Sunday, May 30, 2010

Celibacy is nonsense...

Celibacy is nonsense if you just see priests in terms of function. If he is just there to offer Mass or run a parish there is no reason on earth why he shouldn't marry, indeed if he is just a Church functionary it is most probably much better for him to marry and be surrounded by a large Catholic family.
If on the other hand a priest is a sign of absolute commitment to God, of communion, of prayer, of otherness, then celibacy is of supreme importance.

The ancient discipline of priestly celibacy, is not easy. Not having a sexual relationship is reasonably easy, most people in my congregation are in that situation, often for most of their lives, either because they are single, widowed, divorced or because of their sexual orientation. Those who choose celibacy voluntarily accept loneliness and a sense of being unfulfilled by anything here on earth. Doing that all one's life confronts ome with a deep craving, a desire to both possess and to be possessed, so often that can be sublimated, golf, hypochondria, cats and dogs, or plain eccentricity but real celibacy is about living with an open wound, totally unsatisfied by anything here on earth. It should be prophetic, about the Creator not creatures.
Like a hair shirt celibacy is constant reminder and an expression of the bald fact that God alone can satisfy our deepest longings. Celibacy is about the Kingdom of God, about prayer, about the spiritual life, about communion with God but it only works with faith.

I think the debate about celibacy which Cardinal Schönborn among others recently called for is actually a debate about the very nature of the priesthood and therefore about the nature of the Church, by extension it could be seen as a debate about the nature of Grace itself. This debate has brewing for sometime, I think, ever since Pius XII gave permission for married German Lutheran converts to ordained to the priesthood.
Sandro Magister puts forward, sketchily, the historical context of celibacy, which if you are unfamiliar with the arguments is well worth reading.

25 comments:

Dominic Mary said...

Although I wholly accept the point you make, Father, it does seem to me that the matter has to be considered very carefully, if only because of the increasingly large number of married priests that the Church now has.

There is scope for secular priests and religious priests; might there not at least possibly be scope for celibate priests and married ones ?

Edward P. Walton said...

It has been said, the Vatican will never speak to a situation that is intractable. Once the Vatican starts talking about what they will never do, it has already happened.

Lucy said...

This is an amazing post that I found profoundly moving. How blessed we are to have priests who are prepared to be living signs to us. Thank you Father for your own sacrifical living. May God bless you in abundance.

Michael Petek said...

The wisdom involved in setting celibacy as a higher calling than marriage (though one to whom only a minority is called) is that it sets people free to not marry.

Only under that condition is the individual interiorly free to choose marriage.

Hippolytus said...

Dominic Mary - I think 'NO' to your question. The arguments put forward today against celibacy for Latin Rite priests are little different to those addressed by Pope Paul V1 in his encyclical on priestly celibacy........to me there seems to be a consistent thread in recent 20th century papacies and to today in defending this 'jewel' in the midst of the many arguments used against it. One should also look at the texts attesting to the apostolic tradition of priestly celibacy - some recent church historians have dispensed with some earlier scholars views of this being only a later tradition.

"Priestly celibacy has been guarded by the Church for centuries as a brilliant jewel, and retains its value undiminished even in our time when the outlook of men and the state of the world have undergone such profound changes." - Pope Paul Vl
SACERDOTALIS CAELIBATUS

Jacobi said...

You make good points, Father, including that celibacy is much more common than is realised - and that this debate is essentially about the nature of the ordained priesthood.

The concept of the Ordained Priesthood suffered from many post-Vatican 11 reforms, ie, lay readers, bidders, psalmists and, of course, EMHCs, all downplaying the role of the priest.

I often wonder what goes through the minds of our priests as they sit there twiddling their thumbs while all this goes on!

Having observed married "clergy" at work in other churches over the years, I find that they often make very good managers of religious activities - but they are not shepherds of their flocks.

Pope Benedict is right in emphasising the vital necessity of fully committed clergy.

gemoftheocean said...

Hey! You ahould be getting some extra traffic today, someone linked your blog article to Free Republic, which is a website the Americans of the conservative persuasion frequent, a fair number of home are practising Catholics. [There's even a "Catholic ping" list for people interested in stories/items that would be of particular interest to Catholics.]

Independent said...

St Paul preferred celibacy but tells us that "it is better to marry than to burn". On the one hand was the ideal up to which those who are able could live, and on the other the grim practicality of human nature. The former was to be admired, the latter accepted.

Sarah said...

Thanks for these wonderful words...I have translated it and set it on my blog, I would really love to spread it! Especially in Germany we have these discussions right now, mostly of people that blame the church for everything. Thank you very much.

Jack Decourcy said...

