Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Priest in Love?

There's been quite an amount of coverage of the case of an Irish priest who announced at Mass this weekend that he's leaving ministry because of "loving, beautiful and life-giving relationship" with a woman. Needless to say, the spin that the media are putting on it is aimed at abolishing clerical celibacy. The Irish Independent headlines its account with Church cheers as priest admits that he's in love. This is - I think - the only media account which speaks about cheering. I can believe a popular priest receiving a round of applause in recognition of his work following a decision to leave the ministy, but the thought of a congregation cheering him in such circumstances strikes me as grotesque and implausible.

Now, the priest in question has been lauded for his honesty. After all, he told his congregation that because celibacy was "integral to the priesthood" he could no longer remain a priest. Fair enough. Stepping down was a more honourable action than leading the kind of double-life which has brought shame and disgrace to the ministry.

However, this doesn't change the fact that this priest is having a relationship with a married mother of two. And so, whilst he did the right thing in resigning the ministry, the truly honourable thing would have been to admit peccavi - I have sinned - rather than talking about a "loving, beautiful and life-giving relationship". Now, my heart goes out to this man. He's fallen into an adulterous relationship, a situation of serious sin. Sin being what it is, he may well be able to justify this situation to himself. Romantic love can cloud the thinking part of our brains. He may well believe that this is something postive and good in his life. Our prayers should be with him. He deserves our pity.

Less deserving of our pity, however, are those who are trying to make him some kind of poster-boy argument in favour of abolishing priestly celibacy. He is no such thing. He's an unfortunate man who proved unfaithful to the promise he took at ordination, and who failed to respect the marriage vows of his new partner. Such sin isn't an argument in favour of anything. The fact that men and women commit adultery isn't an argument in favour of making marriage a more 'open' and less permanent relationship. Would we cheer and applaud a married clergyman who was unfaithful to his wife?

This is a sad, sad, situation. But this is a time for the Church to speak clearly about the meaning of marriage and celibacy. Fidelity to marriage vows and promises of celibacy have an especial value these days. Normally, I think that situations like Fr McKenna's should be passed over with a discreet and charitable silence. Self-righteousness is ugly and none of us are without our own sins. However, when his case is being used disingenuously to undermine the value of priestly celibacy, I think that it's only right to say bluntly what is really happening.


Anonymous said...

Zadok, you disgust me.

Zadok the Roman said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence...

Why, precisely, do I disgust you?

Flambeaux said...

Glad to see a post from you, Zadok, even on such a sad matter.

I hope you are well and, when you have a few minutes, I'd be happy to read your thoughts on the new Apostolic Constitution.

Jane said...

I, too, am glad to see a post from you, even if the topic is an unpleasant one.

Sadly, I think there are many people in Western Europe and North America, possibly elsewhere as well, who would, in fact, applaud a married clergyman who was unfaithful to his wife, if he justified it in the name of "love." Romantic love apparently justifies almost any horror; this is how twisted the notion of love has become.

Of course, this sort of romantic love, so often held up by Hollywood and the media, has very little to do with genuine love and is often totally antithetical to it. If Fr. McKenna really loved that woman in the sense of "wanting the best for the other" (the definition of love I was given in childhood catechism classes), he would have told her to go back to her husband and children.

Clinton said...

Well put, Zadok. I agree with every syllable.

I am delighted to see you posting again.

Anonymous said...

Fr McKenna is only a human being with needs just like the rest of us. This celebacy rubbish only came about after the Council of Trento in the aftermath of the Reformation of the Church. Jane, why are you telling this woman to go back to her husband? He probably left her in the lurch. Sean McKenna is probably the best thing that ever happened to her. I can't believe what a load of narrow minded people there still are in this world especially in Ireland. I am Irish and a catholic but see that it needs to be reformed and fast. Soon you will have to priests on your altars. Sean McKenna - good on you.

Zadok the Roman said...


Thanks for your comment. However, I fear that you are missing the point.

Firstly, is NOT something which dates from the Council of Trent. It was around long before that. If celibacy wasn't around before the Council of Trent, why did Martin Luther cause such a fuss when he argued that priests should marry. Celibacy has had an important role in the Church since the time of Christ. St Paul openly advocated it, and in both the Eastern and Western Church it's been a valued way of life. Now, the rules regarding celibacy have differed in different times and places, but it has a longer and more distinguished history than you think. Additionally, in both East and Wast, once a celibate life was taken up by a cleric, it has always been the rule that it's a life-long commitment. It should also be noted that the married priests of the Eastern Church are bound to celibacy should their wives die.

Secondly, Christianity has always valued the vows of marriage. You might think that the discipline of celibacy should change. Fine. That's something that one can argue about. Breaking a promise of celibacy or a marriage vow for the sake of personal fulfillment is not a moral act. It's not right. And you'll find nothing in the words of Christ which will suggest that it's right. Christ taught us mercy and forgiveness, but He also told us to turn away from our sins. He told the woman caught in adultery not to sin any more.
I have no wish to stand in condemnation of Fr McKenna. I'm sure that he's had an awful time. However, I cannot abide the idea of some people putting forward his situation as being something positive and life-affirming. It's not. I pray for him, but I cannot argue that what he did was right or worthy of praise.

It's not narrow-minded to say that our humanity is about more than fulfilling what we think are our 'needs'. That's a very low view of what our human nature is. Christ teaches the path of sacrifice, fidelity and love. That's what our true humanity should be. Do we fall short? Yes, we do so daily. Do I fall short? Yes, I do so daily. However, I would never want it to happen that my personal moral failures would be put forward as being some kind of victory or good example. That wouldn't be the truth. It's a false compassion to throw the ideas of right and wrong, and the virtue of fidelity out the window.

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Theology student said...

hi Zadok... i am glad to read your short but very enlightening expression of thoughts. Indeed, he, Fr. Mckenna, should be given a positive reaction on his honesty and bravery for facing the truth that he encoutered. He would be living a double life, that is a sinful life in that context, if he would continue his priestly life. And he would eventually add up to the increasing number of issues in the Church. However, his action of committing himself with a married woman of two kids is unjustifiable. In fact, it is really a contradiction to the teachings of the Church which he himself once promulgated. It is really quite difficult to comprehend. What happen to his priestly formation?

I am a student of theology and i am really scandalized by his actions. He should be mature enough, emotionally and spiritually, to make a sound decision. This is not a question of honesty but this is a question on morality. I just hope that things will be settled before the faithful will see it a very negative manner.

By the way, i am working on my thesis regarding affective maturity towards an integral human formation of the smeinarians. if you have some articles regarding it, i would be happy to read them and to utilize them for my thesis. I will make sure that your name will be mentioned.

pls let me know if it is ok with you.. i will be coming back here again.tnx..

Anonymous said...

Well said retort Mr. Zadok. To take two threads from two comments and tie them together idiosyncratically (is that a word?) - hollywood/romantic love- needs/wants - The overarching message of the most successful films of the 1940's(specifically "Casablanca" and "Now Voyager) is the primacy of needs of many or "right thing to do", over the wants of the romantically involved individual. So, this incident is indicative of a cultural malaise. Also, it's not only the west that insists on the value of celibacy for absolute dedication to the Higher Power.