Priesthood, Celibacy, and Being Onely January 14, 2009Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, single and happy, Your Responses Requested!.
Tags: catholicism, compulsory heterosexuality, Heteronormativity, marriage as sacrament, priesthood, single and awesome
Christina recently pointed me to this very interesting article from the BBC about a priest reflecting on his choice to remain single. Father John Abberton explains that his decision to become a priest was a “positive thing not a negative thing.” In fact,
When I was sixteen and was thinking ahead to what my future would be, I certainly had images of myself as a married man with children. I don’t remember ever struggling with the denial of that. It was a progression into an attitude where I saw myself as being available to as many people as I could be available to and giving myself to the church.
Like many single people, Father John has chosen an admirable occupation and has devoted himself to work that he is passionate about and through which he can enhance the world around him in some very positive ways.
But then Father John’s tone changes slightly, as he compares himself to others who are single (but, ostensibly, not priests?):
I am single for a purpose and my feeling is in someway or another everyone who is single should be single for a purpose. I know there are some people who remain single because they say that is what they want. Although I don’t want to judge people, I think there is a worrying trend in some quarters of society towards a selfish single state.
Oh, so Father John’s not willing to give up the possibility that others who have not devoted their life to helping others (and serving God) are possibly acting as “selfish[ly] single”. As though those who are married are rarely selfish. And as though it’s easy or even ethical to dictate what work should and should not be considered “selfish.” Would Father John ever find it appropriate to generalize about large numbers of coupled people who don’t devote themselves to the service of others? For some reason, Father John’s sense of who should (and/or who has the time to?) embody a life dedicated to social justice/community service seems to be limited to single people. According to this logic, married/coupled people either a) don’t have time to dedicate their lives outward because they must be focused inward – due to their special coupled status, and/or b) have automatically devoted their lives to social justice simply by being married…
Doesn’t make much sense to me (well, unless you’re Catholic, in which case that whole “sacrament” hierarchy may justify his logic sufficiently – but this would lead us to a whole history of patriarchy/heteronormativity in Western religion, which is a problem for us to tackle at another time). But my point is, even Father John can’t escape the heteronormative perspective – for him, all roads (even his single road) lead to marriage of some kind. You see, Father John has a surprise. On his left ring finger. Oh yeah, it’s a wedding ring:
I am single in the eyes of the world, but in a very spiritual way I am committed to the church and married to the church. Some people would have a ring with the name of their loved one inscribed on the inside. I decided to wear the ring with the word ‘church’ on it as a reminder to myself of the commitment I made 27 years ago.
So there you go. All roads, even for single people, ultimately should lead to coupling … of some kind. By no means do I want to disparage the good work that many priests and religious organizations actually do, but I do want to disparage the heteronormative perspective that allows people like Father John to assume that single people don’t do much with their lives — and who subsequently speak as though “doing much” can only be defined in narrow, limiting ways.
It’s late, and I know there’s more to be said. We are loving our reader comments recently — so, dearest readers, what else do you have to add? And what is it we “do” that’s Father John should acknowledge as valuable, even if we’re not “married” to something so noble as the church? (And why, pray tell, should being single for the sake of being single not be understood as “selfish,” as Father John suggests?)