Friday, November 24, 2006

The scandal of celibacy

When I'm in a parish I always enjoy knocking on doors and meeting people. One such encounter earlier this year was with a very friendly self-employed builder. He was on my list because he'd been married to a Catholic at some stage, though this didn't seem to have done much for his knowledge of the Faith. He was, however, very open and interested, asking many questions about the Church. He then came out with the classic line "so are your parents priests then?". Restraining my urge to burst out laughing, I said that Catholic priests aren't allowed to marry. "Oh", he said, clearly mulling this over "are you allowed relationships?". "Do you mean friendships?" I asked. "No", he replied, "I mean like one-night stands".

I was very amused by the incident, but it made me think about how little many people understand celibacy, and how difficult they find it to accept. Celibacy challenges the "there's one god, and we just each have our own way of finding him" mentality because when we make God in our own image and likeness he doesn't ask us to do challenging things.

Celibacy also challenges a professional, 9-5 type model of priesthood, as it makes it so clearly a vocation that encompasses all of one's life rather than simply another job.

As I'm obviously very happy in my vocation, people don't tend to challenge my call to celibacy, but the concept in general, usually in fairly predictable ways.

I don't think the Church should force people to be celibate.

It doesn't - no one gets forced to be a priest.

I know people who really want to be a priest, but are married.

Ultimately priests are chosen by the church, not themselves. I really want to go to Mars. Sadly, it's not going to happen.

But ordaining married men would magically solve our vocations crisis

What vocations crisis? We have one of the highest numbers of priests per catholic of any country in the world. The number of priests is falling, but not as fast as the number of practising Catholics. That is a far more urgent crisis, that definitely won't be resolved by ordaining married men.

But the Anglicans have married priests

Nooooooo. You've found the chink in my armour. The one argument I can't answer. If the Anglicans do it, it must be right.

I could go on, but you get the general drift. Actually, I try to talk more about the beauty of the gift of celibacy and the amazing spiritual fruitfulness that it brings. I find celibacy a challenging gift, but one that has brought me a wonderful joy and innumerable blessings. I hope that in some small way it also brings something to those I encounter.


John said...

I think that was very well put. Well done.

Fr Tim Finigan said...

Excellent post. Another line I sometimes get from women of a certain age is "What if you fell in love with someone?" I answer - "Well what would you expect your husband to do if he fell in love with someone?"

Anonymous said...

I'm in a leaving-comments-mood so here goes....

Thanks very much for you Blog - it's really very good - nice to know that our future priets are seemingly so well rounded and thoughtful... not to mention orthodox!

Please keep up the good work - I'll now say a rosary for your and fellow seminarian's intentions.

God Bless,

In Christ

Gildas said...

Thank you for your generous comments and prayers. I'm very aware of the power of the prayers that people are saying for me.

Anonymous said...

Well done on such a good "article" or blog on celibacy. All priests get asked the same questions. Yes the Anglicans do have many married priests, but they have even less applying for Ordination and those going to Sunday services than us. The real problem is not celibacy, but the lack of generosity in society. We live in such a selfish and individualistic society today that many just don't want to do anything for someone else, let alone God. I fear that purgatory is going to be one great big wake up call for quite a large number of people! God bless, Fr James.

Anonymous said...

Another reply to the last comment of course is:

Anglicans don't even have priests so I don't know how they can have married ones!