I read in the Irish Independent of a priest in Derry, Fr Sean McKenna, who apparently told his congregation at the end of the Sunday Mass that he would no longer be their parish priest because he was going to go off with a married woman, separated from her husband. The people variously wept and applauded and gave him a standing ovation.
Do people really think at all about what they are doing? In effect, what the priest was saying was: I'm no longer going to respond to God through my vocation because I think I will enjoy life with this woman more. So instead of looking after you, I'm off to live in sin. Is that something to applaud? Far from showing any remorse at the situation he was leaving behind him, the priest simply spoke of how he was embarking on a 'loving, beautiful and life-giving relationship.'
How can a congregation applaud their priest when he announces his intention of living in sin? Some of the parishioners are reported as saying what a good priest he has always been, and how he has helped so many people. He may well be a good man in many ways, but a good priest? The reaction of his people perhaps shows how he had failed to teach them anything about sin, about real love, about sacrifice, about repentance.
The unfortunate Fr McKenna is the latest to fall victim to the modern idea that what matters in life is 'self-fulfilment' understood in terms of 'what feels good.' Augustine and many other sinners have discovered the emptiness of that!
But even more disturbing is the reaction of other Irish priests. The Passionist priest, Fr Brian D'Arcy, is reported as saying that this is a case of the Church losing good men through an 'outdated' celibacy rule. With respect to Fr D'Arcy, this argument is garbage. Are they men who would make good priests, if they insist upon priesthood on their own terms? Is this the example Christ gave us? His example was one of sacrifice, whereas so many today seem unwilling to make the sacrifice. Fr D'Arcy - not wishing to visibly rubbish the value of celibacy - says that it 'may have been suitable for a particular time but that time has now gone.'
What utter rubbish! Cases such as this show us the need for clerical celibacy and self discipline.
In a world where sexual activity is bizarrely seen as a human right (for most people), it is a celibate clergy who can convey the love of God to those who have to remain single because their marriages have failed, to those whose sexual orientation means that they are called to a life of sexual abstinence. Clerical celibacy is a proclamation before a sex-obsessed world that it is indeed possible to live a life which is both happy and fulfilled without sexual activity.
The same article quotes a Mayo priest as saying that in 30 years there will be almost no priests in Ireland. Indeed there won't if that is how the priests themselves are talking. We need to pray urgently for the priests of Ireland, that God may affirm them in their vocation, and that their hearts may be open to his love calling them to service, not to self-indulgence. It is in this way that the Church in Ireland will know a rebirth.
It has suffered so much in recent decades from the sexual scandals of priests who do not exercise a proper discipline but seek self-fulfilment in worldly and physical terms. Let us pray that its priests may show a return to the values of the Church.
Fr D'Arcy says that St Peter was married and that therefore priests should be married. We might use his own 'logic' against him and say that while there may have been a time where it was good to have married clergy, that time has now gone. Or we might simply point out that St Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, pointed out that celibacy was a better way, and that has been the path theChurch has sought, despite the failings of so many, to follow.