Page 9, 31st January 2003

31st January 2003
Page 9
Page 9, 31st January 2003 — Married priests and clerical celibacy

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Organisations: Catholic Church


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Married priests and clerical celibacy

From Mrs Joan Sweeting Hempsall Sir, I have received God's blessing at the hands of Rev. Dr Sean E Hall (letter, 24 January) many times during the years he was assistant priest at my local Catholic church, St Teresa's.

There were two main obstacles to my receiving communion from him: the first is doctrinal in that I am a "cradle" Methodist and the second is that the Catholic Church labels my marriage to a ("deserted") divorce an irregular union, so I am in a doubly painful situation.

However both obstacles can be overcome. An understanding of and commitment to the Catholic faith can come through prayer, reflection and intensive study of Catholic doctrine (I have been engaged in the latter for several years and am one of the first batch of Maryvale students to have completed the certificate course

in the encyclicals of John Paul II); the Catechism states quite clearly what must be done about the second "problem" when the couple have children together and so must stay committed (while living together as "brother and sister") in order to give them a proper upbringing. With all due respect to Fr Hall, contrary to what he states, a scandal is not the same as an obstacle in theological terms. Section 2284 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as "an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil" (it is further described as "grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others").

It would be a scandal in the theological sense were I to claim the right to receive communion without having removed the obstacles to doing so and, of course, the same goes for "cradle" Catholics. I assume the rules and regulations which Fr Hall observes were "put to one side for one group of people entering our community", refer to the very special case of already married Anglican clergy being allowed to join the priesthood while continuing in the married state, a situation perhaps guaranteed to cause resentment in certain quarters but no reason to change the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on divorce or priestly celibacy. (Incidentally, genuine Catholic converts may be tempted to feel a parallel resentment over the need to prove we have a full knowledge of the faith while knowing that many "cradle" Catholics who blithely receive communion each week may have received only minimal catechesis as children and feel under no obligation to develop that knowledge further as adults.)

In fairness to Fr Hall, and the Catechism's definition not withstanding, scandal can mean Obsta

cle to belief in the archaic theological sense, as in the phrase, "the scandal of the Cross", when used to indicate that faith is necessary to penetrate to the heart of the mystery. The deliberately chosen situations to which Fr Hall refers in his letter are not examples of scandal in this sense either Yours faithfully, JOAN SWEETING HEMPSALL Newcastle NE6 5LB

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