I think marriage is equally a sign of total dedication, especially in our secular environment where divorce and extra marital affairs are so common. Allowing so many married Anglican clergyman to join the priesthood has changed the nature of things, and no one views their vocation in any lesser light. In fact in Salford diocese there is even a married priest who is an episcopal vicar. I remember when it was revolutionary for a priest to raise the idea in the 1960's and then the start of MOMM (movement of ordination of married men). Then in the 1990's bishops began to question whether it should be reviewed. Now even a Cardinal has suggested that the case for allowing married priests should be looked at. I do hope that Pope Benedict will give serious consideration to the idea.

Volpius Leonius said...

The priesthood itself is nonsense if you just see priests in terms of function.

The founding principle of priesthood is sanctity, and as a married man I have no problem admitting that the chastity practised by a celibate is superior in sanctity to that of marriage, and the chastity of a virgin even more so. I am in awe of the celibate and the sacrifices he makes in the most noble of pursuits for our God.

We must see the priest as a spiritual athlete making huge personal sacrifices in the pursuit of sanctity for both him and the souls under his care.

A priesthood that separates itself from its founding principle of sanctity will not have long left to exist in this world.

They would be replaced by a more efficient and economically means of production.

Chris said...

An interesting article on the Chiesa website, especially the comments regarding the Church in the East. Thank you, Father

Mr Petek: you mention that celibacy is "a higher calling than marriage". I'm not sufficiently well-read in theology to know if this is official Church teaching or simply an opinion. If it is indeed official teaching, would you tell me the Church document where I can read this? Many thanks in advance.

Jacobi: Eastern Rite Catholics have real clergy (not "clergy"); they are no less so than those in the Latin Church. I have 2(married) priest relatives and contrary to what you wrote they are very good shepherds. I'm sure you didn't mean to insult Eastern clergy, but how else can your comments be read? Please don't forget that Latin Rite priests are not the only ones in the Catholic Church.

StBlog said...

My dear Father, thank you, your post points out what so many fail to comprehend -- celibacy, marriage, the consecrated life, the priesthood when chosen by reason of a discerned vocation are in the truest sense the joining of heaven to earth and the surest foundation of the true church on earth! God bless you and your ministry.

RJ said...

I believe it is Church teaching that celibacy is a higher state:
Council of Trent:
"If anyone says that it is not better and holier to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be joined in marriage ... let him be anathema" (DS 1810). I believe Trent was speaking of celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom/love of God.
Pius XII later confirmed that this "was solemnly defined as a dogma of faith by the Holy Council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church" (Encyclical Sacra virginitas, n. 32).
The Second Vatican Council endorsed this doctrine, saying that in recognising the dignity of marriage, students for the priesthood "should recognise the greater excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ" (Decree on the Training of Priests, n. 10).
More recently, Pope John Paul II insisted on the same thing, asserting that consecrated virginity is certainly superior to marriage (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 19 April 1982, pp. 7ff.)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, while upholding clearly the dignity of marriage, points out that esteem for marriage and for consecrated virginity reinforce each other, and quotes St John Chrysostom: "Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1620).
To sacrifice something good for a worthy end is to do something even better.

Dominic Mary said...

Hippolytus;
with respect, I think you miss my point.
I am not denying that priestly celibacy is a 'brilliant jewel'; nor that it is the ideal of priesthood.
However, if the Church is prepared to accept married men as priests when they come from other communions, then it seems to me irrational to refuse to accept the possibility of doing so from amongst their own.
After all, if married converts can be ordained, then there is obviously nothing inherently impossible about a married man being a priest : and if it's not impossible, then why can we not accept that it may be just as possible for cradle Catholics as for converts ?
Look, for example, at the Church in France. They have a grave shortage of priests, and a huge percentage of those they have is over 70. Might allowing married priests at least make it easier for French Catholics to have access to the Sacraments ?
I'm not saying it's ideal; merely that it might be a pragmatic solution to a problem 'de nos jours'.

RJ said...

Further to your point about a functional view of the priesthood, Father: that was the overwhelming emphasis I was given in my theology course (reading matter was totally in this vein - the idea that ordination actually brought about a real change in the person didn't seem to get a look in). This seems to go hand in hand with the proliferation of 'ministries' within the Church, of which the priestly function would then be just one. Priesthood would then be a kind of job, in which case why not ordain priests temporarily? (It has been suggested) If it's just a job, well it can be done just as well by someone else - perhaps a designated member of the congregation to say 'Mass' or by a woman (no offence against women: it's just that this wouldn't be in continuity with the apostolic tradition)

shadowlands said...

Strong libido. It's a reality for many, ofcourse. I mean, a strong one. As a younger person, I presume I had the normal tendencies, in that area. I don't know, I presume I will find out on Judgment Day. Alcohol has always been my escape gate, even as a teenager.
And if others fight the flesh the way I fight the booze, I say, Lord have Mercy.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Not that I have led a sainted life in that area, by the way.

