A new monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. He notices, however, that they are copying copies, and not the original books. So the new monk goes to the head monk to ask him about this, pointing out that if there was an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies. The head monk replies, “My son, we have been copying from those copies for centuries, but you make a good point.” So the head monk goes down into the cellar with one of the copies in hand to check it against the original. Hours pass, nobody has seen him. Eventually, one of the monks goes down to look for him. He hears sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks him what’s wrong. The old monk says with tears in eyes, “The word is celebrate not celibate!”
This week the Vatican announced that it is considering allowing married men to become priests in the Amazon region of South America (due to a severe shortage of celibate priests in that area, with estimates being of only one priest for every 10,000 Catholics). The final decision will be made in an October meeting of the Pope and Latin American bishops. But this raises the question of how can such a thing be done, when celibate priests and nuns have been such a mainstay of the Roman Catholic Church? Here‘s how.
There are two kinds of rules in Catholicism: dogma and discipline. A church dogma is viewed as God-made, it is a central and irreformable part of the Catholic faith, something that cannot be changed. Examples of such dogmas are: baptism of infants, souls in purgatory, transubstantiation at communion, etc. A discipline is viewed as man-made. It is a secondary and reformable part of the Catholic faith, something that can be changed. Examples of such disciplines are: fish on Friday, the forty days of Lent and the clerical garb of habits and collars. Now, which one is celibacy? Is it a dogma that can never, ever be changed? Or is it a discipline that can always be done away with at any time? The answer is the latter. You see, celibacy for priests and nuns has only been in practice for the last thousand years or so. (The reason for its papal decree had to do with land and money, but that’s for another Pastor’s Page.) Prior to that time, priests and nuns being married and having children was the norm. As a matter of fact, in early Catholic history, seven of the early popes were sons of married popes. And of course, Peter, whom Catholics consider to be the first pope, was himself married (for no man would have a mother-in-law without getting a wife in the deal). As well, Catholics in the Eastern and Oriental parts of the world (who accept the primacy of the pope, but not his authority) to this day are ministered to by priests and nuns, the majority of whom are wed with sons and daughters. So priestly celibacy is primarily a more recent tradition of the Western Catholic Church, that the current pope can do with it whatever he decides to do. (Of course, in our opinion, the Bible clearly teaches that required clergy celibacy is totally wrong.)
The bottom line? There are currently 50,000 parishes without a priest to serve them. So as per the opening story, expect “celibate” to be changed to “celebrate”.