So Pope Francis has called for an “all-out battle” against clerical sex abuse — no specifics on what the battle would entail, but it’s a start. As a lowly Catholic laywoman who’s all but voiceless in the church, I urge Il Papa and everyone with a say in the hierarchy to consider the following:
Let priests marry.
Maybe not all of them will want to; maybe some will choose to take a vow of celibacy. If they’re called to it, they should. When news of the scourge first broke in the early 2000s, a lot of people questioned whether the vow itself was the problem — whether a life of sexual abstinence inevitably led its practitioners toward a twisted and criminal dark side. I didn’t believe that then. I don’t now.
But I do believe we would all be better off in a church with married priests. To me, the problem with the church then, the problem with the church now, and the problem with the church’s history of covering up abuse and shuffling around the molesting clerics all boils down to this: No one in the hierarchy is a parent.
If parents had been in charge? No way in hell all of those monstrous priests would have been reassigned. The bulk would have been fired, defrocked, excommunicated, busted, brought up on charges and kicked on their asses into prison. There would have been some small sense of moral reckoning, not this lingering, decades-long suspicion that too many higher-ups in the Catholic Church just didn’t get it and never would.
Part of the problem has always been the boys-club element, the No Girls Allowed, and I’m with everyone who calls for women in the priesthood. The novelist Alice McDermott has a brilliant piece in The New York Times advocating for same. “For the male leaders of the Catholic Church, the lives of women and children become secondary to the concerns of the more worthy, the more powerful, the more essential person — the male person, themselves,” she writes. “The Catholic Church needs to correct this moral error.”
And I agree. Wholeheartedly. Had women occupied the Vatican, the bishoprics and the rectories around the world, there’s a chance that at least some of those outrages might not have occurred. There’s also a chance that abusive priests might have been reported to the police.
But I also feel that this isn’t a man/woman issue. This is a life/love issue. It’s a matter of engagement in one of life’s most mundane and sacred mysteries — raising children — and the ferocious love engendered by it. How can an institution comprehend the divine if it isn’t fully human? Wouldn’t the church be wiser and more loving if a few of the folks in charge truly understood what it means to be a father or a mother?
Parents know that nothing matters more than a child’s well being. Parents know their mission on earth is to protect them. Parents know the madness of loving a child, the joy of loving a child, the fierceness of loving a child, the single-mindedness of loving child, the frustration of loving a child, the incomprehensible, inexplicable, sublime and mind-altering hugeness of loving a child.
I’ve been Catholic for almost 29 years now. Despite the church’s problems and my various disagreements with it, I still attend weekly Mass. I still receive the Eucharist, which inspired me to convert in the first place. But I never felt closer to God than I did when giving birth. I never felt more at one with the body of Christ or the sisterhood of humanity, and I never felt more humbled and awed. My kids are now 25, 23 and 18. I’m still awed. My love for them still brings me closer to God.
When they were little, I always told them this: There’ll be married priests in my lifetime, women priests in yours. I still sticking with my prediction, but I’m 55 now, and I’d rather not push it.
Married priests now, Papa. Please.