For years, the Roman Catholic system has been experiencing a shortage of men entering the priesthood. Pope Francis is now considering the possibility of ordaining married men as priests, especially in rural areas. Granted, the media exposure of priestly sexual abuse spanning decades has demythologised the gnomic claim of priestly celibacy as a “brilliant jewel” which “radiantly proclaims the reign of God.” As if self-restraint can be wished on clerics by an ink on paper, the Code of Canon Law says:
“Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity” (III: 277:1).
For the first 4 centuries of the church, most Christian leaders were married. Even popes were married up until the 9th century. In 1018, Pope Benedict VIII forbade marriage for priests and the First Lateran Council in 1123 finally prohibited it. After the Council of Trent, the penalty for priests or nuns who violated the canon law on marriage is excommunication. How Rome will now overturn its own “infallible” decree after 10 long centuries remains an amazing spectacle to behold.
I had a Catholic friend who led a dissolute life of sex and booze even though he was a seminarian at the time. We lost contact for several years but when I saw him on Facebook recently, he was now a priest at a parish in Delta State. As we chatted, I quizzed him, “You’ve stopped all those stuffs you used to do right? You’d be better now that you’re a priest.” He laughed “Better? I’m worse! Back in those days I was still good, but now I’m doing worse stuffs!” Such an admission to an outsider is like a diamond in a coalmine.
Celibacy is not solely the root of the depravity and corruption in the Catholic clergy – power is another. A maxim says: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s not as if priests, nuns or popes are inherently more prone to promiscuity than others. Many of them started out with high morals and spiritual aspirations – however unbiblical their system is – but it was the privilege, power and authority which Rome’s hierarchical system conferred on them that perverted and destroyed them. Nothing destroys an unregenerate individual faster than a position of power. Even the spiritually immature find it hard to stay afloat the cesspool of power.
Catholic historian, Ignaz von Dollinger, in The Pope and the Council, wrote about a legend in which Constantine burnt written accusations against the bishops when it was laid before him, saying that “the bishops were gods, and no man could dare to judge them.” This absolutist code still pervades Rome’s hierarchy and all forms of abuse hinge around power and control. “I had to keep a mask on my face like nothing was going on, but on the inside you’re crying” says Alicia, a sex abuse victim. “Who is going to believe me over a priest? I’m just a young Black girl.” The authoritarianism of the Catholic clergy absolves them of their crimes and renders their victims utterly powerless.
Even Rome’s ecclesiastical titles reflect the currency of power. The Catholic Encyclopedia says: “Instead of addressing patriarchs as ‘Vostra Beautitudine,’ archbishops as ‘Your Grace,’ bishops as ‘My Lord,’ abbots as ‘Gracious Lord,’ one may without any breach of etiquette salute all equally as Monsignor.” The word “monsignor” means “my Lord” and “arch” means “master,” so archbishop and arch priest literally mean master bishop and master priest which dubiously elevates them to the same footing as Jesus: “You call me Master and Lord, and rightly so.” (Jn. 13:13). But He warned: “for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.” (Mt. 23:8).
The Pope is called “Most Holy Father” but the title “Holy Father” appears only once in the Bible and it’s used for God (Jn. 17:11). Why should this title be attributed to an earthly creature? We are warned against using the religious title of “father” because it diverts the reference people should have for Jesus to imperfect and sinful men (Mt. 23:9). Notably, the Catholic priest is called “another Christ” (sacerdotus alter Christus). This god-like pedestal on which priests and popes are placed gives them much power over Catholics and such religious absolutism was precisely what Jesus denounced among the Pharisees. They too had their religious garbs, special seats, religious showbiz and rites which gave them control over the people (Mt. 23:1-12).
Christ’s death has torn apart the veil of the temple. No need to go to God through human priests again. Every Christian is now a priest and Jesus is our High Priest. All who have been washed from their sins by Christ’s blood are “priests unto God” and are “a royal priesthood” (Rev. 1:6, 1 Pt. 2:9). Rome dare not teach this truth because she will lose her hold on the laity. The Bible commands church leaders: “Do not lord it over the group which is in your charge, but be an example for the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
But as the centuries went by, false leaders began to lord it over the people, teaching them that they needed a priest to listen to their sins and absolve them, sprinkle them, give them last rites and say masses for them. A powerful system of priestcraft soon developed and Jesus, the true High Priest became clouded from their view by dark veils of man-made traditions. Any system of priesthood, whether professing to be Christian or not, that is contrary to the priesthood of all believers which the New Testament teaches is an abomination before God.