Chastity, celibacy and continence

chastityReporting from London, the Los Angeles Times' Henry Chu takes a look at what the Vatican's new Anglican provision means for both church bodies. The punchy story is written well and includes some helpful information. It begins by looking at one Church of England parish that is likely to make the move before putting that congregation's story in context:

It's unclear, though, how many Anglicans will want to make the trip. The worldwide communion numbers about 77 million people, including 2.4 million members of the Episcopal Church in the United States and 13.4 million Anglicans in Britain.

Some conservative leaders have made predictions of hundreds of thousands of worshipers worldwide bolting for Rome, but others say such apocalyptic scenarios are premature at best, especially before the details of what's on offer are published.

Okay so if there are 77 million Anglicans and somewhere around one percent of them might cross the Tiber, that's "apocalyptic"? Really? One wonders what word we'd use to describe a switch of two percent! The kicker to the story makes the claim that this move by the Vatican could cause a crisis in the Church of England. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence made toward that claim.

Anyway, the real reason I wanted to look at the story was this paragraph dealing with the issue of marriage for priests:

Questions arise on the other side too, such as whether allowing married Anglican priests to become Catholics would increase the pressure on the Vatican to ease its requirement of celibacy for the priesthood. Some Roman Catholic groups argue that the vow of lifelong chastity has made it much harder to combat the shortage of priests.

Now, I know that there are people who oppose the mandated celibacy for clergy. I'm Lutheran and my peeps have been opposed to the requirement for hundreds of years. But the vow of chastity isn't the same as lifelong celibacy. Chastity is the virtue that moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite. Chastity is something that all Christians are called to no matter their state. Traditionally, Christians have taught that sexual activity should be enjoyed only within the the institution of marriage and that sex outside of this union -- be it premarital or extramarital -- is illicit.

So Christians who have sex with their spouses are living chastely as are single individuals who abstain from sex. Presumably married priests would have to vow lifelong chastity just as much single priests would. What that means for priests in the Catholic church will vary, obviously. The church has long held that continence is required for most priests, sure, but chastity isn't a virtue that only single priests may aspire to. So the vow of chastity is different from what is the obligation of clerical continence and celibacy

One more thing about the excerpts above. You'll note that in both cases the reporter uses the term "some." He does it again later in the story, writing that while Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said he didn't view the move by Rome as an act of aggression, "some" in the audience thought his body language said otherwise. I think it's generally wise for reporters to just be specific about who is making a claim rather than resorting to the term "some." Otherwise, how do we know how seriously to take the claim?

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