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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: Changes Coming Under Pope Francis?

The new Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, was interviewed for a Venezuelan newspaper. The reporter from El Universal asked various questions but the discussion perked a lot of ears when the topic turned to priestly celibacy. The Archbishop’s statement was nothing new but it was immediately sensationalized. He simply replied that celibacy belongs not to “Church dogma,” but to “Church tradition.” Thus, he admitted, it was a topic that was open for discussion. While it is obvious that any possible change would not include men in consecrated life or religious orders, the discussion and/or debate would be reserved to diocesan or secular priests. Religious priests take vows of celibacy, obedience and poverty. Diocesan priests currently take promises of celibacy and obedience. The one indispensable promise is obedience. Speaking as a diocesan priest, I think that the issue of married priests is more problematical than many would think and for many of the same reasons why it is incompatible for men in religious orders like the Jesuits, Dominicans or Franciscans. While they take no vow of poverty, many if not most of our diocesan clergy purposely live as poor men, looking upon the Lord and his people as their great treasure. I think it is best that we do nothing to cause divided hearts. Celibacy is not so much a loss as it is a gain, granting a freedom to love and minister courageously and beyond measure. A married man is anchored by the world. He must look backward again and again to insure that his family is secure and still tagging along. He wants to run with his priestly discipleship but must walk so as not to abandon his wife and children. Both priests move forward but one must be more measured.

I am not saying that a man who loves his wife cannot love the Church. But I do believe it narrows his vision. The celibate is fortunate in that he can love in a broad or expansive way. He has no children of his own and yet, in a fashion, all children are his children. Similarly, even to the stranger he is called, “Father.”

The celibate tries not to grieve about what he has given up. He knows full well that an intimate shared life, sexual expression and a family are beautiful things. But celibacy is wonderful, too. He focuses on what he has, not upon what is missing. The priest is a man of prayer and service. These are the exclusive poles of his life.

Yes, the celibate priest has his struggles; and yet those challenges make him more sympathetic to others who face obstacles— injustice, poverty, suffering, sickness, dying, betrayal, abandonment, loneliness, you name it. His celibacy allows solidarity with them. We live in a veil of tears. Sin infects men and the structures of society. We cannot have everything we want. The celibate priest witnesses that no matter what the struggle or loss, God has not abandoned us.  The Lord gives us what we need.

When we think of celibacy, we envision something personal, and yet it is a sacrifice embraced for the community. It is a gift that God gives which the priest must share. He is not called simply to be a hermit, but a man who lives for others.

The promise of celibacy is regarded as a discipline, not to measure a man’s spiritual muscle and depth of commitment, but to express the immensity of God’s love for his people. He keeps his promises just as married couples are faithful to their vows. Both celibate priests and married couples are living parables to a world filled with broken promises. They testify by their lives that in the face of serious challenges, promises can be kept with joy and that this precious faithful love has not disappeared from the world.

I cannot say if all the excitement signals change regarding the discipline or not.  It is my preference that mandatory celibacy remains undisturbed.  But, whatever happens, the Church will survive and God’s grace will always animate and enliven God’s ministers and flock.