Saturday, June 27, 2009

Celibacy Update - 6/27/2009

This morning Catholics in Miami awoke to the news that former priest Padre Alberto Cutié and his wife Ruhama had their civil marriage sealed with religious vows in a private Episcopal ceremony Friday night (see photo taken with someone's cellphone and published in multiple media). The couple pronounced their "I do"s before the Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, Episcopal bishop of Miami, who had previously boasted that Cutié was not the first Catholic priest he had married.

The setting of the ceremony was consummate irony: the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church. The church served for 700 years as a Catholic Cistercian monastery in Sacramenia, Spain, before being sold, dismantled and transported to the United States in 1925. The building was eventually reassembled in Miami and purchased by the Episcopalians in 1964, changing hands, as Cutié has done, from Catholic to Episcopal. Hopefully this will mean an end to this saga until Cutié is formally installed as an Episcopalian priest a year or so from now.

For those who are still wringing their hands, there is worse news out there. As American Hispanic Catholics are bidding a final adios to their golden boy, the Uruguayan Catholic Church is experiencing its greatest scandal since the 1940s. Mons. Francisco Barboza, Bishop of Minas, has drafted a letter of apology that will be read in all the parishes this weekend. Apparently, Barboza contracted with two prisoners to do some work on his residence. He also invited the two to a dinner, which was followed by sexual activity -- duly captured on a cellphone. The men blackmailed Barboza for a while until he finally decided to "out" himself by bringing criminal charges against them. Now Barboza, who was ordained a bishop in 2004, awaits the Vatican's ruling on his fate.

Again, this incident has its ironies. Barboza was a progressive bishop assigned to a fairly traditional diocese but one that has had the distinction of producing lots of vocations. Barboza himself defended celibacy in an article he wrote in Umbrales de los Padres Dehonianos in 2004. The bishop said: "I admit the possibility that the Church might one day come to ordain married men, what I don't believe will happen in any way is the day when priests are told: "get married" or, "you can get married". It is not a simple law to be changed; it is a vocation and a goal of following Christ who was celibate." Probably should have thought of that when you decided to proposition those two men, Monseñor Obispo...

And worse, last week the Spanish magazine "Vida Nueva" published an interview with Cardinal Hummes, Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, in which the Cardinal, while trying to put the church sex scandals into perspective, estimated that fewer than 4% of Catholic priests are pedophiles. Other journalists did the math and quickly came up with around 20,000 pedophiles among the clergy. I suppose, charitably, that this figure includes priests who are not acting on their preferences, because it conflicts with comments that Hummes made to L'Osservatore Romano and picked up by Zenit in January 2008 where he estimated that fewer than 1% of all priests are unfaithful to their celibacy vows.

And now for the breath of fresh air -- the following courageous letter , published today in The Daily Pilot by Monsignor Wilbur Davis of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, California:

The Catholic Church does have married priests. Our Eastern-rite churches have always allowed married men to become priests. Our Latin church requires celibacy but dispenses from this when married ordained Protestant ministers and Episcopalian priests are accepted into our priesthood.

Celibacy is not essential to the Catholic priesthood; but it is a long-established spirituality that supports the sacredness of marriage and human sexuality. Priests who are whole, happy and pastorally zealous can be a challenging sign in the community that even a beautiful family is not the ultimate value. In turn, married couples are signs to us priests that we must not be selfish bachelors but rather people lovingly and sacrificially committed to serving the larger community. Together we seek the Kingdom of God above all.

However, the life of committed celibacy does not fit with every Catholic who experiences a calling to the priesthood and whom the community validates in that calling. They are excluded, and this is a loss. Moreover, we mourn the departure of many fine priests who have left the ministry only because they discovered that they could not freely and joyfully live a celibate life.

Optional celibacy provokes heated discussions at all levels within the Church, exchanges that are largely fragmentary and thus of little profit. With many others I believe it is time for Church leadership to place the question in the public square as a wisdom opportunity for seeking the best understanding of the present reality and wise counsel toward the future.

Msgr. Wilbur Davis
Our Lady Queen of Angels Church
Newport Beach

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