Objections to Priestly Celibacy and its Validity

The value of priestly celibacy is not accepted equally by all. Some are of the opinion that clerical celibacy cannot be an ideal for the priest to live on today. It prevents the priest to be a part of the people for whom he is sent, makes it difficult for him to be one with them, to understand the various domestic problems as he has no family of his own. In addition to this there is a suggestion that the acceptance of celibacy devalues the esteem of sexuality amd marriage, or it may lead to contempt of women, oppression of them, to consider body as very negative.

As a law imposed on the clergy celibacy is not tenable as Christ himself called married men for the spread of the Gospel, especially he did not say anything about the law of celibacy. Jesus did not establish any necessary relation between the priesthood and celibacy. Celibacy must be accepted as a gift of God for certain individuals, especially given for certain definite purpose. It is true that the gift of celibacy is not always granted to those who are called to the priesthood. Priestly way is not the way of a religious or a monk in the monastery. Added to all these objections there can be also the most practical reasons such as: to solve the problem of shortage of priests, to prevent certain priests from leaving priesthood, and to reduce the occasions of scandal given by the clergy. The non-Catholic Churches and ecclesial communities do have married clergy and thus optional celibacy helps the Catholic Church to carry on ecumenical relations in a better way.

The advocates of married priests propose that married clergy relate better to issues concerning marriage and the family. It is unnatural for men to be celibate. Celibacy in the Latin rite is unfair. Since the Eastern rite allows married priests and the Latin rite allows by way of exception.

How valid are these objections

      1.            Priestly vocations are on the decrease even in the Churches where they have no law of celibacy. Therefore abolishing of priestly celibacy is not a remedy for the shortage of priestly vocations.

      2.            One cannot argue that abolishing the rule of celibacy would help the Catholic Church to improve the ecumenical relations with other Christian communities. Ecumenism is not giving up the age old traditions and practices of the Catholic Church. Raymond Brown would argue that ecumenical commitment of the Catholic Church explicitly demands celibate priests because the witness of celibacy is lacking in many other Christian Churches. Therefore the Catholic Church has an ecumenical duty to the Gospel to continue to bear effective on this score.

      3.            Celibacy is not the only reason for leaving priesthood. The law of celibacy does not take away the freedom, one is free to be ordained and the gift of celibacy is included in the call. As the Council of Trent teaches: “For God would not deny the gift to those who duly ask for it, nor allow us to be tempted beyond our strength.”

      4.            The priests understand the sacrificial nature and sanctity of marriage in a better way and are in better position to counsel the married people in the ways of keeping the material vow of fidelity.

      5.            The discipline of celibacy among priests is one of the distinctive marks of the Catholic tradition of the Latin rite. To compare one Church tradition with another is not at all accepted and practical for the ministry of the Church.

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