Thursday, September 25, 2003

If married priests are the solution,


you must admit there is a problem. It is the conventional wisdom that all problems, from the sex scandals to the vocation shortage, can be solved if we would simply have married priests. Marriage is the panacea to cure all that is wrong. But there is a conclusion implicit in this affirmation that most who make it wouldn't like: Consider this quote from St. Augustine: Why do you acknowledge that there is a necessary remedy for lust yet contradict me when I say that lust is a disease? If you recognize the remedy, then recognize the disease as well.

Why is marriage a solution, according to the anti-celibates? Because it provides a sexual "release." (I don't like speaking of sex in plumbing metaphors, but that is where we are in a post-Freudian world.) If men aren't married, then, the argument goes, soon they will be chasing the altar boys, since unreleased sexual pressure is apt to burst out in inappropriate ways. So the marriage argument assumes that sex is a Bad Thing that needs to be controlled, an appetite that is not governable by reason.

But, as Augustine notes to Julian of Eclanum, it makes no sense to propose marriage as a solution if you aren't willing to admit that sex is a disordered appetite. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, if sex were just another appetite, then there would be clubs where people went in order to stare food; a strip club, but for food. After all, hunger and sex are just appetites, aren't they? Once you admit it that the sexual appetite is a disordered appetite, you are on the road to the Christian understanding of original sin, a conclusion that might, perhaps, lead you to affirm the necessity of salvation and to hope for the efficacy of the sacraments as a remedy to sin. It might even lead you to think that the bad old Church was right all along in its restrictive sexual morality: after all, if sexual desire is screwed up, it needs tight controls in order to be used correctly, just like an alcoholic needs strong controls to control a disordered desire for drink. Thus we have the teachings on marriage, homosexuality, masturbation, etc. in order to insure that human reason remains the master and the appetites remain the servants.

Onse suspects that the supporters of a married priesthood are not willing to admit that there is anything wrong with fulfilling sexual desires. If that is the case, their position is, as Augustine noted 1600 years ago, incoherent.

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