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Celibacy in the Catholic priesthood

12 Dec 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Doctrines

Seating before a medical consultant and talking as doctor and patient, she smiled and, with all respect, asked me a question that was completely outside why we were together; probably that was another way to make a patient relax. She asked me; what do you think about Pope Francis’ move against celibacy in the Catholic priesthood? Without hesitation, I answered, it’s not possible. Though I sounded very conservative to her, I am sure that I am not conservative as such. My answer was more of like a reflex action than a conservative speaking, though it expressed my feelings about the question.

By the way, I do not believe that Pope Francis is against celibacy in the Catholic priesthood, for he is a priest and a celibate himself. Cardinal Hummes reportedly asked Francis to consider ordaining so-called viri probati, married men of great faith, capable of ministering spiritually to the many remote communities in the Amazon where there is a shortage of priests, and evangelical Christians and pagan sects are displacing Catholicism. I think the Pope did the right thing not to have swept the question under the carpet as if it was never asked, but to throw it open for debate among the clergy of that region. I strongly believe that the Pope was asked that question not out of hatred for celibacy but a pastoral necessity, so it necessarily needs a compassionate and comforting response.

Celibacy in the Catholic priesthood is not a divine law but human or Church law, it is not dogmatic as such, and therefore it’s possibly open to reconsideration. Celibacy in the Catholic priesthood is not an imposition but willingly embraced by celibate, by human beings who struggle to live a perfect life in their weaknesses.

The call to suppress celibacy in the Catholic priesthood may not be unconnected with scandals recorded among few individual celibates. However, in many cases, I have observed that people confuse celibate and celibacy; they are two different things. A celibate is he or she who decides not to marry or avoid a sexual relationship, while celibacy is the state of not being married or involved in sexual relations. Celibacy is not the problem but the celibate, just as marriage is not the problem but the married. Both the celibates and the married are called to a life of chastity, to be faithful to the vows they have made.

I see the call to suppress celibacy as uncharitable and judgmental; this is not an attempt to make a case for weaknesses in the Catholic priesthood but to draw our attention to the fact that we all are called to a life of faithfulness. If there is no call for the suppression of marriage because few married couples are not faithful to their marital vows, why should celibacy be suppressed simply because few individual celibates failed? Why should the priest be crucified?

Again, I want to say that I am not making any case for weaknesses in the priesthood but to remind us that a priest is a man. He is a man who must be conscious of the fact that he has been consecrated and set apart; much more is expected from him by his consecration. But note, this consecration does not dehumanize him; it does not change his nature as man. He faces temptations like every other human being, if not more. Yet, everyone expects him to be superhuman.

You may quote the saying that celibate life is meant for those who can live it, correct, but can that be said of marriage? Remember that nobody embraces the celibate or married life because he or she wants to fail; no, we struggle with the help of God.

The suppression of celibacy should not be an option; celibacy is a gift to the Catholic Church. Let us, therefore, in charity and with compassion, pray for our priests.

  • Fortunatus Ihedioha Reply

    Fr., the reason I enjoy reading your blogs is partly because of the sound arguments that they contain and majorly because of the practical and humanistic approach with which you present issues. That said; permit me to agree with you that “The suppression of celibacy should not be an option, celibacy is a gift to the Catholic Church. Let us therefore in charity and with compassion pray for our priests.” To this call for prayer, please Fr., permit me to say that while we pray for our Priests, our Priests should also realize that there are enormous traps which the enemy sets for them and avoid doing things that will provide loopholes in their lives for the devil.

    Thank you Fr. More grace upon you.

  • This is a topic that’s close to my heart…
    Take care! Where are your contact details though?