- The case for mercy
The leading proponent of relaxing the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics tells Christopher Lamb that the Church too often appears rule-bound
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Peter Simmons is wrong in arguing that marriage and priesthood are two separate vocations (The Tablet, 26 July). All Christians are called to an exclusive and unconditional love for Christ and His Church. My marriage and my children are a gift of God, a fundamental part of my Christian life, not a distraction from it. And if the rearing of children is not the Lord's work, perhaps Mr Simmons would direct me to the deity under whose aegis it does rest.
He is right that there will be conflicts of priority between the demands of the family and of the parish. In my experience from when I served as a stipendiary priest the family usually loses out in such circumstances. Such conflicts will also arise if, for example, a priest has close family and friends with whom he wishes to maintain contact, especially if there is any need for him to provide support for them; if he pursues with any zeal a sport, hobby or interest; if a priest at the request of the Church or for his own interest pursues a serious course of study, e.g. an OU degree; or if he takes on an administrative or helper role for the Church or another organisation.
I commend to Mr Simmons 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, which make clear that marriage and children are not incompatible with any of the Holy Orders, indeed, the texts will bear the interpretation that marriage is a necessary pre-condition for ordination. It is beyond my comprehension how we end up two millennia later in a situation where most Christians (i.e. the Roman and Orthodox Communions) have no married man in a senior clerical position, and the largest, the Latin Rite, has virtually no married man in any clerical role at all apart from married deacons and ex-Anglicans. The serious disadvantage of this the Church may find out after the forthcoming synod on marriage and family. Those in charge have the lack of real experience that more or less ensures that they will get it wrong somewhere, and they have the level of authority that makes it easy for them to maximise the resultant damage.
Further, I hope Mr Simmons will not be offended if I suggest that there is an uncomfortable sense of selfishness in saying "You, Father, may never enjoy the normal human right to marriage and family so that you can minister to us to the standard we expect." It also sets an awful example to the rest of the world. The celibacy he wishes on his priest others might feel they ought therefore to be able to apply to their doctor, nurse, social worker, investment manager or whatever.
Perhaps the worst aspect is that the celibacy he supports has the effect in some parts of the world that his co-religionists can expect a visit from their Father in God at the same sort of frequency that children associate with Father Christmas. But no, the worst aspect is that there is so little chance of any change.
Revd Patrick Bryan, Wolverhampton
If St Maximilian Kolbe had been married, would he have offered to take the place of the man who was to be executed and cried out in despair "My wife! My children!"?
And who is going to pay for the upkeep of a priest's wife and family, given that the number of Mass-going Catholics is in decline and many of those who do attend are in straitened circumstances?
And if a priest should die, where are his wife and family to live? Continue in the parish house, or be rehoused at diocesan expense – ie by the Mass-going parishioners? And if the replacement priest is married with a family, where is all the money going to come from? Maybe priests will have to take on a second job, or have their wife abandon their children and go out to work.
It is hard enough today to find a priest making home visits. And I have experienced difficulties in getting a priest to respond to a sick call. With the responsibilities of marriage it would inevitably lead to clashes of family versus parish.
It seems clear to me why this discipline of a celibate priesthood exists. And there are many priests who are willing to make this sacrifice.
Harry Kielty, Mountblow, Clydebank