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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: Relating to Women

How should the celibate priest relate to women? This question is not simple given that there is an active national debate about how men behave (or misbehave) around women. Some guys treat every woman as chiefly a sexual object. We see this in the proliferation of pornography which focuses upon the desires of men. The sin of fornication is increasingly regarded as a necessary rite of passage and the way to measure the success of the dating experience. Cohabitation now statistically outnumbers married couples. Adultery is a chief cause for separation and divorce. Women complain about harassment, gender stereotypes and abusive and/or forced seduction. It is into this environment that celibate priests are called to respect women, who usually make up the majority of their congregations; however, there can be no romantic associations.

As an effort to safeguard or to insure celibacy, a number of priests in the past were trained to keep women at a distance. This did not mean that they hated women; however, they may have looked upon females with suspicion and tagged them as dangerous. It has been known that some priests have narrowed their friendships to other priests or a few men while treating their flocks (men and women alike) as souls to save but nothing more. We might say that they have attempted to strip gender from the perception of their congregations; but in truth, they have endeavored to neuter themselves. I have never known it to work well.

Priests must acknowledge they are men, not robots. Men relate to women differently than they do to other men. This does not have to be a bad element. Women can bring out a sensitive and courteous side in men. Look at how gentlemen treat their mothers and daughters. Women by their witness and interaction can assist the priest in extracting or bringing to the surface his sympathetic side and gentleness. The failure to properly acknowledge and treat women will result in a coarsening of priestly manners. He becomes distant, authoritarian and legalistic.

While celibate, priests are increasingly surrounded by women. Women are both employees of the Church and volunteers. I am not speaking here simply of housekeepers and cooks. Married and single women are catechists, youth ministers, liturgical musicians, readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, secretaries, parish business managers, parish associates, etc. This is in addition to traditional service in altar guilds, rosary groups, sodalities, etc. Women work and are present in rectories, parish schools, and in our churches (both in the pews and assisting the priest at the altar). Most parish priests find themselves more surrounded by females than males. Women among the laity have increasingly taking up the slack from the diminishing numbers of women religious, although nuns and sisters will always have an important part to play in the life of the Church. I make these lists to demonstrate that the priest does not and cannot escape the presence of women. They are integral components of the Church. The celibate priest, as the Church’s man, must be comfortable working with and for them. They will be his coworkers and friends. Having said all this, he should be ever cognizant of the boundaries that must never be crossed. He has to be prepared to exhibit a certain distance or even coldness if a certain boundary line of intimacy is skirted. Some women will fall in love with priests. He must let them know by word and manner that he is not interested. Priests will also find themselves falling in love; it is here that clergy need to be reminded of their celibacy so as to create the necessary space for fidelity in their vocation. His priestly work and the life of prayer and worship are his shield from falling. Nurturing his friendships within the presbyterate is also encouraged; there is a certain solidarity and understanding among men who share the same life and dedication to the Lord.