The Vatican has not yet announced a date for the start of voting to elect a new pope for the Roman Catholic Church, but it is preparing the world’s most beautiful voting booth for the process.
On Tuesday, March 5, day two of the General Congregation of the College of Cardinals in Rome, the Vatican closed the doors to the Sistine Chapel, the best-known chapel inside the Apostolic Palace, the pope’s official residence in Vatican City. It is known for its glorious Renaissance frescoes, including Michelangelo’s famed “The Last Judgment.”
Five cardinals have yet to arrive for the preparatory meetings, but Vatican officials claimed nothing was wrong and that the missing clerics would land in Rome soon.
While many have expected the College of Cardinals to move quickly to choose a successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned effective on Feb. 28, U.S. Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo was quoted as telling reporters, “It takes as long as it takes. No one wants to rush this.”
After the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, it took seven days to prepare the Chapel for the papal conclave. It could be ready for voting this time by Tuesday, March 12.
Among the modifications necessary to the Chapel are the construction of a false floor, which will house devices to jam cell signals and prevent bugging, and the installation of the stove which will burn the daily ballots. It’s designed to produce either the black smoke that indicates no new pope or the white smoke indicating a contender has the two-thirds majority necessary.
Although the pope will be chosen from among the cardinals, Church law states that any baptized Catholic male can technically become pope. And no, despite comments from ignorant liberal media types – including E.J. Dionne, who called for the election of a nun to the papacy – no woman can become pope.
Neither can women become Roman Catholic priests – either in the Church’s Latin Rite or Eastern Rite – as clarified by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 apostolic letter called Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.
As cited by John Paul II, Pope Paul VI previously addressed the issue in the 1976 “Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood,” which stated that the Church “does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.” As Paul VI later explained, “The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology – thereafter always followed by the Church’s tradition – Christ established things in this way.”
Pope John Paul II also quoted one of his other apostolic letters, in which he wrote, “In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.”
Women may be excluded from the priesthood, but from the Virgin Mary to Mother Theresa – and cloistered nun Mother Angelica, foundress of the Alabama-based worldwide Catholic TV and radio network EWTN, which is offering wall-to-wall coverage of the papal selection process – women have always played a central role in Catholic life and theology.
But the occasion of a papal selection nevertheless brings out comments from people who are either not Catholics – and therefore are rather presumptuous in telling a Church to which they do not belong how it should conduct its internal business – or baptized Catholics who publicly dissent from Church teachings.
Far too seldom does someone actually consult faithful Catholics about their church. A couple of pieces appeared on the Internet recently in which Catholic priests address the issue of what it’s like to be a Catholic priest (one would assume they know).
Both posts specifically address another hot-button issue: priestly celibacy. Incidentally, celibacy is not uniform across the Church and never has been. The Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church – its most familiar and largest segment – does not allow any man, priest or deacon, to marry after ordination. Permanent deacons, who are not just on a transitional path to the priesthood, may be married before ordination. Priests may generally not be married men.
However, there are many priests who have come to the Catholic Church from other denominations, especially the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition, who have wives and children.
In sections of the Church’s Eastern Rite – independent, self-governing churches in full communion with the Pope, whose style of worship resembles the more familiar Orthodox Church – there are priests (but not bishops) who married before ordination.
And since a priest typically becomes a bishop before becoming a cardinal, there are no married men in the running for the papacy.
In his blog “Standing on My Head,” married former Anglican priest Father Dwight Longnecker discusses “Celibacy, Lust and Love” from the point of view of having both a celibate and married Anglican priest, and now a married Catholic priest.
It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a pertinent excerpt:
This is the challenge and witness of celibacy–to learn how to love without sexual expression, and to show that there is a love which is above and beyond sexual intimacy. Why should this be an important aspect of the spiritual life? It is not only Catholic priests, monks and nuns who are expected to be celibate. Celibacy, at least for a time, is expected of devotees of other religions as well. Celibacy is a discipline which directs the sexual appetites toward their true fulfillment–which is a consummation into Love itself – a Love which is higher and more eternal than mere sexual expression.
In the “Word on Fire” blog, in a post called “Spirituality: The Prophetic Nature of the Male Celibate Priesthood,” Cleveland, Ohio, priest Rev. Damian J. Ference discusses gender differences, sexual complementarity and how that relates to the Catholic priesthood.
Again, read the whole thing, but a couple of paragraphs stand out:
Deep down, if people are honest, I think that most folks want to believe in God and that He alone can satisfy. But, I think it’s hard to believe. A good celibate priest makes God more believable. The healthy celibate priest is a living witness of God’s eternal love and of the reality of Heaven – he holds the world to a higher standard and to higher expectations by his celibate love. People look at him and think, “He’s happy, and he doesn’t have sex. How is that possible?” The joyful celibate priest is a prophet, reminding the world that God is real and He alone can satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. He offers a living witness to counter the empty promises held out by the fallen world.
(Of course, when a celibate priest falls, especially in sexual sin, the media goes crazy. Part of me takes their response as a backhanded compliment of sorts. That is to say that even the media expects more from priests, and they actually look upon priests as living witnesses of God’s existence and love. In a strange and ironic way, even the media understands, on some mysterious level, the beauty and power of celibacy.)