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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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Celibacy is the Solution

Author’s Note: I am amazed at how much negative feedback, especially from non-celibates, was sent to me about this article– much unworthy of publishing.  It demonstrates to me that there is a real and dangerous prejudice against Christian celibacy and a reductionism from some that minimizes its importance and value.  I was happy to see that a brother priest, who is actively involved with our archdiocesan seminary in Washington, DC, has shared positive thoughts on the topic that are similar to my own.  Fr. Carter Griffin has written a wonderful article first published in FIRST THINGS and now posted at the CERC website: “Celibacy: The Answer, Not the Problem.”

var38While there are trite sayings to the contrary, simple answers are not always the best answers.  This is particularly the case with the assumption of some that the impetus for the clergy abuse crisis is the imposition of an “unhealthy” and “unnatural” celibacy. Despite the deceptive eroticism and deprecation of both celibacy and purity that permeates our modern culture, there is nothing malignant or disordered about celibacy. Acknowledging a supernatural component to Christian celibacy, it is a manner of living and loving that is completely natural.  Given the current scandals, celibacy is not the problem, but the solution.  The answer that many are seeking to our troubles is not the wholesale allowance of married clergy.  That would not resolve issues of abuse; indeed, it would introduce a host of new difficulties like marital infidelity and divorce.  This is not to say that men in good and holy unions could not serve as faithful Catholic priests; all I am asserting is that this is no miracle solution to the Church’s ills.

What is the real solution?  We should demand that celibate priests remain faithful to their sacred promise.  If priests behave themselves then there will be no incidents of child abuse, assaulted nuns, illegitimate children and homosexual liaisons. Just as the Church implores married couples to keep their vows; our priests should do the same and thus give a witness and proclamation devoid of duplicity.

While we cannot demand that all heterosexual candidates for priesthood must be virgins, we can certainly establish it as the Church’s preference.  Sexual activity prior to a life of priestly celibacy is not a positive element in their formation.  We cannot make mortal sin a prerequisite for the sacrament of holy orders.  I have known seminarians so tragically shadowed by memories of heterosexual promiscuity that they felt compelled to discern out of formation for holy orders.

I still do not buy the argument that repressed but active homosexuality is not a major factor in the current abuse scandal.  There are few pedophile cases and way too many instances of homosexual pederasty.  Given this assessment, I think the Church should have a general prohibition against “active” homosexuals in formation and priesthood. When I say active, I mean “one strike and you are out.”  We cannot give homosexual relations the same moral value or weight given to heterosexuality.  Homosexual acts are always sinful; heterosexual relations in the marital act are holy and befitting the plan of God.

Given this distinction, I would argue that a priest who falls with a woman might be forgiven by the Church and returned to ministry.  Prudence and discipline would demand a period of real penance and soul-searching.  That is why I have suggested a few years of suspension in such cases where a man might deliberate with professionals and speak to the Lord about the status of his vocation.  If his priesthood should prove salvageable, then he could reassigned, preferably to another diocese.  Admittedly, some would disagree with me but the problem here is no disorientation and granted consensuality, not a matter of abuse.  It is simply, albeit tragically, a case of mortal sin that can be absolved in the confessional.

The matter of an immoral heterosexual liaison becomes more problematical if there should be offspring.  Whatever determination is made, the priest in this situation has an obligation to both claim the child (fatherly relationship) and to help provide financial support.  Forgiveness does not dismiss the need for restitution.  While discretion is required, there should be no cases of women being paid off by dioceses and children growing up without knowing the identity of their fathers.   Hopefully, God’s people might be forgiving when such stories are inadvertently exposed.  I do not foresee published lists of priests who have had children out of wedlock.

Christian celibacy cannot be identified with the variation in Buddhism which is directed toward spiritual enlightenment.  Christian celibacy is not the same as that practiced in Hinduism for the sake of greater physical strength and longevity. Christian celibacy finds no counterpart in Islam which utterly renounces celibacy. Christian celibacy cannot be compared with the secular or humanistic version that temporarily utilizes celibacy to target one’s energies and purpose toward economic or business success.  More than chastity, Christian celibacy is regarded in Catholicism as a gift given by God and then returned to God by the disciple.  It is a manner of fulfilling the request that Jesus gave to the rich man who went away sad because his possessions were many.  It is the ultimate response to the twofold commandment of Christ.  The Christian celibate loves the Lord with his whole heart, body and soul.  That same love spills out into a loving service of others.  Married Christians can also keep this commandment, although that divine love is first showered upon one’s spouse and children.  It is a love and commitment shared.  The celibate priest sees himself as married to the Church. He belongs wholly to the Lord and to his people.

It is somewhat ironic but true that even the necessary measures put into place to thwart the abuse of minors has damaged the actualization of this celibate love.  The priest’s relationship to the Church is spousal.  His relationship to those in the pews is paternal. He is to exhibit a spiritual fatherhood in his ministration of the sacraments and pastoral care.  Unfortunately, so as to protect the young, their access to their priests is seriously undermined.  A terminal distrust and suspicion has walled the priest off from many of his spiritual children— thus hampering spiritual bonding, counsel and even (in some cases) their access to sacraments like confession.

Despite the negative propaganda and the ill-informed solutions that attack the heart of the priesthood, celibacy remains one of the great treasures of the Western priesthood. We should not be quick to throw it away.  Here is the big surprise for many critics— most celibate priests remain happy with their vocation.