Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Qais Ghanem, MD


Why Shouldn't the Clergy Be Allowed to Marry?

Posted: 02/27/2013 12:32 pm

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has evoked active commentary lately, and produced varying interpretations as to the underlying cause or motive. The last time that happened was more than 600 years ago.

I thought it was a great idea, because the Pope himself recognized the danger of continuing in that very elevated position at a time when his mental capacity was undergoing significant deterioration. As a qualified neurologist, I know that dementia is usually a very insidious process which the victim and sometimes his inner circle, do not recognize until sufficient atrophy and damage have occurred. Now we read in the press speculation that the real reason for this resignation has to do with some financial and other irregularities within the Catholic Church, which may culminate in a criminal investigation. No doubt, the truth will eventually be known with the passage of time.

Would it not be a great idea if such voluntary changing of the guards occurred in all countries and institutions? The queen of the Netherlands recently abdicated in favour her son. On the other hand, Silvio Berlusconi is contesting the elections in Italy, as we speak, at the age of 80! It is safe to say that people in power do not want to give it up.

But, irrespective of the achievements of such people, would it not make sense for the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan and the British Queen, and the Mufti of Al-Azhar to abdicate in favour of a younger replacement at the appropriate age? What stops them from doing so? Is it vanity? Is it the huge drop in status? Is it the call of duty?

The other current hot subject surrounding the Catholic Church is that of the necessity or otherwise of celibacy. After all, celibacy was not demanded of the clergy before the 12th century. The justification of celibacy which I have read is that it is a wonderful voluntary sacrifice by the clergy, made willingly to God, allowing them to devote all their time and thought to serving Him without the distraction of the desires of the flesh. And yet we all know that those carnal desires have been too frequently exercised against young boys and girls throughout history. How is that surprising when we know that so much conflict and crime occurs among the non-clergy precisely because of that innate insurmountable sexual desire that resides within every woman and man, however much they may deny it?

The recent clamour to permit Catholic priests to marry is an excellent development, which should be encouraged. After all, non-Catholic clergy, who do marry are presumably equally dedicated to God and their church. The clergy of other religions too are meant to be dedicated to serving God, and their own sexual experiences do not seem to prevent such dedication. Indeed they do not have to suffer that deprivation which builds up just like thirst and hunger do with the passage of time, and can therefore concentrate on their missions in life without abusing little boys and girls under their supervision and in their trust.

When I was a child, my father, a highly educated man with a Ph. D. from London University, used to repeat this story: A Catholic priest invited a Muslim imam to dinner to break down barriers. At dinner, he offered the imam a glass of excellent wine, which the imam declined, explaining that his religion forbade him to drink it. The priest said to his guest "You don't know what you're missing!" At the end of the dinner, the imam thanked his host profusely and asked him to convey his compliments to his wife on her excellent cooking; upon which the priest explained that he did not have a wife and was not allowed to have one. The imam turned round and said "You don't know what you're missing!"

In Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who submitted his resignation on Monday, raised the issue recently, pointing out that such celibacy was not part of the teachings of Christ. The current discussion about annulling celibacy rules for catholic priests will probably go on for several years, but I would predict that the church will eventually relent, and cancel the celibacy requirement. But what I have noticed during these debates is that celibacy discussions revolve round priests, with little or no discussion about nuns who harbour similar desires. Is that because nuns play a lesser role, or because their husbands are more likely to influence their behaviour, to the detriment of their function in society?

Loading Slideshow...
  • Cardinal Peter Turkson

    LONDON - SEPTEMBER 17: Energy secretary Chris Huhne and Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson attend a State Banquet in honour of Pope Benedict XVI at Lancaster House in on September 17, 2010 in London, England. Pope Benedict XVI is conducting the first state visit to the UK by a Pontiff. During the four day visit Pope Benedict will celebrate mass, conduct a prayer vigil as well as beatify Cardinal Newman at an open air mass in Cofton Park. His Holiness will meet The Queen as well as political and religious representatives. (Photo by Chris Radburn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

  • Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

    Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, splashes holy water during his visit to the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem on February 27, 2008. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Cardinal Marc Ouellet

    TRIER, GERMANY - APRIL 13: Cardinal Marc Ouellet holds a mass in celebration of The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe at the Cathedral of St Peter on April 13, 2012 in Trier, Germany. The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe runs from April 13 to May 13, during which hundreds of thousands pilgrims are expected to view the Holy Robe. The robe, said to have been worn by Jesus Christ leading up to his crucifixion, is housed by the cathedral and rarely displayed for public viewing. (Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)

  • Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

    The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi poses during the presentation of Pope Benedict XVI's new book 'Childhood of Jesus' to the press on November 20, 2012 at the Vatican. “Childhood of Jesus” is the third volume of Joseph Ratzinger's 'Jesus of Nazareth' series. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (L)

    Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (L) and the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola chat at La Scala theatre in Milan on June 1, 2012 during the 7th World Meeting of Families. Benedict attended a concert at the prestigious Scala opera house to hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim. AFP PHOTO / POOL / DANIEL DAL ZENNARO (Photo credit should read DANIEL DAL ZENNARO/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

    President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Vatican City Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (C) pay his respects at the Golden Temple Sikh Shrine in Amritsar on November 11, 2011. Tauran along with four members visited the city to attend a religious seminary on Sikhism and Christians to be held at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar on November 12. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

    Pope Benedict XVI talks with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of CEI (Italian Bishops' Conference), during an audience with the Curia for Christmas greetings, in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, in Vatican City, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. The Pope met with Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia for an exchange of greetings ahead of the year end festivities. (AP Photo/Claudio Peri, Pool)

  • Cardinal Timothy Dolan

    New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks to the press in his residence, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Dolan says he was as startled as the rest of the world about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will resign later this month due to failing health. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

    Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines takes place for an audience with the pontif on November 26, 2012 at Paul VI hall at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI led an audience to the six non-European prelates appointed two-days ago as new members of the College of Cardinals. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Cardinal Francis Arinze

    Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, right, arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013. Cardinals from around the world have gathered inside the Vatican for their first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI's decision to retire. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) CORRECTION: An earlier photo incorrectly identified Bernard Cardinal Agre, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cote D'Ivoire as Cardinal Arinze


Follow Qais Ghanem, MD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dialogue_979_FM