married priests

Are arguments about allowing more married Catholic priests strictly left vs. right fights?

Are arguments about allowing more married Catholic priests strictly left vs. right fights?

Here is a mild complaint that I never expected to make about an elite newsroom’s coverage of a hot-button Catholic issue. The Washington Post just produced a story about married Catholic priests — “A bid to allow married priests in the Amazon ignites debate about celibacy“ — and didn’t quote Father Thomas Reese. In this case, I really think they should have quoted him.

Imagine that.

Who is Reese? He is a Jesuit who has, for several decades, been an omnipresent news source and quotable progressive Catholic insider for religion-news reporters. He writes for Religion News Service and used to write for National Catholic Reporter. He was editor of America until a 2005 clash with the Vatican on doctrinal matters. Need I say more?

So why did I miss the familiar voice of Reese in this Post report on celibacy and the ongoing shortage of Catholic priests? Here is a key chunk of this story:

One new proposal to ease the shortage would allow older, married men in the region to be ordained as priests. South American bishops have advocated for the idea, and Pope Francis has indicated some willingness to narrowly open the door to married men in this specific case. But the proposal has set off a debate about whether Francis is trying to bolster the ranks of the priesthood or upend its deep-rooted traditions.

A vocal band of conservatives says permitting married priests in the Amazon could alter — and undermine — the priesthood globally, weakening the church requirement of celibacy. …

The Amazon would not be the first exception. Married Anglican ministers, in some cases, have been welcomed into the Catholic priesthood after conversions. And Eastern Catholic churches, even those in communion with Rome, allow for married men in the priesthood.

There’s more that could be said, right there, about church history.

The key is that this new door into the priesthood could be used elsewhere. And this worries You Know Who.

… Conservatives note that the rationale for installing married clerics in the Amazon exists, too, across Europe, North America and other parts of the world, where seminaries are closing and dioceses are sharing priests.

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Thinking about married priests: Has this issue outgrown old 'left' vs. 'right' framework?

Thinking about married priests: Has this issue outgrown old 'left' vs. 'right' framework?

Long ago — in the mid-1980s — I covered an event in Denver that drew quite a few conservative Catholic leaders. There was lots of time to talk, in between sessions.

During one break, I asked a small circle of participants to tell me what they thought were the biggest challenges facing the Catholic church. This was about the time — more than 30 years ago — laypeople people began talking about the surge in reports about clergy sexual abuse of children and teens.

Someone said the biggest challenge — looking into the future with a long lens — was the declining number of men seeking the priesthood. At some point, he added, the church would need to start ordaining married men to the priesthood. Others murmured agreement.

I made a mental note. This was the first time I had ever heard Catholic conservatives — as opposed to spirit of Vatican II progressives or ex-priests — say that they thought the Church of Rome would need to return to the ancient pattern — with married priests as the norm, and bishops being drawn from among celibate monastics. Since then, I have heard similar remarks from some Catholics on the right.

That hot button term — “married priests” — is back in the news, with open talk in the Amazon region about the ordination older married men, drawn from their local communities, to the priesthood.

Could this happen? Let’s look at two think pieces by well-known Catholic priests, one on the left side of the church and one on the right. The conservative priest — a former Anglican pastor — is married, with a family.

First up is the omnipresent — in U.S. media circles — Jesuit journalist Father Thomas J. Reese, a senior analysts at Religion News Service. He used to be the editor at America magazine. Here is a crucial chunk of a recent Reese commentary for RNS:

Celibacy is not dogma; it is a legal requirement that can be changed. … Although Pope Francis places a very high value on celibacy, he is also a pragmatist who recognizes that indigenous communities are being denied the Eucharist and the sacraments because they don’t have priests.

After all, which is more important, a celibate priesthood or the Eucharist? At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” not “have a celibate priesthood.”

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Pastor of America's largest parish retires, with lots of (solo) shots at Catholic conservatives

Pastor of America's largest parish retires, with lots of (solo) shots at Catholic conservatives

A long time ago -- the early 1980s -- I wrote a front-page feature for The Charlotte Observer about life in the tiny Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. The news hook was an interview with the first bishop of what was, at that time, America's smallest diocese.

Things have changed in the Queen City, when it comes to Catholic life. In fact, if you follow news about American Catholicism you know that one of the most important stories is the explosion of Catholic statistics in the Bible Belt, including the Deep South and the Southeast. The rising Catholic tide in the Southwest is, to a large degree, linked with issues of immigration. That's a factor in the South, but the growth is also linked to large numbers of converts and transplants from the North.

Just the other day, Crux ran little story -- "In the U.S. South, the Church is in ‘growth mode’ " -- focusing on a meeting of bishops from the South. It noted:

“We are all in a growth mode. That’s a good thing,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta told the Diocese of Charleston’s newspaper The Catholic Miscellany.
“We are spending part of our time here talking about the need to establish new parishes, expand pastoral outreach, and respond to growing numbers both from immigration and those moving here from other parts of the country,” the archbishop continued. “We all are sharing in this growth.”

