Untier of Knots?

A prediction that Pope Francis will move on clerical celibacy.

Wonkette points to Pope Francis breaking a tradition by washing the feet of two young women prisoners in the nice Maundy Thursday rite he shares (in a bowdlerised dry form) with Queen Elizabeth II. Wonkette doesn’t draw any conclusions, but I think it’s another straw in the wind.

Line up the other data points.

  • The young Jorge Bergoglio had an major adolescent crush on a girl, Amalia Damonte, now 76. Later as a seminarian he fell for another girl seen at a dance. He seems to have sublimated desire on the positive route of troubadour idealisation rather than the more typical fearful misogyny.
  • He is close to the Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic churches that sprung from them. He had a formative friendship with a saintly Ukrainian Catholic priest, Stefan Czmil, and speaks Ukrainian. These traditions – including those in communion with Rome – allow married parish clergy, but not bishops. (The term “Uniate” is no longer PC: you learn something every day from Wikipedia.)
  • His statement as cardinal on clerical celibacy was a defence of the current Catholic line, couched in notably lukewarm and conditional language:

    For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures. What happens is that the scandals have an immediate impact. Tradition has weight and validity

    Francis clearly doesn’t find the idea of priestly sex icky.

  • He is a Jesuit, skilled in threading doctrinal and practical needles, and a devotee of a rather sweet cult of Mary Untier of Knots. The founding image is a second-rate piece of German baroque:
    Mary-Untier-of-Knots-1
    But the idea is from the estimable and first rate anti-Gnostic Church Father St Irenaeus of Lyons, whose theodicy is still the best Christian product on the market. It’s a comparatively sunny and optimistic approach to human dilemmas, and suggests a Yankee can-do spirit in the new Pope.

I’ll bet that this papacy will see movement on clerical celibacy, perhaps involving supervision of married priests by Eastern Catholic bishops, or an expanded married diaconate. The Virgin Mary has her deknotting work cut out though.

[Easter morning update]
The new Pope’s Easter homily is another straw in the wind. H/t and text from TPM. It’s impeccably orthodox and conventional doctrinally. But choosing to emphasise that according to Luke the first witnesses to the Resurrection were women?

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

18 thoughts on “Untier of Knots?”

    1. What he said! Me too.

      I put a high value on the Jesuit background. I hope he can follow at this late stage of his life the same analytical bent he undoubtedly had much earlier.

  1. Possible, though the pioneering moves on this front were made by John Paul II and Benedict XVI in allowing married clergy from various Protestant groups to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood upon conversion. Benedict XVI’s “Anglican Ordinate” was the most dramatic move in this direction but was the culmination of a trend that had been building steam for a while.

    In the English speaking world it is plausible to see a greatly enhanced role for the Ordinate. This strikes me as much more plausible route to large numbers of married Catholic Priests than expansion of the role of the Eastern Catholic churches – which are liturgically beautiful but liturgically very alien to the experience of most Western Christians. Right now the Ordinate exists mainly as a home for Anglican converts. But its plausible to imagine a world in which people raised Roman Catholic affiliate more and more with Ordinate parishes and that young men from a Roman Catholic background seek ordination through seminaries affiliated with the Ordinate and under the direction of the Ordinate’s bishops.

    The unbelievable growth of the married Diaconate, which really took off under JPII (the permanent Diaconate having been restored by Vatican II) is now an important fact on the group in many regions of the world. But I’m not so sure how it will impact (indeed if it impacts at all) the phenomenon of married Priests. On the one hand it makes married men in the clerical state under Roman Catholic Canon Law a common and comfortable occurance. On the other hand – there are degrees of Holy Orders for a reason, and the presence of married Priests in the Eastern Churches for centuries has not resulted in one bit of “pressure” for married Bishops in those churches, which are of course still not allowed (and I strongly suspect – never will be). Indeed, if the Roman Catholic Church does allow married Priests in greater numbers at any point then I would be 99% certain that they would follow the Eastern custom and reserve the Episcopate for celibate men.

    1. Useful, thanks. A nice picture here of a father-and-son duo of English Catholic priests, the father being a married Anglican who went over to Catholicism because of the women priests issue.

