A very interesting article posted from today's Angelus News email. I encourage everyone to read it.
The nature of our priesthood being exclusively male and celibate is one of those hot-button issues in the Church with many people, Catholic or not, weighing in with opinions. Putting aside my own personal biases for the moment, this article, as the author states, presents some arguments that are underappreciated, and worth examining. One should never take on an issue without first examining all sides. Only then can one support their case. Far too many issues today are boiled down to ideological soundbites with neither side listening to the other. And as we all should know, especially as Church, context is everything. Even our Holy Father has been preaching this message of context as the avenue toward understanding and compassion.
That being said, the nature of our priesthood continues to be an issue calling for debate. I personally believe that its time for the Church to call for a Council to address both the nature of our priesthood and the governance of our Church.
First I must point out that Fr. Damian Ference makes some very important arguments for maintaining a male celibate priesthood, and his points are well reasoned. In fact, I find it refreshing that he manages to make his points without relying on the "because that's the way it's always been" cliche.
But... and this is me personally talking, not on behalf of the my ministry or the Church... I think our views on this need to evolve. I agree, yes, there is and always should be a place in the Church for a male, celibate priesthood. It is an honorable vocation that should remain, and the charism of their ministry is unique. But does that mean there isn't room for a married male priesthood, or a celibate female priesthood, or a married female priesthood? Or is there no room for the laity in the governance of the Church? I don't think we should abolish the celibate male priesthood, but I do think we should consider what roles might be better served by broadening our options.
Further, we need to look at these issues in the larger context of our world. There clearly are differences between male and female, and those differences should be celebrated, but the world is quickly learning that our "separate but equal" social contract needs to evolve, be it with restrooms, actors, or sports. Breaking down gender barriers doesn't mean eliminating gender. Instead it adds depth to the greater human experience without diminishing the biological nature of mother or father. But our biological nature needn't be the only thing that defines us in society. Nor should so-called "gender roles" be forced on people based solely on their biological condition... especially since nearly all those roles are social constructs not driven by biology.
On a related note, we as Church need to recognize the context that the number of priests continues to decline, forcing them to take on much responsibility than the should. We also need to give voice to the disparity of the distribution of our priestly assets, where in certain parts of the world a growing Catholic population isn't being served as well as it should while other parts of the world have a lower ratio of priest to parishioners. Another context that needs to be addressed is the decline in church attendance in some parts of the world because they don't see a place for themselves in the Church or perceive the need for God in their lives because her priestly ministers aren't able to reach out and be noticed in the community.
Now stepping back into my role as a catechist and minister in the Church, we all need to recognize that the Church is not static. It is constantly moving and evolving as the Spirit guides her. Just like our relationship with God is never static. Like all relationships things change and evolve as our world and the world around us continues to change and evolve. These conditions don't change or undermine the nature of God. Nor does this undermine or change the nature of the Church. But where is the Spirit moving us? That's the question. And that's where the debate on these and other issues is needed. Debate is healthy. Debate is necessary. Debate is part of who we are as Church historically and is a lively tradition that sometimes needs to spread outside of the halls of ecclesiastical power and out onto the streets. It worked for St Francis. It can still work for us today as we all try to see where the Spirit needs to guide us.