NPR logo

Catholic Priests And Celibacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/104021723/104021711" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Catholic Priests And Celibacy

Religion

Catholic Priests And Celibacy

Catholic Priests And Celibacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/104021723/104021711" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Photos of a popular Catholic priest cuddling with a woman on a beach fan the flames of an ongoing debate: Is it time to rethink celibacy in the priesthood? Neal Conan's guests include Jaweed Kaleem, religion reporter for The Miami Herald, Otto Maduro, professor of world Christianity and Latin American Christianity at Drew University in New Jersey and George Neumayr, editor of Catholic World Report.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

A series of racy photos reopens the long-running debate over Catholic priests and the vow of celibacy. A photographer caught a Miami priest named Father Alberto Cutie in intimate embraces with a young woman on a beach. Father Cutie is no ordinary parish priest. He's enormously popular in Miami, where he's known as Father Oprah to many who watch his TV talk show or listen to his radio show. The Archdiocese of Miami of relieved him of his duties, but many people turned out last week for an emotional protest in his support. And as he contemplates his future with his church, Father Cutie confessed to his own failings in media interviews and suggested that in the future, celibacy for priests and nuns ought to be voluntary.

Later, "The Dangerous World of Butterflies" author Peter Laufer joins us. But first, celibacy and the clergy. If you're a Catholic priest or a nun, tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

First up: Jaweed Kaleem. He reports on religion for the Miami Herald, and he joins us today from the studios of that newspaper in Miami. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. JAWEED KALEEM (Religion Reporter, Miami Herald): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And to say that he's a celebrity priest, does that sum up Father Cutie's renown there in Miami?

Mr. KALEEM: His renown goes beyond Miami. He's popular throughout the Caribbean, Latin America - the Spanish-speaking world in the U.S. and beyond. He has books. He has radio. He has TV. He's a mega-celebrity.

CONAN: Mega-celebrity. So this is something that's caused quite a shock.

Mr. KALEEM: Yes, yes. People are shocked, and it's got them talking a lot, too.

CONAN: And talking about what, in particular?

Mr. KALEEM: They're talking about if it's right to be a priest who is with a woman. And, you know, he was hiding it for a while, he says. They're talking about if this celibacy policy should still be in place. They're talking about if he, you know, if he was right - he's a - he gives advice on relationships, on marriage. And they're talking about if it was right for him to give that advice and be doing something else in the background.

CONAN: And there has been some passionate support on his behalf.

Mr. KALEEM: Passionate support. There's been multiple protests outside his church, which is on South Beach, amongst - a walk away from clubs and cafes and bars. There's many supporters shouting, you know, this is the 21st century; we should change these rules. He's a good guy. He's a great guy, and we forgive him. And let him be.

CONAN: There is also - in connection with this, I suspect - the Miami Herald authorized a poll and had it conducted - which showed a lot of support for Father Cutie.

Mr. KALEEM: It showed a lot of support. Most people said that it's okay for him to be a priest that is romantically involved. And they do not disapprove of that. The people also said that, yes, it was not right for him to hide it and lie about it. Well, he didn't actually lie about it, but to hide it from everybody.

CONAN: Not telling - coming out openly, I guess, is a lie of omission so therefore, a lie. Nevertheless, the same people who - a huge majority supported him and said that the celibacy tradition was not appropriate in this day and age, also said the church had done the right thing by taking him away from his duties right now.

Mr. KALEEM: They did say that, yes. Fifty-seven percent said that the church was right to temporarily relieve him - I'm not sure how long it will last - of his duties out of church on South Beach, of his radio station - he's the head of a radio station - and his other duties in the church as well.

CONAN: And at this moment, what do we think is going to happen with this controversy?

Mr. KALEEM: Right now, the archdiocese has not said what his future will be with the church, and Cutie himself has said that he is taking some time to reflect and think of his future. He could - it's very unlikely for him to stay as a priest in a relationship with a woman, and be in the Catholic Church. He could request to become a layperson. That process takes up to a year and has to go through the Vatican. He could also go to a different church, such as the Episcopalian church.

CONAN: And though the photographs, as he has admitted, make this look like something frivolous, he said, this is not. I've known this woman for a very long time. We're close friends. Intimacy developed just a few months ago. Nevertheless, this is the woman - if I could work out my problems with the vows of celibacy - I would like to marry and start a family with.

