Pure Sex, Pure Love

Marriage and Holy Orders: An Anglican Wedding Prompts Questions for Catholics

Reactions to “Holy Orders and Marriage”

Dear Dr. Whelan,

Thank you for the interesting reflection on marriage and the RC priesthood. The story is of interest both in relation to the ordination of married people and ordination of women.

You may be aware that in the Roman Catholic Church married men may be ordained as deacons and in the Eastern Churches of the Roman Catholic Communion of Churches married men may be ordained as deacons and priests but not Bishops. In the Latin Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Roman Catholic Church re-marriage or a first marriage after ordination is not permitted in Church law.

The Bishop of Rome could change the canons about marriage and ordination for the Latin Church, but he is bound to consult with the bishops throughout the world on such a significant matter and be guided by them. Although I don’t think John Paul II ever sought the opinion of bishops on this matter. The Holy Synod of each Eastern Catholic Church, along with their patriarch, have responsibility for their church law and not the Bishop of Rome.

I think the shortage of candidates for the priesthood is driven more by economic reasons rather than the fact that priests are not allowed to marry.

As an interesting historical aside: Celibacy for clergy was introduced to the Church, before the times of divisions, in the Eastern Churches and North Africa Church. The Latin Church rejected the practices for a long time. Many lay faithful demanded bishops only appoint celibate priests their local clergy, believing (wrongly) that because they imitated Christ in celibacy they were more like him than married clergy. They also thought that as the Church is the Bride of Christ, in the figurative language of the Scriptures, that the priest should only have one wife-the Church. This was extended from the theology of bishop who as icon of Christ was considered to symbolize Christ the husband of the Church. When permission to preside at Eucharist was routinely assigned to presbyters (elders) and they later became referred to as priests, the logic of marriage to the church was extended to them.

The West gradually adopted the practice through local Councils and Synods in diocese and regions until it became universal practice in the West. At the same time the East and North African Churches were moving away from the practice. Today the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) have celibate monastic clergy and normally married parish clergy.

One of my hopes is that one of the gifts the deaconate will bring to the Latin Roman Catholic Church is the recovery of a sense that orders and matrimony are two sacraments that can be mutually enriching and the parishes will discover the limits and benefits of having married clergy with children, mortgage and other responsibilities like the laity.

Kind regards, Anthony

Hello Christine,

I recently read your article entitled “An Anglican Wedding Prompts Questions for Catholics”. I was bemused to find out that the ‘questions for Catholics’ did not centre upon those counting themselves as true Catholics needing to accept the Holy Father’s teaching on unmarried priests, etc, but on the opposite. Apparently if I have understood you correctly (“…The Catholic Church has a long way to go before …) the Vatican should be questioning itself on how to come into line with those who want to dissent from Church teaching on celibacy, women priests etc. The Church has a laborious but thorough process in determining these matters – far more credible than the lack of objective thought emanating from the “politically correct”.

For example, waffle about a warm fuzzy type of Anglican marriage, is no substitute for clear argument about the Pope’s teachings on these matters. When will we see critical analysis of that, instead of anecdotal (at best) suggestion? In the meantime, could you (and numerous other journo’s) please accentuate the positive about our Faith, the Truth, instead of holding out some forlorn hope for power, which cannot come to pass.

Kindest regards

Paul G.

Dr. Whelan,

I have enjoyed your Pure Sex Pure Love columns over the past year. I am writing in reference to your most recent column on May 11, 2006 titled “Marriage and Holy Orders.” In it you mention an article that was written by Professor David Steinmetz from Duke University’s Divinity School that encourages allowing priests to marry as a way to combat the current shortage of priests. In your article, you also encourage allowing women to become priests to also alleviate the shortage of priests.

While I think both of these concepts deserve consideration by the Church and I would support enacting them, I do not think if either or both of these became reality the shortage of priest would end. The population of priests are aging rapidly (particularly in the U.S.) and at a much faster rate than candidates entering seminaries (I don’t have the actual numbers to support this). Are there really that many men who choose not to enter the priesthood because the want to get married as well? Are there that many women who want to be priests?

I think the shortage of candidates for the priesthood is driven more by economic reasons rather than the fact that priests are not allowed to marry. If you think about it, priests are cared for by their parishes. They are provided all of the necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing. Back in time, when economic opportunities were limited due to lack of education, inability to own land/property, and difficulty in traveling, becoming a priest was not a bad deal at all. Now there are many more opportunities available. It is easier to get an education. Well paying jobs are much more prevalent. It is much easy to relocate to where good paying jobs are.

I think Africa is a great example of this. A lot of priests from Ireland did missionary work in Africa in the mid-20th century and served as parish priests while Christianity was being spread. Now, the shortage of priests in Ireland has resulted in priest from Africa moving to Ireland to serve their parishes. I think this is due to the economy of Ireland growing in the latter part of the 20th century, providing more opportunities to the Irish people. At the same time, the economy in Africa is still very limited resulting in fewer opportunities for people there.

I am not trying to reduce the decision to become a priest to an economic one. It is and should be a spiritual choice. The difference today is that there are a lot more choices to choose from in the developed part of the world. The point I am trying to get across is that if you were to list reasons why a man does not want to become a priest, the inability to marry is probably not going to be the primary one. To say that the shortage of priests can be fixed by allowing them to marry or to allow women to become ordained is looking at the issue in a very narrow scope.

— Ash

One point of clarification in the article, (Anglican) priests used to have to be married before being ordained, or else remain celibate after ordination. Our tradition keeps the old Canon Laws, which Catholics also used to share concerning this issue.

