Saturday, November 18, 2006

Priestly Celibacy in the News: Another Example of Revolution at Work

Since August 2006, we have seen reports in the papers that a now-excommunicated Archbishop from Africa is attempting to garner a following for married priests. This past week, the Pope gathered some Cardinals in the Vatican to study this issue. The media reports came out early in the week asserting that the Church might be about to change its doctrine on the married priesthood. Of course, on Friday, the news reports came out that the Pope and his commission had re-affirmed the Church’s stance on the priority of celibate priests.

This series of events close to our own time can help us to understand the silence of Pius VI from 1790 to 1791. The first provisions of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy began emerging in June 1790. Among other things, the Constitution eventually required the priests of France to marry in order to serve in French parishes. The King of France, Louis XVI, wrote to the Pope asking for advice, for principles to help his thinking on the Constitution, as well as to see if the Church would ever go along with the provisions of the Constitution as outlined by the Revolutionaries.

The Pope made clear in his letters to Louis XVI that, in fact, no, the Church could never go along with the provisions of the Constitution. The Pope also told Louis XVI that as Pope he was going to gather together a commission of Cardinals to study the provisions of the Constitution. The Pope told Louis that there was no chance of the Church accepting the provisions of the Constitution.

The reasons the Pope gave for gathering together the Cardinals in the Vatican was quite different than what was printed in the revolutionaries papers or spread by the promoters of the Constitution. To begin, the Pope did not want to speak right away publicly. He did not want the revolutionaries to think that he was acting in what we would call a knee-jerk way. He also wanted the Cardinals to meet with him so that, when he spoke, it was with the weight of principle, history, and tradition in his statements, and not simply his reactions to the circumstances of a moment.

The Pope then, as the Pope is doing now, gathered together the Cardinals in the Vatican to study and to confirm what has become the discipline and practice of the Church. The Archbishop from Africa, his American promoters (whoever they are), and the media are acting now as the French Revolutionaries did they. They are encouraging revolutionary activity that will cause confusion in the hearts and minds of Catholics, they will attempt to discredit the moral authority of the Church in the United States especially with respect to issues like the defense of the family and the upcoming wars in the Middle East, and they are spreading false notions like when the Pope is silent or when he gathers Cardinals in Rome to discuss an issue, it means he is contemplating changing a matter of Church doctrine or a disciplinary matter closely related to doctrine.

The Pope then, as the Pope now, was not silent or gathering Cardinals for the sake of appeasing revolutionaries. He was simply hoping to study the circumstances in order to more effectively bring the principles of morality as well as the history and tradition of the Church to bear on the circumstances that the Church faced.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely agree with your excellent analysis. [Though I recall reading at various times about the Archbishop from Africa and his behavior of the past several years and thinking that the man is seriously mentally ill and needs compassion, love, prayer and medical assistance. It would be millstone-round-neck sinful if people exploited his mental illness to take advantage of his title to advance their terrible cause. My sense of him specifically is that he fits fully within, "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing." I don't think the poor guy knows his miter from third base anymore.]

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