The Rosary, literally, and instantly released me, of any disagreements with Church teaching, regarding this area. It simply works, in my experience.

Volpius Leonius said...

"Might allowing married priests at least make it easier for French Catholics to have access to the Sacraments ?"

WE have been trying to make it easier for 40 years, people do not value things that are easy.

There aren't going to be any practising French Catholics other than those attached to the SSPX in France soon anyway and the SSPX are not short of seminarians. They aren't going to need more priests married or otherwise.

Catholics don't want a brother as a priest who is no better than them, they want a father as a priest who devotes his life entirely to the pursuit of sanctity and holiness.

Your arguments based on converts who have became priests while still been allowed to remain married is not an argument for allowing more married priests it is an argument against allowing married ministers who convert to become priests as doing so undermines the priesthood and priestly celibacy, things which are for more importance to the common good of the Chruch than individual converts desire to be priests.

A married priest is no better than an adulterer and a bigamist and their existence is a scandal.

berenike said...

Chris: St Paul and Jesus.

Volpius Leonius said...

The priest is more than a mere mere producer of sacraments, much more, or at least should be, must be, ifhis mission is to be a success.

"You in England cannot understand how completely engrained it is into our people that a priest is a man who sacrifices himself for the sake of his parishioners. He has no children of his own, in order that all the children in the parish may be his children. His people know that his small wants are supplied, and that he can devote all his time and thought to them. They know that it is quite otherwise with the married pastors of the Protestants. The pastor's income may be enough for himself, but it is not enough for his wife and children also. In order to maintain them he must take other work, literary or scholastic, only a portion of his time can be given to his people; and they know that when the interests of his family and those of his flock collide, his family must come first and his flock second. In short, he has a profession or trade, a Gewerbe, rather than a vocation; he has to earn a livelihood. In almost all Catholic congregations, a priest who married would be ruined; all his influence would be gone. The people are not at all ready for so fundamental a change, and the circumstances of the clergy do not admit of it. It is a fatal resolution. (A. Plummer in "The Expositor", December, 1890, p. 470.)

This still stands today and will always be the case, once you allow married priests we will soon have a heredity priesthood and people becoming priests not because they are called to this vocation by God but because they see it as a good job to allow them to live well and feed their family.

If you look up the history of heredity priesthoods among the Jews and the pagans such as the ancient Egyptians not to mention those scandalous priests who secretly had children you will find that the priests and their families became corrupted by worldliness and used their position to advance their blood relatives even to the detriment of the common good.

Sonia said...

First of all, I suppose, it was, God made me, therefore I am, then, not so long ago it was 'I think therefore I am'. Nowadays, due to media doctrine and the secularisation of the 'self' the contemporary locus for assuaging ontological anxiety is located somewhat further south. There is a reason, I presume, that Orthodox bishops must commit to celibacy, so how rich for the Catholic Church that each priest has that level of understanding and devotion.

Christine said...

Beautifully put, Father.

Anonymous said...

What this thread proves, is that most people, even, sadly, orthodox catholics, are fools (you, Volpius, are either an ignorant one or an evil one at that).

99% of the reasons for celibacy are fantasy - there's only one valid reason, and that is because Christ has bestowed a vocation to celibacy rather than marriage.

This idea about celibacy "being a sacrifice" is utter nonsense. For those who have the charism of celibacy, marriage would be in intolerable torture, or, to use Father's words, "an open wound."

People ought not to comment on things concerning which they are ignorant.

+ Wolsey

Christine said...

"This idea about celibacy "being a sacrifice" is utter nonsense. For those who have the charism of celibacy, marriage would be in [sic] intolerable torture, or, to use Father's words, "an open wound."

People ought not to comment on things concerning which they are ignorant."

Wolsey--I'll second that last line. The rest, though, is just silly. As if having a charism for a particular vocation is mutually exclusive of sacrifice! I may have a "charism" (though I don't that's the appropriate word) for the married state, but that doesn't mean marriage isn't a great sacrifice to my ego, or to my desires, or to my needs at times. How is that not so with regard to the celibate life? Or are you saying that priests go through life never once struggling with loneliness?

People ought not to comment on things concerning which they are ignorant.

RJ said...

Anonymous: I think your view of vocation supposes that there is only one possible vocational choice for each person. There is an element of personal choice which God respects. A person might be capable of living either as a priest/religious or a married person, and choose marriage instead of priesthood. I'm not sure they would necessarily be condemned to a life of misery.
The fact that someone chooses to enter for a celibate life does not mean that they would find marriage a torture.
It seems fairly clear that the Church has consistently taught that a celibate life chosen for the sake of the kingdom is a 'higher state'. I'm not an expert on what that means but it could perhaps mean that there is a greater degree of Christian fulfilment possible in the celibate life - a controversial view in our present climate.