The negative headlines have been so numerous lately, that America is in danger of forgetting that the vast majority of priests and deacons are in fact decent, caring human beings. Headlines, sound bites, and movies also present a monolithic picture of priesthood that does not reflect the diversity of priests in the United States.
Not all priests are Roman Catholic. In Hollywood and newspaper depictions, priests are so uniformly Catholic that it seems redundant to read “Catholic priest.” However, the Episcopal Church, Orthodox churches, and various Anglican churches all ordain priests.
Not all priests are celibate. Anglican priests have enjoyed marriage since Edward VI ruled England. The Orthodox Church has never uniformly required its priests to be celibate; in fact, this was one of the issues that split the East and West during the Middle Ages. Even the Roman Catholic Church is not absolute in its requirement of celibacy; priests cannot marry after ordination, but Protestant or Episcopal ministers who convert to Catholicism may be ordained as Catholic priests even if married.
Not all priests are men. The Episcopal Church has been ordaining women since the early 1970s. The highest title in the Episcopal Church is held by the 26th Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.
In fact, the Roman Catholic Church pretty much stands alone in limiting the priesthood to celibate men. Perhaps the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican should concern themselves with reforming the priesthood rather than reforming nuns and Girl Scouts. Consider the heritage of male-only leadership in the church. Birth control has been condemned even in countries where overpopulation and drought cause starvation. Wives of HIV-positive men in Africa were counseled not to protect themselves during sex, since using protection might prevent pregnancy. As late as the 1950s, the Catholic Church castrated boys who exhibited homosexual tendencies or complained of abuse by priests. In recent history, priests who molested children were coddled and shifted to new territory, while women who sought ordination were excommunicated.
Last month I wrote about the Roman Catholic offensive on U.S. nuns and the Girl Scouts of America. This fear of women (and girls!) results from a thousand years of leadership by celibate men. Lacking wives and daughters, these men also lack the ability to have any sort of compassion on women. Or perhaps it works the other way around; certain men may be drawn to religious orders that allow them to simultaneously distance themselves from scary female beings while also exercising power over them.
One last thing — Not all priests and bishops dislike Girl Scouts. About the same time the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops was excoriating the Girl Scouts as a “radicalized organization,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was posing with little girls in brown and green vests to celebrate 100 years of scouting at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Jeannie Babb is a Ringgold native. You can find her on FaceBook or pedaling a neon green bike through the Sewanee fog to the School of Theology, black academic gown billowing behind like a sail. Send email to email@example.com.