Will there be uproar as ex-Episcopalian priests are allowed to forgo Catholicism's celibacy code?
Whenever an exemption is granted as an exception to the rule, there will most likely be a debate. And Catholic priests who have taken a vow of celibacy will soon be welcoming (allowing?) ex-Episcopalian priests into the church, even though they haven't made the same promise of chastity—an exception to Catholicism's long-standing tradition for priests.
If you haven't heard about the big move to create a new diocese in the Catholic Church, here's what's going on:
A number of Episcopalians have been unhappy with the denomination's recent liberal changes, things like a shift toward pro-choice views and acceptance of gay marriage, even ordaining openly homosexual bishops. In response, the conservative Catholic Church is opening up a nationwide diocese to ex-Episcopalians who would like to join Catholicism as a group—a priest and congregation—so church leaders and members who are already comfortable with one another will have a chance to stick together. They will be expected to abide by the Catholic Church's governance, support their conservative views and acknowledge the Pope. But since priests in the Episcopal Church have never had to practice celibacy, and many are already married with children, the Catholic Church is granting an exemption to their mandatory celibacy code. 4 Reasons To Embrace Celibacy (That Don't Involve God)
Are you seeing the potential debate here? ...Is this move unfair? Will Catholic priests be upset? Should it even be allowed in Catholicism?
In The New York Times article explaining the exemption, the writer asks Father Hurd, a Catholic priest and ex-Episcopalian who helped set up the diocese, if the exemption might "sow discord" in the church. He says no. But obviously the writer thought to ask, so it's natural to be curious.
I am not Catholic or Episcopalian, but I am a Bible-believing Christian. And I am happy to see the Catholic Church open its doors to Episcopalians who want to make a break from their denomination. Without getting into the church's motives for creating a diocese or anything like that, here's my take on the situation. First, to the question of allowing non-celibate priests—let's look at what the Bible says. Does The Bible Really Condone Homosexuality, Premarital Sex?
There are no Biblical laws about celibacy, it is simply Catholic tradition for their priests to practice abstinence. The apostle Paul does say it is better for men to remain unmarried, and thus celibate, to serve the Lord: "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am… I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife…" (1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-33 NIV). So, Paul is certainly an advocate of lifelong chastity, but he also goes on to say that marriage is an acceptable alternative, to avoid sin: "But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (7:9. NIV).
Lust is a sin. Marriage can help us practice self-control. God created marriage, and it is a gift. It's healthy for us to enter into lifelong, committed relationships. Marriage is also a practicality. God gave us sex for within the confines of marriage. It is a part of His plan. Couples need to bring up children in the faith, and we must continue to populate the Earth. (Obviously!) What A Year In Marriage Taught Us About Love
My guess is that the apostle Paul knows most people will happily accept God's gift and marry one day. Romantic love is, after all, one of the most magical parts of life for most people. I think Paul's hope and intention in the above passages is to convince some men (and also women, this would include nuns—ladies are mentioned if you read more of 1 Corinthians Chapter 7), who may feel the call upon their hearts, to remain unmarried and devote their lives fully to God's work.
With the help of the Lord, celibacy is possible. Paul even thinks it's best. But it is not a requirement for the Christian faith, or even for a leader in the church. In fact, putting pressure on celibacy may be detrimental if a person feels the call to serve as a leader in the faith, but knows he cannot marry. If he chooses to pursue priesthood, he might be put in a position where sexual sin is more likely.
So, allowing non-celibate priests into the denomination? Biblically, I don't see why not. But of course, there's still the question of fairness. Is it fair to allow married priests into Catholicism if they won't be following the same rules as celibate priests? In a word: Yes.
The addition of ex-Episcopalian priests changes nothing for already-practicing Catholic priests. They are still practicing a life of chastity, as they would have if this diocese never came into existence. But in this move, they have the opportunity to welcome others who wish to believe as they do. And that's a gift.
Christians should be happy to invite other believers to join in worshipping and serving the Lord. I think, and hope, Catholic priests will want to welcome the additions to their church. These ex-Episcopalians are pursuing the Christian belief system they believe is right; one that follows the Bible and rejects liberal changes, like gay marriage, abortion and so forth. My Strict Christian Faith Is The Reason I Can't Find A Man
It may not be the perfect belief system—I, for one, disagree with parts of Catholicism as a lifelong Protestant, brought up as a Lutheran and currently attending a Presbyterian church—but nothing on Earth is. I applaud both Catholics for opening their doors and Episcopalians for making the move. The Christian faith is based on the Bible as the supreme guide for our lives, and there are certain beliefs that Bible-based churches hold dear. Beliefs about homosexuality and abortion are just a couple, and Catholicism is closer to what the Bible teaches than the current Episcopalian faith. That is what I believe. These ex-Episcopalians must feel the same way. And that is what this should is about. Having the ability to change denominations, with current congregations intact, is a great thing. It's a sign of Christians being able to work together, which can sometimes be a struggle, on the basis of common faith and while setting aside a few differences.
Good for these Christians for putting Biblical doctrine ahead of tradition, for placing the celibacy issue behind the bigger issues.
Joining a denomination that has a doctrine closer to what you feel the Bible teaches is better than staying put, staying unhappy and allowing your faith to become muddled. That is what the Catholic diocese for ex-Episcopalians is allowing these Christians to do. It's not about who is allowed to marry and have sex, and who isn't, and if it's even necessary. It's about becoming closer to God, and following the Bible. I would like to think Catholic priests will remember that as these ex-Episcopalian priests and congregations join their church.
It's just a feeling. But optimistically enough, I believe they will.