If Pope Francis allows for married clergy, will it be a progressive or ultra-conservative move? Will the Pope be making a change or reverting to earlier practice?
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The road that led me to the Catholic Church was a long one, and it involved a significant amount of study of theology and church history.
As a new Catholic, I am hesitant to offer my views on what the Church or the Pope should do about controversial issues. At the same time, however, my familiarity with church history while lacking a nostalgic attachment to a Catholicism of my youth leaves me unfazed by some of the hot-button modern issues
One such issue is that of married clergy. There has been significant discussion as of late about whether Pope Francis will allow married priests, particularly where there are severe priest shortages.
This has caused consternation among some. Traditional Catholics are understandably wary of the introduction of any innovations into Church teaching or practice.
They see what became of mainline Protestant churches that fell headlong into theological liberalism as they repeatedly made little concessions to progressive ideology over the years.
Catholicism values tradition for a reason, and faith communities such as the Episcopal Church serve as a warning to what can happen when churches abandon such an attachment to tradition.
Married Clergy as an Innovation
Many identify married clergy with Protestant innovation, and Catholics fear the road down which this may lead.
There is some truth to this fear when the proposal for married clergy appears among other progressive wish-list items—such as the ordination of women or the acceptance of contraception—but by itself, the issue is more complex and nuanced.
Married Priests and Tradition
The other ancient churches—the Orthodox churches—allow married priests. In fact, the vast majority of the churches in communion with Rome also allow for married priests, and the Latin Rite itself allowed for married clergy for the first millennium of its existence. The list of popes includes several married men.
The question then becomes, If Pope Francis allows for married priests, will it be a progressive or ultra-conservative move? Will the Pope be moving forward with a change to Church teaching or reverting to an earlier ecclesiastical practice?
Arguments can be made both ways, and I think that says a lot, particularly if the Church decides to allow married priests—drawn perhaps from the permanent diaconate—but not married bishops.
A strong argument could be made that such a move would mark an effort to bring the practice of the Latin Rite Catholic Church in line with the other churches in communion with Rome and with the Eastern Orthodox Church in an attempt to smooth the potential road to reconciliation with Constantinople.
Married Clergy Going Forward
I don’t know what the right answer is. As someone who became Catholic because of its strong attachment to tradition as a safeguard against the destructive cancer of progressivism, I would like to see a Church that maintains its value of celibacy while still providing a place for married parish priests.
In all things, however, I submit to the Church and the decision of the Holy Father. Whether Pope Francis—or a later Pope—decides to allow for married priests or not, I would not find either decision controversial. Both would be consistent with the ancient traditions of the Church, and either judgment would be worthy of admiration.