Straddling the fence
By Alisa Craddock
One day last week I took my bowl of breakfast cereal and sat down in the living room with my mother, who handed me the front page of the newspaper, folded to a story -- the story was about a priest in my diocese who was just excommunicated by our Bishop. As I began to read, it took me a moment to realize that I knew this priest. I was at one time a daily communicant, and am still a lector at the parish where he served his first two years after ordination.
Father F. was a middle-aged man when he entered the seminary. He had been married and divorced, and raised two kids. He once told us during a homily that he had told his mother when he was eight he wanted to be a priest when he grew up, but he was racially mixed, and his mother informed him that that don't take men like him in the priesthood. A dream deferred, but one that did not die, apparently, for he eventually came here and did become a priest. (Though it is not particularly relevant, I might mention that I would not have known he was racially mixed had he not told us, but it made his story more poignant to me when he did, because of his great determination to become a priest "against the odds" as it were.) About a year ago, he was assigned as an associate Pastor at a parish in another city, and I've only seen him once or twice since. I liked him. He was a good priest, not afraid to touch on controversial issues that most priests won't go near, lest anyone be made to feel unwelcome or alienated. You hardly ever hear priests talk about sin these days, much less actually name the sin.
What happened? Now I read that this priest has been excommunicated for joining Rent-a-Priest, whose parent organization is CITI Ministries, short for "Celibacy Is The Issue" which was begun by a woman (naturally) out of apparent concern for the shortage of priests in the Church, the sex abuse scandals, and to provide a service for estranged Catholics or those who feel "underserved" by the Church -- mostly divorced people who can't remarry in the Church, homosexuals, including those who wish to be married, and others who perhaps just can't get a priest, such as shut-ins and people in nursing homes. I have sympathy for the plight of those faithful Catholics who have problems getting to see a priest, but that's not the primary purpose of the organization. It's defiance of the Catholic Church hierarchy. It's defiance by priests and defiance (or self-delusion, perhaps) by estranged Catholics. CITI recruits and "certifies" married or gay Catholic Priests. Louise Haggett, the organization's founder, maintains there are 21 canons that validate married priests. Funny, in 2000 years of Church history, this ‘fact' was never uncovered.
A marriage performed by a Rent-a-Priest is not a valid marriage, not in Church law, and not in the eyes of God, especially if one or both of the parties are divorced without a decree of nullity from previous spouses. Having a Rent-a-Priest marry them doesn't change that. No priest may marry them. It's is the Law of God, straight out of Scripture. The Church didn't say it, the Lord did. The Church's job is to shepherd His flock according to His word, not to make itself more relevant to people who are living outside of that law by conforming itself to the ways of the world. A marriage performed by a Rent-a-Priest will be no more valid in the eyes of the Church than if performed by a Justice of the Peace, even if the betrothed are eligible to marry. A gay marriage performed by a Priest, in good standing or no, is a sham, and a priest performing it has automatically separated himself from the Church by that action, and by his disobedience. Performing marriages in defiance of Church law is, therefore, an act of rebellion, plain and simple. In Catholicism you can't rebel against the Church without rebelling against God, because God has given charge of His Church over to the bishops and their successors. You can discern if your priest has directed you to do something not in accord with that law, and refuse to do it, but you cannot place your judgment over that of the Church in matters of faith or morals, and remain in good standing.
The Lord said, "Unless you become as little children you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." A child is humble, obedient, trusting and, above all, dependent. What a contrast to the attitude of defiance pervading this organization, and others like "Womenpriests", "Dignity", and so forth.
I don't fault divorced people for wanting to remarry. We are not made to live alone, and only the strongest can do it, and, Lord knows, love is hard enough to find. If there are children involved, the burden is doubly difficult. I am always hopeful that the Lord will be merciful and compassionate to those souls who, despite their deep desire to remain faithful to the Church's teachings, don't feel that they can walk away from their human need for the love and support of a spouse.
But the priest, on the other hand, is called to celibacy, to remain unmarried -- he is called to give up everything, as Christ said, and "Come, follow me." It is not a call to every man, for not all men are called to serve God in this way, but those who are are called to give all, and there is a great deal of discernment that happens in the years before ordination. No one makes a man become a priest, no one makes him give up the chance for marriage, and there is no deception about the difficulty of giving up the consolations of wife and family. Some fail, but most will, through prayer, manage to keep their vow of chastity. The Lord gives his priests extra help in this regard. If you aren't Catholic you probably don't understand or believe that, but if you live a prayerful life, and aren't looking for excuses yourself, you know from firsthand experience that divine help is there. Most of us just don't really want to totally submit, that's the key. We want to negotiate. But for those who trust Him and accept His will first, He will give the gift of a holy insight, the gift of understanding, and spiritual consolations that will reinforce him in his faith, or in his priesthood, if that's his calling, and give him the strength to persevere. That is the great gift of celibacy -- spiritual insight. It's an ongoing struggle, though.
In the case of Father F., it appears he fell in love. He plans to marry, but is unwilling to give up his priesthood, to which he says he felt called "through the laying on of hands" to minister to the faithful and, now, to those like him who are in conflict with the Church hierarchy. The bishop asked him to accept laicization, to give up his priesthood, but he refused, so the Bishop excommunicated him as the only recourse left him in response to the defiance of his priest. You can't have your cake and eat it too. That act (of excommunication) declares officially that no rites performed by this priest will be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. It is a painful loss to the diocese, which already has a shortage of priests, and to those of us who knew him and who revere the priesthood.
