That is one aspect of the problem. Another is the facile argument made by liberals that, if you lower the bar on the priesthood by removing the obligation to celibacy, then you'll get more vocations, better vocations, better priests, and everything will be wonderful.
Implicit in this is a very un-liberal suggestion. They wouldn't dare to say it openly; they are 'dog-whistling' it, to use political terminology. 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?' they ask. 'Well you know, married men in the priesthood wouldn't cause us these sex-abuse problems would they? Not like those homosexuals.' Nudge nudge, wink wink. I wonder what The Tablet's homosexual chums think of this argument.
The fact is that men with a disordered sexuality should not be ordained: end of story. Sex abusers - whether their victims are of the same or opposite sex - have a very seriously disordered sexuality; they should have been picked up at an early stage. If they had been, we wouldn't be faced with empty seminaries, because, as a mountain of anecdotal evidence (collected in Michael Rose's Goodbye Good Men) shows, the sexual anarchy of some seminaries in the 1970s and 1980s put many good candidates off, or forced them out. Today, potential priests have to consider putting on a suit of clothes which will inspire strangers in the street to shout 'paedophile!' at them. Yup, getting rid of the paedophiles from seminary is a win-win strategy.
|An upward sloping demand curve|
Cultivating vocations is not like selling crisps. A much better parallel would be with getting into elite institutions, such as universities, clubs, or, best of all, military units. Getting into these institutions carries a high cost, and the cost is directly proportional to the prestige of the institution, and therefore to the demand. The higher the cost, within reason, the higher the prestige, and the higher the demand. You could destroy the appeal of Oxford or the SAS or White's Club in a few years by making them open to everyone at no cost. Good candidates would go elsewhere.
With the priesthood it is not, of course, a simple matter of prestige. It is a matter of the clergy manifesting the self-sacrificial commitment of Christ. There are various personal ways in which priests may be called to do this, which can be very inspiring. As a body, they need institutional ways to manifest it to others, and to cultivate it inwardly. Clerical dress is a powerful means of doing this; the commitment to the Office and the Mass is another. Celibacy is another.
It always has been - celibacy goes back to Christ Himself. The fact that it has been compulsory in the West for all these centuries means that if we, in the West, abandoned it now, it would be a powerful signal that we were giving up on Christ as an ideal for our priests. It would be, perhaps, like the Orthodox clergy giving up their commitment to their lengthy liturgies, or the rigorous fasting of their four annual 'lents'. Is someone going to suggest that when the Latin Church gives up clerical celibacy, it should take up the things the Oriental Churches do which manifest the spiritual seriousness of their own clergy? I've not heard anyone suggest that. No, it not that critics of celibacy want to replace it with some other costly form of commitment: they want to cheapen the priesthood.
Don't be fooled: the attack on celibacy is an attack on the priesthood. The attack is led be people who consciously reject the divine foundation and supernatural vocation of the priesthood; it is followed by people who have forgotten these things. They want to cheapen the priesthood because they think it is cheap and it should be cheap. But it is not: it is something of a value beyond our comprehension. As I said about the Papacy, it is not the man who is necessarily worthy of veneration, but the office; but equally it is the man as priest who exercises the office. He can speak the words of Christ as direct, nor reported, speech: 'I absolve you', 'Do this in memory of me'. The priest is Christ among us, for all his human faults and limitations. When we need to go to Christ we can go to the priest, a human being who can be found by human means, and find Christ there.
St. Francis of Assisi used to say: "If I saw an Angel and a priest, I would bend my knee first to the priest and then to the Angel." (Read this by St Alphonsus on the priesthood.)
But this is not all: tomorrow I will argue that the attack on celibacy is an attack on marriage.