The irreligious press has an answer. Of course, they say, the Catholic Church has to get with the times and either allow women to be ordained or let male priests marry. Translated from media-speak, “let priests marry” is “let them have sex”—which nicely dispatches with that troublesome vow of celibacy. In the media’s current narrative, of course priestly men will marry women; but one could very well expect to see male priests with blushing male “brides”.
The atheistic media is off to bad start in offering their (unasked for) prescription to combat the declining number of priests. They succumb to the temptation to equate “vocation” with “job” as in “vocational training.” In the religious sense, a vocation is related to God’s calling to direct one’s life in a particular way in the service of the Church. Lost in the debate is that marriage itself is a vocation. What the secular press is suggesting, if not demanding, is that a man have two vocations—two callings—two directions for his heart.
There are some who have slipped into the Catholic priesthood through the Anglican backdoor. The fact that there are exceptions doesn’t mean that the rule has to be changed. Additionally, the permanent diaconate offers a path to ministry for married (or single) men over the age of 35. It is categorically false that married men are being shut out from serving ministerial roles. In fact, if the crisis is so crippling, this is an avenue that should be more thoroughly investigated.
With these considerations set aside, imagine that starting tomorrow married men can enter the church to serve as priests, and by extension, brothers. Of course it would be discriminatory to allow priests to marry but not the friars. Things to consider:
1. Wages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps in all clergy, with a median salary of $45,740 (2016). Salaries for Catholic priests can fall about $10,000 behind, in part because they are not expected to support a family. It is potentially much more profitable to be a rabbi or Protestant minister, but less so for imams.
2. Housing. Catholic priests can live in the rectory, or if they are brothers, in a priory. Adding a wife and children to the equation is going to strain Church resources, and small children necessarily interrupt a life of meditation and prayer. Will they live communally? Will other arrangements have to be made?
3. Healthcare. Having a wife in most cases means having children, and childbirth costs in the United States are more than anywhere else in the world. Someone is going to have to pay for it.
4. Education. Some provision will have to be made for educating the children of the priests. At the very least, there should be tuition relief for Catholic schooling, from K-12, and perhaps even at the college level.
5. Moving costs/change of station. If bishop says, “Go”, the priest can no longer put his belongings in a modest bag and catch the next bus, but he will have to fold up his marital assets (i.e., worldly possessions) and incur the expense of moving house and home, which will be billed to the diocese.
6. On call/time off. The priest or brother doesn’t have a “weekend” as most people do, and even on a day off, a priest know that an emergency can arise and he will have to flee to someone’s bedside or hold someone’s hand. Ah, the secular press will cry out, but do not Protestant pastors have to juggle family needs with that of the flock? A Protestant can happily die without last rites, but for a Catholic to pass beyond the velvet curtain without the extreme unction is a completely different matter.
7. Marriage during seminary. If priests can marry, maybe they will when they are at seminary. Before seminary? How will the female factor affect the formation, not only of the man but also of his cohort?
Married priests will be a substantial drag on the Church’s purse almost immediately. To cope, more land, buildings, and treasure will be have to be sold at a much faster clip than they are now to cover these (perfectly avoidable) expenses. While there may be a net increase in the number of priests, there will be fewer actual churches for them to serve in.
What is missing from this debate is God. What is God’s plan? Recall the words of one Joseph Ratzinger:
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning…Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
Vocations are declining, except for orders like the Dominicans, who openly embrace tradition. One solution to the crisis is to look backward and not forward, and to try to recapture and revive what has been drowned in the backwash of contemporary culture. It would be a costly and foolish mistake to do otherwise.