CATHOLIC DIALOGUE #17
(The scene is the school library during study period. It is the day after Monica's birthday and she is wearing the new Crucifix that her parents gave her as a gift.)
Monica: Hi Ashley. Look what my parents gave me for my birthday. It's real Black Hills gold.
Ashley: It's pretty, but why did they give you a crucifix?
Monica: What do you mean?
Ashley: I mean, Jesus is not still on the cross. He is risen. This is why the Crucifix is not an accurate symbol. You should be wearing an "empty" cross, because that is the reality of the situation.
Monica: That sounds silly Ashley. When the Bible refers to Jesus as Alpha and Omega, it doesn't mean that He began as Alpha and in the end will be Omega. Jesus is Alpha and Omega and everything in between simultaneously. He is not passing through time. He is in all times, at the same time. My Crucifix is a representation of one moment in time the same as a picture of the Last Supper or any other religious artwork.
Ashley: Well, what I really mean is only Catholics still wear the Crucifix.
Monica: I am a Catholic, Ashley.
Ashley: Really?! I could tell you were a Christian, but I didn't realize you were a Catholic.
Monica: You say that like you have a problem with my being Catholic. What's wrong Ashley?
Ashley: Well I don't have a problem with you, but...
Monica: What is it?
Ashley: Okay. Why is your Church so hung up on sex?
Ashley: It seems to me that the Catholic Church is preoccupied with sex. You guys are against birth control, sex outside of marriage, divorce, homosexuality, etc. I mean, suppose two homosexuals are involved in a long term monogamous relationship? Who are they hurting? And why not allow women to be Priests? That sounds like sex discrimination. Sex, and references to sex, that's all your Church ever talks about.
Monica: That's not all we ever talk about, but we are against all of the things you mentioned because the Bible, and the laws of nature, teach us that we should be. On the other hand, our Church teaches that sex, inside of marriage, is an act of cooperation with God. That's also what the Bible teaches.
Ashley: Okay, then why does your Church force celibacy on its Priests? You're not going to tell me that it says that in the Bible are you? In Genesis, it says, "increase and multiply."
Monica: Well, there's the answer to your objections about birth control and homosexuality. Now let's get back to our celibate Priesthood.
Ashley: Alright. What about when the Bible says, "a man is destined to leave father and mother and cling to his wife"? And how about Peter? He was married, and you say he was the first Pope.
Monica: Well Ashley, it sounds like you've exhausted all of the standard objections. Ready for the answers?
Ashley: Go ahead.
Monica: Our Church does not force celibacy on the Priest. Celibacy is a discipline that he freely accepts.
Ashley: Yeah. He accepts it or he can't be a Priest. Right?
Monica: Wrong. Priests in the Eastern Rite can now, and have always been allowed to be married. There are also former Lutheran pastors and clergy from other denominations who are married and have returned to Catholicism. These men have been accepted to the Priesthood. They are married Catholic priests.
Ashley: What?! Do you mean that there are some Catholic priests that are allowed to be married?
Ashley: I didn't know that.
Monica: Don't feel bad, there are a lot of Catholics who don't know that either. The truth is that St. Peter and many of our first Popes were married men, but in the early middle ages, the Church decided that unmarried men could do a better job.
Ashley: So what you're saying is that at first it was alright to be married and then the Church changed its doctrine. Right?
Monica: No. Celibacy is a disciplinary rule, not a doctrine. There is a big difference. Rules of Ecclesiastical origin can be modified or changed, but doctrine, like God Himself, does not change. You see, marriage is a Sacrament in our Church. That's how highly we think of it, but St. Paul tells us in Corinthians that a married mans concern is for his wife. Our priests first concern has to be doing the work of God. He would not be as effective if he had the worries of a family. Problems like the cost of sending a child to college, whether to buy them their own car or not, and if his wife is spending too much to decorate the rectory would distract him from his priestly duties.
Ashley: So he sacrifices himself, and God gives him grace, right?
Monica: Wrong again. God does not give us grace because of the good works we do. God gives us grace to do good works. The ability to remain celibate is a gift that God gives to the men that are called to the priesthood. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 19:11. The Apostles asked Him if it is better not to be married and He said, "Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom it is granted... they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."
Ashley: Well, what about where the Bible says that a priest should be married once and be able to control his children?
Monica: What that passage means is that he can't be married more than once. It is still that way in the Eastern Rite. If a wife dies, the priest can not marry again. That part of the Bible does not make marriage a requirement. It is addressed to our Church at a time when priests could choose celibacy or marriage.
Ashley: Well I think that being married is an advantage for my pastor. By experience, he has a better grasp of family matters. He can relate to the problems of having in-laws to deal with and what it's like to raise children in our society.
Monica: This might be true, but you can't tell me that there isn't a certain amount of church "politics" that is generated by the fact that the pastor has a wife and she has "friends". You can't deny that a delinquent child could cause a terrible scandal. What about the problems of having to re-locate wherever he is assigned? This would be very traumatic on a family. Our priests are free to go where they are needed, and are only responsible for their own actions.
Ashley: I'm surprised that you should mention that, Monica. I've read some pretty bad things in the news paper lately. I've also heard some very shocking news on T.V. about your priests and their sexual exploits. Don't you think that if they were allowed to be married, it would solve these problems?
