Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Clerical marriage IV
July 19, 2012, 6:57 pm
Filed under: Opinion

The last of four posts on this subject. (scroll down for the earlier posts)

A freely-chosen celibacy “for the sake of the Kingdom” is a praiseworthy form of life. The ministerial priesthood is also a praiseworthy form of life; and so is Christian marriage. Both celibacy and marriage are compatible with priestly ministry, as is shown by the Church’s willingness to sanction both practices. Is one better than the other? It would be rash indeed to suggest that married priests are less effective in their ministry than unmarried priests- or vice versa. My own experience and observation leads me to believe that there are advantages and disadvantages in either state of life. The experience of marriage is helpful in understanding the difficulties of others. The practical support of a wife can free one for pastoral work rather than hinder one in it. In some pastoral situations, a woman’s and wife’s point of view is invaluable, and more easily and more safely sought from one’s own wife. On the other hand, there are some environments in which a priest may be required to live that it would be difficult to ask a family to share.

As long as very few priests are married, the prevailing culture will tend to be in favour of the status quo. Celibate priests will be very conscious of the advantages their state gives them, relatively unconscious of the advantages the married state might give them. Insofar as they feel they have made a sacrifice, it helps to present it as virtually necessary for their exalted calling.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul says that in regard to the choice between marriage and celibacy, he has no command from the Lord, but offers his own opinion. In view of “the present distress” (whether he refers to a time of persecution or to the supposedly imminent Parousia is not clear), he thinks that everyone should stay as he or she is. He also thinks that the married will inevitably find a conflict between their responsibilities to wife or husband, and their concern for the things of God. Nevertheless, a little later he asserts his right to be accompanied by a wife, as are other apostles, even though he has chosen not to make use of it. He is clear that each must make his or her own decision.

For a Christian, the proper care for a family and for the nurture of one’s children can and should be one of the “things of God” for which one is concerned. Today, the example of a Christian marriage is more necessary than ever before, and I have known parishes where the Vicarage is one of the few places in which it can be found. There are schools where the Vicarage children may be among the few who live with both their natural parents, in a stable and loving marriage.

All in all, I believe that the carefully worded Article XXXII gets it right: “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.” It is not necessary, but it is lawful, and, as St Paul implies, it is better to live out the vocation that one has, to marriage or to celibacy, whichever that may be.

Married clergy have been an integral part of the Anglican way for four and a half centuries. It is fair to say that clerical marriage is part of “Anglican Patrimony”, and one that is not contrary to any article of faith. It is an element which, I believe, the new Ordinariate will have to hold on to, and which the western Church generally will have to come to terms with, if Pope Benedict’s vision is to achieve its full potential.



10 Comments so far
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But it was made very clear to the Ordinate Clergy by Cardinal Levada from the CDF at a meeting at Allen Hall that clerical celibacy remains and will always remain the norm and that a married clergy is definitely not part of the Anglican Patrimony. Those of us who are married and received a dispensation in order to be ordained had to take a vow that, should our wives die, we will not be able to remarry.

Comment by David

I’m sorry, David, but I cannot accept that the CDF is competent to decide what is, or what is not, part of Anglican Patrimony. I think that as a matter of historical fact a married clergy has been a central feature of Anglican pastoral practice; that this has been extremely beneficial; that to exclude it on principle is simply mistaken; and that sooner or later Rome must take this on board. Since in the eastern Church a married clergy has been and remains normal, I cannot see how anyone can be sure that a celibate clergy will “always” remain the norm in the western Church. “Always” is a very long time!

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

Paul – I am not saying I disagree with you! I am simply stating what has been said and what has been required of those married clergy before they could be ordained.
We were all free to accept the authority of the Magisterium, or not. ‘Pick and mix’ was not an option.
‘Anglican Patrimony’ is very difficult to define and often seems to me to reflect personal preferences or individual circumstances.

Comment by David

Surely this is not a matter of the “Magisterium”, the Church’s authority to teach the truths of the Faith. This is a matter of practical policy and discipline, the wisdom of which may be questioned even when in practice it is obeyed. As to “Anglican Patrimony” (or “traditional practice”, as I would prefer to call it), this is more a matter of historical fact than personal preference. It is not as if the Articles stated that clergy must marry: merely that they are not forbidden by Divine Law; and I don’t see how this can be denied. It is clearly an area in which practice can vary, has varied, and doubtless will vary in the future.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

This is an outsider’s perspective, but I think that the way to change “Rome”‘s mind about the discipline of compulsory celibacy for candidates for priestly ministry, will be for the Ordinariate to demonstrate that the practical matters of a married clergy can be fully addressed.

The Ordinariate in the UK, at least, is not yet on a firm financial footing, although I have been told that things are much better than they were even six months ago. In 10 years time, perhaps, there will be an argument to be made for married clergy, with the Ordinariate blazing the way and showing that it IS possible,and it doesn’t require root and branch reform of diocesan and parochial structures. It won’t be enough to say that “it can be done”, someone needs to say “look, we’ve done it, here’s how it can be done elsewhere”.

I’m not saying that such root and branch reform is not needed – but it can’t be attached to the issue of married clergy. Such a connection would be to the detriment of both positions.

There’s also the question of inadvertently shrinking the pool of candidates for episcopal consecration. Bishops have, since the very early days of the Church been unmarried, and usually monastics, and the Catholic Church would not risk creating hurdles for the Orthodox Church in what are increasingly thawing – even warm – relations between the two by consecrating married men to the episcopacy. If 75% (number out of the air) of priests are married, and monastic vocations do not recover, that might pose an unexpected problem.

None of these problems is insurmountable, but the practically attainable has to rise to meet the theologically desirable, and that isn’t going to happen overnight.

Comment by Stephen

On the whole, I agree.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

Sorry for coming late to this very useful series of posts. My own opinion would be that married clergy is an inherent part of the Anglican tradition. And I believe a strict reading of Anglicanorum Coetibus would allow for it to continue. With its absence one might wonder if the long term future of the Ordinariate is complete absorption rather than remaining as a distinct entity of the RCC.

Comment by Fr Levi

This would be my worry. Without this distinctive and integral part of Anglicanism, I think the Ordinariate would become merely a liturgical variation, and an archaic one at that. While I thoroughly approve of the decision that the Ordinariate Use should be BCP based, this alone will not be sufficient for it to represent Anglican tradition in its full pastoral dimension. Without the “domestic pattern” of Anglican clergy life, practised for centuries, it will be only an irrelevance.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

But has the die already been cast? It seems that those that have already joined are accepting of the idea that married clergy are only part of an initial, transitional arrangement and that mandatory celibacy will be the norm for the ‘next generation’ of Ordinariate clergy.

Comment by fatherlevi

I am encouraged by the way Fr Ed Tomlinson celebrates his own married status on the Tunbridge Wells Ordinariate blog. It is important for Ordinariate married clergy to proclaim loudly and clearly that their ministry in the CofE was enhanced and not hindered by their wives and children. I can honestly say that I gained a greater insight into the idea of God as Father once I was a father myself. And see my latest post!

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

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