Page 4, 22nd June 1979

22nd June 1979
Page 4
Page 4, 22nd June 1979 — Fr Hastings explains his marriage
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Fr Hastings explains his marriage

Your announcement of My marriage as a Catholic priest. together with the vast Press coverage this produced. calls for a proper explanation front me to my fellow Catholics.

Our wedding in March was in no way a secret. but it was deliberately quiet. As my wife is an Anglican and as it was legally impossible to solemnise it in the Catholic rite. it was absolutely natural to ask for the help of what Pope Paul rightly called our "Sister Church".

Here, as so often. I have found Anglicans just very helpful and Christian. But many Catholics were present and the whole ceremony was extremely ecumenical. I have been immensely cheered by the amount of support I hase received since from Catholics. including many brother priests.

I explained very clearly in my book -In Filial Diwbedience(published just one year ago) the major theological, pastoral and human grounds which brought me over the years to the conclusion that the law of celibacy is so wrong that it could actually be right to challenge it in deed and not merely in word.

All the same, I still found this extremely difficult to apply in my own case. The decision has been made with a full sense of the gravity of the matter but in no way out of disloyalty to the Catholic Church and the priesthood. I have not "defied" either.

I have, admittedly. "defied" Canon Lass (which has not been changed gince long before Vatican 11), hut that is by no means the same thing: and I have done so because I believe Canon Law is no less than strangling the life of the Church today.

Contrasting the Church's extremely inflexible refusal to accept married pricts "beside celibate ones, even where there are the gravest pastoral reasons for so doing, with the blatant inadequacy of the grounds which could on sound theology be mustered to justify it, I have found myself driven to conclude that the real motivation behind that refusal, its -hidden agenda". is of an essentially nontheological and discriminatory sort.

The law is the expression. and ruthlessly defended frontier. of a Celibate elitism maintained by a power system of Canon Law — suspension, excommunication, social ostracism. what have you. All of it a thousand miles away from that single enigmatic word in the Gospels: "There are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the Kingdom of Ileasien. Let anyone accept this who can" tisk 9:12).

To put it baldly, celibates — a group of people who developed in the Church front the fourth century as something apart, though at first predominantly a lay group — little by little captured the entire priestly ministry and leadership in the "Latin Rite". thereby effectively marginalising the married 98 per cent of the faithful.

This is to reverse what ought to be the, ease: the married, priest and lay. should be at the centre of the Church; the celibate, socially the optcrs Out. should rather be at its creative periphery. Both need to share in its ministry. their pastoral roles and spiritual gills being complementary.

The denial of either is a denial of true Catholicity. Free celibacy at the margin of societs, just like free poverty, can be immensely fruitful, and that truly is the ecclesial role of the religious order, but the celibacy sshich controls — indeed monopolises the corridors of ecclesiastical power becomes instead an essentially oppressive thing, however, benevolent it endeavours to be in its working. While celibacy is a great liberator, the law of celibacy is a great oppressor.

Can a Catholic Christian ever justifiably put his beliefs into practice if they clash with current Canon Law! When an issue is not merely intellectual, hut is actually one of oppression and injustice. then it seems to me that a Christian may be actually bound not to limit himself to merely intellectual and verbal protest.

In matters of justice. in the Church a.s anywhere else, there is no substitute to actually identifsing in some significant manner with the oppressed. In some way this law appears to me to oppress almost everyone in the Church. including those who argue for it most vommittedly: hut three groups have been particularly in MN mind.

The first group is that i;f women because a priesthood which is not only all-male but also all-celibate is inevitably extremely remote from their point of view. the dominance of celibacy in the Catholic Church has as its correlative the subserviance of women.

Secondly, millions of very poor, almost voiceless. laits in the southern continents. who are deprived of any regular Eucharist by this law, when they have many married men who could well he ordained and celebrate it for them.

It seems quite extraordinary to me that a Church which has declared the missing of Sunday Mass a mortal sin on the one hand, has on the other remained Si) unconcerned that millions of its coloured members in the Third World cannot attend even a monthly Mass.

And I find it almost more strange that today. when I and others have protested about this extraordinary anomaly. we are blithely told by priests and nuns who never miss their daily Mass that one is exaggerating the importance of the Eucharist. and these people should be able to manage very well instead with a "service" of the Word".

The third group of the ecclesial oppressed I have had much in my own mind, particularly of late. has been that of the thousands of "invalidly married" priests. Ever since the first leiteran Council of 1123, which fully established the law of celibacy canonically. the ministry of the Church has in many places depended upon such people.

The normal parish priest of the Middle Ages. at least in very mans parts ofthe Church, was in such a We have kept very quiet about the misery that this law has inflicted generation after generation upon thousands of decent. not very distinguished. priests; the hurt it has done to their consciences, the indignity it has brought to their ss in es. the

w ith which it has branded their children (very often priests of the next generation). the wretched subterfuges they have had to resort to in face of the Institutional Church — and all because of the imposition of a monastically inspired law without scriptural justification upon a pastoral clergy NA ho never asked I'm it.

