Thursday, October 26, 2017

A renewed attack on celibacy?

Reposted from December 2015

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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  1. Anonymous2:31 pm

    Not to be provocative - this is a genuine question of curiosity mainly bearing on your "Part Time Priests" post - I wonder what you make of the much quoted prophecy of Papa Ratzinger (dating from the 1970s I believe) about a small, committed Church, in which priests would of necessity have weekday jobs etc.

    1. The quotes I've seen about this - for example on Fr Z's blog

      don't include that about priests having other jobs. In any case, I think that Cardinal Ratzinger's description of the future Church, while interesting in some ways, is wrong in a lot of others, as is clear now that 20 or 30 years have passed since he said it. Unpacking this would take too long, however, for the com box.

    2. Would love to see you unpack it though, Dr. Shaw.

    3. Here you go:

      Written partly in response to the above comment, back in 2015.

  2. I think, practically and spiritually, the discipline of celibacy for presbyters in the Western Church is worth preserving, but, having one foot in the Eastern Catholic world, I don't get too anxious over the possibility of admitting married clergy. My home parish priest was married, as are a number of clerical friends. I think we should be clear, if we do allow married priests, that we preserve the discipline in a way analogous to the way the Easterns have - bishops are celibates, and priests and deacons practical habitual abstinence from relations at certain times. There is the danger that allowing married priests will "open the floodgates" to silliness, but I am also open to the possibility that many orthodox married priests would be preferable to those who would be celibate, but closeted and undermining the faith. Perhaps viri probati or at least a blanket dispensation for the Ordinariates might be reasonable.

  3. Sadly it was the Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle who presented this proposition to the recent meeting of the Bishops of England & Wales. May he repent

  4. The only surprise is that the CBCEW did not accept the idea. As to another Synod I wonder whether Pope Francis is still so enamoured of Synodality, after having tried every trick in the book, the Synod on the Family failed to come up with the right answer.

  5. The celibate priesthood is a Catholic discipline not a doctrine. It served the Church well although in the last fifty years or so, with the Church in increasingly leaning towards the World instead of teaching the World, homosexual mafias have undoubtedly built up, it seem in the Vatican as elsewhere

    The issue here is the dwindling number of priests. This has many causes, the reducing number of Catholics, the feminisation of the Church and the general collapse of Faith. A number of exceptions have been made for the Ordinariate and that is good, but temporary.

    Married priests are not the answer. This will solve nothing as it has solved nothing in the Protestant Churches. Catholicism cannot have female so-called priests. The quicker we forget about this idea, this dead end, the better.

    Over the next 20 years the shortage of priests will become critical. We will be back to things as they were in Recusant times with travelling priests. There will be attempts to further feminise the Church and bring in some sort of quasi – female type of ministers. That will then be outside of Catholicism.

    Our few travelling priests over the next decades will be so busy getting around their far flung parishioners that the last thing they will have time for is any concept of marriage.

    Mark you the Church will be smaller for a while, certainly in terms of numbers, much more so than even Benedict predicted!

  6. Undermining celibacy in Holy Orders is but one step away from the 'priesthood' of the laity. This may be the intention.

  7. There is, it seems to me, a big problem in the West, namely, the widespread confusion between (a) clerical continence which is of apostolic origin and is, at least to an extent, honored in the East, too; (b) priestly celibacy as a means (especially in the West) to live in continence; (c) monastic celibacy which is both for monks who may or may not be in holy orders and nuns who, of course, are not ordained.

    Canonist E. Peters has devoted a lot of work to this problem and has posted again about this:

    Some (or many) prospective permanent deacons are blissfully unaware that the letter of the canon law currently in vigor (CIC1983) required continence of all Latin rite clerics without any exception. Paul VI when instituting such form of deaconate wisely suggested that the married candidates should be preferably of older age.

    All this complex of questions (especially (c)) should be dealt theologically together with general askesis of baptized, virginity, continence within marriage (temporary or not, cf. St. Paul's "married being as not married"), all of which remained out of view at the recent Synod (so far I know).

