There’s a mild kerfuffle about in the world of orthodox Catholicism, because Scottish philosopher (and advisor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture), has written a piece in The Tablet (pay wall) saying that it’s time once again for the Catholic Church to ordain married men as priests:
This is not a case of simply increasing the number of clergy and nor is it an easy solution to the challenge of halting the decline. Rather a married contingent can better resemble and reassemble the faithful and speak to it of what they know of its needs and difficulties, and speak also to the celibates now not from without but within the brotherhood of the ordained.
The final straw, he says is the decade of sexual abuse scandals, which many Catholics still want to minimize by saying, “Hey, other people have this problem, too” (this month’s example: the Boy Scouts):
It is self-destructive to protest that that the incidence of abuse by priests is statistically not much different to that of other groups who have contact with children. If priestly formation, sacramental service and prayer do not bear finer fruits then this only encourages the sense of gracelessness, and the possibility of Godlessness.
This is important, because Haldane is a well-connected, extremely well-regarded lay Catholic with ties to the Vatican. This is not a hippie at a campus Catholic drop-in center, this is a guy who can buy groceries at the pope’s house. However, it’s important to note what he is not proposing:
He’s not proposing that priests should get married, just that married men should be able to be ordained as priests. He’s not proposing that married priests should become bishops. In other words, he’s proposing that the Catholic Church should adopt the practice observed by the Eastern churches, both the Orthodox and those in communion with Rome. This would not be an innovation, but a return to dominant Christian practice from the first thousand years.
A couple of points to bear in mind on Haldane’s thoughtful proposal: ordaining married men will probably not do much to reduce the shortage of priests, at least in the West. The lack of candidates to the priesthood is not just a Roman thing, and there are economic reasons that suggest ordaining married men wouldn’t change that. Catholic priests are among the lowest-paid members of the clergy in the United States, despite earning the equivalent of a PhD. The idea that thousands of men would be eager to sign up both for the education requirement and the chance to support a family on $22,000 a year is, I think, a little naive.
But it’s an idea that bears serious consideration, although it’s unlikely to get that, at least from some quarters: the righteous-n-faithful brigade over at the First Things comments sections have already decided Haldane is a heretic ready for the stake.