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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Priestly Celibacy and the Ordination of Women

The Roman Catholic Church, patricularly in the United States, is suffering from a shortage of clergy. In Pittsburgh, for instance, the pastors are aging and their replacements are too few. One solution has been to import priests from other countries, areas where there is an abundance of vocations.

The local news agencies are reporting that a controversial group is advocating two additional responses to the lack of priests:

1) Making priestly celibacy optional and
2) Ordaining women

This has generated quite a bit of interesting discussion on local Catholic blogs. See this from Ales Rarus.

My response. First, if people think that allowing clergy to marry and/or ordaining women will solve the Catholic priest shortage, the experience of other church bodies would seem to indicate otherwise. Many denominations have trouble recruiting and maintaining qualified clergy, even in spite of allowing married clergy and, in many cases, ordaining women. Certainly, these factors would make a difference, but at the same time we need to recognize that there are others factors at play.

On priestly celibacy. It should be obvious that I do not favor enforcing this discipline upon all the clergy. I, myself, am happily married (15 years of bliss) and have a child. And I am an ordained Lutheran pastor.

On the one hand, I can see the argument for having a celibate clergy. There is apostolic precedent in the Apostle Paul. And, of course, Jesus Himself (ridiculous novels aside). Being celibate gives a man freedom to devote himself more fully to his ministry. He is freed from the obligations and responsibilities of caring and providing for a family. From a more theological perspective, I admire the imagery of the pastor as a reflection of Christ, whose bride is the Church.

Nevertheless, requiring a man to be celibate is placing a tremendous burden on his back, one that our Lord did not require of his own 12 disciples. There is every reason to believe that most of them had families. Certainly we know from the Gospels that Peter was married.

The ability to lead a chaste celibate life is a gift. Only a very select few can successfully lead such a life. Even the Roman Church does not teach that this is a divine command, but an honored tradition.

The Creator has instilled in every man a natural desire to marry a woman and procreate. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. If a person chooses to remain celibate so that he can labor in the Lord's vineyard more completely, that is a wonderful thing. In this respect, St. Paul said that he wished everyone was like him - for the sake of extending the kingdom and edifying the church. But even he, a celibate himself, acknowledges that it is better to marry than to burn (with passion/lust).

I have often said that being married and having a family has made me a much better pastor than I would be otherwise. The love, support and joy I receive from my wife and son is beyond measure and significantly counter-balances the loneliness, suffering and burden of the ministry. I am honest enought to admit that I would be a far less effective person - in every way - were I still single.

On Women's Ordination. In this respect, I completely agree and support the position of Rome. I belong to one of the branches of Lutheranism which still does not ordain women. Of course, this is not in any way a comment on the capability of women to serve effectively in the church. There are numerous avenues for godly and scholarly women to do Kingdom work. But the explicit teaching of Scripture is that the pastoral office is restricted to males only (1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2).

Beyond the passages one could cite, I find the example of our Lord to be quite convincing. Had Christ wanted there to be women pastors in His church, it seems likely that He would have had a more diverse collection of disciples. As it is, He chose 12 men. One cannot argue that He was only following the social conventions of His time, for on other occasions, He had no difficulty shattering such conventions to smithereens (i.e. John 4) . And in addition, if Jesus had intended for there to be women pastors, the most excellent candidate would have surely been His blessed mother.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An advisory about the local "controversial group:" its name would lead one to believe that it is comprised largely of Catholic priests. The reality is that it has less than a half dozen in its membership, but refuses to change its name to reflect that it is predominantly a lay organization.

On your remarks about priestly celibacy: my only quibble is that you use the phrase "requiring a man to be celibate," as if someone in the Catholic Church were holding a gun to a man's head. The promise of celibacy is freely made before God, after years of discernment by the candidate and the diocese. No one is coerced or required to be celibate. But the western part of the Catholic Church has chosen to ordain as priests only those men who believe that they have been called by God and given the grace to be celibate.

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