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interesting interview on RCC + celibacy

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

SoJo has an interesting interview with Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a married priest in the Catholic church. Longenecker was a married clergyman in another denomination before converting to Catholicisim and taking vows, which allows him under Catholic law to continue his marriage. It’s an unusual situation, and gives him an interesting perspective on how the church handles “sex stuff” – celibacy, the sex scandals, and the like. Do check it out if this topic interests you.

http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/09/17/talking-sex-married-catholic-priest

(I was born in the city where he’s ministering, and still have Catholic family living not too far from there who are practicing Catholics. I’ve never met him or heard anything of him before this interview, but it’s still a neat personal connection, at least for me.)

On the meat of the interview:

1) I don’t buy the argument that because Jesus was unmarried, priests should be unmarried as well. Jesus was a unique case, and there are many reasons why He would stay unmarried that wouldn’t apply to us. It also seems… arbitrary to zero in on that one characteristic. Why not encourage priests to have special training in carpentry, for instance? There are probably practical reasons to prefer a celibate priesthood, both historically and today, and I like what Fr. Longenecker says about it being a counterweight against the West’s obsession with sex. But that argument that Jesus was celibate so priests should be too never worked for me.

(P.S.: I’m not an expert on this, but do we really know Jesus was unmarried? The Bible doesn’t mention a wife, and extrabiblical evidence is iffy at best, but couldn’t it be kind of like Legolas or Gimli – just because a wife isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean she couldn’t exist and just be irrelevant to the narrative?)

2) I found fr. Longenecker’s comment about how the church was global to be very interesting. This is part of what I love about the RCC – so unified, so connected – but it also seems a bit like an Achilles heel. The world is so varied, and what will work in South Korea won’t always work in New York. It’s a shame the RCC has to take a one-size-fits-all approach, although I do think I understand the reasoning.

3) On paedophilia, I absolutely agree that celibacy doesn’t cause it. I haven’t read the stats on whether it’s more or less common in church circles. But I do know that paedophilia is a thought process very different from normal erotic attraction. Saying celibate people are more likely to rape children is just as offensive as saying gay men are a special risk to boys. My bigger concern in this area isn’t that some pedophiles were Catholic priests; it was that the RCC had – and in some cases still does – valued institutional reputation and protecting the priests over the well-being of the children placed in their care. That is what truly concerns me; the child, not the priest and certainly not the RCC generally, is the victim in these cases.

4) I wouldn’t be bothered nearly so much by celibacy if priests and nuns weren’t the only people making decisions for Catholic theology and policies. Celibacy can be beautiful, and enriching, I can see the beauty in that move. I mean, I’m celibate myself though I haven’t committed to making it a lifelong thing. But celibate people only represent a sliver of the human experience, and like with anything, there can be failures of imagination where you privilege your own experience and downplay or ignore or whatever the reality of married folks with families. If priests need to be celibate because of their calling, I can live with that. I can even celebrate it. But there’s a reason we value authors and thinkers from lots of different demographics.

Progressive Protestants, for example, are very concerned that we listen to theologians who are women, people of color, LGBT, from around the world, etc. It’s not just because we want to give everyone a chance to be influential; it’s that different kinds of people bring something to the table you wouldn’t think about without those voices. So if the only people debating church theology and social policy etc. are single men… that’s problematic, and not just because it’s excluding a good deal of the human population from those roles. This isn’t about equal opportunity or rights, it’s about the value of a theology that pulls from all of humanity, and that speaks to those different peoples’ concerns. Celibacy does seem to drive a wedge between the priesthood and the world experienced by your non-celibate church member. Now, if the RCC wants to make more room for non-celibate non-priests (and non-nuns) to hold positions of influence and authority, this concern vanishes. But until that happens, I am concerned by the way celibacy makes priests into something Other from most of the RCC faithful.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
dreamflower02
Sep. 21st, 2013 02:18 am (UTC)
That was a very interesting interview, and I also find your comments on it to be thought-provoking. I especially liked the distinction he drew between "celibacy" and "chastity".

