Carvajal: Moving forward, 1

Orlando P. Carvajal

THIS is one of two articles on the issue of a married clergy.

The Catholic Church needs to move forward to being less of an institution and more of a Christian community. To do that she needs to re-visit the concept of an elite clergy manning her ramparts and marshaling the faithful within them. The core question to ask is: “Did Christ set up a clerical elite?”

In John 4:23-24 Christ said the time is coming when children of the Father will worship not in temples made of stone but in the temples of their hearts. This after harshly condemning the clerical elite of the Jewish religion as hypocrites that observed the letter more than the spirit of the law of Moses.

If Christ calls for worship in the temples of our hearts, where we are our own priests, what does that make of the elite Catholic clergy?

The early Christians did not have a celibate male clergy. They chose from among them fellow male or female disciples who led exemplary lives to be their teachers, worship presiders and ministers to their needy or sick in body or soul. These early Christian religious leaders, therefore, had moral authority securely anchored on the community’s high esteem of their imitation of Christ’s life.

Today’s elite celibate clergy, on the other hand, get trained, ordained and assigned to minister to a community they do not belong to. With all due respect to admirable exceptions, their losing battle to stay celibate and poor or detached from money, among other failings, often detracts from their moral authority. Essentially ordained to serve churches made of stone what they prioritize is religiosity, religion’s veneer, and not spirituality, religion’s core.

My thesis, therefore, is that teachers, worship presiders and ministers are best chosen by the Christian community they belong to on the basis of their exemplary lives. They can be married or single, male, female or gay as we are all equal in God’s eyes. These spiritual leaders should hold secular jobs to support themselves and their families and thus avoid putting price tags on sacraments. Integrated with the community in this way, they would have more of the empathy of genuine ministers and less of the aloofness of mere temple worship presiders.

Many Christian communities are not able to celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Christ because there is not enough celibate priests to go around. Yet the institutional Church continues to prioritize the preservation of celibacy over Christ’s call to “do this in memory of me” when Christian communities can pick from among them exemplary members to be their ministers.

In this context, a married but still male Catholic clergy is only one small step towards a less elitist clergy and a more Christian community of equals.