Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Should Catholic priests be allowed to marry?

The Big Questions, BBC1, Sunday 28 June 2009, hosted by Nicky Campbell.

Apparently, the hardest people to book for the programme are Catholic priests, because they have to find another priest to cover their parishes so they can appear on TV. Kind of commendable that they're at their posts. The Big Questions is one of those strange anomalies: a religious programme that is on air when anyone who is a truly committed Christian will probably be attending a church service. Well, watch it on iplayer, like I do: Father John Flynn, chaplain of Salford University, said that he "wouldn't be a priest if there was no celibacy". He held up Christ as his model for celibacy, argued winsomely for the superiority of the kingdom of God and pointed out Christ's comment that there is no marriage in heaven. As a counterpoint, a former Catholic priest Joe Fitzpatrick stated his opposition to compulsory celibacy. He maintained that 75% of French churchgoers wanted the RCC to change its teaching in this issue.

A Methodist minister, Jerry Wilson, then waded in, explaining how Jesus taught the value of marriage and how priests may be denied a very important aspect of the love of God. A woman in the audience questioned how a celibate man could advise a woman with eight children. Programme regular, Father Stephen Maughan, pointed out that, though a hospital chaplain, he's never been in hospital. This does not disqualify him from offering help and advice to the sick. Peter Hitchens, surprisingly, adopted a laissez-faire attitude: it's their church, let them make their rules. This in my mind contrasted with his views on Islam. The now-married former priest pointed out that the majority of Polish priests want the celibacy rule to be overturned, and spoke in favour of marriage in his experience. The burka-ed lady stepped in to say that priests may not be tempted to interfere with children if they were married – amazingly, for a woman covered from head to toe, she criticised them for "suppressing a natural desire."

The most entertaining exchange for me was from Thomas Cahill, a young man who considered the priesthood. He said, "I see celibacy as an affirmation of the beauty of marital love. You can only sacrifice something good: marriage, sex, love." Campbell's reply: "But not whisky, in my experience!"

My closing thought: Peter, supposedly the first bishop of Rome, was married. Paul speaks of apostles having the right to take a believing wife. If apostles, then why not 'ordinary' church leaders?

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