It’s important for this reason: the symbolism of the unity of flesh. The priest is always ‘celibate’ in that he is married to the Church. However, if he is already ‘one flesh’ with someone, then it is the united pair that marries the Church. Although the man is the only one sacramentally ordained, it should also be seen that the woman is ordained…of a sort… by extension.

The Greek word that we derive ‘priest’ from in the Epistles is Presbyter, meaning ‘elder’. In Greek the wives of priests are called Presbytera, “elder (female)”. In Arabic the word is best transliterated as “Khouria”, which means either Priest’s wife or she-priest like Presbytera in Greek. Russian is the language where it translates as ‘mother’ (Matushka).

The imagery of the Church itself is feminine. It is the ‘Mother Church”, Ekklesia is a feminine word, even in the most ancient writings, and it ‘begits children’, namely new Jesus’, through Baptism. Mary is the ancient literary type for the Church – the virgin bride of deified children.

My main issue with celibacy is not that celibacy is not a calling – that flies in the face of Scripture and Tradition – but that celibacy is one calling and ordained ministry is another. I think this also causes a conflation of Monasticism – a highly ascetic and exemplar lifestyle – and ordained ministry, which basically is a liturgical function at its heart (that’s the essence of it that distinguishes it from other ministries in the Church). The problem is that one calling here is made contingent on the other calling. While you can have monk/celibate priests, it doesn’t seem to me to be the same calling, thus it bars quality candidates who have the calling due to a different calling that they may legitimately not have.

I also happen to think by extension (my hypothesis) that it idealizes clergy. We start thinking that asceticism is a matter for priests and monks, while lay people act however they please. Sexual asceticism has never been limited to the ordained, but is a generic Christian calling. Many early Church writers are excellent examples of this principle.

For good ministers it seems more authentic to concentrate on how ascetic they were as lay people before ordination, not how well they can put the passions on hold for a lifetime after ordination. It’s more of a test of virtue-without-enforcement. We’re all called to be “martyrs” and to deny our passions for the glory of God, but lifelong celibacy shouldn’t be made to seem a ‘better’ way to accomplish the task.

1139 is the date commonly given for the papal decision to begin ordaining only celibate priests, although the dates of implementation are varied from place to place. It really began during the time of the Investiture Controversy as best I understand it. What’s telling is that it’s not part of the Catechism; it’s simply a disciplinary rule of the Catholic Church Roman Rite. East Rite Catholics have had married clergy. The question is whether celibacy, which is a legitimate Christian calling, and ordination, which is another legitimate calling, are in fact the same calling. To my mind the answer is clearly no.

— Ray

Dear Dr Whelan,

I found your article about the Anglican wedding of two future priests interesting. I have two close friends who married Anglican ministers in Australia — one is also a deaconess. Now more than 20 years latter, one couple is still working together in ministry. Unfortunately, the other couple has chosen to separate.

However, I have often thought that it must be very lonely for priests living in remote areas without the comfort of a partner, just a parish community. While some people are ready to welcome married and female clergy, I know that many older people would be reluctant to do so.

Thanks for an interesting article.

— Lorraine

Dear Christine,

Below is my blog entry (http://www.cumecclesia.blogspot.com/) on your story about the Anglican wedding. I should mention that I am a convert to the Catholic Church, from serving about 9 years as a Lutheran pastor. I have been married, divorced, and married again. I have a young family (2 daughters under 8). I am not seeking ordination to the priesthood as convert clergy sometimes do. My eldest daughter, soon after my conversion, once said to me “Daddy, you used to be a pastor, didn’t you?”. When I answered “yes”, she responded: “But now you are my daddy, aren’t you?”. There in lies the problem. She’s a smart kid.

In the web journal “Busted Halo”, Dr Christine B. Whelan reflects on an Anglican wedding which she attended. The bride and the groom were both preparing for ordination to the Anglican priesthood. She refers to the ceremony of the rings:

“When Andrea reaffirmed her vows of Christianity as she started her journey toward the Anglican priesthood, she put a gold band on her ring finger to symbolize her commitment to her faith. Now it’s on her right hand, and her wedding band is on her left. These two gold bands signify both vows, both life callings.”

What a graphic illustration of the difficulty of the calling of a married priest! Of all the eight fingers and two thumbs upon which we wear our rings, our culture has determined that the second to last finger on the right hand should be the “ring finger”.

Historians of ritual know that the ring is a potent symbol of authority. The authority has a two-fold character (reflected in the story of the centurion who says to Jesus “I am a man under authority, with [authority over the] soldiers under me” Matt 8:9): The giver of the ring exercises authority over the ring bearer, and the ring bearer exercises that authority over others. Of course, the ring also symbolises commitment and faithfulness, but it is of the servant who is faithful to the master.

Now consider the ring of pastoral authority/religious commitment (traditionally worn by the Bishop, but also by religious and by priests in some traditions) and the ring of marriage. Traditionally, both are worn on the “ring finger” of the right hand. Both represent the total giving of one’s life to a specific calling. And here is the rub: there is only room for one ring such ring on the ring finger. Any other ring must be relegated to second place-eg. The ring finger of the left hand.

On which hand will the married priest wear his wedding ring? Which calling will have the first place in his life? The dilemma is very practical as well as theological. Jesus himself said “No man can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). St Paul said “the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor 7: 33,34).

I have never come across any symbol of this tension more graphic than that with which Dr Whelan provides us in this story about the bride who moved the ring of her religious vocation to her left hand in order to make way for the ring of her marriage vocation.

— David