Monday, 18 August 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: part 6

Some things are the same now as they were at the time of the Second Vatican Council. In this case, I think of the reasons being advanced in favour of modifying the Church's discipline with regard to priestly celibacy. John O'Malley (What happened at Vatican II) gives less coverage to the content of the discussion at the time of the Council than does Ralph Wiltgen (The Rhine flows into the Tiber pp.96-99, in the context of debate on the restoration of the permanent diaconate, and pp.262-267, in the context of the debate on the schema relating to the ministry of priests). The arguments being proffered in favour of ending the discipline were much the same then as now: responding to the shortage of priests, the difficulties being experienced by priests in keeping their promise. According to Wiltgen, the acceptance of the idea of married men being ordained to the permanent diaconate was one factor in creating a media storm in favour of changing the Church's discipline. In the end Pope Paul VI removed the question from the competence of the Council just two days before the schema on the ministry of priests was to be discussed, indicating that the discipline was to be maintained and its practise encouraged.

If Wiltgen is correct, there really was very little sense among the Fathers of the Council themselves that the Church's discipline on priestly celibacy should be changed. It was something very much "taken as read". I have for some years been struck by something similar with regard to the new ecclesial movements. Despite the lay character of the charisms of many of these movements, they by and large also have sections of their membership who, wishing to live the charism more deeply, undertake to live the evangelical counsels (Focolare and Communion and Liberation are the most obvious, but by no means the only, examples). One wonders whether Pope Paul VI's intuition in favour of priestly celibacy was not in fact a better reading of the "signs of the times" than that of the advocates of its mitigation.

At the beginning of his Encyclical Letter on Priestly Celibacy, Paul VI wrote that he wished: fulfill the promise We made to the Council Fathers. We told them that it was Our intention to give new luster and strength to priestly celibacy in the world of today. Since saying this We have, over a considerable period of time earnestly implored the enlightenment and assistance of the Holy Spirit and have examined before God opinions and petitions which have come to Us from all over the world, notably from many pastors of God's Church.
As well as a wide ranging discussion of reasons for and against the discipline of priestly celibacy, Pope Paul confirmed the discipline, with a qualification applicable to ministers of other Christian Churches and communities who are received into the Catholic Church: (Sacerdotalis coelibatus nn.14, 42):
We consider that the present law of celibacy should today continue to be linked to the ecclesiastical ministry. This law should support the minister in his exclusive, definitive and total choice of the unique and supreme love of Christ; it should uphold him in the entire dedication of himself to the public worship of God and to the service of the Church; it should distinguish his state of life both among the faithful and in the world at large......
In virtue of the fundamental norm of the government of the Catholic Church, to which We alluded above, while on the one hand, the law requiring a freely chosen and perpetual celibacy of those who are admitted to Holy Orders remains unchanged, on the other hand, a study may be allowed of the particular circumstances of married sacred ministers of Churches or other Christian communities separated from the Catholic communion, and of the possibility of admitting to priestly functions those who desire to adhere to the fullness of this communion and to continue to exercise the sacred ministry. The circumstances must be such, however, as not to prejudice the existing discipline regarding celibacy.
Despite all the contestation then and since, Pope Paul's encyclical represents the discipline of the Western Church; and, if one really looks at the sense of the Church's life rather than the efforts of the news media and activists, there has been no real sign of the discipline changing.

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, providing for the establishing of personal ordinariates for those being received into the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church, explicitly cites Sacerdotalis coelibatus (VI.1-2):
Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfil the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI Sacerdotalis coelibatus, n. 42 and in the Statement In June are to be observed. Unmarried ministers must submit to the norm of clerical celibacy of CIC can. 277, §1.
The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.
So far as I am aware, it is only under the first of these provisions that married men have been ordained to the priesthood, both in the Ordinariates and in cases of individual conversions (corrections in the comments box, please, if I am wrong). But I have wondered about the implementation of that provision more than once. My own personal anecdote in this connection refers to a meeting I was involved in several years ago, a meeting attended by myself and three priests. As it turned out, the only unmarried person at the meeting was me, my priest colleagues all being former Anglican clergy (this was before the days of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham). In some areas of the Church's life in England, the number of married priests is such that one can genuinely consider there to be, at the level of practical experience, a mixture of married and celibate clergy. There is clearly a balance to be struck between the consideration of the situations of individual cases, for which Paul VI's provision exists, and the impact more widely for the witness to the discipline of celibacy (and perhaps also, in a limited way, for a sense of justice towards those already in the Catholic Church who might feel that former Anglican clergy have access to a path to the ordained priesthood without the demand of celibacy that is not available to them). There is, I think, some value to be gained in sharing more widely how that balance is considered in decisions relating to the ordination of former Anglican clergy.

[As a somewhat personal reflection, I would find any change to the Church's discipline with regard to priestly celibacy a counter-witness to the ecclesial value of the evangelical counsels, counsels which are not "the" exclusive way of living the Christian life, but nevertheless do form a part of the whole that is ecclesial existence. They provide a "form" for all vocations, even those that do not involve embracing them in the fullest sense, and an ending of priestly celibacy would undermine witness to that "form".]

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