Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Anti-celibacy debate: What is the Universe up to?

Monitor was last night at the Odeon in Leicester Square, where a mediocre film making the case against mandatory priestly celibacy was screened, followed by a debate where its director, John Deery, teamed up with Baroness Helena Kennedy and the theologian Tina Beattie to argue that priestly celibacy is oppressive, pagan, and a cause of the clerical sex abuse crisis. Opposing them were Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, the comedian Frank Skinner, and two CVs: the project's chaplain, Fr Stephen Wang, and its coordinator, Jack Valero.

Conspiracy of Silence, says its makers, 
"highlights the Church’s present-day dilemma on its doctrine on celibacy .... [the film] is a provocative, timely and controversial drama that exposes the human impact of breaking the vow of celibacy – an issue the Catholic Church remains reluctant to address... It is also our intention to create a forum for an open debate on the issues of celibacy and sexuality and the impact this has on individuals, both in the Catholic Church and the wider Catholic community."
Amazingly,the evening was sponsored by the Catholic weekly The Universe (there were free copies on every seat) as well as the Irish Post and a Christian dating agency.

There does seem something strange about a Catholic newspaper funding a debate whose organisers are campaigning against mandatory celibacy. Perhaps The Universe believes that the Catholic priesthood in the Latin Church should no longer be compulsorily celibate.  But should it not say so -- in an editorial, perhaps?

What it does say in this week's editorial is that Catholic Voices for Reform -- the group set up in opposition to Catholic Voices -- "want to see huge changes in in the Church on issues such as clerical celibacy and the ordination of women". These reforms, the editorial notes reprovingly, "are pretty much non-negotiable from the hierarchy's point of view". Indeed. So why sponsor a debate which opens up one of these "non-negotiables"? All very confusing.

The editorial ends by urging Catholic Voices to "avoid at all costs a mixed message", which is sound counsel. Perhaps the Universe should heed it.