Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Abbé Pierre on Celibacy and the Marriage of Priests

Well, I finally got a copy of the late Abbé Pierre's collection of reflections, Mon Dieu...pourquoi? ("My God...why?"). Abbé Pierre devoted his life to the poor and homeless. This little book is a gem and anyone who reads French should try to get a copy. I have taken the liberty of translating his refection on celibacy — "Célibat et mariage des prêtres" — for this blog.

Simplicity can only exist in what is true. Hypocrisy, which exists too often, must be refused. Yielding to carnal temptation — which is an extremely powerful life force — can happen to anyone but it's a different thing for a priest or a monk not to be able to make a choice and to be leading a double life that in some cases makes women suffer for decades.

At the same time one should guard against any judgement or generalizations. I have known priests who have lived in domestic partnerships with the woman they love for years and adapted to this situation well. They continue to be good priests. That raises a crucial question for the Church about the marriage of priests and the ordination of married men.

As far as I'm concerned, if I had been married or involved in a particular emotional relationship, I would never have been able to do what I did. My vocation demanded complete availability. By the way, I am convinced that it is necessary to have married priests in the Church and celibate priests who can devote themselves completely to prayer and to others.

Jesus chose married apostles — like Peter — and celibate apostles who doubtlessly remained so — like John. The Church maintained this dual vocation for centuries before imposing celibacy on priests, as was already the case for bishops. Today married men are being ordained not only in the Orthodox Church but also in the Catholic church, among the Maronites and the Copts who have a choice between marriage and celibacy.

Since the Catholic Church has allowed these Eastern communities to ordain married men for centuries, I have a hard time seeing how John Paul II could assert recently that going back on priestly celibacy for the rest of the Catholic Church is out of the question.

It doesn't hold up. Not only would it help to partly solve the crisis in vocations and the priest shortage, but I'm also certain that there would always be as many vocations to celibacy.

Interestingly, in a different chapter about the selection of Pope Benedict XVI, Abbé Pierre predicts that this Pope will make two major changes in the Catholic Church: allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion and ordaining older married men to the priesthood.

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