Vatican versus ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’

George F WillNot long ago I wrote a post titled Make It Work For You: Why Accepting Conservative Anglicans Might Be Good For Progressive Catholics. In it I opined:

This latest show of welcoming conservative Anglicans may prove to be a boon however for progressive Catholics. Since, most of the Anglican priests joining the Catholic church are married with families, this move may push the Catholic church another step forward in accepting married priests. If the Vatican can find room for married Anglican priests, then surely it can find room for the 110,000 Catholic priests around the world who left active ministry in order to marry!

Now I see that Catholic commentator George Will is exploring the same “law of unintended consequences” much more eloquently than I did. Will has a column in today’s Washington Post titled Rome’s Call: ‘Come On Over’ in which he posits the same question to Jesuit priest Tom Reese.

Reese is the former editor-in-chief for America magazine who got unceremoniously bumped by Cardinal Ratzinger and now is at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Institute. Now Reese writes his own blog for the Newsweek / Washington Post “On Faith” web site, and is also a regular contributor to the “Georgetown/On Faith” blog featuring Georgetown University scholars.

Will writes:

Reese disputes the assumption that the Vatican is accelerating a sorting out that will produce a more conservative Catholic Church. Some Catholics, he notes, will experience the fact, and many more will contemplate the idea, of married priests administering the sacraments. This, Reese thinks, may remind Catholics that for its first thousand or so years, the church had married priests and bishops. A celibate priesthood, he says, is a product of church law, which can be changed.

Reese thinks that would strengthen the church in the competition for souls. In parts of Latin America, he says, Catholic priests are so scarce that many villages see one only a few times a year. Evangelical Protestants, however, come to a village, identify a respected man, married or not, train him, build a church and the village becomes Protestant.

Reese, slight and bespectacled, laughs easily and infectiously but once caused a future pope to mutter, as Henry II did about Thomas a Beckett, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Reese was editor of the Jesuit magazine America until 2005, when he was reprimanded by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose defense of orthodoxy earned him the sobriquet “God’s Rottweiler.” Then he became Benedict XVI. Reese’s offense, conservative Catholics said, was latitudinarianism — lack of stringency regarding disputes about faith and morals.

But with the Latin Mass restored and Anglicans being courted with liturgical concessions, will the Catholic Church have three liturgies? Who are the latitudinarians now?

“Latitudinarianism” indeed! It’s only a problem if you still think the world is flat and we are going to fall off an edge. But God — in God’s infinite wisdom — has arranged things spherically, apparently to save us from ourselves!

2 responses to “Vatican versus ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’”

  1. Dear Carlos–Thanks for your insight. Yes. It is the case in many places around the world, especially in Africa, but also in Asia, that there are many priests with families who are not allowed by the church to marry the mother’s of their children and yet who still continue serving as priests. This is a tricky situation. One that could be solved by the Church providing for the charism of celibacy to be distinct from the call to priestly sacramental duties. In church history, these have sometimes been lumped together and sometimes not. With the over all number of priests in decline, I think it’s time for the Church to reclaim an option for celibacy within the priesthood.

  2. The comment of Reese is will taken. In the Philippines, it is for a fact that a priest in some parts of Luzon island has a family and children in place but the bishop looks away so that the priest may serve several parishes located far apart. Lack of “good” priests is the reason. Meanwhile, some married priests get “converted” to be a protestant minister. Sad, but tru.

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