The Daily Mail has an article about Monsignor John McSweeney, pastor of the largest Catholic church in the US. Msgr. McSweeney has taken the position that priests should be allowed to marry. He appears to take the position that someone in a same-sex “marriage” should be able to serve in an official capacity in the Church. He also has a fear of “young” and “conservative” priests.
First off, I need to take issue with the Daily Mail headline. They write:
Priest at America’s largest Catholic church says the church should let clerics drop vow of chastity and be allowed to marry – and to be more open to LGBT parishioners
What’s wrong here is a misunderstanding about “vow of chastity.” Everyone is called to chastity, including married couples. Chastity and celibacy, you see, are two different things.
To be chaste is simply to live according to the teachings of the Church on sexuality. A married couple who are having conjugal relations in accordance with Church teaching ARE living chastely. A nun who is celibate is living chastely, as is a priest who is celibate. A teenager who abstains from sexual activity is living chastely. Priests, if they were allowed to marry, would still be expected to live chastity. That is, they would be encouraged to have conjugal relations in accordance with Church teaching.
As for Msgr. McSweeney’s position that priests should be allowed to marry, this is a matter of opinion. It is not doctrinal. It is a discipline. In other words, if the teaching were to change, it would not mean that the Church has been wrong all these years. Disciplines can be temporary or permanent. Disciplines can change. Doctrines can develop, but not change to a contradiction.
I would argue that the celibacy of priests is a discipline that has served the Church well and that there is very little reason to change it now. With over a billion Catholics in the world, we still have enough priests to go around, for the time being. If the pool of available candidates were to drastically shrink, it might be time to consider it.
In his interview with the Charlotte Observer, Msgr. McSweeney says that he is afraid of “young” and “conservative” priests. He says that they want to “reform the reform” by cutting back on Eucharistic ministers and by allowing only boys to serve at the altar. “I don’t endorse what they’re doing to God’s people,” he says.
My thinking is that it’s a form of unholy pride to demand to serve at the altar. To put your child (as an altar server) in the middle of that struggle, especially, is dangerous. But maybe that’s just me. As a Catholic woman, I have no problem with the tradition of a “male only” liturgy. I can’t imagine what the problem is for those who say otherwise. Pride is the only answer that I can come up with.
Msgr. McSweeney hosts “an annual Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics in the the diocese.” There’s nothing wrong with that, provided that they are chaste or provided that they don’t receive Holy Communion. One or the other. It does appear that this may not be the case, given his opinion on Steav Bates-Congdon:
Some may question McSweeney’s record on inclusion. In 2013, for example, St. Matthew bowed out of hosting Mecklenburg Ministries’ annual interfaith Thanksgiving service rather than formally invite music director Steav Bates-Congdon to help organize the event. Bates-Congdon had been fired the year before by another Catholic church after he traveled to New York to marry his longtime male partner and then put the wedding photos on Facebook.
McSweeney, who participates in celebrating an annual Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics in the the diocese, said his issue with Mecklenburg Ministries was “you don’t tell me who to invite.” Also, at the time, Bishop Jugis had just championed a 2012 campaign to amend the N.C. Constitution to reaffirm the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. (That ban was later thrown out by federal courts.)
I know that some of you are freaking out about that. Don’t freak out. Pray.
I wish Msgr. McSweeney all the best as he leaves his parish at age 75. I also wish those young, conservative priests all the best on their journey.