Nor are such situations only a thing of the past. Faced with a situaiton of legalised and systematic oppression within the Church and the religious tradition to which one belongs, I personally can see only one adequate response: some son of action of identification with the oppressed.

When I pondered the savage penalties meted out to the married priest by Canon Law, 1 felt very fearful: but 1 knew that I had to conquer that fear for it was not a Christian fear, hut one which the powerless have always felt of the ecclesiastically powerful.

It would, of course, be much nicer to change the law than to break it. and I have argued year in, year out. since 1964, for such a change. But there is simply no constitutional way whatsoever whereby in today's Catholic Church any ordinary. member of it. lay person or priest. can influence the making of Canon Law which — despite all the Council's talk of collegiality -remains something handed down "monarchically" from Rome, All one can do, if one thinks some matter really and truly important, is to disregard the law in one's own life. whether it be a matter of contraception, or celibacy or whatever.

In this case I feel justified in doing so because the law in question appears to me 10 be contra-el:at-Tat:sit in its

presuppositions, ty iannical in the way it has been made and enforced. disastrous in some of' its pastoral consequences.

At the end of it all I simply do not believe that the Church which Christ founded, the ChUch which is trying so hard today to present a message of justice and freedom to the world at large, is either defined by Canon Law or even tolerably well served by Canon law as it stands today with its mass of' prohibitions and penal clauses.

For me, despite so much evidence to the contrary. the Catholic Church is the true home of truth and love. of freedom and reasonableness. It is because after years of prayer and thought. I have felt sure that it was a loving, truthful, liberating and reasonable thing for me, a Catholic priest of 24 years' standing. to marry a woman I have known and loved for nearly seven years. That 1 fell free. and almost interiorly obliged. to do so.

If my fellow Catholics wish on account of this to excommunicate me, to reject my services as a priest, to argue that I have placed myself in "schism", to shut their ears to my message. I cannot present them from so doing. I would be only one more in a very long line of victims of ecclesiastical absolutism, But I trust and pray it will not be so and that they will turn instead with renewed determination to that reform of the Church which Pope John and Vatican 11 set in motion and of which optional celibacy for the clergy is one, crucially important. part, (Fr) Adrian Hastings A be rdeen The Editor. Richard Dowden, replies: Dear Adrian. I hope you will not niind me a riting to you publicly on the issue of your marriage.

I have received many searingly vicious letters about you. and though 1 am sure you received more, your marriage has upset a lot of people. Would that they could turn their passionate anger to some of the more important issues of our time such as the arms race. or the poverty and oppression much of mankind lives in today!

I have asked some canon lawyers to "put the Church's official position" in reply, hut they have declined either because they do not wish to be drawn into personal controversy with you or because they know that the Canon Law is being reformed and know that as it stands it is not in the pastoral spirit of the Church today.

I am therefore writing as a layman who thinks that it is sensible and urgent to have a married priesthood hut does not think that your marriage will bring that day nearer.

I do not question your motive in getting married or the sincerity of sour desire to remain a priest.

You have written some deeply researched and stimulating books, you have taken courageous stands, often alone, on unpopular issues. your beliefs :ire not simply academic. you put them into practice. But I question whether you were wise to try and change the law at this time by breaking it.

Sometimes a change is brought about by the deliberate decision of the lawmakers. persuaded by rational argument or expediency, to change the law; more often the law is broken so often that it becomes necessary to amend ii to bring it into line with the de /atm situation.

There, as you know, is now at group, the Movement for Married Clergy, made up of more than 60 priests who Lire pressing for the ordination of married men.

This is a more realistic target than a relaxation of the law on celibacy for the already ordained. and they arc pursuing it in a more reasonable way. It seems to me that you have cut right across this movement, and mass even have alienated people who might have been its friends.

You may hase made the day when we will be served by a married clergy even more distant and strengthened that very law you were trying to change.

Richard May I correct one error in your report (June 8) about the Fr Adrian Hastings situation? No meeting took place between Archbishop Winning of Glasgow and Bishop Conti of Aberdeen on this matter.

It would be wrong if readers of your report were to infer dissension between these bishops, for their relationship is. and always has been, close and cordial.

Bishop Conti's statements ot the Press reflected his concern over a pastoral matter in his diocese. Archbishop Winning. in reply to a press inquiry correctly clarified the law of the Church.

Perhaps the subject is best closed with a comment which Fr Hastinas made to me: "I wish to cause no embarrassment to the bishop, the diocese or the Church. I have many reasons to be grateful to all three." Vincent Donnelly Press Officer Catholic Church in Scotland Glasgow




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