Mr. KALEEM: He said that he is in love, and that he is interested in marriage and kids. He didn't say immediately or when, but he wants that. He wants to be a normal man with a family.

CONAN: Normal man with a family - well, that seems unlikely to happen. Any idea when the time frame is, how long this might take?

Mr. KALEEM: It's been pretty unclear for the past two or three days exactly what his status is and what he's doing. He just said - he said he's sorry if he's hurt people. He knows he did the wrong thing by the church's rules, and he said that he's not sure what's happening next with them. So it's still - we're just waiting and seeing. It's up to him. It's his call.

CONAN: Jaweed, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. KALEEM: Thank you.

CONAN: Jaweed Kaleem covers the - religion for the Miami Herald, and joined us from a studio at the newspaper in Miami; 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'd like to hear from priests - former priests, I guess - nuns and former nuns. Is the time of celibacy over? What's the purpose of this regulation?

And let's see if we can get to the next guest. Celibacy has not always been the rule in the Roman Catholic Church. Joining us now to talk more about the abolition - evolution of that vow is Otto Maduro, professor of world and Latin American Christianity at Drew University, with us today from Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Nice to have you on the program.

Professor OTTO MADURO (World and Latin American Christianity, Drew University): Hey, good afternoon. Thank you very much.

CONAN: And as I understand it, celibacy became, well, mandatory - or almost mandatory - for Catholic priests in the 12th century.

Prof. MADURO: It's actually more complicated than that, and that's - part of the issue is that we usually a very simplified history of celibacy, including thinking that it's only one history when in fact, it has been a very diverse history depending on geographical locations, particular Catholic rites, and so on and so forth. It also depends what we understand by celibacy, because if we want to also oversimplify things, we should say that more than half of the history of Roman Catholicism, celibacy was actually optional for priests. And then again, until the 16th century, in many dioceses and parishes, it was still optional. What the Council of Trent does in 1545 and on is to make much more clear and - how do you say - defined much more of a rule that if the person wants to be a priest, that person cannot be married, and that if a person is a priest, that person cannot be married.

CONAN: So, though you say for more than half of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, celibacy was optional; nevertheless, for 450 years or so, it has not been.

Prof. MADURO: Well, and even that has not been - is also complicated. As you might know, several Episcopal married priests that have renounced the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church and have embraced Roman Catholicism have been admitted as married priests in the Roman Catholic Church. And besides that, Catholicism and communion with Rome, with the pope, is also a fixture of many Oriental churches - Maronite, Coptic and other Oriental churches where still, married men can be priests, which is different from priests being able to get married. And that is also a nuance that many people don't know about. There are many rites, and there are many periods and regions in the history of Roman Catholicism, where married men are or were admitted to be priests. But once a person is a priest, if he is not married, then that person cannot get married in most Catholic rites that are in communion with Rome, not just Roman Catholicism.

CONAN: And we're talking about priests, who are, of course, men. What about nuns? Has there been similar flexibility in the centuries about the women of the church?

Prof. MADURO: Yes. There were what were called begins(ph) in the history of the church that were women that lived basically a cloistered religious life with other women, and actually sometimes in shared monasteries with men, that lived as celibates during certain periods of their lives - for example, when their husbands were out in war, which could take years, and sometimes decades, until they came back. So they lived as nuns. They were married.

Most monasteries, though, which is a different thing from priesthood - and again, there is a confusion in many people about these two aspects of Roman Catholicism - monasteries, both men monasteries and women monasteries have an old tradition of singlehood and chastity, of not getting married or of not being married anymore - because widowers and widows can become monks in many religious orders. And actually, one of the things that can be said is that one of the important factors in pushing celibacy for the priesthood in Roman Catholicism were precisely monks that became powerful in the church and religious orders that had a tradition of a monastic life and that became powerful in certain religions or periods of the history of the church, and ended up either favoring or imposing or enforcing celibacy also for the priesthood, for the priests that did not belong to monastic orders.

CONAN: And Professor Maduro, you've talked us through a lot of history, and so bring us up to date. Is there a live debate at this moment within the Catholic Church, in the Vatican, despite whatever the stories may be about Father Cutie, is this a live issue today?

Prof. MADURO: It is, indeed. It is, indeed, worldwide, and that for many reasons, if only because the celibate Roman Catholic priesthood has undergone, in the last 30 years, such a drastic reduction that the only way to really keep up with the needs of the faithful all over the world is going to be, sooner or later, the ordination both of married men and of women, single and married.