So, the Observer recently had a perfect opportunity to dig into some of these complex and important subjects.

The hook for this long story was the retirement of Msgr. John McSweeney, the senior priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church -- America's largest Catholic parish. To add to the symbolism, the lede notes that this New Yorker was the first priest ordained in the Charlotte diocese.

This is where things get interesting. This long, long piece is based on an interview with the outspoken McSweeney and, well, that is that. The bottom line: He is highly critical of many things that would be affirmed by traditional or even middle-of-the-road Catholics in the Bible Belt. As the Observer puts it, he believes the Catholic Church often puts the "Book of Law before the Book of Love."

Who gets to respond to his views on a litany of hot-button topics?

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More married priests? This was the rare papal sound bite that received some calm, informed coverage

More married priests? This was the rare papal sound bite that received some calm, informed coverage

Of all the Catholic debates I have watched through the decades, I think stories about the ordination of married men have been the hardest for mainstream journalists to fit into the old left vs. right format.

Yes, it's easy to find priests and scholars on the left for whom changes of any kind are good. Thus, they say hurrah for married priests. Many of the priests who hit church exit doors to get married soon after Vatican II fit this model. Shake up the church is their mantra.

Obviously, you can always find conservative Catholics who will oppose just about any change in church life, just by reflex. Their dogma is to leave everything the way it is.

However, you will also find plenty of Catholic experts -- left and right -- who know that this issue is a matter of church order and tradition, not carved-in-stone doctrine. They know that married men now serve as priests, under certain circumstances, and they know that the celibate priesthood evolved over the centuries. I have interviewed many Catholics -- especially Latinos -- who for a variety of reasons believe the church needs married priests. I have long argued that Rome will ordained more men when conservatives seek the change.

In other words, this isn't really a Sexual Revolution issue. Thus, if you have been seeing generic left vs. right press coverage of the latest Pope Francis statement on this issue, then move on. Find a better story.

In this case, you can start with The New York Times, with the calm headline stating: "Pope Francis Signals Openness to Ordaining Married Men in Some Cases." This story sounds all the crucial notes right up top, in the overture or soon thereafter:

Pope Francis this week signaled receptiveness to appeals from bishops in the remote and overwhelmed corners of the Roman Catholic Church to combat a deepening shortage of priests by ordaining married men who are already committed to the church.

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No surprise, but Godbeat pro Peter Smith produces an excellent story on married Eastern Catholic priests

No surprise, but Godbeat pro Peter Smith produces an excellent story on married Eastern Catholic priests

"Rejoice, there is life after Ann Rodgers in Pittsburgh!"

So said regular GetReligion reader Jerry N., who emailed us a link to Peter Smith's latest piece of top-notch Godbeat journalism for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Smith, of course, spent 13 years as the religion writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He joined the Post-Gazette in 2013, succeeding Rodgers, Pittsburgh's longtime "queen of religion news." The two swept top honors in the metropolitan newspapers division of last year's Religion Newswriters Association contest. Just a few months ago, we featured Smith in a 5Q+1 interview about his in-depth reporting project on immigrant religious communities in Pittsburgh.

So yes, we at GetReligion are big fans of Smith — and of the Post-Gazette's strong commitment to the religion beat.

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About that NYTimes hint at the future of married priests

A long, long time ago, a Catholic leader gave me a tip as a young reporter. He told me to keep my eye on the Eastern-Rite Catholic churches and their potential for growth in Northern America. Why? First of all, because the ancient beauty of their liturgies in a post-Vatican II world would be pleasing to many small-o orthodox Catholics. Second, the Eastern Rites would offer a setting in which married priests could serve, while framed in traditions acceptable to small-o orthodox Catholics.

I thought of those questions when reading an important, but rather overlooked, New York Times piece addressing a crucial piece of this puzzle. I apologize (to several readers in particular) that this article has been in the tmatt Folder Of Guilt for quite some time.

The headline: “Group of Catholic and Orthodox Officials Endorses Marriage for Some Priests.” And here’s the lede:

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Wait a minute: First EVER married Maronite Catholic priest?

Several years ago, while working on my contribution to the book “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion,” I called up one of the patriarchs of the religion beat, Richard Ostling, to discuss the craft that he practiced so well for many years at Time and then with the Associated Press. These days, of course, his “Religion Q&A” pieces are featured once a week here at GetReligion. We started off by discussing the most basic subject — sins of commission.

For Ostling, the bottom line was clear: If you can’t trust journalists to get their facts right, then why trust them at all? This passage is a bit long, but essential:

“Sometimes we are talking about things that can get complicated. … But it isn’t good when people read their newspaper and say, ‘Wait a minute. That’s just wrong.’ ”

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