Frthom's Blog

Celibacy and the Catholic Priest

Posted in God, religion, theology by frthom on March 30, 2010

By clicking the link at the conclusion of this blog, you will find the complete thesis upon which this blog is based. The paper about celibacy and the Catholic priesthood was part of an independent study project that I had worked on with the guidance of a priest that I had met while reporting a story about the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor, NY for the New York Times in 1985.

At the time that I wrote the Times article, the priest was a scripture professor of note at the Seminary, a columnist for the Long Island Catholic weekly newspaper, and was serving weekend masses at a parish in Centerport. He had just completed his doctoral thesis about the proportionately large number of sexually conflicted men who became priests. Subsequent to the publication of his thesis, the priest was summarily removed from his teaching position at the Seminary and was reassigned to a parish.

In context with today’s perspective on priestly sexual dysfunction, the priest probably would have been viewed as a whistle-blower, who had been punished by a diocese with its own very serious personnel problems. He resigned the priesthood a short time after his reassignment, he got married, raised kids, and became a practicing psychologist in Suffolk County on Long Island.

Although my own thesis on celibacy is imperfect in many ways and is certainly somewhat dated–having been written years prior to the more recent furor over the abuse of children by Catholic priests– it may nonetheless provide some insight into the pathology within the Church infrastructure and a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Some individuals may question the direct relevance of clerical abstinence to the issue of sexual abuse of children by priests. However, at the time I wrote the paper and still today, I placed a great deal of faith in statistics which suggest that the celibacy requirement dramatically limits the potential diversity of the priesthood and seems to attract an overwhelming number of immature men who seem somewhat confused about their sexuality. While the number of priests being accused of sexual abuse is a relatively small percentage, there does seem to be a preponderance of closeted homosexuality, secrecy, cover-ups, and human resource mismanagement in far too many parishes and dioceses across the U.S. Such conditions create an atmosphere that permeates the true essence of priestly function and renders many clerics incapable of following Christ’s edicts grounded with honesty and integrity.

An aging priesthood and the influx of foreign priests–who barely speak English let alone grasp the culture of the people they are supposed to be inspiring–are causing further estrangement between the church and American parishioners. I am still convinced that the Catholic Church in the U.S. can heal many of it present wounds by welcoming back as deacons previously excommunicated priests (as well as those having been laicized) who gave up the priesthood to marry and to raise children. The concept of allowing women to become Catholic priests is, of course, another if not more direct solution; but one that is much too much to expect from the incumbent papacy and its selective embrace of John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Meanwhile, the celibacy issue may continue to drive more nails into the coffin of a stolid and sinful church infrastructure that Jesus never envisioned nor would he ever have condoned.


There’s Something About Mary

Posted in God, religion, theology by frthom on March 30, 2010

In all four gospels of the New Testament, as Jesus’ fate is secured and his passion begins, a woman comes to him and annoints him with a precious ointment, an act of great significance in Old and New Testament times. Those are the only consistent specifics that we have about that event because it varies significantly in each gospel.

We do not know for certain who the woman was and what was her specific intent. We do not know for certain whether it was Christ’s feet or his head that was annointed because it happens both ways in the different gospels. And, much to the chagrin of feminists, we do not know why the act did not receive the kind of recognition or import that Jesus gave it in Mark (14:9) when he said, “And truly I say to you, whenever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Matthew’s Gospel portrays the anointing in similar fashion to Mark, while Luke paints a portrait, not of a prophet but a sinful, wicked female, groveling in her search for forgiveness. It is in John’s Gospel that the woman is finally given a name, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

Down through the centuries, hundreds, perhaps thousands of books have been written about women in the New Testament, with special attention paid to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene, a special woman in Jesus’ life, debated to be either saint or sinner or a bit of both. Little has been directed toward Mary of Bethany who may have been most representative of the woman around Jesus in the New Testament.

It is Mary of Bethany who anoints Jesus, quietly assuming the role of a prophet in the first vivid foreshadowing of his fate. It is she who demonstrates the proper spiritual perspective in reference to the man who, for many, will become the savior of the human race, and revealed in subsequent theology as the Son of God. It is she who is thought by some to have become Jesus’ most effective evangelist.

The lack of attention paid to Mary of Bethany aggravates University of Notre Dame professor Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her book–seen from a feminist perspective, In Memory of Her. Dr. Fiorenza says that male chroniclers and interpreters of New Testament events cannot bring themselves to admit the important roles that women played as disciples, as proclaimers of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection, or, in the case of Mark’s unidentified woman, the highly honored role of the prophetic annointer of a King.

“In the passion account of Mark’s Gospel, three disciples figure prominently: on one hand, Judas who betrays Jesus, and Peter who denies him and on the other hand, the unnamed woman who annoints Jesus,” said Dr. Fiorenza. “While the stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of this woman is virtually forgotten.”