One of the things that we can always count on is the mainstream media’s desire to link the sexual misdeeds of any Catholic priest to the Church’s policy of mandatory celibacy. This week’s issue of Time magazine features an article entitled, “Sex and the Priestly: Father Cutie Renews Celibacy Debate” (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1906063,00.html) which essentially blames the recent exploits of Father Alberto Cutie (who married his lover and joined the Episcopal church) and former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland (who published a memoir admitting to a secret life as a gay man) on the discipline of celibacy. When discussing the shortage of priests in the United States, the article states, “But advocates of celibacy reform say there is a better solution: ditch the 900-year-old church law prohibiting priests from marrying or being sexually active.”
I am confused as to how the elimination of celibacy would have helped either one of these individuals. Both of these men disregarded the promise of chastity made at their ordination and engaged in romantic affairs. After hiding his love affair for two years, Fr. Cutie decided to “come clean” only when caught by a photographer. He also decided that he no longer believed in the one, true Catholic Church founded by Christ and decided to become an Episcopalian. In an interview with the New York Times, Archbishop Weakland has admitted to multiple homosexual affairs and publicly questioned Church teaching on homosexuality. It doesn’t take a theologian to see that there are are greater issues here than a lack of chastity. Their clandestine behavior is indicative of a lack of spirituality in their lives. If the Church eliminates celibacy, should she also make marital infidelity, homosexuality, and lying morally permissible? Do we keep modifying the commandments so that sin becomes impossible or do we encourage our priests (and all of us) to become more Christ-like?
Rather than blame the gift of celibacy, we should instead blame our fallen human nature. Both of these men did the wrong thing and I don’t think they would deny it. The vast majority of our priests live out their promise of celibacy with honor. Unfortunately, the ones who fail get the publicity. In declaring “The Year of The Priesthood” on June 19, Pope Benedict XVI summed it up perfectly when he stated, “The Church needs holy priests …[It needs] ministers to help the faithful experience the merciful love of the Lord and to be convinced witnesses.”