The current head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and the only UK Catholic official to be invited to next month’s conclave, says that the ban on marriage among priests should be lifted. Cardinal Keith O’Brien said in an interview with the BBC that there is no scriptural support for the celibacy required by the Church of its priests. While maintaining the Church’s dogma on other topics – O’Brien is a leading opponent of gay marriage and adoption in the UK – the Cardinal has this to say about married priests:
“For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn’t say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church – in some branches of the Catholic church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.” (SOURCE)
The history of the Catholic Church is inconsistent on the doctrine of celibacy – that being the main reason why priests are not allowed to marry. Most of Jesus’ apostles were married men and early Church descriptions imply that women were an important part of the clergy at that point. It was not until the Eleventh century that Pope Gregory VII formally made celibacy a requirement for Catholic priests. Until then, even some Popes had wives, including St. Peter. Six Popes had families, a few sons of which became Popes themselves. So it’s not something that has “always been” or mandated by Christ.
Cardinal O’Brien has been adamant in his opposition to gay marriage and to allowing gay couples to adopt. The gay rights charity, Stonewall, named him “bigot of the year” last November, prompting to Church to whine about how the group wasn’t tolerating their intolerance. But speaking out against celibacy – which isn’t a vow priests take, rather it’s a simple promise given to a bishop – is a big deal. While he says he has never considered entering into the state of matrimony himself, O’Brien would like to see others have the opportunity. That’s a pretty decent thing for him to say.
But his remarks have already brought out the critics. Patricia McKeever, editor of the Catholic newsletter, Catholic Truth, has called O’Brien a “hypocrite” and “liar.” She seemed rather angry in her declarations, saying the Cardinal’s comments were ” a disgrace.” She seems to think that traditional Catholics will be “appalled” at the idea. Somehow I don’t think they will be as shocked and insulted as she thinks they will be. We shall see. Catholic Scholar Michael Walsh believes that there is no chance of the celibacy rule being changed and says:
“I have been asked if he has said this because he believes that it will cut down on child abuse. Statistically, that is not likely. Married men are just as likely to commit child abuse as celibate men, it is not really the issue. But I think he may feel that the clerical culture which has created the possibility for people to hide their abusive behaviour would be ameliorated by having married clergy, certainly.” (SOURCE)
Personally, I think that the whole celibacy thing is so problematic that getting rid of it could only help the Church. Despite Mr. Walsh’s assertions to the contrary, subjugating sexual urges is something that can lead to the kind of abuse we have seen in the Church, which is not a new phenomenon. There is nothing that can be done to redress the wrongs of centuries of twisting the natural sexual lives of the Roman Catholic clergy. But for future priests – and possibly, their charges – it can be better. Let’s hope the new Pope listens to Cardinal O’Brien. Hey, it’s a step forward at least.
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…