The Catholic Church needs change, and I say this as a devout Catholic. Ever since the 2013 election of Pope Francis — a pontiff many saw as a figure of change — traditionalism and conservatism have been on the rise, especially in America. Many eyes have turned towards the pages of the past. The number of parishes that now regularly celebrate the ancient Tridentine rite of the Mass in Latin is also on the rise. Many Catholics have taken a keen interest in scholastic, often outdated, Thomistic theology. And many believe the Church is under siege and in need of protectors that can save it from its corrupt ways.
Although these reversions to old ways may disillusion some Catholics, including me, I believe we should remain in the Church and act as a force of change. There are many areas in which the Church can progress toward the future, starting with the inclusion of women and married men in the priesthood.
There is nothing inherently wrong with keeping traditions. I admire the beauty of the sung Latin Mass, marvel at the rich vestments worn by bishops and priests, and find the works of Thomas Aquinas enlightening. However, this new wave of traditionalist protection has not done the work it should do: exalting Christ and the Church that he founded. Rather, it has been used to drive the Church backwards in time, beyond the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), straying away from love and compassion and toward hermeticism and condemnation. This move could ultimately cost the Church many of its faithful, and even its survival.
The majority of Catholics likely do not desire this conservatism. Most Catholics care little for the supposed glory days that preceded Vatican II, during which the Church was much less accessible and more hostile in its moral language. Those who power the traditionalist efforts, while persistent and influential, are a minority. Their efforts to purify the Church are, in reality, drawing the faithful away from it. In recent times, church attendance has decreased dramatically, as well as the number of those who self-identify as Catholic.
Many Catholic defectors turn to other churches, like the Episcopal, Methodist, or Presbyterian congregations, or even abandon religion altogether. While these alternatives are compelling, seeing that the Catholic Church still holds outdated social notions on women and sexual minorities, I urge the faithful to remain. If we leave the Church, it will have no motivation to move forward. Only by remaining in communion with Rome we will have the power to change Rome, and there is a very good place to start: the issue of the priesthood.
Much like church attendance, the number of priestly ordinations has been in sharp decline. Fewer and fewer Catholic men choose to live a consecrated life as their vocation, largely because the requirements for priesthood are extremely limiting. Only male members of the Church can become priests, and those who do must make a vow of celibacy. This creates a limited pool of applicants that progressively dries up as the world embraces modernity. Unless this is some sort of esoteric doomsday clock, the Church needs a solution: It must allow priests to marry and allow women to become priests.
These are two demographics that the Church has repeatedly rejected, most recently with Pope Francis’ decision against ordaining married men to supply the Amazon with much-needed pastoral care. Most bishops and prelates regard this matter as unchangeable and fundamental, but that isn’t the case. The idea of priestly celibacy is not a dogma of the Church — it is merely a matter of canon law, largely based on tradition.
Priestly celibacy wasn’t formally encouraged in any region until the fourth century, and even then, many regions — most famously England — retained married priests until the 11th century, when the Gregorian Reforms cracked down on clerical marriage. Furthermore, many, if not most, of the apostles of Jesus were married, and churches like the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is recognized as having valid apostolic succession, allow married men to be ordained. This is a matter of canon law that a synod of bishops, or even the Pope alone, can change at any moment.
The matter of the ordination of women is a bit complicated but largely similar. There is no explicit canonical prohibition in the Bible for women to be ordained. This present restriction is inherited from a largely patriarchal society, where women’s roles in social and religious life were limited because of cultural standards.
There is, in fact, biblical evidence for women participating in the ministry. Mary Magdalene, one of the disciples of Jesus, was the first to witness evidence of resurrection and convey the news to the rest of the Apostles. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is largely considered to be the first and wisest of the disciples, and even before the birth of Jesus is said to have performed rituals reserved to the priesthood, such as sanctifying or baptizing John the Baptist while he was still in his mother’s womb.
There is even evidence of ordained women. Phoebe is called a deacon in Paul’s epistle to the Romans and was entrusted to the deliverance of this epistle from Corinth to Rome. There is some, yet significant, evidence that women had similar roles in the early medieval Church. However, as the Church grew in power within Europe, clerical positions were restricted to men. This is also an issue of canon law that the Pope has full authority to overturn.
Denying these changes in the admission to the priesthood makes life harder for existing priests, who are forced to move around from diocese to diocese. Refusing godly men and women an opportunity to participate will place remote regions like the Amazon in unofficial interdict, denying their faithful the spiritual and pastoral care that they need.
This piece is not an attempt at proselytism. My purpose is not to persuade the Pope, bishops, or even local priests. This is an appeal to the common, lay faithful like myself. Change seems impossible within the eternal walls of the Vatican, but it is not unheard of. Vatican II made the Church more accessible, more loving, and more forgiving. Only by raising the next generation of church leaders in this conviction will we achieve these much-needed reforms, and that starts with each of us vowing to remain in the Church. Pope Leo XIII, among others, opposed in his encyclical “Rerum Novarum” the tide of modern social change. Well now it is time we pursue “rebus novis” — new change.
Juan José López Haddad is a sophomore from Caracas, Venezuela. He can be reached at email@example.com