"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, May 7, 2021

Married Priests in the Catholic Church: the Need for and Gifts of Parish Culture

Continuing my series of reflections on, and drawn from, my newest book Married Priests in the Catholic Church, let me note with special gratitude my Anglican and Orthodox contributors (a few of whom are discussed here), whose long experience of a married priesthood informs many substantial and wholly welcome notes of realism into discussions among Catholics that too often traffic in abstraction and fantasy. 

The idea among some Latins is that a papal snap of the fingers would allow a married priest to be dropped from on high into a parish on some random Sunday: Fr Celibate is here this week; next week Fr Fecund with his lovely and bejeweled wife and 12 kids have all happily taken up residence in the rectory. Nothing else need change and life can go on as before. 

A check on this facile view is delivered very graciously from England in the elegant chapter in my book from the inimitable Fr John Hunwicke (whose ecclesial politics, as it were, differ very sharply from my own, not least when it comes to assessment of the current pontificate). After a very long life serving in the Church of England, he entered the Catholic Church via the ordinariate in England set up by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Hunwicke reflects on the fact that a married presbyterate in the Church of England has an entire parish culture that differs considerably from Catholic culture, and that the absence of this may make it much more difficult for married priests in the Catholic church to thrive. (This, he shows, was already a difference well understood by Cardinal Newman.) He withholds judgment, saying it is still early days, and this is true. But his essay offers sober cautions to and checks of our fevered fantasies and is for that reason very welcome. 

The idea that there is a unique culture to married clergy is also found among Eastern Catholics. Fr Thomas Loya (with whom, again, I differ sharply in many areas concerning both "secular" and ecclesial politics) writes a moving chapter on his experience growing up in a long-standing clerical family among Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics, and watching how having a wife and children shapes not just a man's priestly ministry, but the entire parish, and how the absence of such a family means, e.g., that paid staff must often be brought in to do what in some cases wives and children did for free.

Other authors from Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic backgrounds reflect on parish culture and its sometimes difficult and painful challenges. We will hear a bit from them next week. 

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