Several of the commentators have raised a question which has never been clearly addressed by the Church, at least to my satisfaction. Catholics believe each person has a vocation, a calling by God to a state of life, single, celibate, married, priesthood, religious, hermit, missionary, etc.


The Churches responsibility is to discern a vocation to the priesthood: does the person who says he hears a call from God to be a priest in fact have such a call? Certain objective signs may indicate the person is mistaken: he may not have the health or intellectual or physical abilities to be a priest: e.g.. at an extreme,  a deaf-mute. Or for other reasons he may not be suitable.


I know that pious and orthodox Catholic women sometimes feel a call to be a priest. The Church says that they do not have such a call. I have explained to them that they may indeed have a special call to the priesthood that is more important than the sacramental priesthood and which the sacramental priesthood was instituted to serve: the priesthood of the baptized, by which we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God.


The call to celibacy and the call to marriage are distinct. The Eastern Churches, both the Orthodox and those in union with Rome, ordain married men.


But how has the Church decided that God will call only celibates to the priesthood in the Western Church, while he calls married men to the priesthood in the Eastern Churches (and recently he calls married Protestant and Anglican ministers to the priesthood in the Western Church)? When God calls men does he conform himself to the changing dictates of canon law?


I think the concept of vocation has to be examined more closely. Mostly, except in rare instances, in is expressed through the needs of the community. Does the Western Church (unlike the Eastern Churches) need only celibate priests? Perhaps, but if the need is that clear, why can’t it be explained clearly? And the explanation has to refer to the needs of the Western Church, not the universal value of celibacy.


Eastern Churches in union with Rome have been long forbidden to ordain married men in the United States – the Irish bishops thought it would confuse the faithful, but then the Irish don’t regard the Eastern Churches is really Catholic. Recently, some of the Eastern Churches have decided that they are self-governing and do not need to heed this prohibition, and are ordaining married men in the United States. Their experience will show whether married priests can function well in Western society.


For my part, I would rather have a married priest celebrate the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom than a celibate priest do a dreary or narcissistic version of the Mass.

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