousand and possibly three or four times that number.  As Christianity spread and monasticism spread from the deserts of Egypt and Syria-Palestine to the metropolitan centers of the Empire and westwards as far as Iberia and even Ireland, celibacy became linked with holiness in the Christian mind.  It became a frequent, but not universal, practice to choose a bishop from among the monks, and thus the celibates.   Nevertheless, the vast majority of clergy and even bishops were married men throughout this period. 
      Sometime in the first decade of the fourth century (probably in 306 AD) nineteen bishops and  twenty-four priests along with an unknown number of deacons and laity gathered at Elivra (modern day Granada) in southern Spain to discuss needed legislation for the Church in Baetica (modern day southern Spain).  They passed legislation prohibiting Christians from marrying Jews or pagans socializing with Jews as an attempt to keep the Christians apart and distinct from non-Christians.  They also forbad a bishop to reconcile to the Church a person who had been excommunicated by another bishop.  Also it was forbidden to give communion to those who had lapsed from the faith during the recent persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, even when the lapsed person was dying.  The Council forbad the use of images in churches.  And finally it declared that bishops, preists, and deacons, even those married, were to abstain from sexual relations under threat of being deposed from their ministries. 
      At the very end of the fourth century a Council of North African bishops meeting at Carthage made the same ruling for the North African Church.  In 385 Pope Siricius responded to those who claimed that since the priests of the Old Law had been permitted marriage and having children, priests of the New Covenant also had this right by reminding those critics of celibacy that because the Priesthood of the Old Law depended on being a descendent of Aaron, it was necessary for priests to beget children in their bloodline, but that the Priesthood of Christ demanded continence. 
      Hilary of Arles convoked the Synod of Orange (France) in 441 and like the Elivra Synod it dealt with a wide variety of ecclesiastical issues including unction of the sick, right of asylum and, once again—celibacy which it mandated for all the higher clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons).  It also cited a synod of bishops at Turin in Northern Italy which had apparently mandated celibacy in 401. 
      These various synods were all local and did not have universal jurisdiction.  There was a proposal for clerical celibacy at the Council of Nicea (325), the first Ecumencial Council, but it was rejected at the insistence of one Paphnutius who himself was celibate but who felt that mandatory celibacy would place too heavy a burden on many priests and be an occasion for them to fall into sin.  Nevertheless many of those at the Council felt that once a man had assumed the duties of the altar, married or not, he should practice continence and one of the canons implies that the clergy, married or single, should live celibate lives.
       In the end, all this legislation had little effect.  Priests and even bishops were still chosen from among the married and had families.  In the Eastern reaches of the Empire, it was the norm for parish priests to be married and have a family, though they were expected to refrain from sexual intimacy with their wives for a period of time, usually one to three days, before celebrating the Eucharist.  In the West—especially in the reaches of northern Europe where rural clergy were normal farmers Monday through Saturday and assumed the vestments for Mass on Sundays before heading back to the plow on Monday, marriage and family were almost as much an economic necessity for the priest as for any other man whose farming demanded help in the fields at sowing and harvest.  The monks practiced celibacy—and hopefully (at least for the most part) chastity as well—but there was a radical division between the monastic clergy in their abbeys among their books and long ceremonies and the parish clergy whose life was not so different from their parishioners .
More to come on this topic.