One of the things I have discovered along the path of spiritual growth is that sometimes, when we want something very badly, we can deceive ourselves into believing it is God's will. I suspect that is what happened with Father F. He fell in love. He also took a vow of celibacy. They are in conflict. ‘But why did God send this wonderful woman to me if he didn't want me to marry her?' And so he begins to think he has a mission, that he has been chosen by God to set the Church straight.
This is also the battle cry of the women who were "ordained" (in defiance of Church law by bishops who were also renegades) as Catholic Priests. They, too, feel they have a mission to struggle against the "oppression" of the all male clergy. Their battle cry is the same as Rent-a-Priest's: We are faithful to Jesus, not the Church. Or my personal favorite version: "Disobedience to the Church is obedience to Christ". Whose Christ? Who made these people experts on what Christ wants? A study performed several years ago revealed that 57 per cent of women clergy in non-Catholic denominations are radical feminists who believe in contraception, abortion, gay marriage and the mainstreaming of homosexuality, in complete defiance of the plain words of Scripture (Are we reading the same Bible?) and traditional Church teaching. (And that, they would have us believe, is the Lord's will.) That percentage would most certainly be much higher if women were ordained as Catholic priests, because most faithful Catholic women know that they don't belong there, so most of the women who would be ordained would be radical feminists and activists who would, like the Episcopal Church's Bishop Schori, start right in with the sex reassignment of the Lord, and other outrages. And yet, every article I read about women priests makes a point of telling us that 55 per cent of American Catholics believe that women should be ordained. (It just goes to show you--if you repeat a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it. It's been working for the liberals for years.)
Women are not called to be priests, no matter how much they may feel called, no matter how much they may wish it. It is not a women's rights issue, it's not an equality issue, it didn't come from men, and it is not the "cure" for the Church's priest shortage or the sex scandal. (The Catholic Church has less incidence of sexual abuse than Protestant Churches or other faiths which have married clergy and women who are ordained, [though our problems are far from over] and far less than the public schools, who are now experiencing an epidemic of teacher/student molestations). Neither is married clergy the answer. The answer is fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. It is a disordered way of thinking to try and impose modern notions of political correctness on the Church and its structure, because those notions themselves are disordered. Those who try are either terribly corrupted by the age and profoundly misguided (thanks to poor shepherding during the Church's own "October Revolution", as Father Yves Congar, O.P., one of its architects, gleefully put it) or are among those malignant forces determined to destroy the Church from within so they can have the secular humanist utopia they've worked so hard and for so long to achieve.
The most egregious and brazen example of this I have seen since converting to Catholicism in 2000 is the case of the Canadian Religious Conference's letter to Rome back in March. The organization, which purports to represent 22,000 Catholic priests, nuns, and monks in Canada, issued a letter which stated their ‘regret' at certain of the Church's rigid stances, and decried the "legalistic image of the Catholic Church -- and of our Canadian Church -- its rigidity and its intransigent stands on sexual morals; its lack of openness regarding access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics; its lack of compassion for them…its unwelcoming attitude toward homosexuals…In terms of ethics and bioethics, the holding up of an ideal that leaves little room for advancement and progress; the defense of principles that do not reflect human experience (divorce, contraception, protection against AIDS [condoms] and alleviation of suffering at the end of life [assisted suicide]." Not surprisingly, what these people are promoting is the diametric opposite of Church teaching. They are promoting moral and social anarchy in the name of "compassion". And they are arrogant enough to suggest that the Church should remake itself in their image, who are all wise and compassionate. I don't know if they really believe they are righteous, or are they aware that they are rebelling against truth itself, but are intentionally scandalizing and leading astray the flock in their care for their own selfish purposes. For example, is it really pastoral care of homosexuals they are asking for, or endorsement of homosexuality? Is it pastoral care for divorced persons they want, or a complete abandonment of the instruction of Christ concerning marriage? "Defense of principles that do not reflect human experience"...? So…since people sin, the Church should now defend sin? Geez!!
It is the height of impudence and arrogance to rewrite the laws of God, and to declare that this represents His will. How audacious! From a spiritual standpoint, it is the great plague of our age, and its fruits go way beyond the rebellion within the Church. This inverted kind of thinking, which many have become acutely susceptible to, is the very mystery of iniquity itself, spreading like a miasma throughout the land. It the kind of mushy, manipulative, uncharitable thinking--subjective thinking--that has supplanted solid, clear, objective thinking and action. But what is most frightening, as this kind of thinking pervades the world, becomes accepted as truth, and while authentic truth is ridiculed and trampled under foot, I watch anxiously as all of the most diabolical methods of human enslavement ever used are combined in one massive push to universal enslavement of the children of God, and most everyone I know is blind to it, or worse, on board with it. If I did not have my faith, I would despair.
The Church built Western Civilization, and, despite her lapses, it prospered under her guidance, and now the rebels, the minions of Lucifer, have unleashed a Pandora's Box of hellish plagues on us, (many of which this Canadian religious organization has just identified in favorable terms), all from the rejection of one very vital Church teaching. In a future column I will expound on that teaching, and how its rejection has wreaked havoc on our civilization.
Alisa Craddock is free-lance columnist and activist in the culture war, a convert to Catholicism, and describes herself as a Christian Libertarian. In addition to Enter Stage Right, her columns have been published on Alain's Newsletter and Out2 News. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.