Sunday, March 24, 2013

The attack on celibacy is an attack on marriage

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I have explained why the attack on clerical celibacy is an attack on the priesthood. More surprisingly, perhaps, it is also an attack on marriage.

The first thing to notice - something that The Tablet tendency resolutely refuses to notice - is that marriage is an institution under intense attack, both cultural and legal. The number of people getting married has now fallen to such a low level that the divorce rate has itself begun to sag. No cause for celebration: the only people getting married today are those with a slightly better chance of staying together, because everyone else is just living in sin, a lifestyle of quasi-marriage punctuated by quasi-divorces. The progressive collapse of marriage as the normative context for child-rearing is something whose consequences will unroll like a hideous snake over the next fifty years.
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A institution is this state of collapse, increasingly unrecognised socially or legally, under ceaseless attack by social engineers, ceaselessly mocked by opinion-formers, and relegated to one of many 'lifestyle options', is hardly in a good shape to support the tottering edifice of another important institution, the priesthood. But the attitude that marriage can be slotted alongside the priesthood at this juncture does not, in fact, come from people with a high level of reverence and esteem for marriage. It comes from people pretty contemptuous of it.

Caroline Farrow (@carolinefarrow) put her finger on something very important in a tweet: 'I'm really finding a lot of this celibacy debate offensive. Women are treated as objects upon which men must exercise their lust.'

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Exactly so. For the liberals, marriage is seen as a sexual outlet for men who can't keep their flies done up. As best it is regarded as the source of 'emotional support' for priests who get lonely and don't have a housekeeper to do the cooking. I'm not saying that celibacy doesn't represent a real sacrifice for priests, the giving up of something comforting, good, and important - it certainly does. But what the liberals are missing is that marriage is itself a vocation and a commitment. It is not just a handy bit on the side, a sort of concubinage.

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When a priest is ordained he gives up his life for the Church. When a man marries he gives up his life for his family, the family which does not appear later down the line, when children arrive, but which is represented right away by his wife. A husband gives up his property, he gives up his privacy, he gives up his right to be in a foul mood or to get drunk or lie all day in bed or leave his job to be a bum. He may do those things, of course, but to do them is not only wrong, more seriously wrong than if he were unmarried, but wrong to those in his care, his family, who didn't previously come into the picture. This family have rights over him which are all-encompassing, rights to his very body, to his very life. The seriousness and sacredness of marriage carry with them the impossibility of bigamy, polygamy, concubinage, and adultery. We are warned that even marriage after widowhood, while legitimate, is the lesser way, a way less recommended. While marriage is not absolutely, sacramentally, incompatible with the priesthood, this is something we need to stop and think about. In the West, we have persevered, through thick and thin, in the example of Christ's celibacy. We have stopped to think, and that was our conclusion: the priesthood is to be celibate, exceptional concessions aside.

What the liberals are saying about the reform of priestly celibacy is this: marriage is nothing special. Marriage is no special commitment, it leaves a man still free to do other things, like become a priest. The same people, in many cases, would no doubt say that divorce and remarriage should be allowed, and adultery and fornication are no big deals either.
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So not content with cheapening the priesthood, they cheapen marriage. The cultural and legal cheapening of marriage, particularly since the 1968 Divorce Reform Act, has not led to more marriages, but fewer and fewer marriages. If Catholic liberals have their way and carry this cheapening further, extending it formally to places where marriage was still being taken seriously, and by parallel cheapen the priesthood too, we are not looking at a revival of Catholic life. We are staring into the abyss.

Photos: FSSP ordinations are Wigratzbad 2009; and at Denton 2011; one wedding in the Traditional rite, and another.


  1. This post is a keeper. The parallels and (as you imply) mutual dependence of priestly celibacy and marriage are something which I never realised clearly before. Thank you.

  2. Excellent analysis! Thanks.

  3. This is a beautiful depiction of the similarities of Holy Matrimony and the Sacred Priesthood.