That was how Amy Sullivan, a senior editor for TIME magazine, kicked off her May 16, 2009, article, "The Pope's Stand in Obama's Notre Dame Controversy," which was quickly taken to the woodshed for being a snarky, ill-informed, and rather embarrassing piece of, uh, journalism (using the term as loosely as possible).
Sullivan is now back for more, once again ham-fistedly mixing together sensationalized "controversies" with a shallow understanding of Church teaching and practice. Her June 21, 2009, article, "Sex and the Priestly: Father Cutie Renews Celibacy Debate," begins with the sort of breathless, meaningless sentence you might expect to find at the head of a 10th-grade paper titled, "Why I Find the Catholic Church Annoying and, Like, Behind the Times":
How so? Is it because the world is so filled with sin, war, greed, hatred, corruption, and general nastiness?
Oh. Hmmm, that is rough: another Catholic failing to live up to his vows and Church teaching. What next: Catholic politicians supporting abortion and euthanasia? Catholics divorcing? Catholics cohabitating? Catholics contracepting? Catholic aborting?
Sure, Cutie made a fool of himself and it's always sad to see such lunacy. But isn't it a bit of a stretch, even for TIME magazine, to claim this has "overshadowed" the Pope's declaration of the Year for Priests? Well, I suppose it does make sense if you are certain, as Sullivan seems to be, that the most important thing for priests is to be married and/or have sex, preferably with whomever they want whenever they want:
Yes, a "debate" that has been raging in editorial offices all across the fruited plane, as I noted in this May 17, 2009, post (scroll down to #4). In other words, when a priest or bishop admits to being a smooth-talking scoundrel/fornicator/unrepentant, attention-demanding homosexual, the story isn't about how he's a smooth-talking scoundrel/fornicator/unrepentant, attention-demanding homosexual, but how the Church needs to "change," because everyone recognizes the greatest virtues known to post-modern man are mindless change, meaningless change, and change for the sake of change—or is it change for the sake of "advocates of celibacy reform"?
Of course, this is more than a bit misleading since it gives the impression that as the U.S. goes, so goes the world. But that's not the case at all, as Jeff Ziegler wrote in his 2008 CWR report on vocations worldwide:
Most of the growth in the number of candidates for the priesthood took place in Africa, where seminarians more than quadrupled from 5,636 to 23,580, and in Asia, where the number nearly tripled from 11,536 to 30,066. The Americas, too, saw a growth in the number of seminarians, from 22,011 to 36,891, as did Australia and Oceania, whose numbers rose slightly from 784 to 944. The number of European seminarians, on the other hand, declined from 23,915 to 22,958.
Ziegler points out the stunning fact (go figure!) that countries with highest ration of seminarians display a vibrant Catholic culture, have Catholic schools that are loyal to Church teaching, have very committed and active priests, and have Catholic families devoted to family prayer and family devotions. Strangely enough, boys who are encouraged to consider the priesthood are more likely to actually consider the priesthood (no, really, it's true!) than boys who are either not enouraged or who are even discouraged. I suspect that even people without degrees from Harvard can see the commonsensical connection therein.
Sullivan, who is deeply, passionately, and obsessively concerned the Church keep up with the times, is also keen to cast doubt on the historical roots of the celibate priesthood:
For the first thousand years of the Christian church, priests, bishops, and even popes could — and often did — marry. At least 39 popes were married men, and two were the sons of previous popes. The ideal of celibacy existed, but as a teaching from the Apostle Paul, not a church doctrine. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul argued simply that single men had fewer distractions from their godly work: "He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided."
Over the centuries, the Church tried to split the difference, prohibiting marriage after ordination and encouraging married priests to abstain from sex with their wives after they had joined the priesthood. (The Eastern Orthodox CHurch continues to allow married men to be ordained as priests.) But it wasn't until the Second Lateran Council in 1139 that a firm church law allowing ordination only of unmarried men was adopted. Journalist and former priest James Carroll contends in Practicing Catholic that the reasons for this celibacy requirement were not purely theological. "Celibacy had been imposed on priests mainly for the most worldly of reasons: to correct abuses tied to family inheritance of Church property," he writes. "Celibacy solved that material problem, but because of the extreme sacrifice it required, it could never be spoken of in material terms. So it was that sexual abstinence came to be justified spiritually, as a mode of drawing close to God."
So, without getting into all of the numbers, what does this tell us?
2. Celibacy was, however, an ideal presented by the Apostle Paul. Check.
3. The Apostle Paul made an appeal to practical living in presenting the ideal. Check.
4. The Eastern Orthodox continue to ordain married men. Check. Sullivan might want to note that this is also the practice of the Eastern Catholic Churches: "In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1580). It should also be noted that, in the East (whether Orthodox or Catholic), if a priest's wife dies, he cannot remarry.
5. Quoting former priests in this context is like asking Terrell Owens for an objective opinion of the 49ers, Eages, and Cowboys, and accepting his word without questioning it. Sure, he might give you some good stuff, but he's hardly a balanced, objective source.
Okay, whatever (it's 4:45 a.m. and I'm a bit irritable). Next?
It might be good to note how a fellow named Jesus, who played a fairly major role in this whole Christianity thing, saidto his disciples, "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Matt. 19:12). Considering Jesus is God and that he wasn't married (how did he cope?!), despite Danny Brown's best efforts to set him up with Mary Magdalene, methinks it is a passage that shouldn't escape notice.
Okay, let's fast forward to the final paragraph:
First, Sullivan doesn't seem to grasp that discussing or debating Church discipline is quite different from disobeying and breaking said discipline. Catholics are free to discuss all sorts of factors related to the discipline of clerical celibacy in the Western Church. But that doesn't mean a rogue bishop who is directly disobeying the Pope can run around ordaining men he isn't supposed to be ordaining. Duh. Plus, wouldn't it be nice to hear from a priest or bishop who explains why he is celibate and happy, normal, loving, whole, devoted to Christ, loyal to the Church, and so forth? (More on that later this week, by the way.)
Secondly, her conclusion is a complete and utter falsehood. Fr. Cutie is an "Episcopal priest-in-training" because he chose to be. He chose to break his priestly vows. He chose to leave the Catholic Church. He chose to become Episcopalian. No one made him do any of those things.
Yet in Sullivan's world, it is the always the fault of the Pope, the Church, and loyal Catholics when priests break their vows, grope their girlfriends in public, or jump in the sack with other men. In her world, the Church doesn't have the right or authority to define the parameters of priestly discipline, but it does, somehow, have the amazing and powerful ability to make men fornicate and sodomize. Go figure.