Celibacy and the Priesthood.

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I was saddened recently to hear the extremely disturbing news of a priest who has recently decided to leave the priesthood to take up with an 18 year old girl. I’m not sure when the girl’s 18th birthday was, but I do know this is not a decision that would have happened over night. I understand he began thinking of leaving several months ago. How long were they involved before he decided to officially leave the priesthood? When did she turn 18?

It does raise the alarm bells for some extremely serious safeguarding issues that I very strongly hope are being fully investigated by his Bishop. God only knows what her parents are going through right now.

My hope is that he has the best intentions for this girl and has decided to do the right thing by her and marry her. Perhaps the obvious age gap will not cause a problem? Who am I to judge? After all she is an adult now – just, and legally able to make her own decisions. But then again, at 18, I was extremely naïve and vulnerable and an older man did take advantage of me.

I hope that his Fatherly background will ground them both solidly in the understanding of God’s plan for marriage and family and they will be able to live out this extremely important vocation for the rest of their lives. I hope he is making chastity a priority right now. But then again – I hear he is a supporter of gay marriage, and other equally false theological notions.

Somehow, his dodgy theology and his dodgy actions seem to complement each other perfectly. The man needs prayers. And so does that 18 year old kid.

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I’ve had long discussions recently regarding priestly celibacy. Personally I think it is a difficult argument to make when I see married Anglican convert priests often doing a better job than some of the celibate priests I know. These men are living proof that the duality of vocations is possible, and many of them describe the two vocations as complimenting each other rather than opposing:

“I am a Catholic (Anglican convert) priest, with lots of children, and a long happy marriage. My parish has 1,000 parishioners on a Sunday who appear very happy and cared for. I work extremely hard at both vocations and I understand the celibacy discipline. But my vocations aren’t in competition but are complimentary to the other. I not less committed to either. Both have sacramental graces and responsibilities attached to them.

I have a wife who is 100% behind me and children who are gracious in sharing me. It’s all of grace and I claim no power in it. I have to rely fully on God and listen to my wife, children and parishioners. It’s not always easy but when is either marriage or priesthood easy? It’s grace.”

However the beauty and incredible witness of celibacy are not to be overlooked:

“Besides all the practical benefits of a celibate priestly class there’s something even more important. The world is obsessed with sex and its advertisement, for the world it is the be all and end all. Celibacy shows the radical nature of the Faith, without it, not just the priesthood, but the whole faith would become something bland. It would be seen as just another part of life, when it is supposed to be life.

There’s also the added advantage of dealing with people that are having difficulties in relationships e.g., I was talking to a man suffering from SSA the other day and was able to talk to him about the heroic virtues without looking two faced. In other words, “We priests and religious can live life without sex or emotional relationships that involve intimacy and God will give you the grace to do it too!” It would be a very different case if I was married with four children.”

The fact that the other rites within the Catholic Church successfully have married priests and the fact that our Roman rite has not always required celibacy also makes the argument for celibacy more difficult. It would be naïve to think that the celibacy requirement did not have a lot to do with keeping money within the church rather than it going to widows of priests – but I’m sure the Roman Church would never be so materialistic, would it?

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I guess the best explanation I can understand is that a priest is called to love all equally with everything he can give, and in this way he is required to forgo exclusive relationships. I guess several decades ago when priests lived in community this would be good. The community would be the ‘family’ of the priest and stop him from having to endure isolation and all the temptations that come with that. But nowadays priests are more and more living alone. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Jesus always sent the disciples out in pairs, He didn’t expect anyone to go it alone.

And then there are the wonderful ex-priests I know who left to get married. Given the chance I know they would still be excellent priests today. Their decision to leave must have been agonising.

There is also the issue of older Deacons whose families have grown up and left home. They are already successfully dedicating themselves to their parishes. Would it not be reasonable for them to become Fr’s if they felt the calling? I know of one such deacon who did just this after his wife died. His adult children support him totally. But this situation is of course completely different to that of a young man with young children.

The jury is out for me on the issue of priestly celibacy. I can see major benefits and disadvantages to both states. And after all, it is a discipline not a doctrinal issue which means that it can be changed at any time. But I must say that I hold the deepest respect for those of you who are celibate priests, and who have given everything to serve God’s church. I pray for you everyday.

I must also make it crystal clear – in my eyes, an adult male leaving the priesthood to be with an 18 year old kid has very little to do with the issue of celibacy, and much more to do with the issue of sexual abuse.

9 thoughts on “Celibacy and the Priesthood.

  1. Every living thing has been divinely programmed to involuntary procreate but human beings can choose to remain virgins, however, the God given incentive to procreate does not go away, is marriage therefore the correct state?

    • If the girl was under the age of 18 when they began the affair then it is a major safeguarding issue because legally she is not an adult. Paedophilia would legally be the case if she was under the age of 16.
      I didn’t call him a paedophile, you did.

  2. Pingback: Celibacy and the Priesthood. | Faith in our Families | Deaconjohn1987's Blog

  3. I can relate to this post by Clare, since, as a widowed deacon, who was married for 53 years, and now is celibate. The rule is, once the wife passes away, the deacon cannot remarry (not that I would want to anyway!), but there are exceptions, like if the deacon has young children who need a mother, etc., then a dispensation from Rome can be requested. Serving as a married deacon for 25 years was not so rosy, when it came to family decisions. Plus, we had to work a full-time job to support our family (deacons do not get paid!) So, sometimes Job or family issues stopped us from doing our diaconal ministry. I sometimes wonder how a priest could support a large family on his small salary. Sadly, the spouse would probably have to work outside the home too. My wife didn’t work outside the home, she had a big job taking care of our four kids, while I sometimes worked two jobs to survive! Otherwise, I have no problem with having married clergy and also ordaining some of the deacons who are qualified to the priesthood. Many of us are already doing a lot of priestly ministry, like funerals, wakes, Communion Services, etc. As for me, I’m too old (79) and not well educated to be a priest, but like St. Teresa, the Little Flower, who prayed: “Lord, since I cannot be a priest in this life, may I be one in the next!” Amen to that!

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  5. There are both spiritual and practical reasons for the norm of priestly celibacy at the moment.
    However for me, the practical considerations are the ones which make the norm understandable.
    I’ve known daughters of ministers who gave a pretty awful review of what it was like sharing their father with a whole parish, as well as the financial inability to provide adequate for his family. The ministers wife had to effectively share him with the community and it was very difficult for him to be fully available to both family and parish, particularly after hours.
    Both for short changed, and it’s why Anglican converts to the RC are not often made sole parish priests, more often they are assistants.
    Having two full on vocations to juggle isn’t easy or, in my opinion ideal, and shouldn’t be the norm.
    Yes financial considerations come into it, because the responsibility to take care of a priests family is considerable and diverts funds away from parish initiatives – soup kitchens, catechesis, parish staff, repair of church etc..

    And to be brutally honest, I’d hate to be the wife of a priest. Honestly!

  6. Celibacy? In the list of clergy of Down and Connon on the diocesan web site, there are :-
    FIFTEEN (15) PRIESTS who are of have been sexually involved with women parishioners – and a small few have been involved with more than 1 woman. Some of them have had the same woman in their life for years.
    SEVENTEEN (17) PRIESTS who have been or are sexually active with men
    ONE (1) PRIEST who has been sexually active as a bisexual man.

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