Some subjects are best approached sideways. In this way the side that is right may be able to work with the side that thinks it is right. The drivel that follows is an attempt to do just that with regards to the role of women in the Church.
There is a generation of church goer that holds out considerable fascination for me, those loyal Catholics in their late 80s and 90s. It is amongst these people that you often find considerably lax views with regards to the Church’s teaching. Views you’d expect from the recently retired baby boomers who found the sixties fun and fab. These older Catholics had a level of maturity during the 1960s which would lead you to presume a grounding in faith and morals that would see them through any crisis. In other words these people were the age I currently am when the cr*p hit the fan. It is amongst this older generation that you will find considerable support for married clergy and even female clergy.
Listen to them and find out their reasons for supporting these views. Firstly, they can have a certain level of clericalism that makes them say “If Father says it is good, then it must be good”. Afterall, had they not had this clericalism and deference to their priests that would not have survived the liturgical rupture fostered upon them in the early 1970s. They would have ended up like my Chinese grandfather and many like him; tragically clutching his Padre Pio prayer card, his Missale Romanum and doggedly saying his rosary in Latin long after he “felt any need” to attend a Mass he couldn’t recognise.
Secondly, there are a whole string of reasons that have little to do with Church teaching but throw considerable light on attitudes to sex. A very elderly lady I know who thinks priests should marry gives the reason that “well men need their comfort, don’t they”. In getting to know her, it becomes apparent that when she was married men got their “con-joo-gulls” when they wanted them. Indeed some priests would encourage wives to see to the needs of their husbands in this way. Having sexual intercourse because “men need it”. Perhaps it is no surprise a tolerant attitude to contraception is then not far behind. Nor is it a surprise that a drop in vocations to the priesthood is put down to men feeling lonely and needing the comfort of women. An elderly gentleman, in talking about his late wife said to my husband “you know, she never refused me, she was so good to me”. His wife was on the contraceptive pill as soon as it came out, and the poor man was left floundering like a child when is wife died, he’d never even washed himself in the bath, let alone washed a tea cup during his married life.
Thirdly, in the twilight of their years, many are not interested in church politics (as they see it) and if they get more attention from the local Anglican vicaress than off their Catholic priest, so be it. They’ll convince themselves “sacramental grace” isn’t what it used to be and a Christian is a Christian is a Christian.
So, back to where I started. Men: shape up, talk about chastity (make it masculine once again) and live chastely with your wives. Women: don’t pander to every need of your man (or your son), don’t turn him into a big needy kid. Priests: desire heaven for all your flock. The Holy Father will approve and it may quieten down Tina Beattie .