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Qais Ghanem, MD Headshot

Why Shouldn't the Clergy Be Allowed to Marry?

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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?

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