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Archive for April, 2002

You lot are a fairly well-informed group, so maybe one of you will know this.

I have read in a few places, though in very little detail, that the celibacy of the priesthood is a thousand-year-old phenomenon, meaning that though we’ve had it throughout recent memory, it really has only been the custom for about half the lifespan of the church (much like the idea that Christ died for our sins to allow us entry into heaven).

Does anyone have any idea what circumstances brought about this huge change?  To whom did this seem like a good idea?  What metaphysical arguments were used to support it?  Is there any chance the Catholics will increase their chances of seeing its fourth millenium by returning to married clergy early in the third?

My understanding is that by the beginning of the second millenium the Church was facing a pretty standard franchisor/franchisee problem most recently seen in the American automobile industry:

The rollout of the Church was accomplished both by converting the Roman Empire (company-owned stores) and by getting various local potentates (franchisees) to open churches.  Rome got sacked, and darkness fell upon the continent.

The Church was the institution that did the best job of surviving the marauding that went on from 500 to 1000, in no small part by encouraging the armies that were doing the marauding.  The problem was, by 1000 the various churches in, say, modern Germany or Spain or England were quite distant from the Church in Rome. A bit like the McDonaldses in Paris selling beer.  At the same time, the Church was a political power in its
own right.  Its network of clergy throughout Europe made it central to any decision being made anywhere on the continent, just as car dealers are always on town councils and control zoning decisions.

Anyway, the Church realized that its greatest asset – its churches, and the associated network of clergy – was in danger of being taken over in the consolidation sweeping the duchies and principalities of Europe.  The nightmare would be that a bishop would marry, say, a duchess, and contribute his church to the new entity (“NewCo”).

So the Church forbade marriage.  No marriage, no legitimate kids; no legitimate kids, no property passing into private hands.  And no property in
private hands meant that the folks in Rome had strategic assets all over Europe, and the local management was guaranteed to turn over in the
relatively short time horizon of dark ages life expectancy.  A better non-compete the world has never seen.

What theological arguments were used?  Well, the big one was and is that Jesus was not married.  A variant of this argument is used to explain opposition to the ordination of women.  I never thought much of this; Jesus didn’t drive a Cadillac, or for that matter drink 1961 Petrus from golden goblets in rooms decorated with original Michelangelos, and somehow the Church has gotten with the times on these points.  Lesser arguments along the same lines are that clergy are supposed to give over their lives to God (that’s the counterparty to nuns’ wedding bands) and marriage
would complicate this.  I’m sure it does, but I can’t imagine buggering small boys in vestibules does wonders for one’s focus either.

As for the prospect of reform…the Church is undergoing something of a revival recently, but the new members tend to be far more conservative than the old.  Europe, for the most part, has given up on the literal side of the religion; even the folks in Napoli get enough MTV to start dropping pretenses of chastity.  Ireland will finally legalize abortion this year, just in time for John Ashcroft to eliminate it in the US.  At the same time, the Church is experiencing strong organic growth in Latin America and exponential growth by acquisition in Africa; in a continent where the leader of the most important country runs around saying that HIV is unrelated to AIDS, Catholic doctrine seems awfully logical.

Vatican II could have ordained women and married priests; instead it eliminated the Latin Mass.  Seems to me a bit like heading for Indonesia and landing in the Bahamas, but that’s what they came up with.  When John Paul (I) was Archbishop of Venice he advocated permitting contraception; somehow he was created Pope, but he didn’t last a month or leave the Rome metro area.  John Paul II may be the Pope who did the most good for non-Catholics, with his fight against Communism, but he is exceptionally conservative and in his long tenure the College of Cardinals has become
that way too.  The Archbishop of Milan, a Jesuit and the only liberal with a serious chance to be Pope, just announced that he was sick and stepping down.

Eventually the Church will have to allow marriage; there just aren’t enough people to go around, and a policy of a wink and a nod encourages precisely the people least suited to do God’s work.  The question is how much damage will it do itself before it realizes its mistake.

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