A Cardinal Error

‘If marriage is forbidden to priests, they will fall into sins worse than mere fornication, not abhorring the embrace of other men.’

Bishop Ulric of Imola, The Rescript, c. 1060

The resignation in Scotland of Cardinal Keith O’Brien has come a day after claims by three priests and a former priest emerged in the Observer newspaper. These claims date back to the 1980s and concern ‘inappropriate behaviour’. Yet another scandal for Catholicism, coming only days after the revelations in Ireland about tens of thousands of young women, more or less imprisoned as slave labourers in laundries run by nuns.

Last week, the self-same Cardinal called for Roman Catholicism to end its celibacy rule for the priesthood. He told the BBC: ‘I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood, and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own’.

Nearly thirty years ago now, I remember talking to an Italian Catholic priest about clerical celibacy. As a married Orthodox cleric, I asked him how Catholic priests coped with the imposition of celibacy. He told me in his honest Italian way: ‘It depends. In Germany the priests are overweight – they eat to compensate. In Ireland they drink Guinness. In England, they are uptight and frustrated. And in Italy, well, we just ignore it’.

I have to say that he was one of only two Catholic priests I have ever met (true, I have not met many) who was not homosexual. The other one was Portuguese and he of course was married and had two children. In the north of Portugal this is not only acceptable but normal and parishioners would not even accept ‘celibates’, full well knowing what they really were.

This situation is common in Spain, the south of Italy, Africa and Latin America. Latin and African blood will not take this nonsense. Only a few months ago I was talking to a Polish taxi-driver in Colchester. He was from Krakow, the centre of Polish Catholicism, and he described to me how much of his income there had come from taxiing Polish priests and seminarians to and from local brothels…

It is time to do away with the piece of jesuitical word-play which says: ‘On no, we don’t have compulsory clerical celibacy; priesthood in Catholicism is voluntary’. The fact is that celibacy is compulsory, if you are a Catholic priest. (Unless, of course, you are a Uniat in distant lands, banned from ever coming to Western Europe or North America, or, only very recently, an ex-Anglican).

This nonsense of compulsory clerical celibacy, introduced by force into the West in the late eleventh century, has to stop. It is the source of that ugly distortion, clericalism, and, by reaction, secularist feminism, which thinks it is being deprived by not being admitted to the priesthood. But even worse than all this, it is the source of perversion and hypocrisy.

Such a rejection of perversion and hypocrisy seems unlikely, because it would mean that the Vatican would have to admit that it has persisted in its anti-Apostolic error for nearly a thousand years – as we Orthodox have always known. The real question therefore is – does the Vatican have the humility and spirit of repentance necessary for it to return to the Evangelical Faith of the first millennium?

If it does, then who knows, perhaps it will even return to the Faith of the Apostles, the Fathers and the Seven Universal Councils, even reinstating the Christian Creed. Perhaps then its various branches, Anglican, Protestant etc., might do the same. Humility and repentance are always miraculous. Perversion and hypocrisy never are.