Friday, May 15, 2009

A Roman Priest's Case For Celibacy

The scandal surrounding the Rev. Alberto Cutie has raised questions in the minds of many concerning the Catholic Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. Why does the church continue to defend a practice that seems so unnatural and so unnecessary?

There is a very bad argument for celibacy, which has appeared throughout the tradition and which is, even today, defended by some. It goes something like this: Married life is spiritually suspect; priests, as religious leaders, should be spiritual athletes above reproach; therefore, priests shouldn't be married

This approach to the question is, in my judgment, not just stupid but dangerous, for it rests on presumptions that are repugnant to solid Christian doctrine. The biblical teaching on creation implies the essential integrity of the world and everything in it.

Genesis tells us that God found each thing he had made good and that he found the ensemble of creatures very good. Catholic theology, at its best, has always been resolutely, anti-dualist -- and this means that matter, the body, marriage and sexual activity are never, in themselves, to be despised.

But there is more to the doctrine of creation than an affirmation of the goodness of the world. To say that the finite realm in its entirety is created is to imply that nothing in the universe is God. All aspects of created reality reflect God and bear traces of the divine goodness -- just as every detail of a building gives evidence of the mind of the architect -- but no creature and no collectivity of creatures is divine, just as no part of a structure is the architect.

Read the rest here

This sounds like a compelling argument for voluntary celibacy. My problem is that I have never heard a compelling argument for compulsory celibacy. But assuming for the sake of discussion such an argument exists how does one square that with the lack of celibacy in the Eastern Churches (I refer to those under the Pope)? If there are reasons that justify enforced celibacy in the Latin Church how do you justify not enforcing it in the Uniate Churches?


Joseph said...

Good question.

I think that it is due to old fashioned respect of tradition and cultural-ecclesial differences.

Or, perhaps, it is due to Latin diplomatic condescension . . . "Our way is better, but we will stoop low to allow those wayward Easterners to join in the fullness of Christ's Church."

Chris Jones said...

I think the word "enforced" is out of place here. No one is "forced" to be celibate. If you wish to marry, then choose not to seek ordination to the priesthood; if you wish to be a priest, then choose not to be married. Either way it is a free choice. But what it is not, is being able to choose the priesthood on one's own terms rather than on the Church's terms.

It is analogous to the way the Eastern Churches choose their bishops. The Church has thought it best to choose her hierarchs from among the monastics. But no one can say that the monastic life (and its consequent celibacy) is "forced" on the bishops. It is simply that if a man is called to the episcopacy, then he chooses to remain unmarried and become a monk. That cannot be called "enforced," and neither can the Latin practice of celibacy for the presbyterate be called "enforced."

Now I disagree with the Latin discipline, and I would be delighted if they would change it. But it is a matter of that particular Church's pastoral and prudential judgment, not of "enforcement."

Anonymous said...

I have read that the Western Church will claim that celibacy has a apostolic basis. If true, this would lend weight to your position that Rome's policy is confusing when compulsory celibacy is not required of the Eastern Rite Catholics. Statmann

Anonymous said...

The roman position AFAIUI is: eastern practice is good and correct, but in East there is a big line dividing monks and secular priests (excuse my bad terminology, my english is so bad) that includes celibacy and souls' cure. We have no such line but apply the eastern monastic conditions to every priest.

Something like that. Don't quote me :)

Michael said...

"If there are reasons that justify enforced celibacy in the Latin Church how do you justify not enforcing it in the Uniate Churches?"

I believe that there are many Roman Catholics who feel that very strongly about their Eastern Catholic brethren.

Visibilium said...

The discipline of priestly celibacy was the result of a Western political issue, not a strictly religious one. That accounts for the divergence between Roman Riters and the Unia.

L.T. said...

The Roman stubbornness for clerical celibacy, I would argue, is justified by the fundamentally flawed character of contemporary arguments and attitudes against it. Most proponents of "optional" celibacy don't care about tradition, discipline, asceticism, sexual continence, or the integrity of sacred orders. They're inflamed by the spirit of modernization, reformation, and masturbation. We've learned since Vatican II that true reform gets thrown off track from the getgo by hasty liberalization efforts by fiat. In our media-crazed world, the Church has to wait till the issue is no longer "hot button" before change in the canons can be considered, even if the arguments in favor of permitting clerical marriage are sound. Rome is right to err on the side of caution and conservation.