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Priestly Celibacy – Sex, Death & Homosexuals

Is there any reality about which we have as many mixed feelings as sex? There may be one– death. It is a consequence of sin and yet the death of Christ merits for us eternal life. We fight death with drugs, surgery and diets; at the same time, death is the doorway through which we must pass to see the Lord and enter into the heavenly kingdom. Just as our faith stamps sacredness upon marriage and the conjugal act, this same faith gives us hope and anticipation as we confront the dark mystery of death. The presence of sex and death permeate our world. Sex usually brings to mind the beginnings of life; but a contraceptive/abortive mentality is causing a collision between the themes of sex and death. Pregnancy is reckoned a curse and the child is regarded as a disease. They were traditionally viewed as blessing and gift.

The contemporary voyeurism runs against the stream of how human sexuality is usually treated and/or exercised.  The gay rights movement has also altered the scenario, with a segment of the population making sexual orientation the chief marker for their identity.  Most men and women do not parade around the fact that they are heterosexual.  It was just taken for granted.  This is no longer the case.  Also, while homosexuals can announce that they are gay, such announcements from heterosexuals are seen as offensive; they are viewed as a repudiation of any link to homosexuality. Since the celibate lives quietly without any external expression of orientation, it is in this environment that certain critics assume he has something to hide and that this something is likely homosexuality.  I think this is quite an illogical leap; but made up statistics about the numbers of gay clergy are routinely drawn from the invisible ether.  These same critics contend that the Church has emasculated her ministers to preserve discipline and to protect Church resources.  Their view of priestly sexuality is wholly one of denial, suppression, humiliation and ambiguity.  It is noted that while many women in hospitals will cover up when a man enters the room, even for a doctor; they will often remain exposed and ignore the priest as if he has no gender at all.  He is counted as different or less than a man.  Again, there are critics who interpret the priest as a gay man who hides his sexuality because he is ashamed and hates himself.  Behind the discipline of celibacy he can pretend to be like other men.  I cannot say there are no men like this; however, it is still my contention that most priests are heterosexuals who do not hate themselves and who are in touch with their sexual identity.  They remain true to the promise of celibacy and would expect those suffering from a disorientation to do the same.

One Response

  1. I have two questions/observations about celibacy.

    1. What about priests of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church? Celibacy doesn’t seem to apply to them. It appears that they can be married. Are they permitted to have sex with their wives after they are ordained, or, must they refrain from sexual relations after ordination?

    FATHER JOE: The Eastern rites of the Catholic Church follow the same pattern as the Orthodox churches. Married priests are permitted, but they must get married prior to their ordination. Once ordained, the status becomes permanent. If the spouse dies, they generally remain unmarried. Permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Church follow a similar pattern. They can also be married, but once ordained their status is fixed. The Holy See can make an individual exception, as Pope John Paul II did for a widowed deacon with five young children. He was given permission to marry the nanny because the Pope accepted the argument that the children needed a mother. While there is evidence of perfect continence in priestly marriages early in the Church’s history, there is no current requirement that they must abstain from sexual relations. Thus, Eastern rite priests, and those who have joined us from the Anglican Communion, are permitted to have relations and to conceive children with their wives. There is a 1929 Vatican regulation (still technically in effect) that prohibits Eastern rite churches from ordaining married men in the West and sending them into our hemisphere. However, certain Eastern patriarchs have skirted this ruling by sending men to their native countries for ordination and then having them return to the States. Indeed, there have even been some ordinations here in the past decade or so. There is currently a lot of pressure to revoke the discipline.

    2. I have read about a number of former married Episcopalian priests being admitted into the priesthood of the Catholic Church. I assume they probably become Roman Rite priests; or, are they allowed to become priests in one of the Eastern Rites? Again, whether Roman Rite or Eastern Rite Catholics, are these former Episcopalian priests required to refrain from sexual relations with their wives once they become ordained Roman Rite priests?

    FATHER JOE: Anglican or Episcopalian clergy see themselves as properly Western, not Eastern rite. Until recently, they were ordained as regular Roman Catholic priests. However, now there is Pastoral Provision that allows for priests and laity to join Anglican use parishes in the Catholic Church. They retain various Anglican traditions and prayers. Their ritual book is modified from the Book of Common Prayer; it is called the Book of Worship. Like the priests of the Eastern rites, they are not prohibited from having sexual intimacy with their spouses, indeed it is expected that they will be faithful both to their ministry and to their marital duties. The question is whether or not future generations of married men will be ordained for the Anglican use parishes. It is my understanding that future vocations would normally be expected to be celibate and single; however, the Pope can make individual exceptions, as long as they are proposed by their bishops or superiors as good choices.

    Are you touching upon what might become the proverbial “can of worms” for those who want to maintain the discipline of mandatory celibacy for priests? We shall see.

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