Today is the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Anglican church but we won’t go there. Enough people will be filling their blog boxes with oohs and aahhs about that event. But married priests – well, that is probably up for discussion in the Vatican right now along with communion for divorced and remarried. A link? Not at the moment but there might be in the future.
So, married priests on the agenda (I’m guessing). Is the problem that some feel about married priests in the Roman Catholic rite anything to do with sex? or being married? I don’t think so. At least, not if you really think about it. No. The problem is about first, money and second, the nature of the priesthood.
First, money. It’s the root of all evil and is definitely a huge consideration for the church if she is to decide her priests can marry. Why? Well, think about your parish. I happen to live in a rural part of England where there is no way the parish could financially support a married man and his family. We have to consider that the man is professionally trained, has a wife and two or three or more wee bairns to look after. So, in good ol’ British Pound Sterling you are looking at a salary of at least £20,000 and more likely one of close to £25 to £30k. Not many parishes in England and Wales, never mind Scotland and Northern Ireland can come up with that kind of money and keep the actual church building up and running. What to do? That leads to the second problem, the nature of the priesthood.
Your parish can’t afford a full-time priest so he has to work. He is a teacher or a nurse or a care home manager or works in the public sector or runs a large Tesco store or whatever. He has a job that means he works at least five days a week. If he is a nurse or other type of shift worker his hours change weekly or monthly. So, when do you have mass during the week? Maybe not at all because his hours just don’t suit or he is exhausted in the evening and no one comes early in the morning. Or he can’t fit the evening meetings of the parish with a mass. And what about Sunday? If he’s a teacher maybe he can fix the Sunday mass times. If he is the manager of Tesco or a nurse probably not. And he won’t be able to take those sick calls in the middle of the night nor will be be free to visit the housebound or those in hospital (unless he goes at night). You see where I am going with this?
I don’t think that any thinking person has a problem with married priests per se. The problem is how do we pay them and if we can’t pay them enough to raise a family and they have to work outside the church what does that do to the nature of priesthood as we understand it today?
Could be it will all work out fine. I’ve been told to look at the Ordinariate priests but frankly, the only ones I’ve met have been old, retired men living on a healthy pension from the C of E.
I don’t mean to sound jaded. I understand that some, maybe most, men need to get married and raise a family. And some of these men may also desire to serve the church as priests. But we must be prepared for the many changes this will bring across the board. It will have a knock-on effect on parish life as we know it today. And how on earth will it function in the missions? Are churches in the West going to be expected to finance the many young priests in Africa and Asia with their families?
The problem was never about sex. It is always about money.