I found two pieces about the Catholic priesthood revealing, especially in light of my recent article on the topic of mandatory celibacy (in the Latin rite, which affects most people but often overlooked are the several million Eastern rite Catholics (Byzantine, Ukrainian, etc.) whose priests are allowed to marry.
The first is a statement by a man (Paul Blaschko in Commonweal last month) who left the seminary in 2012, disillusioned by what he called the inadequate sexual formation of men being prepared for the priesthood. Given the "overly spiritualized conception of sexuality we were offered, it's no wonder abuse spreads as it does."
He points to the emphasis on moral theology rather than psychological reality: if a man commits a sin, the church offers forgiveness, but grossly inappropriate activities are not so simple, he reminds us. "If my experience is any guide, we are still failing to provide our clergy with the concepts and tools relevant for identifying and addressing sexual abuse."
His observations from his experience in St. Paul: Authority is not to be questioned, even if it is misguided; obedience and humility rather than critical inquiry and self-reflection are valued; silence and secrecy prevail in dealing with homosexuality along with a fear among seminarians of being thought gay and dismissed. How, Blaschko asks, can you hold people accountable in such a culture?
The other article that caught my attention (from the National Catholic Reporter) by Christine Schenk, a sister of St. Joseph, who has degrees in theology as well as nursing. She is bothered by the idea that celibacy is seen as a sort of inside track to the mystery of God, elevating priests over laypeople; consider, she says, what the Gospels say about the greatest is the one who loves most and serves best.
She asks some important questions: if we believe celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, why are we afraid to allow the Spirit to act, allowing candidates to choose celibacy in the diocesan priesthood? Why don't we trust God?
What kind of gift is it if it isn't freely given and freely accepted? "True gifts do not coerce. . . .It is a distortion of the gift of celibacy to demand it of those called to the priesthood but not to celibacy."
As a celibate woman, the author knows that celibacy is a chosen way of life. She knows, as many of us in the lay world know, that many men are called to be priests but not to live (and sleep) alone for the rest of their lives.
How many more years of discussion must there be before changes are made whereby celibacy can be seen as a gift and be made optional? How many more parishes must close or remain priestless?
I remain saddened by the state of the Catholic priesthood and doubt if I will see meaningful change in my lifetime. I can only pray that seminaries are overhauled so that idealized views of human sexuality do not remain the norm in the preparation of priests.