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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pax Nobiscom

WE WELCOME to Maryknoll this weekend a unique group who will be on retreat till Sunday. "Pax Nobiscum" ("Peace be with us") is a support group for former Korean priests from the tri-State area and their wives. Five couples will be here along with their spiritual director.

Their presence reminds us of the awkward limbo many of our former members are in regarding ministry and mandatory celibacy. This awkwardness has been exacerbated by the Vatican's bold overtures to entice disgruntled Anglicans to jump ship en masse, including priests (and seminarians!)—with their wives—and set up a so-called "Anglican rite" within the Roman communion.

The situation is complex is that it is not simply a matter of re-examining and perhaps relaxing the discipline of mandatory celibacy in the Roman Church, but rather of the other ancient tradition of allowing married men into Holy Orders but forbidding ordained men to marry. (Something akin to those metal spikes in the exit lane of certain parking lots. "Warning! Backing up may cause severe tire damage!" Ontologically speaking, "backing up" to marriage after having attained a higher form of existence may indeed blow out some ecclesiastical tires. But I digress...)

In both the Anglican and Orthodox churches, married men may be ordained deacons and priests. In the Orthodox church, only celibate priests may become bishops. Rome has made it clear that should married Anglican bishops return to Rome, they must forgo their episcopal rank. (I presume they do not have the option or inclination to forgo their wives. Then again, wearing a miter can be quite habit forming. But I digress again...)

It is highly unlikely the Vatican would also overturn this tradition (of Holy Orders after marriage but not the other way around) because it is, indeed, very old but also it would then alienate the Orthodox and thus set back attempts at ecumenism and unity with our Eastern schismatics.

In short, our own men who left and "attempted marriage" (in canon law jargon)—and our guests in Pax Nobiscum will still not be welcomed back to active ministry as long as they remain in their attempted married state.

Tensions can only rise among our all-too-few seminarians struggling with a decision to embrace either a lifelong commitment to celibacy or a flesh-and-blood spouse.

On a related note, Father Marty Lowery has invited the Connecticut Korean Catholic community to Maryknoll tomorrow to celebrate an 11:00 Mass. Koreans tend to be somewhat more conservative regarding church issues. I'm not sure the "Pax Nobiscum" group was aware of this coming together of different elements of the Korean church at Maryknoll when they made arrangements to meet here. Some of the formers may even be from that community. Talk about awkward. Doubtful they can be kept apart at lunch tomorrow. "Peace be with us" indeed.

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