“The word is celebrate” is the title of an old and poignant joke about the Catholic Church’s position on the sexual habits of its priests – the current position has been in effect since the 11th century. Before that date, celibacy was not the rule, and the gospels do not mention it at all. In fact, one of the main reasons the Catholic Church introduced the concept of celibacy was purely self-serving: Priests with no children were more likely to leave their assets to the Church.

     The joke goes like this:

A novice in a monastery is assigned to the scriptorium, to learn how to copy books. (This was before printing had been invented). One day, after several years of study and practice, the novice asked the father-in-charge a question. He said, “Father, I have learned a lot, and I try not to make any mistakes in copying the old books, but I’m afraid I may make some mistakes, and that made me think that others might have done the same before me. I may be copying earlier mistakes”. “That’s a good point”, said the father. “Why don’t you go down into the lower crypt, where we keep the oldest books, and check”. The novice went down.

   Three hours later he had not returned and the father became worried, so he went down to check on him. He found the novice sitting on the floor in the corner crying his eyes out. “My son, my son, what’s the matter?” asked the father. “Father”, replied the novice, “the word is celebrate”.

     I was reminded of this joke when I read an article that suggested the Catholic Church might be considering letting priests marry, as a way of combating sexual abuse. The article said that Pope Francis has opened a process whereby all 1.4 billion Catholics can have a say about the future of the faith. The article states categorically that “If they want to reduce the scourge of sexual abuse by priests, they should demand an end to the rule requiring priestly celibacy”.

     Considering the pecuniary origins of the original mandate, and the fact that celibacy is nowhere mentioned in the Gospels, this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch if handled historically and properly. However, overcoming 1100 years of tradition might prove too much for the faithful, which would be unfortunate. I can’t think of a single other mandate that would better serve restoring faith in the Catholic hierarchy, if that’s even possible.

     Protestant denominations have shown that married clergy can successfully handle their families and their flock. Indeed, some would say, being married brings them closer to their parishioners. It certainly would increase the pool from which priests can be chosen, and that might also address the Catholic Church’s desperate shortage of priests.

     Perhaps the even greater heresy for the Catholic Church, married women priests, could also come up for discussion.

     However, whether any of these possibilities would actually produce change is probably debatable. Certainly the more fanatical elements of the Catholic Church would fight them tooth and nail. Popes have been assassinated for less.

     The Da Vinci Code may well have been much closer to the truth than even the producers of the film believed. Certainly, the Catholic Church’s massive over-reaction to the book and the film would indicate how close to reality the story actually was.

     As a complete non-sequitur, I am reminded of one of the last lines in the film “The Hunt for Red October” when Sean Connery says to Alec Baldwin “A little revolution, now and then, is a good thing, don’t you think?”

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