At a time when Catholicism is under intense scrutiny, the traditions of the male priesthood and celibacy often bear the brunt of secular ire. Father Damian Ference offers not so much a defense of the traditions, but an explanation of why they are both practiced and of utmost importance, especially now.
I am well aware that many Catholics disagree with the Church’s understanding of the priesthood. Many object to the requirement of celibacy, pointing back to a time in the early church when many priests were married. They argue that the requirement of celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and that the mandatory discipline of celibacy can be changed. They are right. If the Holy Father wanted to, he could remove the celibacy requirement. But he has not done so.
Others view the Church’s refusal to ordain women as a justice issue and as a violation of women’s rights. They accuse the Church of committing an injustice against women for denying them full participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Here I would say that they are not right. However, from a secular worldview, I will grant that the argument makes perfect sense.
The purpose of this essay, however, isn’t so much to offer a defense of the male celibate priesthood, as much as it is an attempt to highlight two important features of the male celibate priesthood that cannot be denied and that often go unnoticed, by both those who agree with and disagree with the Church’s teaching on the priesthood.
Here is the first: that the priesthood is reserved to men alone highlights the fundamental distinction between men and women. Of course, such a distinction seems obvious at first. Public bathrooms are designated for men and women by signs, symbols and words. My dad is eighty-eight years old and legally blind, and when we go out to eat or to shop, I always have to accompany him to the bathroom door and let him know which one is the men’s room. And even if the bathroom is unisex, I find it portentous that the sign on or next to the door still has a picture of both a man and a woman, not a hybrid of the two. Common sense tells us that men and women are different, that the distinction between male and female is a natural one...