I’ve been doing a lot of corrective Catholicism recently, calling out Catholics who are teaching false doctrine, as well as doing some atheist-Catholic relationship counselling. But there’s another area that I’ve been working myself up to get into: the crazy, mixed-up world of anti-Catholic Fundamentalism.
I’ve found several websites, here and here, which I think are sort of repositories for anti-Catholic Fundamentalism. For now, I will be picking out some of the more salient and substantive topics, pulling out my Bible and CCC, and going to work.
The theme for the next couple will be the priesthood. Let the games begin.
Fundamentalism and Married Priests
Fundamentalism Bible Passage:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
Actual words used by fundamentalist online:
“The celibacy requirement for all priests is a devilish doctrine. It is a doctrine of devils to forbid God’s people to marry.”
I’m starting off with a bit of a softball with this topic; celibate priesthood is not a dogmatic precept central to our understanding of Catholicism. Rather, it is a discipline meant to foster the image of a Father to his flock, rather than father to his children.
There are two main reasons that this discipline is good: celibacy is an ascetic practice that helps to focus the mind; a man without a nuclear family can be as a Father to all and be seen as such; and a man without a nuclear family can always be available to his Church family.
1) Celibacy is an ascetic practice that helps to focus the mind.
In 1 Cor. 7:6-9, Paul writes:
I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am [that is, celibate]. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
This is, of course, a controversial passage because at a glance it seems to indicate that marriage is somehow less important than celibacy. Yet we know the first humans were given in marriage to each other. So celibacy is an exceptional dedication to a life in Christ, whereas marriage is the primary mode.
1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.
2) A man without a nuclear family can be a Father to all, and ever-available to his Church family.
Marriage is a Christian good, no doubt about it. 1 Timothy 4 makes that point. However, marriage is meant to be a fruitful, loving, and completely dedicated union. A man who is completely dedicated to his wife and children as well as the souls of his parishioners is absolutely sure to find himself pitting God and family against one another in a battle for his priority. Perform Last Rights, miss child’s piano recital. Diocesan duty takes him out of his parish? Misses his wife going into labor (I’ve heard this lament from Presbyterian ministers). This can hardly result in an absolute good. He will end up being inadequately dedicated to each, to the worsening of both. A celibate priest, on the other hand, is described as married to the Church, reflecting Christ’s paternal creatorship, his total love, and his complete dedication to the Church.
Here’s some more Catechism for you:
2349 “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence:
There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.
(SIDE NOTE: Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic is writing some excellent articles on chastity (this one’s the most recent of three) that should be required reading for anyone who thinks chastity is simply “not having fun-sex.”)
Now that we’ve talked about the utility of being celibate, let’s talk Tradition. Catholic priests have observed a mandatum of celibacy since Pope Leo the Great in the fifth century. But the tradition can be traced back to the very disciples themselves, for whom Scripture does not speak of any families or wives.
Fundamentalists will often bring up that St. Peter, our first pope, was presumably married. His mother-in-law is healed by Jesus in Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:30-31, and Luke 4:38-39. However, in the very brief passages where she is mentioned (dying in bed), there is no mention of her daughter, Peter’s wife. This is strange, because normally the daughter of a sick mother would be by the bedside of that mother, offering her care and suffering great distress. When the mother-in-law is healed, she begins to prepare a table for the disciples—all by herself. No helpful daughter is mentioned. In fact, no daughter is mentioned at all. Ever. So it’s commonly understood that Peter was a widower by the time he met Christ.
At the heart of the objections to priestly celibacy is a mistaken idea that the Church forbids priests to marry. The Church does not require anyone to become a priest. Celibacy, following in the steps of the Apostles, is something voluntarily put on, not imposed upon anyone, and if a priest chooses to cast it off by taking a wife, he is defrocked, for the vow he made at his ordination was not made in good faith.
Of course, arguments against priestly celibacy are usually cloaking a deep-seated resentment housed by most Protestant denominations, but what are you gonna do? Just keep reading, I suppose, more to follow on defending the role of priests in the face of Fundamentalism