CONAN: Well, we'll get back to that when we come back from a short break. Otto Maduro is with us. He's a professor of world Christianity and Latin American Christianity at Drew University. He's with us today on the line from Sao Paulo in Brazil.

We're talking about the debate over celibacy and the priesthood. If you are a Catholic priest or a nun, give us a call. Tell us your story on this; 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Father Alberto Cutie says he might have to leave the Catholic Church after pictures were published of him kissing and hugging a woman. He told CBS TV's "Early Show" that he does not want to be the poster boy for the debate over celibacy in the priesthood but clearly, he has stirred up that debate.

Our focus today: rethinking celibacy in the modern church. If you're a Catholic priest or a nun, tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. There's also a conversation at our Web site: npr.org. Just go there and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Otto Maduro is with us. He teaches about Christianity at Drew University in New Jersey. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And let's go to Jim, Jim with us from Boston.

JIM (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Jim.

JIM: How are you? Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JIM: My status is currently, I'm an inactive priest. I have not been laicized, and I did not leave for a relationship or anything of that nature. But I do get very frustrated when it always comes up that celibacy, you know, there are no married priests. As Professor Maduro said, there are, at least within the United States, a number who have come over from either the Episcopal or the Lutheran Church and have been accepted with open arms, along with their wives and children.

And I also know of cases of - specifically one case of a teacher in a Catholic school who is a Byzantine Rite Catholic. He was not raised as such. He went to Europe, he was married, got ordained, came back and is functioning as a priest, married with kids who are in the Catholic school.

And so I think the Vatican is very regimented and very rigid when it says that this is not a possibility because it's going on out there right now.

CONAN: So let's bring another voice into the conversation. This is George Neumayr, editor of the Catholic World Report, who's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A in Washington, D.C. And George Neumayr, is the Vatican out of step with the clergy and indeed, with the laity?

Mr. GEORGE NEUMAYR (Editor, Catholic World Report): Well, the important issue is, is the church out of step with Jesus Christ? And the answer is no. Jesus Christ said that there would be celibates for the kingdom of heaven who would work for the kingdom of heaven. St. Paul said the exact same thing. He said that those who wish to serve God without a divided heart should embrace celibacy.

So the origins of clerical celibacy go all the way back to Jesus Christ and the early church.

CONAN: Yes, and we've heard from Professor Maduro they were not applied that way for many hundreds of years.

Mr. NEUMAYR: Well, that's not true, because there were a number of priests, even during that period, who embraced celibacy.

CONAN: But it wasn't mandatory. I'm just saying it was voluntary.

Mr. NEUMAYR: Right. That's right. But if you go back and you look at a lot of the holy men of the early church, they embraced celibacy.

CONAN: Yet since it was not mandatory for many centuries, could it be made non-mandatory now?

Mr. NEUMAYR: It looks very unlikely. It's true that it is a discipline of the church, and the church can change disciplines, but I don't see the church doing that because that would represent regress, not progress. A clerical priesthood is actually a deeper and more perfect understanding of the nature of the priesthood.

CONAN: Jim, from your experience, would some flexibility - or do you stick to the rules?

JIM: Well, I think right now, the church is not sticking to the rules because it's allowing in married Episcopal and Lutheran churches who have - excuse me, clergy who have decided that the Roman Catholic Church is the more full and complete vehicle for their completion of their liturgical call. And so, I mean, it's already going on.

I mean, I have no problems with saying that - you know, agreeing with Father Neumayr, who was saying that this is something that some people are called to. But we also have the - in the Oriental Rites clergy, who are, as long as they are married before they are ordained, they are allowed to function. I think it will call for a tremendous rethinking of how parishes function, but that's happening already with the closing and combining and joining of parishes because there's only one priest.

CONAN: Jim, just a slight correction. George Neumayr is an editor, which some would regard as more powerful than a priest, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIM: I'm sorry. I was raising him to the ordained level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's okay. Don't worry about it. Thanks very much for the call, we appreciate it.

JIM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to - this is Chris, Chris with us from Leavenworth in Kansas.

CHRIS (Caller): Hello, Neal.

CONAN: Hi, Chris.

CHRIS: This is a fascinating conversation. I'm a Catholic priest, ordained nine years with the Order of Carmelites. So celibacy is a little different, since I belong to a religious order where we made a public vow to God to be celibate before we were even ordained as priests.