        1. too bad – it cries out for something pretty sharp. One wonders if his wife is still alive and well and in the matrimonial relationship. Perhaps tomorrow you will care to comment …

          1. According to the Telegraph article I linked to, Fr. Coslett Sr. “remains married to his wife Kath”.

          2. Well, I appreciate your indignation! These things take time … and in the RC Church, a *lot* of time. And really, we ought to focus on getting rid of the birth control ban first, just on humanitarian grounds. Wouldn’t that be nice…

            As for the priest in question, from what I hear, it’s not easy to be married to a religious leader (and it probably applies to non-Christians too). So, my guess is, the lady is used to putting up with a great deal. Fundamentalists need love too!!!

    2. “the pioneering moves on this front were made by John Paul II and Benedict XVI in allowing married clergy from various Protestant groups to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood upon conversion.”

      i believe this practice is older than pope woytyla’s time.

  2. “The founding image is a second-rate piece of German baroque.”

    Second-rate German baroque, perhaps, but first-rate Catholic Kitsch!

  3. Liberal non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics fuss and fret that the Catholic Church wont change its basic tenants and just adopt the NY Times Editorial page as its Cannons, Beatitudes and Doctrine. Why not just follow the United Methodist Church which has tried to become all things to all people (“Gay Marriages? We got em!”) and yet lost 71000 American members last year? The Church isn’t perfect as long as it is run by humans, but thank God our values and beliefs don’t change year to year like so much of the singular most dominant religion in the USA today, Secular Leftism. Happy Easter.

    1. Last I checked, no UMC minister can perform a same-sex wedding; it would be in violation of the Book of Discipline.

    2. The only denominations which are rapidly growing are rigidly fundamentalists evangelical ones. The do so by providing a refuge to people who feel that society is changing so fast they they are losing what really matters to them.

      Mostly these days in the U.S. that means older whites who hate the changes the Civil Rights movement brought to American society – and which the federal government has had to regulate and adapt the nation to. Face it. America was a society based on racial classes and the white race was on top. As the changes happen and the privileges the white class has had are given to Blacks, Hispanics, and also women and LBGT people, the whites feel they are losing what was their birthright.

      Because the social changes are regulated by the mostly outside federal government the rigid fundamentalists blame the government for the changes, but in fact what the government has been doing all along was regulating the changes already occurring in American society in order to avoid violence and social instability.

      America is becoming an industrial/post-industrial society like Europe. The institutions of religion will move along the same track here as they have in Europe. What is it now? Less than 20% of western Europeans still claim to be Christian and no more than about 3% attend regular services or donate to the upkeep of the religious organizations? We’ll be there when today’s 20 to 25 year-old’s dominate American society. Immigrants may slow down the progress a bit I suspect.

    3. The Catholic Church has demographic problems too, and a shortage of priests, especially in Latin America. In Brazil it’s been losing ground to evangelical churches, which of course allow married ministers. There is real practical pressure on Pope Francis to do something.

      Similar forces helped the cause of the ordination of women in the Anglican churches. Without women priests, many would also face a clergy shortage.

      Happy Easter to you and all our other readers too (not necessarily Christian) for whom the greeting has meaning.

  4. Interesting. The Catholic Church also accepts married priests with their wives when they convert from the Episcopal Church. That’s an Anglican denomination but does not identify the Queen of England as the head of the Church as the Anglicans do (or did?) So it’s not just eastern traditions.

    1. It was Henry VIII who made himself Head of the Church of England. When his Protestant daughter Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558 after the failed Catholic restoration of Mary, the godly objected to the idea of a mere woman being head of a church – it was bad enough having a female monarch, but that couldn’t be helped. So Elizabeth settled quickly for Supreme Governor, and that’s the way it has stayed.

      When Elizabeth II goes to Balmoral, she mysteriously becomes a grandee of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, not the disestablished Scottish Episcopal Church. Not sure what happens in Wales, but it rains all the time and she has no centrally heated royal palaces, just drafty mediaeval fortresses, so the question perhaps doesn’t arise.

      1. The Church of Wales was disestablished in 1920, but remains a member of the Anglican Communion. They kept all their property at that time. When I was taken to the Cathedral in Cardiff for an afternoon in 1990 I learned it is where the Welsh Guards are celebrated for their exploits in WW I and WW II.

        There apparently is no established Church of Wales. Google just gives me the Church of Wales.

        My wife’s friend says most Welsh are Baptist anyway, and I cannot imagine the Queen of England having any function in the Baptist Church.

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