Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Matrimony and Holy Orders: Reading the Vatican Tea Leaves

I wish I knew more Portuguese since it seems like the most interesting prospects for Vatican "tea leaf reading" on celibacy are coming out of Portugal and Brazil.

According to the O. Estado de S.Paulo, Cardinal Hummes, before he backtracked, "admitiu ontem que a falta de vocações sacerdotais possa levar o Vaticano a discutir a ordenação de homens casados. 'Embora os celibatários façam parte da história e da cultura católicas, a Igreja pode refletir sobre essa questão, pois o celibato não é dogma, mas uma norma disciplinar', disse d. Cláudio, lembrando que alguns apóstolos eram casados e que a proibição do casamento só veio séculos depois da instituição do sacerdócio." In English: Cardinal Hummes said that the lack of vocations could lead the Vatican to discuss the ordination of married men. He added that even though celibate people are part of Catholic history and culture, the Church can reflect on this question because celibacy is not a dogma but a disciplinary norm and he recalled that some of the apostles were married and that the prohibition against marriage came centuries after the institution of the priesthood.

The Cardinal goes on to say that the Church is not a static institution and can move when it has to. He says that it may start slowly with a discussion of whether to reopen the celibacy debate at all. And again he reiterates that this discussion is being prompted by the shortage of vocations, particularly in Europe.

By Monday, the headline was "Dom Claudio denies any opening by the Vatican on celibacy" (article in Portuguese). At this point the Cardinal does a 180 degree turn and says that ending celibacy is not the solution to the shortage of vocations since this is due to other factors like the modern secularized culture. And the Vatican says that Dom Claudio's remarks were misinterpreted.

With all due respect, I don't think so. Cardinal Hummes is not an ignorant man. He knew perfectly well what he was saying. He was reading the priest crisis from a Latin American perspective. Rome is slapping him on the wrist and saying: "If you're going to Europe, brother, it's time to start using European analysis and language" -- hence the reference to "modern secularized culture." This term is much less a part of Latin American ecclesial discourse.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Portuguese newspaper article from Correio da Manhã contains some interesting speculation in addition to the survey results which I reported in an earlier post on this blog. The bishop of the Portuguese Armed Forces, Dom Januário Torgal Ferreira, after a bit of bluster about how it's hard for people to understand priestly disciplines such as the vows of poverty and celibacy and how the Church can't change to reflect the prevailing winds, nonetheless adds: "é muito provável que haja mudanças a esse nível, talvez mais cedo do que o que se pensa” ("It is very probable that there will be movement at this level, perhaps more than one would think"). While stating that allowing those already in the priesthood to marry is a long way off, Dom Januário opines "a Igreja não vai demorar a aceitar a ordenação de homens casados" ("the Church is not going to delay [long] in accepting the ordination of married men"). The article then goes on to quote from the presiding bishop of the Portuguese Bishops' Conference who reaffirms the status quo on celibacy.

Bottom line: If you are feeling called to be a married Catholic priest, make sure you receive your sacraments in the proper order: 1. Matrimony, 2. Holy Orders.

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