Monica: No I don't. Marriage does not prevent a man from having an affair. I think that you have over simplified the problem and your solution is flawed.
Ashley: The problem is simple. You have priests that are molesting children and others that are having sexual affairs. Your Pope said that this is a problem that is "particular" in the American Church. That's what's being reported in the media. Isn't it?
Monica: Yes. That's what the media is saying alright, but how often do they mention the vast majority of priests that stay faithful? You see, the media is not interested in anything except ratings, which are generated by shocking stories. In other words, the media doesn't report all of the news. They just report the most bizarre news.
Ashley: Then you admit that there are cases like these. Right?
Monica: Of course. There have been betrayals in the Priesthood every since Judas. I'm not trying to make any excuses for this type of behavior. All I'm saying is that there are other factors to consider before you condemn the entire lot.
Ashley: Really. Like what?
Monica: Well, the first thing you need to know about the Priesthood in the Catholic Church is that the principle Minister of every Sacrament is Christ. The validity of the Sacrament comes from His passion.
Ashley: What do you mean by that?
Monica: I mean, that the validity of the Sacrament has nothing to do with the worthiness of the priest. The divinity of our Church does not depend on how many Saints have served Her. This Church, and the Priesthood was instituted by Jesus. That is where the divinity comes from. The truth is that most priests are good and faithful servants, but let's look at some of the others and I'll try to point out a few things that you might not know.
Monica: There is a book called, "The Memoirs of an Anti-Apostle", it tells the story of a Communist who became a priest for the purpose of destroying the Church from within. The book says, "he was one of many". His diary was found when this anti-Apostle died in an auto accident. It described a Communist plan to destroy the Catholic Church. (pause) I wonder how many of the men you've seen doing these T.V. interviews are part of his group. Jesus said, "The gates of hell would not prevail against His Church", but that doesn't mean that they haven't given it there best shot. You see, some of the bad behavior is done by men who are not really priests at all, and some of the accusations are made falsely by people who would like to hurt the Church.
Ashley: Okay. What about the priests, who are real priests, that get into trouble?
Monica: St. Paul said, "When I'm weak, I'm strong" If our Priests were perfect, we wouldn't need God. I think this is why Jesus left our Church in the hands of men. Their weakness assures that our faith must be in God alone.
Monica: St. John Chrysostom said, "Be not afraid to approach the Priest because you have sinned.... We priests know well how to pardon, because we ourselves have sinned." I think that this is what Jesus had in mind. The priest understands our weakness, because he shares them.
Ashley: So let's say a priest commits adultery with one of his parishioners. All he has to do is go to Confession himself, and then hear his partners Confession and they are both off scott free because they share a weakness. Is that what you're saying?
Monica: Absolutely not! The Church forbids a Confessor to absolve a penitent who has been his accomplice in a sin of impurity. He is actually deprived jurisdiction over these sins. This is so serious, that he would incur an ipso facto ex-communication if he does hear this Confession.
Ashley: That sounds real noble, but don't you think that the Bishop covers up for some of these guys?
Monica: No. In a document called Sacerdotalis Caelibatus written in 1967, the Pope said, "It is only when no other solution can be found that a priest should be relieved of his office. To Bishops: Follow the example of Jesus. Do not crush a bruised reed."
Ashley: So, he should look the other way when these incidents occur. Right?
Monica: No. The Bishop has to heal the wounds of the offended and the offender. That's his job.
Ashley: Why do you say that the offender needs healing?
Monica: In a recent survey of over 3000 Priests, many of them were found to be suffering from loneliness and low self image. Our priests are suffering and a small percentage of them are acting out their frustrations in self destructive behavior. These are the ones that the media makes sure to highlights.
Ashley: Why are the priests feeling lonely?
Monica: Because our Church, and it's values are counter cultural. When our sex crazed society wants to strike out at the Church, the Priesthood is usually one of the first targets. Speaking of our society, there was a document from Vatican II that said, "(Our priests) should be put on guard against the dangers which threaten their chastity, especially in present day society." This brings me to the final factor, the dragon, which is spoken of in the book of Revelations. He can't hurt God, so he wages war on God's children. Our priests are attacked because when one of them falls it hurts so many people all at once. Our priests are soldiers in a spiritual war. Some of them have been wounded, but the Church will survive because Jesus promised It would.
Ashley: So, some priests are guilty of improprieties, but you say that some of them are not priests in the first place. You think, that sometimes innocent priests are accused falsely, that some are so stressed that they crack under the pressure, some were probably unfit candidates in the first place, and some are being seduced by the society we live in. And you say, that because these men are not perfect, your faith in God is stronger. Right?
Monica: That's it. You see, the foundation of the Church is Jesus. He is the perfect Priest. As far as our human priests are concerned, they are charged with ministering to the laity, with the help of God, as best they can. The laity also has a responsibility to minister to the priest by showing proper respect for the office he holds, giving him their support, participating in the Mass more fully, and lightening his burden whenever possible. I think that the people needs to be reminded of this.
Ashley: Is that it?
Monica: No. There is still one more thing. While we are doing everything humanly possible, we should also be praying for the priests and the Pope. Sometimes I wonder how many of these men have been lost because they had no one to pray for them. Most people don't realize that today, more than ever, our priests need our prayers too.
Ashley: Is that so? Well, (pause) Have you prayed for your priest lately?....