  8. Reading all the various comments , i ponder. You ' learned ' people seem to dedicate a unmeasurable time to condemn, criticise and judge and in some case asking for repentance.
    One can't help thinking : Do you ever call on The Holy Spirit and ask for guidance? Our Heavenly Father's love is totally unconditional so who am I to take on the role of Judge and executioner ? Is my obedience to our church only applies when it is in agreement with my personal belief ? Don't you trust your Cardinals? Someone talks about the feminisation of the church like a plague falling on us ! Our Lord Jesus knew better and they never deserted Him. Can someone with authority tell us whether all people joining closed Orders did it with full knowledge and free will ? Until quite recently commoners like myself were retrograded at the back of the church drown in a overcomplicated liturgy they couldn't understand; did anyone preached the Good News ? Love your neighbours not out of sympathy but real apathy / hurt with the poor, the sick and desperate. Just bring them hope for the Love of our Saviour Jesus Christ and abandon your Pharisees 's doctrines as they won't serve any purpose when asked: where were you when I was hungry, lonely, cold in spirit..? Were you arguing whether the male authority was under threat ? that a woman being a minister for women could bring the church into disripute ? That it is preferable for a celibate priest to counsel young adolescent girls with unspeakable issues ? It is quite amazing how we interpret church history according to our views; female deacons never existed ? married pastors, Cardinals chosen by Kings, Bishops chosen by their uncles and family, parcels of Paradise sold at a premium, Cardinals living sumptuous lives in Rome, plus all recent history which nearly finished us off. And so much more not yet divulged; very often when we are vociferous about something, an underlining current shows that we are not totally exonerated of guilt..I am a basic, uneducated catholic who is craving for someone to stand and shout out the Great News, give us hope and fill our churches again. Let us all pray for unity even if we have to by-pass our own agenda of professional church goers (the one with the name on the pew !) We give thanks to our Lord who made the ultimate sacrifice so we are saved with or without the quarrelling of the Synod . Let us learn to love more, in the Name of Jesus Christ

    1. "Our Heavenly Father's love is totally unconditional so who am I to take on the role of Judge and executioner ?"

      When you say "totally unconditional," do you mean to say that all men are saved?

      "Don't you trust your Cardinals?"

      Sadly, we have every reason not to trust them.

      And it's hardly the first time in Church history that has been the case.

  9. @ HC. Not particularly learned, but quick reader and typer.

    Judging using our God-given intelligence, observation and experience is a duty, as is the defence of The Truth of the One True Church. I note that you judge in your condemnatory remark!

    If you want to stand and shout about something suggest you start with the CCC

  10. Regarding the Ordinariates, the appointment last month of the first Ordinariate bishop - perforce an unmarried celibate priest - in the North American ordinariate is telling. An explicit reason cited by Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, the outgoing ordinary, was that the discipline of celibacy "will be expected for the next generation of priests within the Ordinariate. A bishop can more effectively commend this discipline to communities long accustomed to married clergy and so raise up new vocations."

    Of course, there had been some mention of this expectation at the outset, but many wondered how firmly or quickly the Ordinariates would actually follow through (if at all). But it really does seem to be a serious expectation going forward, and already the U.S. Ordinariate's first seminarian is, indeed, a celibate man. Those looking to the Ordinariates for support for a married priesthood may find less succor there than they thought.

  11. Humble Church: You wrote: "Don't you trust your Cardinals?" meaning that we should always? And then you wrote "married pastors, Cardinals chosen by Kings, Bishops chosen by their uncles and family, parcels of Paradise sold at a premium, Cardinals living sumptuous lives in Rome, plus all recent history which nearly finished us off."

    I think you need to slow down a bit.

  12. It may be worth saying that the Latin Church of the West does not consider celibacy intrinsic or essential to priesthood. If it did it would not be able to ordain married ex-Anglican clergy. The question therefore is why should priests be celibate? The trouble in answering this is that the question is hopelessly muddied by the Catholic Church's failure to to develop a wholesome theology of human sexuality. It tends to see this as a concession to human weakness, only doubtfully justified by its necessity for procreation. Apologies for priestly celibacy tend to see celibacy as a "higher" way, suggesting that the priest must be especially holy and pure and could not be so if he were sexually active. Until we begin to see human sexuality as a gift of God in creation, and therefore good in itself, the way we are created by God to relate to each other in love, it will never be possible to get a proper angle on the value or otherwise of celibacy.
    As well as that the case for celibacy is bedevilled by various untruths that continue to be believed: e.g. that Christ himself was celibate (the most we can say is that, as far as we know, he did not marry); that marriage and priesthood are incompatible (try asking married priests about that}; that a married priest could not get up in the middle of the night to attend a dying person (ambulance men? doctors?) etc. etc.