(P.S.: I’m not an expert on this, but do we really know Jesus was unmarried? The Bible doesn’t mention a wife, and extrabiblical evidence is iffy at best, but couldn’t it be kind of like Legolas or Gimli – just because a wife isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean she couldn’t exist and just be irrelevant to the narrative?)

I personally think it unlikely, but you are correct--we really don't know for certain. The thing is, it doesn't matter.

(That was one of my main objections to "The DaVinci Code". The idea that if Jesus was married, it would invalidate the entire Christian religion in some way is ridiculous!)

Re: paedophilia--of course celibacy does not cause it. If anyone (priest or not) is engaging in sexual molestation of children then that person is not celibate at all. Perhaps the only thing that the perception of celibacy gives a paedophile is the illusion of respectability (which makes it easier to find victims) and freedom from the pressure to maintain a "normal" life with a wife and family. And perhaps a way to self-justify destructive behavior.

I do think that eventually celibacy for priests in general will be removed, though I think that it will probably remain for those who chose a monastic life. But I don't think it will go away anytime soon.

marta_bee
Sep. 21st, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC)
I personally think it unlikely, but you are correct--we really don't know for certain. The thing is, it doesn't matter.

Yeah, I'm not trying to go "DaVinci Code" on people here or anything. I find speculations on this point at best an interesting AU to what I think is the likely reality: that Jesus didn't have a wife or offspring. But I think you're absolutely right, and I like your point that it just doesn't matter one way or the other, or shouldn't.

Re: paedophilia--of course celibacy does not cause it. If anyone (priest or not) is engaging in sexual molestation of children then that person is not celibate at all.

I think the usual argument is that by trying to be celibate, priests who are sexually attracted to children end up repressing that rather than dealing with the issue, or that people more generally who aren't having sex with someone will have that libido come out in really inappropriate ways. I mean obviously you can't be chaste and sleep with anyone at the same time, by definition. But even if you're saying sexuality is something that builds up and needs an outlet at some point, it just doesn't add up to paedophilia, does it? I mean I'm pretty nonsexual and am fine with that, but even if it wasn't, I'd be wanting to have sex with the people I'm naturally attracted to, not just anything that happened to be on hand. If that includes children, then celibacy isn't really the root of the problem I don't think.

I do think that celibacy is a struggle, it involves sublimating something that is central to most people (and, Biblically, is recognized as a basic fact of human nature - it's not good for man to be alone, etc.). So this will be a struggle for most people. Perfection is not guaranteed. If anyone, priest or otherwise, is sexually attracted to children, they need to realize that and take precautions to make sure that if they ever slip it won't be into molesting a kid. That may mean a priest attracted to children should still not put himself in situations where he'd be alone with them. But that's just as true for married pedophiles or any other kind.
lindahoyland
Sep. 21st, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC)
I was at a Churches Together meeting once and some Catholics there claimed priests needed to be celibate so they would not say be torn between staying with their sick child or visiting a dying parishioner.

I personally think as a Jewish Rabbi, Jesus could have been married, Peter certainly was who is regarded as the first pope!

I believe celibacy should be a matter of personal choice, it suits some people,but not others.

I was interested once to attend a concert given by a Group of monks and nuns from a south sea island.(The sound was amazing). They told us they took vows including celibacy for only 5 years at a time and many moved on to marriage afterwards.That seemed a good way to concentate on a vocation whole heartedly while not being tied life long.

Edited at 2013-09-21 09:46 pm (UTC)
marta_bee
Sep. 22nd, 2013 10:31 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine on FB, a rather conservative Catholic priest, once said the same thing. That the life of a priest was a demanding one in every way (which I can see) and that if he had to balance his spiritual + professional obligations against the needs of a family, one would surely suffer. He also pointed out that he had vowed to live a life of poverty, but that he didn't think it would be fair to impose that on a child who had no choice in the matter.

I can respect all that. In some ways I even agree with it. :-) I mean, I've seen the ways those problems affect the problems of Protestant clergy - it's a tough nut to crack. But I don't really buy the Jesus-model argument, and I don't accept that priests should be the only influences on church leadership. Celibacy is good for some, but there's much more to the human experience than that.

I do love your experience with those South Sea monks! That sounds like an excellent approach to me.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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