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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

November 18, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 152




Tom Fox

Why bishops won't talk about celibacy

Part One of Two Parts

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

Our bishops have become cafeteria Catholics. They seem to think we can do without the Eucharist.

There is increasing talk these days about the growing priest shortage and the closing of Catholic parishes. Most of it, however, seems to come from the laity, little from the bishops. Why?

Other Today's Takes by Tom Fox
Nov. 17, 2003 Supporting gay and lesbian Catholics
Oct. 10, 2003 Why Catholics are jittery
Sept. 26, 2003 Priest of the poor
Sept. 25, 2003 A revolution deferred: sex and the church Part II
Sept. 24, 2003 Sex and the mission of the church
Sept. 23, 2003 Jim Andrews Scholars combine service and learning experiences
Aug. 5, 2003 Compassion lacking in gay union discourse
Because to say one is worried about dwindling Eucharistic communities or the closing of Catholic parishes is to imply criticism of the decades' long resistance by many bishops to talk of the issue of mandatory celibacy. A number of studies have shown that optional celibacy would swell the ranks of the Catholic priesthood and, therefore, make the Eucharist more readily available to most Catholics.

The bishops, however, are so resistant to considering optional celibacy that they view Catholics who raise the issue as "having an agenda," implying that those who seek change really, deep down, want to hurt the church, not extend its mission to build the Reign of God.

This is crazy. No, it's worse. It's scandalous. Let me be clear: to place an arbitrary church discipline in the way of the building of Eucharistic-centered Christian communities is offensive to God.

Clearly, not all the Catholic clergy are against opening discussions on clerical celibacy. However, they live in a climate of fear, a climate antithetical to Christian community. Many are afraid to speak their minds. Doesn't this alone tell us that something is dreadfully wrong?

One priest who has not been afraid to speak his mind is Milwaukee Capuchin Franciscan Michael H. Crosby who for many years has advocated the church take up the issue of celibacy. Crosby is a man of singular courage. He has no ecclesial ambitions. He speaks and writes out of gospel values.

Crosby, 63, has written more than a dozen books. He leads workshops and retreats worldwide on topics from biblical spirituality to socially responsible investing.

On both social justice and ecclesial issues, Crosby brings rich Christian faith and values to his keen analyses. He is one of the most important figures in our church today.

Don't, however, expect him to become a bishop anytime soon as have other members of his order including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

More than a decade back, Crosby wrote a landmark book that poked holes in the dark clouds that were already covering the issue of celibacy. The Dysfunctional Church: Addiction and Codependency in the Family of Catholicism portrays the church as an "institutional addict," addicted to "preserving the male, celibate clerical model of church." Crosby argued that this addiction had led to a structured abuse of authority.

A dozen years later, he takes up his analysis again in the recently published Rethinking Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon). Crosby now argues that the imposition of celibacy has revealed a deeper issue beyond the abuse of power: the abuse of women and homosexuals in the church.

Yet, Crosby is not without hope. He writes, "The current crisis around celibacy has made me conclude that this is the moment of grace given us by the Spirit to reclaim the Catholic Church for Jesus Christ and his gospel of liberation from all sinful forms of control."

In tomorrow's Today's Take, I'll have an interview with this visionary priest.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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