Dr Anthony Padovano…
Interspersed with our regular commentaries we are presently running excerpts from a lengthy, detailed and interesting analysis by former priest, Dr Anthony T. Padovano, which looks at the progress of reform in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council. This final extract from his essay looks to the future. Again it is primarily addressed to an audience of former priests but the ideas Dr Padovano raises might usefully be taken on by all of us. Just assume for a moment that Vatican II had been implemented as the Church Fathers who were there guiding it had intended and its legacy hadn't been taken over by the small gaggle of clerics who have tried to thwart it at every turn, what alternative challenges would we have had to deal with? If by some miracle tomorrow the institution did pick up again the thread of Vatican II how would we come? These are not entirely idle speculations.
Two models of the future…
Let us explore different models of the future.
We must, of course, speculate but we can do this with an admixture of reason and probability. Is this not what we do in philosophical reflection about transcendence and human knowing and even in the scientific method itself? We seek a theory with high degrees of probability.
John Henry Newman wisely observed that in many human endeavors the only certitude available comes from a convergence of probabilities, not from a cluster of absolutes.
Let us look at two models of the future:
The first model…
CORPUS was founded in 1974, nine years after Vatican II closed, six years after the wave of resignations began.
Let us assume the universal Church granted a married priesthood and we married under that pastoral provision. We might have done this before ever resigning or we might have resigned and been reinstated quickly. The model works with either alternative.
The first dilemma we would face would be Humanae Vitae (1968), the prohibition of all forms of artificial birth control.
Would we, recently married, perhaps, parents, have taken a stand against it, publicly, arguing from our experience of marriage?
Already involved in the turbulence of being the first married priests in a millennium, would we have added more controversy to our lives by opposing a papal encyclical, endorsed on the highest levels of Church authority? Would we have risked careers, ministries, income, the stability of our families? Would we have followed the encyclical in our marriage? If we did not, would we give the laity nonetheless the appearance that we did as we told them they must follow official Church teaching?
A second dilemma might concern the lack of prestige and acceptance, of influence and moral authority as celibate bishops and priests, for whatever motive, relegated us to a lesser level, a second tier of priesthood.
Would our wives and children be made to feel less welcome? Would married priests cluster together in the face of this celibate aristocracy? We would have to cope with recognition and promotions given regularly to esteemed celibate priests and with many laity who preferred the supposed spiritual excellence of unmarried priests.
Then, too, in our lifetime, a number of contentious issues that did arise might torment us. Would we have declared ourselves in favor of the ordination of women, of divorce and remarriage, of same-sex marriage? Would we have taken a stand against the authoritarianism of John Paul II? Would we have remained prudentially silent? Or might we have verbally endorsed the official position on these matters, even when we knew they were wrong? What would we counsel women who might die in delivering a child or who were pregnant with a grossly deformed child doomed to suffer intensely or who were the victims of rape and incest? However we counseled such women would their welfare and the Gospel have guided us or some other motive? Would the merits of the case or advantages to ourselves and our families have influenced our decision?
A fourth dilemma might emerge from the pressure on our wives and children to meet the unrealistic expectations of the laity. This pressure might be more intense because we would have been the first wave of married priests and we would want this model to be proven right. Would we demand from our families not something necessary for their own good but something necessary to preserve us from embarrassment? Would we insist that our families attend services they did not value because it was valuable for us that they do so? Would the freedom we were given to marry lead to the denial of freedom for our families?
Let us raise a fifth dilemma, the most frightening possibility. When the sex abuse scandal broke, would we have stood with the victims and against our bishops? Would we have confronted guilty and criminal celibate or married priests? Would we have become complicit in the cover-ups, at least by our silence, despite the urging of our wives and children that we declare ourselves? Would we have known of this abuse years before the scandal became public and been unwilling to act because our bishops said they would take care of it even as we knew they did not?
No alternative voice on any contentious, pastoral issue of the day or on the sex abuse crisis has come from the married Latin-rite priests or former Protestants in our midst. They have not spoken as husbands in defense of the rights of their wives and daughters to be ordained. They have not. Nor have they spoken strongly as fathers in defense of children abused by priests who were then protected by complicit bishops. They have not. Might we have done the same?
Was the issue with us really marriage? Or was it a whole new way of becoming Church? Would this vision, this calling we were given to stand for, be lost as we were integrated into the system as married priests? Would there just be too much to lose in acting on this vision, this calling?
I cannot answer these questions for any of us. I can suggest that this future model might have made us less happy than we are now.
The second model…
Let us now assume that all is as it was for us and that it will be so for the remainder of our lives.
Then it would seem we have achieved a great deal. For, as we noted earlier, we gained our freedom and we loved with integrity. This is no small matter.
We affirmed nothing we did not believe. We were never intimidated into silence. And we experienced the profound meaning of marriage and children or the right to them. We did not allow an institution to decide this for us.
We encountered also a deep solidarity with the world, the human family, the Catholic laity.
Our families were spared all the oppressive scrutiny and compulsive compliance of meeting the unwarranted demands of others. We modeled for the future a priesthood unafraid of marriage, indeed a priesthood all the more human and evangelical because of the marital love with which it was endowed.
We supported our families by our own work and without those dependencies that hierarchical institutions foster.
Of course, none of this is utopia. Life in the world, so to speak, does not come about without its own compromises and betrayals. The priesthood we brought with us into our new lives and the spirituality it engendered may have helped us avoid many of these liabilities.
Be that as it may, it has been a graced journey.
The future is not made up of our speculations and conditionals.
We must now hasten to add that the future is not made up of our speculations and conditionals. It is made of sterner stuff. It is fashioned from our commitments. It is not merely inherited or fated. It is made by us what it will be.
We have always been committed to God. And this God, we believe, took us down a road we had not anticipated or chosen. It is a road the Church did not see as permissible. Yet it is a road the Church had once taken and can take now if it chooses, with its integrity intact and its commitment to the Gospel assured.
We have walked this road without official endorsement and so, at times, it has been lonely, even alienating, terrifying in the beginning. The suffering and isolation have made it our road in a unique and even gratifying manner. But it was never meant to be our road alone.
We were pioneers, even, if this is not excessive, prophets. This road has given us happiness and freedom and we are grateful we did not miss it. We wish this road for everyone who can find on it what we discovered there. On this road, we met God and the Church in a new way that allowed us to become ourselves to a degree we had not anticipated.
No other road could have given us more, taken us further into the mystery of God, the Church and our consciences. No other road would leave us so much of ourselves to offer in service to others.
We almost missed this road. At moments, we were not sure we should have taken it. Only after a time on this road did it become strangely familiar. We found here all we were meant to be and the Christ who would not allow us to be less than that.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SKIP AHEAD: For the impatient the full text of Dr Padovano's address is available in pdf format on his website at: apadovano.com. The website also contains further background information.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008Dr Anthony Padovano