“Omne exemplum claudicat”. The Bishops convening in their Synod in Rome to legislate on what is moral and what is not in the domain of family-planning, divorce, recomposed families and homosexual marriages would all understand the quotation’s principle, however poor their Latin : “Every example limps”.
I, remember, am a former Franciscan priest who at the age of 17 renounced not only his sexuality by taking a vow of chastity, but also, through the vow of poverty, the right to own anything; “my” missal, “my” breviary, and the borrowed habit and sandals I wore were not mine. I had, mercifully, exclusive use of “my” toothbrush but I didn’t own it. The vow of chastity was reinforced at the age of 24 by being ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood. The taking and living of those two vows provide me with an analogy, an example, which like all examples is not perfect but perfectly pertinent, to the Bishops’ decrees on sex and family life. To appreciate the analogy, a little background is necessary.
Secular, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, though many of them live very frugally. Nothing forbids them from owning a home (though a presbytery, a rectory, is provided by the Diocese) or from inheriting or making money (preferably not by selling indulgences but perhaps books they write). The “regular” clergy, members of religious Orders, renounce those rights. Many of them are totally devoid of experience in handling funds larger than the pocket-money they may or may not have received as children. Fortunately there are exceptions. All religious Orders manage to find members with a knack for managing money, notably donations and legacies which sometimes represent considerable amounts of money. And every friary, monastery and parish committed to religious Orders has a Superior or Parish Priest who, in spite of his vow of poverty, acquires enough competence in accounting to make sure that the contributions they receive are used correctly.
There are, among the secular clergy, multiple examples of priests with remarkable financial skills. Besides historical figures like Cardinals Richelieu and Mazzarin, Bishops are often gifted financial managers, or at least shrewd enough to make sure their Diocesan Treasurer is doing his job as he should. Naturally there are the rare, scandalous exceptions, like the German “Bishop of Bling” (see my post of October 21, 2013) and my personal Vatican secret agent who accelerated the granting of my dispensation, the late Archbishop Marchinkus, the infamous Director of the Bank of the Holy Spirit (!) (see my post of May 11, 2014, “The Vatican as a Saint-Factory”).
By and large, the multinational which is the Catholic Church and its subsidiaries, local dioceses, know a thing or two about money-management and the value of real-estate. But by and large, run-of-the-mill Franciscans, mendicants, as I was, are better at begging than, say, advising people on investing on the Stock Exchange.
This has been a long introduction to my perhaps predictable analogy : celibate, exclusively male Bishops are about as competent to decree laws on family life as Franciscans would be to draft a nation’s economic policies. The Men in Black (or Purple) in Rome would describe that conclusion as “in cauda venenum”, “poison in the punch-line”. But it is an example that is far from paralytic, with not a trace of a limp.