In an interview just last year, now-Pope Francis was very frank about the natural attraction of heterosexual men toward women, and was compassionate about dealing with priests who had strayed.
"When I was a seminarian, I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle's wedding. I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance... and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing."He eventually rethought his commitment to the Church, deciding against marriage and for the celibate priesthood.
At this point in the church's life, I probably could not hope for a better outcome than this. Rather than dealing with body-denying nonsense of previous church leaders, here we have a man who humbly and unashamedly describes knowing the physical longing that comes with attraction to another human being. While we don't know the details of his decisions to remain celibate, it doesn't appear, on the surface anyway, that it involved blaming the woman for his own desires, casting her as a fatal lure sent by the Devil.
This is a very positive sign. And for men like me, who grew up hoping to be priests--only to be foiled by our hormones and a decision to live a full human life--it is a sign that our time may yet come.
Let's face it. There is little scriptural support for a lifelong commitment to celibacy. True, Jesus and Paul were most likely celibate -- Jesus from an urgency to preach the coming kingdom, and Paul because he tells us so. "For I would that all men were even as I myself. "(1 Cor 7:7). But the Apostles were married and went around with their wives. "Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (1 Cor 9:5)
So why can't I?
I accept that there were times in history when a celibate priesthood made sense. When a priest was able to pass along parish assets to his own family, that was a recipe for bad feelings. But celibacy is no guarantee against a priest enlarging his pile -- I have heard of at least one priest who was given a car and a house (!) by his doting parishioners, and refused to return them when he left the priesthood. The bad feelings persisted for years.
But I have hope. Hope that a discussion about celibacy can begin, and that it be implemented somehow, at least in parts of the world that are hemorrhaging priests -- like the US and Europe. Yet there are many obstacles. Would a conservative laity accept such men as their leaders? Would there be jealousy from current priests, who might be held to their vows? Would married priests have to stay widowed, as do deacons, if their spouses died? And what about the other hot button issues? How about married men who had practiced contraception -- either by assenting to letting their wives take the Pill or by having a vasectomy? Is being admitted to the priesthood worth having your medical records pored over by smirking prelates? And how about the married man who might have to assent to a belief that his wife (or some other holy woman) cannot be a priest as well? Not to mention the likelihood that a whole host of laicized priests might man the queue in front of me.
There's a long way to go before we have to deal with these questions. But I am grateful that a door has perhaps been unlocked and is being held tightly, but slightly ajar.