Friday, November 18, 2011

Priesthood: Marriage or Celibacy? Eastern Canon 373

I read with great interest
Sandro Magister's article on the ongoing debate in the Western Church regarding the Eastern practice of a married clergy. I was also pleased that Dr. Ed Peters responded. I wrote Dr. Peters, not only to thank him for bringing some "balance" to the issue (I could see many Westerners reading Magister's article and simply agreeing with him as it was well-argued), and also to share with him a couple of reactions I had to the article. I would like to share what I wrote. It especially concerns Eastern Canon 373.

The reader may also like to read my last post (which was on the same issue) and the links I gave.

Here is the email:

One thing that gets missed and I believe misinterpreted with regards to Eastern Canon 373 is the preeminence the practice of clerical celibacy seems to be given, in as subtle a way as the Holy See can manage in this ecumenical age.

That canon states, "Clerical celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole Church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor".

Clerical celibacy is "to be greatly esteemed everywhere" while the practice of married clerics is "to be [merely] held in honor". The esteem given clerical celibacy is "supported by the tradition of the whole Church" while the practice of married clerics is restricted to "the primitive Church and the tradition of the Eastern Churches" Clerical celibacy is specifically identified as being "suited to the priesthood", hearkening back to Vatican II's defense of clerical celibacy (and in opposition to its abolition opening the way for a married priesthood) in Presbyterorum Ordinis 5. And of course, the fact that the canon speaks only of "married clerics" without further specification opens itself up to the interpretation of a "continent" married priesthood as in the early Church.

Where I give Magister a lot of credit is that he is one of those rare people who believes there is an "unresolved contradiction". He just happens to fall on the opposite side of the issue that I do.