“Viri probati”. The Pope is wondering whether to ordain as priests married deacons whom he calls “proven men” – with literally impeccable credentials, enough to reassure their superiors that they will surely merit the trust put in them as priests. “By their fruits you will know them.”
Clearly, during the past century, many seminarians, unfit for the priesthood and unworthy of the trust given them in their ordination, slipped through the net. I hear some readers saying to me, “People in glasshouses ?”. OK. So like thousands of other priests, I abandoned the priesthood, in my case seven years after my ordination. Was I unfit for the priesthood, unworthy of the trust put in me ? Two separate, independent questions. My belated realization that I could make no sense of, or find any need for or justification of clerical celibacy, in no way points to my being unworthy as a priest. I believe my impeccable sacerdotal track-record establishes that beyond a doubt. I do admit, however, that I should myself have recognized, long before ordination, that I was not cut out for the celibate life. I prefer to blame myself rather than my seminary professors who were clearly incompetent to make such a judgement.
The scandal of priests’ pedophilia, pederasty and hypocritical sexual behavior has at least heightened the Church’s realization of its past naïveté. Recruiting adolescents and even pre-adolescents for the seminary was clearly an enormous mistake. The incapacity of seminary professors to make an informed judgement of the suitability of candidates for the priesthood made reform in this domain absolutely essential. More power to the Pope in raising the bar for giving the green light to mature, proven candidates for Holy Orders. (The mixed metaphor hopefully underlines this overdue self-evident wisdom.)
Of course, I cannot be satisfied with, nor am I especially interested in, elevating the level of trust in Catholic clergy. Today’s seminarians should be exposed to people like me or at least to blogs like mine. We and ex-priest-atheists like me, as well as what some of us write, could challenge seminarians to question their understanding of the constraints of celibacy and sexual probity. We and our testimonies of itineraries from Catholicism to atheism could help separate the chaff from the wheat. Former colleagues will recognize here a cryptic reference to my nickname as a young Franciscan : “The Chaff” ! This unflattering moniker, born of my predilection for breakfast cereals, was perhaps a divinely inspired but overlooked clue that I should never have been ordained. But, curiously, I am glad I was, glad I went the whole hog in my Catholic faith. It gave me an understanding of, even a sympathy for, priests less lucky than I, still stuck in a meaningless profession and still prisoners of the illusions and credulity of their blindfaithblindfolly.