|Pope Benedict XVI|
Pope Benedict XVI, who is infallible on religious matters, has apparently made a mistake in the literary world. He caused outrage by telling the faithful in his recently published book that there were no angels at the birth of Jesus and no animals. After all, people enjoy their myths. One headline screamed, “Pope Bans Christmas.” No, he didn’t. He just tried to make it more realistic. That didn’t sit well with the average Roman Catholic. They don’t want the truth.
On the other hand, while defending his historical views of Christmas, Benedict has refused to tolerate challenges to the Church.
He has his priorities backwards.
A priest in Austria felt the hard hand of the pope after daring to suggest that current Catholic teachings on celibacy and women priests could be changed. Father Helmut Schueller (left) lost the right to use title monsignor and could not be identified as a "Chaplain of His Holiness,” although he remained a priest. A former deputy to Vienna's archbishop, Schueller had been given the honorary title while leading a local Catholic charity.
It could have been worse. In 2010, an American priest was defrocked after being stopped by Italian police while trying to deliver a petition to the Vatican in favor of a female priesthood.
Even that was mild considering the alternative.
The New York Times reported, “In 2008, the Vatican decreed that any woman who sought ordination, or a bishop who conferred holy orders on her, would be immediately ‘punished with excommunication.’ It went a step further in 2010, categorizing any such attempt as delicta graviora — a grave crime against the church — the same category as priests who sexually abuse children.”
Ironically, the two priests causing the Church such doctrinal headaches were doing nothing more than promoting ideas that are circulating among Catholics worldwide. After all, unlike the Christmas fables that Benedict has tried to vanquish, it has an historical base.
|Mary Magdelene by Pietro Perugino|
Early Christian priests were not celibate, and women were active in the church. Mary Magdalene, (left) who the Bible says traveled with Jesus, may have been one of his apostles. Paul wrote about another woman in Romans 16: 1-2: “I commend unto you Phebe, our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:  That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.”
In fact, women were ordained priests until the Council of Laodicea in 352 banned the ceremony. Still, as late as the 1300s, women were being ordained and hearing confession, based on a complaint to the practice raised by an Italian bishop of the time.
As for celibacy: all the early popes were married, beginning with Peter, Jesus’ lead apostle. That began to change in the 4th century. For starters, priests in Spain in 306 were banned from having sex with their wives before mass. That was enhanced by the great Nicene Synod in 325, the one that decided Jesus was God, which also prohibited priests from marrying.
They did anyway. In 385, Sircius left his wife to become pope. He then announced a law prohibiting priests from any sexual relations with women.
None of that had much effect. As a result, in 580, Pope Pelagius II (left) said he wouldn’t bother married priests as long as they didn’t will property to their family members.
Documents from the seventh century in France and the eighth century in Germany reveal that few if any priests or bishops were celibate. In 1045, Pope Benedict IX resigned to get married. In the 1500s, research indicates half of priests were married. No one seemed to care.
As a result, celibacy has really only been enforced in the last few hundred years. The same is true for women priests.
Christian mythology about the birth of Jesus? That goes on and on.
Benedict, after all, has no time to worry about actually updating the Church. He’s too busy erasing time-honored myths about animals from the stable and angels from the sky to care about realities that have real significance to faithful Catholics.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1