The word is out that the next subject for discussion at a Synod of Bishops will be celibacy. I don't know if this is true, but it is worth reminding ourselves of exactly why the Latin Church (as opposed to the Byzantine, Maronite etc. churches) should not abandon celibacy.
A while ago I wrote a short series of posts on the topic:
The Crisis of Celibacy
The Attack on Celibacy is an Attack on the Priesthood
The Attack on Celibacy is an Attack on Marriage
Here are a few points from those posts.
First, we have come to this stage in the debate because, in a series of choices between strengthening or weakening celibacy, the Church's leadership has chosen to weaken it. These decisions have been understandable - it is important to stress that, taken individually, they may seem inevitable, or even laudable - but the cumulative effect has been to erode the principle of priestly celibacy. Examples of such decisions have been: the giving way to the massive departure of priests from their vows, and the moral support given by bishops to laicised priests, including groups calling openly for the end of celibacy; the promotion of married deacons, and the endemic confusion about deacons' obligations; the taking over of various liturgical functions by lay people, including women; and concessions made to former Anglican (and occasionally Lutheran) convert clergy.
If celibacy is of value, and St John Paul II liked to stress that it is, then we need to treat as being valuable. There is a price involved in maintaining the ideal of celibacy, and if we are not prepared to pay the price, then it will disapear. Tough decisions, perhaps harsh decisions, will be necessary from future Popes and from bishops who want to preserve and promote celibacy, and not just give it lip-service and take it for granted while it withers away.
Second, the priesthood is undermined by attempts to lower its costliness: the visible cost paid by those entering the priesthood, which demonstrates publicly their committment to the priestly ideal. The Eastern churches do not simply make do without celibacy: they have a disciplinary regime, of fasting, and an obligation to lengthy liturgies, which few Western priests would put up with for a minute. Well, our Western priests don't have to put up with it; it is not our tradition. Our priests' conforming to Christ is manifested in a different way. What this means is that the example of the Eastern churches does not make the liberal point that celibacy is unimportant; it does the opposite. A priesthood without any onerous obligations, a slack priesthood, has no historical precedent, and would have no future.
Third, the idea that priesthood can without further ado be combined with marriage undermines marriage, because it implies that marriage itself is not a serious committment with serious implications for one's way of life. In the liberals' conception, marriage is reduced to the status of an occasional sexual outlet for incontinent men. If that's what they think marriage is, it is no wonder that marriage is in trouble. And it is in trouble: it is in the most desperate trouble in the West, in no shape to shore up another crisis-ridden institution.
Liberals have a habit of taking for granted whatever they aren't currently attacking. When attacking celibacy, they take marriage, and the priesthood itself, for granted: they assume that if we carry on taking away the supporting attitudes and practices which surround these things, life will go on as before. It hasn't, and it won't.
See also my post on 'Part Time Priests'
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