by Norman St. John-Stevas
0 I HAVE JUST returned 0 -.from a visit to Holland where among others I met Cardinal Alfrink, Fr. Schillebeebx and members of the Sjaloom group and I shall be writing about my experiences in this and subsequent columns. One issue, which is a burning one in Holland, is that of the celibacy of the clergy. and a special commission appointed by the Dutch bishops is to thrash out 0 the whole matter. , e Cardinal Alfrink told me
that his letters were about ; equally divided between 0 those who wanted a celibate 0 clergy and those who 0 wanted priests to be free to 0 marry. Since this is a mat0/ter which will affect the 0 future of the Church in g England for many years to 0 come it needs to be consid0 ered with the completest . e frankness and with as little 0 emotion as possible. It 0 would be a good thing if the gexample of the Dutch 0bishops was followed and gwe had an authoritative re
port on the English situae
g tion. 0 I would first like to make
' 0my own personal position 0 plain. I prefer a celibate to e a married clergy, just as I 0 prefer the Latin Mass to the
0 g0 1 English version which we have at the moment, but the issue is far too important to 0 be decided on the level of personal preference, how0ever strongly felt, and we have to consider what is e likely to be in the best ing terests of the Church. 0 0 The first point which 0 needs to be stressed is that
0 0celibacy is a matter of (Ils e 0 cipline not doctrine. I re
0 member how this used to be 0trotted out years ago in the gcomfortable knowledge that
0 this was merely an academic . 0 distinction since the discip I
0 line was not being seriously
g challenged. It is very differ ent today.
, Discipline o
HAVING said that, what is the argument "for modifying or ending the celibacy rule? Basically it is quite simple. The call to the priesthood and the call to celibacy are not the same thing, although historical accident has interlinked
them. Those who want a change argue first of all that even at present many priests who have accepted celibacy are not in fact called to it but regard it as an inevitable burden necessary if they are to follow their pastoral vocation.
Secondly, they maintain that there are many men who would come forward and offer themselves for the priesthood if the requirement of celibacy were to be removed. In an age which is experiencing a universal shortage of vocations this is not an argument which can lightly be set aside. These arc the real arguments for a change in the discipline: the fact that marriage might make priests more "human" and more understanding of the laity's marriage problems is beside the point. These are beneficial side effects which might or might not ensue.
FROM the pastoral point of view one has abundant evidence from the Churches of the Eastern and Reformed traditions that a married clergy can quite clearly carry out their priestly and parochial work as married men. There is therefore no a priori objection to a married clergy.
There are, however, severe
practical difficulties which should be faced.
First of all there are the economic difficulties. A celibate priest requires much less for his support than a married one. That is obvious. We are used to getting our clergy on the cheap and we the laity would have to pay much more if we had to provide incumbents with a reasonable salary on which they could afford to keep a wife and family. This, I believe, could be overcome, but it would need a radical re-assessment of diocesan finances.
A second set of objections ill also relevant. I do not count the one sometimes heard that confessional secrets would be told to a wife. That is merely frivolous.
There are, however, complications that would arise from a married status. A dedicated wife sharing her husband's spiritual interests would have to be found. This is by no means easy as many Anglican priests have found to their cost.
Again in a society where divorce is prevalent there would be the danger of the scandal of divorced priests. This again cannot be merely shrugged aside. It may be a superable difficulty but it should be recognised as a real one.
HAVING thought about the question for some time I believe that the Church will eventually come to the position that there should be a choice and that those called to the priesthood will be able to choose their status. I also believe that in Britain this will take a long time to come about.
Meanwhile, there are two interim solutions. Convert clergymen who are married and wish to continue their ministry in the Catholic Church should be allowed to do so. This would gradually familiarise Catholics with a new situation and provide valuable experience of how to solve the problems that will undoubtedly arise.
Secondly. the order of permanent married deacons
could be revived for those
who feel called to a life of
pastoral service and who
nevertheless also have a vocation to the married state. The Council shelved the whole problem hut, like it or not, we shall have to face it now. Feelings of shock or outrage have to be overcome and we have to face the whole issue as dispassionately as possible. I hope that this short article will be a small contribution to that end.