More Reasons to Support a Celibate Priesthood

Usually I don’t bother with pieces about “the first (y) (x),” where y = special interest group and x = profession. They always drip with a smugness that I, who looked up to the Jafar character as a child, find nauseating. The bien pensant journalist always seems pleasantly surprised their pet minorities have risen to their expectations.

But, lo! “Methodist Church appoints first transgender minister,” the London Telegraph proclaimed. So I read it for a quick, guilty hit of schadenfreude.

It’s an interesting piece, if only because the journalist can’t seem to settle on pronouns. For post-transition anecdotes, it’s “she”; pre-transition, it’s “he.” They refer to Rev. Everingham both as a mother to her children and a husband to his wife. Very difficult to follow.

That’s even not the strangest part of the article. It chronicles Everingham’s double-life before coming out as transgender, such traveling to other cities to attend trans nightclubs. His wife Ruth suspected he was having an affair, which is perfectly reasonable.

Everingham finally spilled the beans and began taking hormones 18 months ago, and claims his wife is just fine with it. “Ruth loves me for who I am, but she’s still attracted to men,” he says. “I’m not sure she is really attracted to me sexually anymore, but we’re still in love and we’re still best friends.” And, in case you were worried: “Transitioning has made our lives easier, it has become wonderfully normal.”

Despite the Telegraph’s best efforts, this doesn’t come off as a happy story, least of all for Ruth. No doubt she loves her husband, and is relieved to know he’s not struggling with his so-called gender identity anymore. But I can’t imagine she prefers being married to a trans person. And the situation may very well feel relatively “normal” to someone suffering from gender dysphoria, who’s finally able to open up about his affliction. But it can’t be “normal”—certainly not “wonderfully” so—for a woman that was happily wed to the father of her children, and has just found out he wants to have his penis surgically removed.

All of which is made worse by the fact that Everingham is now, less than two years after beginning his transition, being ordained a minister.

This is the same messy business the Episcopal Church encountered with Gene Robinson, the priest who divorced his wife to marry a male lover. He was hailed as a hero for defying those notorious bigots, the Episcopalians, who duly promoted him to bishop. (Incidentally, he’s since divorced his husband.)

I empathize with both men, and they did the responsible thing by coming clean … eventually. In the meantime, both deceived their wives. Both were unfaithful to their vows, which they made in the eyes of God. Knowing that, it was grossly irresponsible of the Episcopal and Methodist churches to ordain them as a bishop and a minister, respectively. Even by liberal Christian standards—which hold that Christian standards of monogamy can be extended to LGBT couples—they fell far short of the standard.

Of course, Robinson was also a cause célèbre for the secular media. The celebrity status went to his head, and he was bootless as a bishop—though, admittedly, he’s a competent liberal ideologue.

Judging by his Twitter, the same will be true of Everingham. Over half of its content is LGBT propaganda; what pertains even remotely to religion is in the context of sexual-identity politics. And how could it be otherwise? He’s not a media darling because he’s a Methodist minister: it’s because he’s a transgender Methodist minister. There are perhaps 100 congregants who look to him as a pastor, and thousands upon thousands of secular liberals who look to him as a champion of “transgenderism.” To whom do you think he’ll feel more responsible?

What’s more, clergymen aren’t just preachers: they’re also psychologists, counsellors, and social workers. That’s why every reputable Christian sect requires broad and extensive training before ordination. It’s also why they put candidates through extensive psychological examination. Ministers have to be mentally stable enough to discharge their duties to their parish. Is Everingham, who’s only now confronting his gender dysphoria, capable of effectively shepherding his flock?

Mainline Protestant churches’ ordination standards are falling, and their faithful are suffering for it. This was a constant theme during my years as an Episcopalian. Two of the priestesses at my local parishes were divorced housewives who had “late-in-life vocations.” More than half of their sermons were about the trauma of divorce, and how the experience brought them closer to Jesus.

To the other (predominantly elderly) parishioners, maybe it sounded “transgressive.” To me, it was tedious and embarrassing I didn’t want to hear about how they hid under the blankets, ate ice cream, and cried for weeks. But that was the only frame of reference they had. Religion filled the gap in their lives left by their husbands—which is good, in its way. As Augustine would tell us, there are worse ways to find Christ. But not everyone who finds him is automatically suited to take up the mantle of his apostles, and even then, these women seemed to me uniquely unsuited.

But how could the Episcopal Church, which prides itself on being “tolerant” and “affirming,” turn them away from seminary? Yes, they’re obviously quite emotionally unstable. Yes, they’ve got custody of their children, and are raising them as single mothers. But the Episcopal Church has gobs of money and doesn’t even take its own ministry seriously. They can afford to pay middle-aged women to show up on Sunday morning, put on their vestments, rubbish their ex-husbands, and then go home to their kids. The Church is the bride of Christ, after all; why can’t she be a homemaker?

Our priests, on the other hand, are given the most rigorous training of any denomination. They’re given the most thorough psychological examinations, especially in the wake of the tragic child-abuse scandal. And they’re celibate, which means they’re completely wed to their parishes.

But now the Pope might change that. We’re floating the idea of married priests, which means we’re also floating the idea of separated (possibly even divorced) priests, and single-father priests. Sexually active priests may discover later in life that they’re gay, and won’t have any experience whatsoever with celibacy, which is much harder to pick up after decades of marital congress.

That’s the kind of unpleasantness I hoped to avoid by becoming Catholic. And while I certainly wouldn’t leave the Church if the mandate was lifted, I couldn’t help but feel betrayed.

Sex has infested everything. Every cultural signpost demands we indulge every base urge—however disordered, however fleeting. Only our priests stand apart. They’re proof that men can lead full lives and enjoy meaningful relationships without carnality. They’re proof that manhood isn’t defined strictly by the structure or use of one’s genitalia. They’re our last and best line of defense against this nascent fertility cult, which begs us to hold our gaze slightly below the navel.

That cult is the cause of our vocations crisis, not the celibacy mandate. And we can’t defeat it by making concessions. If we accept that men are somehow less capable of abstaining from intercourse now than they were fifty years ago, half the battle is already lost. We need clerical celibacy now more than ever.

Michael Warren Davis

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Michael Warren Davis is U.S. Commissioning Editor for Catholic Herald. His work has appeared in The Spectator and The Salisbury Review, among others.

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