Father Donald Cozzens has an essay on CNN's website urging a rethinking of the discipline in the Latin Church of mandatory celibacy for priests. It recaps arguments from his 2006 book, "Freeing Celibacy" (Liturgical Press, $15.95).
He makes some good points. Celibacy has not always been the practice in the Church (but the two popes he cites as examples don't quite work; it is historically uncertain whether Pope Innocent I was Pope Anastasius' son; and Pope Hormisdas was a widower when he became pope). Even today celibacy is not required of those married Protestant pastors who have become Catholic priests. Father Cozzens also points to what he calls an "inherent paradox lying just below the claim that the gift of celibacy is a precious gift of God to the priesthood and the Church: How can a gift be legislated?"
Nevertheless, I have lingering doubts. Or questions.
The first regards this quote from Father Cozzens: "The most human, existential factor that should keep the celibacy issue on the table is the spiritual and emotional health of priests."
As a married layman, that statement bothers me. It seems to imply that the function of sex is a sort of psychological relief valve. It doesn't situate it within the vocation of marriage. (And it seems to perpetuate that idea that celibacy is somehow a more saintly, or superhuman, route to heaven than the exercise of conjugality.)
Second, and related, Father Cozzens talks about celibacy as not just an ecclesial discipline, but a "discipline" in the more common sense. But he seems to underestimate the sacrifice and discipline involved in marital fidelity and in chastity for those who are single. Yes, I'm sure living celibately is not easy. But does he really think it is more difficult than singlehood or marriage? Each of the vocations has its sacrifices and joys; and might celibacy be not just a "discipline" for most priests but also a source of freedom and joy?
Third, he seems to believe it is unfair for the Latin Church to demand a commitment to celibacy from men who feel called both to the priesthood and to married life. Why? There is a theological richness to the idea of a celibate priesthood; either one feels called to it, or one does not (or, I suppose, one becomes Eastern Catholic to be able to pursue dual vocations). If a man feels called to be a priest in the Latin Church, he feels called to celibacy; if he does not, then his discernment of calling is far from complete.
Fourth, although Father Cozzens acknowledges that a married Latin clergy would bring "scandals of its own -- infidelity and abuse among others," I wonder if he takes that possibility seriously enough. Our culture is not supportive of commitment (see the divorce rate, and even the attrition rate of priests), and Catholics bring that cultural weakness to their own weddings or ordinations. It seems to me that focusing on living one vocation well and faithfully is challenging enough, without adding the unique challenges of another.