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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Priestly Celibacy – The Church’s Man

I watched a television program several years go where a reporter interviewed a sampling of priests who left ministry for marriage. They were aging men and one in particular told a very touching story about how he came face to face with his need for a wife and family when he was baptizing the first child of his brother. He said that he knew then what he wanted. Nevertheless, he admitted that if the Church asked him to return to ministry tomorrow (as married man), he would leave his lucrative business in an instant. He still felt that he was called to the priesthood. Indeed, he rightly said, he would always be a priest. However, the images that followed stripped away the sympathy I felt for him. He was involved with other ousted married priests in conducting religious services and Mass, even though they had been stripped of faculties to do so. As is so often the case with such priests, his problem was not merely a failure to keep his promise of celibacy, but also of ecclesial obedience. If the Church authorities should deem fit to grant the priesthood to married men, then that is the Church’s business, no matter whether I like it or not. However, a man who marries without laicization and dispensation from celibacy, not only incurs censure but involves the person he is said to love in mortal sin. Yes, it is mortal because the priest knows better. If such a man tries to continue in ministry, then he draws still more people away from the true Church into his circle of rebellion. Personal weakness I can understand. But harming the souls of others is a gross betrayal of Christ. He places himself into the role of Judas, not for a sack of coins but for the temptation clothed in a skirt and stockings.

Our understanding of celibacy, as I have already mentioned, cannot be disconnected from our understanding of marriage. As topics they can be distinguished but they can only really be defined accurately in relationship to each other. It is in light of these two mysteries that we can branch out in our critique of open-ended single life and the moral ills of fornication, cohabitation, homosexual acts, polygamy and pornographic voyeurism. Of course, some might misjudge celibacy because they wrongly define marriage. This not only applies in reverse but can tamper with how we see the other areas of human sexual experience. The degradation of celibacy may expand the understanding of marriage as merely an opportunity for contractual sexual pleasure. But marriage is not licensed prostitution. Such a view would collapse moral judgment against moral ills outside of marriage. Divinizing celibacy too highly might impair marriage by reducing it to merely a necessary evil for the sake of propagation of the species. This mentality might properly exclude the listed moral evils but at the terrible price of defaming a sacrament of the Church. Although in the past marriage was defined primarily in reference to the need for human generation; Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body would seek to bring this into balance with the fidelity of the spouses. This is fine and good, but it has had necessary ramifications with our appreciation of celibacy. As marriage is made more appealing and even spiritualized as a means to holiness; we need to show the overriding value and benefit of celibacy. If we fail to make the case, then young men are going to view it simply in terms of an imposed hardship they must suffer to save souls and to forgive sins. This value must both be defined and made relevant in the daily life of the celibate priest; otherwise, he will become increasingly angry and resentful against the very institution he represents. The priest is the Church’s man. If he turns against the Church or gives in to cynicism, then this negativity will spread to the pews and damage efforts at evangelization.