So as people in your conversation are saying, yes, the (unintelligible) and priests ultimately might be able to be married and function as priests as those who came over from the Protestant denominations - say, the Episcopalians or the Lutherans. But I think one thing that - I don't know if they mentioned it on your program yet - is that I think this change, if it comes about, is going to come very slowly because it would change a lot of the infrastructure in dioceses in terms of how much remuneration the priests would get.

It would also bring in issues of Catholic sexual morality in terms of, will the wife of the priest obey the very somewhat controversial encyclical of Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, banning artificial birth control? So the money issue and the sexual issues are the things that need to be brought up in terms of - at this change.

CONAN: And Chris, when you diocesan priests, you mean the parish priests, the people who we normally come in contact with.

CHRIS: Yes. Priests do a lot of work. Parish priest is your basic priest who has obedience to his bishop, and that's where the, as I understand it, the promise of clerical celibacy goes to that human authority of the bishop. But people like myself, who are Carmelites, Jesuits, Benedictines, belong to a religious order, could never get married because we made our vow to God to be celibate and embrace that as a gift we felt we could share to the church.

CONAN: Otto Maduro, is this a distinction that is significant as far as you can see?

Prof. MADURO: Oh, yes, indeed. And it's basically the same distinction that I originally pointed out between monks on the one hand and priests on the other hand. One of the things that I would add to that is that, as Mr. Neumayr said, it is true that there have always been celibate priests, priests that have not been married, that have had no sex - at least that is known - and have had no children, and that at the same time, have no requirement in that direction from the church authorities.

What is interesting and important in the present time is precisely that we have a debate around - the discussion around the issue of whether celibacy should be mandatory for all priests and required for the priesthood or, on the contrary, should we go back to the oldest and longest tradition of separating celibacy and singlehood and not having children and not being married on the one hand from the priesthood on the other hand, in the sense that they can be or not together. It's not an either-or - or was not an either-or for over 1,000 years - issue. Why shouldn't we go back to not making of it an either-or issue, especially when we have other rites in the Roman Catholic church and the Catholic church that don't have this as an either-or, and especially when we're losing so many priests in the Roman Catholic rite and have this need for more priests?

CONAN: And George Neumayr, let me ask you. That practical issue, again, reported by our first caller, the soon-to-be former priest in Boston, and indeed from Professor Maduro - as a practical matter, the church is running out of priests in this country.

Mr. NEUMAYR: That has nothing to do with this issue. That has to do with modern liberalism seeping into the church and weakening the church and making it less attractive to males, to young males. If you reduce the priesthood to social work - glorified social work, as it were - then you're obviously not going to be appealing to a large number of young males who want to give up their entire lives or sacrifice something which is very good, marriage, for the sake of building up Christ's kingdom.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Chris. Let's see if we can go now - this is Tim - excuse me, Trim(ph), with us from Long Island.

TRIM (Caller): Yes, good evening. How are you feeling?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

TRIM: Well listen, I'm the head of my order, the Order of (unintelligible) out in Long Island, and the deeper root of this conversation should be - I mean, number one, I believe personally if a priest should be married and should, you know, and should serve. I mean, it was in the Bible with Aaron. Aaron was married and had children, you know? And yes, it should be a thing where listen, you have monks like myself that are more disciplined and are adhering to the discipline that, hey, we are celibate, this is who we are, stuff like that.

I have some monks that I have under me now that are struggling. I mean, these guys are struggling. You know what I'm saying? But they know that they have to do it. Every male is different, and every walk is different, and that's the true myths of the conversation, the true nitty-gritty of the conversation. It doesn't have to do with, oh, celibacy or not celibacy. It has to do with the walk, the godly walk. That's what it has to deal with.

CONAN: And does the godly walk demand celibacy?

TRIM: Does the godly walk demand celibacy? In my book, no. In my book, no. It does necessarily have to do deal with celibacy. Again, the first churches or the first set of men that were holy, were people of Aaron, Moses. They had family, they had children, and their children grew up in the priesthood. And they were the first priests, and they went out and ministered.

So, no, this issue here doesn't have to deal with this marriage or being celibate. That is, to me, it's an irregularity right there. You know, it's merely more of a political ploy in here more than anything else, and that's pretty much my view.

And as far as the person that was on the phone talking about liberalism and the church, again, when you put church politics inside of what is really holy, you know, just - what's for God, for God, and what's for man, for man. You know what I'm saying? Leave the politics out of it.

