As a Roman Catholic, I have heard more than the usual share of other Catholics expressing frustration about the Church’s handling of what seems to be a never-ending controversy. Great harm has come to some young people who have been the victims of molestation and similar behavior by a small percentage of priests.
No amount of public relations, particularly the bungled job coming out of the Vatican, could possibly solve what has been an ongoing string of controversies that is now starting to give Catholicism across the world a black eye. I understand that I am hitting very touchy ground in what I am about to propose. I take comfort in knowing that the Church has, in essence, already been dabbling with a form of my idea.
In American college athletics, such as football, it has become common practice to "redshirt" many promising new players, usually first-year players. That means allowing them to practice with the team and learn the plays; in essence, to do everything except participate in even one play in a game. Then they have four more years of eligibility in which to compete in regulation games.
The secret that most Americans and most Catholics don’t know is that the Church has, since Pope John Paul II, started to allow — particularly among Episcopal priests — the "redshirting" of those who want to become priests in the Roman Church. They first enter the Episcopal Church as priests. They are either already married or are planning to get married, as that particular faith allows among its clergy. These priests basically follow the Anglican version of much of the Catholic religion, but may then begin to crave the other "Roman" aspects that are so characteristic of the Catholic Church.
Following the "redshirt years" of these married Anglicans, the Roman Church, through an exception made by the Vatican, allows them to become Catholic priests. While I’m sure this constitutes a small percentage of Catholic priests, it should also be known that deacons in the Church, who often perform many of the tasks that priests once did, are also allowed to marry.
I am not a rebel within my church. In fact, I enjoy the more conservative interpretation of the scriptures. But we now live in an age when even the purest of heart are barraged by media with sexually charged material, or at least subliminally stimulating images and ideas about sex. This extends from entertainment all the way into everyday conversations.
It has now reached the point that the Church must confront the inevitable. Its demands of celibacy and unmarried church careers for its priests and others no longer constitute a tenable interpretation of the scriptures in the modern world. This may well result in a Church that refuses to face the devastating consequences of sexually frustrated clergy; a clergy that contains some who, try as they might, end up falling prey to temptation by trying to quench their natural passions by exploiting those most conveniently under their control — children.
It’s time for the Church to start addressing the cause that keeps this controversy alive year after year. An immediate move by the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry is not in the cards. I believe it will eventually happen, or the Church will just as eventually whither in influence, by dint of fear and loathing from the world, including from more and more of its own Church members.
In the interim, perhaps those wanting to enter the priesthood, and who have a normal attraction to adults of the opposite sex, could first enter a Roman Catholic version of what some other churches now offer. Later they could become full-fledged Catholic priests.
My guess is that a "redshirt" program would fill up as fully as a football stadium. And whatever logic the Church used to make exceptions for the currently married priests wanting into the Roman priesthood could eventually be applied more universally.
The current apologies and poorly attempted excuses by the Catholic Church are running thin, even with many Catholics. It’s likely time for the Church to become creative in dealing with the root cause of a never-ending stream of repeat sexual offenses.