Those who know me will not be surprised that my reaction to Pope Francis’ qualified remarks about married (male, of course) priests was less enthusiastic than that of many of my friends in ministry.
“Describing the vocation crisis as an ‘enormous problem,’ Pope Francis suggested he sympathizes with Catholics who come to Mass only to discover that there is no priest available to celebrate the Eucharist. ‘This weakens the church because a church without the Eucharist has no strength,’ he told Die Zeit.”
“His interviewer suggested that it was hard to attract young men to the priesthood and asked if the church would consider telling them ‘that they don’t have to renounce a love life in order to become a priest? Maybe as a bishop or a cardinal—but not as a priest?’
“The pope responded: ‘The issue of voluntary celibacy is frequently discussed, especially if there is a shortage of clerics. But voluntary celibacy is not a solution.’”
The Holy Father is, remember, a man of three realities: His geographic and social location, his generation, and his order. He did allow that perhaps in remote regions, viri probiti, married men of proven probity, might be able to serve in defined ways.
I find this, of course, disheartening. Not because women weren’t mentioned with regard to the priesthood (heaven knows the Roman church is far from that move, and the pope did reference the study of women in the diaconate). It was disheartening because of the proven contribution already made by married men in the life of the Church as lay ecclesial ministers and deacons. We won’t even mention the incredible paragons of contribution in the form of laicized priests. For me, there is an acute cognitive dissonance in saying, on the one hand, that the loss of the Eucharist is a crisis (“A church without the Eucharist has no strength”) and then unilaterally setting aside a logical next step in addressing the issue.
For me, as a Eucharist-centered Christian, the loss of the Eucharist is paramount. And the strategy of the last fifty years — pray for vocations — clearly hasn’t worked, although he seems to offer that strategy, once again, to the faithful.
Pope Francis is a good and holy man. I deeply admire him. I just wonder how he reconciles some of this thinking in his own mind.