Friday, July 20, 2007

Women, celibacy, divorce and the Catholic church

Republican Politics, American Style
Published July 19th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my previous column I enumerated a number of questions and concerns I had with the Catholic Church’s absolute opposition to the use of abortion and its condemnation of Amnesty International’s acceptance of the United Nations Human Rights Court’s rulings on permissible human rights exceptions. I also noted that the Catholic Church appeared to leave some room for exceptions as regards the use of the death penalty in John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”
I still find it difficult to reconcile the Catholic Church’s position that there can be exceptions which allow for the taking of a human life, but that there can be no exceptions with respect to terminating the life of a tiny fetus which cannot survive outside of a woman’s body. But I have recently realized that virtually all of the Catholic Church’s other positions which I have difficulty reconciling also seem to involve women to one extent or another.
I am generally in favour of the Catholic Church’s attitude and position’s with respect to divorce and the sanctity of marriage. I believe that too many people enter a marriage without proper preparation or a realistic understanding of what is involved in a lifetime relationship. It is far too easy for couples to rush off and get married and it is also far too easy to end those relationships without really trying to make them work. The end result is often children being raised with only a single parent, which is a less than ideal situation for both the parents and their offspring.
But the Church has also made allowances for the fact that there are many such marriages which are not healthy for either the parents or their children. It has recognized that sometimes it is best for all concerned that such marriages be dissolved and yet still allow the former spouses the opportunity to enter into another marital relationship, provided they have learned something from their previous mistake. The Church calls this dissolution of a marriage an annulment rather than a divorce, based on the reasoning that either or both partners were not fully aware of what they were getting into when they originally entered into the bonds of marriage.
While it is often much quicker and easier to obtain a civil divorce, the fact that it is more difficult and time consuming to obtain an annulment, should give Catholics cause to pause before entering into a marriage in the first place. It can also lead them to put forth more effort to reconcile their differences through marriage counselling instead of immediately opting for an annulment or civil divorce.
My only concern is that not all Catholics can afford the cost of obtaining a Catholic annulment, particularly Catholic women with limited incomes and children to care for. In some cases the parish to which a Catholic belongs will pay for the cost of an annulment, but as I understand it this is not always true. I would hope that the Catholic Church will find a way to ensure that Catholics with limited financial means have the same opportunity to obtain an annulment as Catholics without such financial constraints.
I also have some difficulty with the Catholic Church’s prohibition of the marriage of priests and the ordination of women as priests. In the early years of the Church’s existence, the New Testament implies that women did in fact preside at Eucharistic meals. Furthermore, the fact that it wasn’t until the Council of Laodicea in 352 AD that the Church first took the position that women could no longer be ordained as priests is further evidence that women apparently were ordained and could administer all of the sacraments of the Church prior to that Council.
I can’t help but wonder why it was ok to ordain women during the early days of the Church while Jesus Christ’s first disciples (which included Mary Magdalene) were alive, and yet this practice first became prohibited some 300 years later after the Church had become the dominant political and religious institution in the old Roman Empire. Yet as recently as the fourteenth century, Italian Bishop Pelagio wrote to the Pope complaining that women were still being ordained and hearing confessions
Could the Council of Laodicea’s decision to prohibit the ordination of women been due to the fact that civil societies at that time in history viewed women as less than equal to men? Hasn’t this been the dominant view of women in western society until as recently as 40 years ago? Isn’t this still the view of women in some other areas of the world today? I ask myself; “Is it really God’s will that women can no longer be ordained as priests or is it man’s will?”
As regards the issue of married priests and vows of celibacy, I also look at the history of the Church and question why the Catholic Church still insists that this is somehow God’s will. I guess God changed his mind for some reason, because Peter, our first Pope was married as were most of Jesus’ apostles.
In fact most priests were married until around the fifteenth century. Other married Popes include Pope Felix III (from 483-492) who also had 2 children and Pope John XI (931-935) who was also the son of Pope Sergius III. The last married Pope was Felix V from 1439 to 1449 who, by the way, also had a son.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but wonder why priests and Popes were permitted to be married for the first 1500 years of the Catholic Church’s existence, but not for the past 500 years. Could this change have been due to legal concerns about the inheritance rights of a priest or Pope’s children? Why does the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church still allow priests to marry?
Still the Roman Catholic Church does make exceptions for Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopal ministers who are married and later convert to Catholicism. Could this be due to the fact that the Catholic Church is the only Christian religion suffering from a shortage of priests, while all of the others which permit marriage have a surplus of ministers? I have to ask myself; “Did God change his mind about married clergy and decide to tell only our Roman Catholic Pope to prohibit marriage by priests and demand that they be celibate?” I don’t know. Do you?