I really believe that this thing here has two components. You have people from one end that says, listen, I'm struggling with do I want to walk - have the walk with God - it's an individual walk.

CONAN: And the other one, quickly?

TRIM: And the second one have to do with politics.

CONAN: All right.

TRIM: Has to do with power play in politics.

CONAN: Is this, George Neumayr, an issue of politics? Again, this is not stipulated anywhere. And again, as Trim points out that - this has not always been applied.

Mr. NEUMAYR: Right. But go back to St. Paul. St. Paul said that celibacy is a good state to be in because it allows you to focus on the affairs of the Lord exclusively.

St. Paul, obviously, wasn't saying that to denigrate marriage. He obviously thought marriage was also a good state. But if you're serving the Lord and you're giving yourself to the Lord entirely and serving the people of God, it is better to be in a state of freedom, which celibacy gives a person.

CONAN: Better, maybe, but could there not be two kinds of priests, two kinds of them?

Mr. NEUMAYR: Well, as you've already said on the show, that is the case right now. There are some married priests. So, this is not an either/or situation. The issue really is, do you want a majority married priesthood, do you want 70 percent of your priests to be married?

The church says no. Pope Benedict says no. He's written about this. He's talked about this. Celibacy is - corresponds more perfectly to the church's understanding of the priesthood.

CONAN: Trim, we're going to give somebody else another chance, okay?

TRIM: Okay.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. We're talking about celibacy and the priesthood.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Cecilia(ph) on the line. Cecilia with us from Colton in California.

CECILIA (Caller): Yes. Hi. I basically just wanted to say, as a Catholic young woman that I am, or at least I consider myself young, I have two beautiful children that I'm raising, and we're Catholic, our home.

I am very positive about maybe changing this situation with the priests. I feel that maybe we - the Vatican needs to start listening to us, that maybe we should give the right to priest to get married, only because there's a lot of issues like the one we have this recent priest that just, you know, was caught with another woman, you know, at the beach, kissing and hugging.

And then not only that, we've had, you know, many priests who has raped many boys and girls. So, it's important that we start changing. It's a modern world. But also, we're facing that if we decide to make changes like that, then situations such as if the priest gets married, well, then why follow the rules of the church. All that, we need to look into.

CONAN: Yes.

CECILIA: And so it's very important that…

CONAN: And I don't mean to cut you off, Cecilia, but I just wanted to give our guest a chance to respond to your interesting remarks.

Otto Maduro, is it time for the Catholic Church - you said as a practical matter, they're running short of priests - nevertheless, is it time for the Catholic Church to listen to, well, parishioners like Cecilia, or is it time for parishioners like Cecilia to listen to the church?

Prof. MADURO: Well, I think that it is time for our leadership in the Roman Catholic Church to listen more closely to the signs of the times, to listen more closely to our lay people.

Let me say a couple of things in comment to the last things that I've heard in our conversation in TALK OF THE NATION. One is, I would insist with the monk that just spoke a few minutes ago - and I really love that position. That's the position of a monk that thinks he has chosen a way that is not necessarily either their way, the only one, nor necessarily better for everybody and for the church than all the ways - but probably complimentary.

And what I would insist very much is that neither holiness nor efficiency are intrinsically tied to being either single or married, to either having or not having sex, to either having or not having a family. You can find people that are as holy and efficient among women as among men, as among married as among single.

CONAN: And Professor Maduro, I don't mean to cut you off. But I did want to give the chance for George Neumayr to get the last word in here.

Prof. MADURO: Oh, yes, please.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

Mr. NEUMAYR: I don't think that this sort of either/or situation - it's not that marriage is an obstacle to holiness. It's that the nature of the priesthood is such that it makes more sense for that person to be totally available to the people of God, and to devote themselves entirely to worshipping God.

Again, I think, you know, if you go back and you look at what Christ said and what St. Paul said and what many of the early fathers said, you would see that celibacy befits a ministry which exists for the sake of serving the Lord entirely.

CONAN: George Neumayr, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. NEUMAYR: You're welcome.

CONAN: George Neumayr joined us here in Studio 3A. He's the editor of Catholic World Report. Otto Maduro, professor of world Christianity and Latin American Christianity at Drew University in New Jersey, with us today by phone from Sao Paulo in Brazil. Thank you very much for your time today.

Prof. MADURO: You're very welcome.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.