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The Amazon synod and priestly celibacy

Will history see the upcoming Synod as the opening step toward undermining priestly in the Western Church at large?

Pope Francis greets a new priest during a 2015 ordination Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In just three months a relative handful of bishops meeting in Rome is expected to reach a decision with potentially momentous consequences for the entire Western Church. The bishops will be participants in a long-awaited regional synod of bishops for the Amazon region of South America. The decision they are expected to reach is to ask the Pope for permission to ordain elderly married men to celebrate Mass, or at least for permission formally to study doing that.

Pope Francis is expected to say yes. The permission will apply only to Amazonia. But bishops elsewhere–Germany is a case in point–will be watching closely and weighing doing the same.

And then–who knows what happens after that? Will the synod’s action prove to have been a reasonable step toward solving a serious pastoral problem in vast, priest-starved Amazonia? Will history see it as the opening step toward undermining priestly in the Western Church at large? Or will be a bit of both?

With seemingly providential good timing, as the Church waits to see what the synod does, a new book by an American priest has appeared that makes the case for celibacy with admirable clarity and conviction. The book, from Emmaus Road Publishing, is Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest. It is the work of Father Carter Griffin, a convert to Catholicism, graduate of Princeton University, and former Navy line officer who is now rector of St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C.

The book is not a polemic directed against the Amazon synod or the ordination of married men–at least, when it’s a matter of exceptional measures for exceptional circumstances as may be the case in Amazonia. His principal target instead is optional celibacy, whose generalized adoption by the Church would be, he believes, a “great mistake.” He writes:

The burden of proof…rests on those who would challenge the Church’s longstanding faithfulness to priestly celibacy. There is not only a historical continuity that would be broken by relinquishing the gift; there is also a profound theological and pastoral congruence with the priestly vocation that would be set aside, at least in part, with manifold repercussions for the salvific ministry of the Church.

Proposals to diminish the commitment to celibacy, he says, have their origin largely in “a spirit of fear and a failure to see the radical claims of the priesthood, rather than from an evangelical spirit of confidence in God’s grace.”

Father Griffin sees no merit in the unsubstantiated assertion that celibacy causes clerical sex abuse. On the contrary, he argues, when priests become abusers it is a failure not of celibacy but of chastity and, beyond that, “a failure to live celibacy as priestly fathers. Good fathers simply do not abuse their children, and they tolerate no one who might.”

Be that as it may, it now seems possible that a limited experiment in married priesthood may soon be underway in the Amazon and perhaps some other places. Considering the implications for the entire Church, it seems more than a little strange that this should be left in the hands of “synodality” at work in an isolated corner of worldwide Catholicism.

And whatever happens in Amazonia–or, for that matter, in Rome–there plainly is need to devote serious attention to understanding and promoting priestly celibacy as the vehicle of what Father Griffin calls priestly fatherhood–a chosen instrument of men who, in words of Mother Teresa which he quotes, collaborate with Jesus “to fill heaven with God’s children.”


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About Russell Shaw 191 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide and the highly acclaimed American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.

12 Comments

  1. Shaw writes of possible steps toward a married priesthood for the Amazon: “Pope Francis is expected to say yes. The permission will apply only to [the possibly in-extremis] Amazonia. But bishops elsewhere [elsewhere, really?]–Germany is a case in point–will be watching closely and weighing doing the same.”

    It was none other than the German (!) Cardinal Kasper who through the media planted the pre-synodal (!) expectation. So, in reality: the Synod of AMAZONIA/GERMANIA?

    One longs for the TRANSPARENT COHERENCE of barely yesteryear, as when the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “The Church in America” was released (1999) after the parallel Assemblies for Africa (1994), America (1997), Asia (1998), Oceania (1998) and shortly before the fifth continent—Europe (1999); and ALL of this in advance of the coming together of the universal Church’s Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

    The UNIVERSAL Church was not yet sliced and diced into more fragmented and VERY-SEQUENTIAL synods (and other gatherings)—seemingly assisted by pre-selected ventriloquists like Kasper or the eccentric Fr. James Martin (for the World Meeting of Families).

    Five years back, Pope Francis wisely and urgently warned about an overly complex and therefore doomed “House of CARDS” kind of evangelization. BUT, what now about this “Line of DOMINOS”?

