Deal W. Hudson
December 1, 2003
During the November meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington, D.C., the president of Call to Action presented the bishops with a letter from 6,000 Catholics asking that celibacy become optional for the priesthood. Their motivation, as quoted in USA Today, was to make the Eucharist more widely available. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Of course, anyone who knows the ways dissenters sell their wares will sense a pig in a poke.
For the past two years, false reform groups like Voice of the Faithful have been pointing the finger at celibacy as a cause of the sex-abuse scandal. The celibacy requirement, they argue, attracts emotionally immature men to the priesthood (tell that to the 65,000 priests serving in our country). If the Church allowed married men—or even women—into the priesthood, there would be a lower incidence of sexual abuse.
Besides being a blanket insult to all Catholic priests of the past millennium, the argument is baseless. When a group of Milwaukee priests issued a public letter supporting optional celibacy to their ordinary, Archbishop Timothy Dolan refused to be intimidated, and Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the USCCB, backed him up with a strong statement saying that the celibacy requirement would not be reconsidered.
So using the scandal to undermine the priesthood has not worked, and the dissenters are going back to their pre-scandal argument that the growing shortage of priests requires opening the priesthood to married men. This is what I call the “marketing” argument, and it’s a poor one. Yes, we need more priests, but there are good and bad ways of multiplying vocations.
Vocations are discovered in the midst of charity, devotion, and sanctity. Where have vocations been coming from for the past 20 years? From those families, parishes, communities, and dioceses most devoted to the orthodox teaching of the Church and its earnest practice. Communities of dissent have not produced vocations, although they have succeeded in leading people to doubt the relevance of the Church to their suffering. Who would heed the call to serve such a Church? Not I, not you.
Last month, I visited the remarkable St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas. Led by Rev. Mike Sis, this community has produced more vocations to the priesthood and the religious life than any other comparable community in the nation. How do they do it? College Station is a Protestant outpost in a largely Protestant state, in spite of its Mexican Catholic roots. But even the occasional visitor, like myself, passing through the church and the eucharistic chapel will marvel at the number of students on their knees in prayer and adoration.
Father Sis and his associates have created a place where Catholic students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to worship, learn, and praise without embarrassment or self-consciousness. It was a privilege for me to speak there, and the questions afterward—especially from the blue-shirted apologetics team—manifested a refreshing enthusiasm for the truths of our Faith. No wonder young men and women hear the voice of God in College Station.
The day before I went to Texas A & M, I spoke at my alma mater, the University of Texas, where I became a Christian as a junior and president of the Baptist Student Union as a senior. I didn’t have the same privilege of speaking at the University Catholic Center, run by the Paulist Fathers, in Austin. The students who asked permission for me to speak were told that I was too “controversial” and that I would only be allowed to come if some other speaker was put on the program for “balance.” In spite of this, I met an impressive group of Longhorn Catholics there; sadly, they just didn’t have the kind of leadership evident in Aggieland.
I doubt very much if Father Sis would have had this success by teaching the Catholic faith at the margins of dissent, as is so often the case on college campuses and in many parishes. He teaches and preaches Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the fruit it bears speaks for itself.
Making celibacy optional is exactly the opposite of what encourages vocations. It’s wrong both in theory and practice. It changes the unique nature of our priesthood and sends out the message that celibacy was too difficult a burden for our priests to bear. For the Church to wave a white flag of surrender in the face of a sexually saturated culture would dispirit Catholics for generations to come.