Married priests would be the wrong solution

The Tablet

27 February 2015 by Tina Beattie

Pope Francis has made clear that the question of married priests is open for discussion. Priestly celibacy is a discipline rather than a doctrine. It only became compulsory in the Middle Ages, though there is debate as to how common it was before then. There is already a de facto married Catholic priesthood made up of former Anglican priests who have joined the mainstream Church or the Ordinariate. Particularly in Africa, many Catholic priests have “wives” and children, even if these are not publicly acknowledged by the Church.

People often assume that, as a feminist theologian and supporter of women’s ordination, I also support a married priesthood. However, I am more ambivalent about married priests, not because I am a man-hating feminist harpy (though I am amused to find myself described in those terms), but because I am orthodox when it comes to the doctrinal and sacramental mysteries of our faith.

Liberal Catholics tend to be uncritical in their embrace of progress. Women’s ordination becomes conflated with married priests as part of this progressive liberalism, but the concept of progress is itself deeply flawed. It is a myth rooted in modern Western superiority over other historical and cultural traditions. Rather, we must ask how our faith allows eternity to shimmer within the contingencies and complexities of history, and for that we must nurture the sacramental imagination.

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