    The BIG QUESTION—a single-hearted priesthood of alter Christus versus a non-celibate (and seminary-exempt?) priesthood—should be approached and remembered (!) in a big way. Not only in extremis, but in a universal way, both. And probably not split like Solomon’s baby?

    In the end, is Amazonia setting the table for Germania? Without prejudice to actual Synod discernment—if the very recent past is any guide—why not at least beware of podium management, unvetted last-minute paragraphs, and open-ended footnotes?

  2. Shaw writes of possible steps toward a married priesthood for the Amazon: “Pope Francis is expected to say yes. The permission will apply only to [the possibly in-extremis] Amazonia. But bishops elsewhere [elsewhere, really?]–Germany is a case in point–will be watching closely and weighing doing the same.”

    It was none other than the German (!) Cardinal Kasper who through the media planted the pre-synodal (!) expectation. So, in reality: the Synod of AMAZONIA/GERMANIA?

    One longs for the TRANSPARENT COHERENCE of barely yesteryear, as when the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “The Church in America” was released (1999) after the parallel Assemblies for Africa (1994), America (1997), Asia (1998), Oceania (1998) and shortly before the fifth continent—Europe (1999); and ALL of this in advance of the coming together of the universal Church’s Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

    The UNIVERSAL Church was not yet sliced and diced into more fragmented and VERY-SEQUENTIAL synods (and other gatherings)—seemingly assisted by pre-selected ventriloquists like Kasper or the eccentric Fr. James Martin (for the World Meeting of Families).

    Five years back, Pope Francis wisely and urgently warned about an overly complex and therefore doomed “House of CARDS” kind of evangelization. BUT, what now about this “Line of DOMINOS”?

    The BIG QUESTION—a single-hearted priesthood of alter Christus versus a non-celibate (and seminary-exempt?) priesthood—should be approached and remembered (!) in a big way. Not only in extremis, but in a universal way, both. And probably not split, like Solomon’s baby?

    In the end, is Amazonia setting the table for Germania? Without prejudice to actual Synod discernment—if the very recent past is any guide—why not at least beware of podium management, unvetted last-minute paragraphs, and open-ended footnotes?

  3. Like wind and rain on a rock slowly it becomes smaller. The original rock no longer looks the same. Underneath it all, should all the wind and rain wash and blow the rock down to a single pebble, it will still be the rock and nothing will change that. However, it would seem that, little by little, the wind and rain of the Vatican, Germans, Fr. Martins of this faith want the rock to become an insignificant pebble to further their own agendas. Little by little the Church edges toward protestantism or, worse still, schism.

  4. This is the camel’s nose under the tent. Just like medical marijuana was the innocuous stepping stone to legalization, married priest in the Amazon will be the stepping stone for eliminating priestly celibacy. The Church better think long and hard on this.

    • Any thinking, if any at all, has already been done. The preordained conclusions of this synod, like all the previous synods, are locked in and are waiting to be delivered to the bishop of Rome.
      Germania will follow Amazonia and schism will follow both. Unless, of course, the Lord intervenes in His own good time. So be it.

  5. Pope F is hand-picked by the infantalizing viceroys of the POWER PREDATOR Cult.

    These include “his friends” McCarrick and Danneels (the last Belgian Cardinal who was exposed in the Belgian newspapers (search and read the newspaper stories in DeStaandard and De Nieuwsblad in August 2010) for covering up the abuse of the Belgian McCarrick Bishop Roger Vangelhuwe…and trying to deny justice to the Vangelhuwe family…who sought justice against their own uncle who raped his own little nephew).

    Every thought and act of this sordid pontificate is a form of abuse, and every communication is manipulation and gaslighting.

    And Cardinal Kasper of Germany and his like-minded German Bishops (such as Robert Zollitsch) promote and teach material heresy.

    • My reference to Danneels was written to say “the late” Belgian Cardinal. The robot changed it…sorry…

  6. Celibacy is a good and important thing. But it was not demanded by Our Lord. It is not of divine origin as are the Holy Sacraments. So for those without long term access to the Sacraments celibacy in more important than the divinely given Sacraments?
    access to priests in many p

  7. There may be some historic continuity after the apostolic period with mandatory celibacy; but there is none with Scripture. ‘Husband of one wife’ is still there. This is reason enough to allow a married clergy without needing any further explanations or rationalizations.

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