Celibacy – freely embraced – helps create really good, fatherly and even emotionally available men
When was the last time you prayed for priests, or for a particular priest? Not for more vocations – when did you last pray for the priests we already have?
I am back on to clerical celibacy this week, thanks to some correspondents. Most of these have reminded me that it’s a discipline that doesn’t apply in non-Western Catholic rites, and that it evolved over time, and so on.
I understand it must be frustrating when Latin Rite Catholics like me don’t acknowledge married priests outside the Latin Church. But let me explain to you why I go in to bat so strongly for the celibate priesthood.
Married priests don’t need my support. They have feisty wives, congregations who support this tradition, and mainstream approval because they’re normal – and I mean that statistically. Most people, after all, get married.
The priests who really face down the existing culture – and are truly countercultural – are celibate priests. In our unhappily oversexualised culture, clerical celibacy is currently under attack like never before.
Celibacy isn’t natural, and that’s its greatest strength. It’s supernatural, and it’s really challenging in ways that married life isn’t. (Before you email me, I know married life is challenging as well).
The celibate priesthood is a beautiful gift to the Church. Just from a purely selfish point of view, it’s brought a series of really good, fatherly, and emotionally available men into my life. They were able to guide and advise and care – really care – for me through some very rough times.
Paradoxically, if they’d been married, I would always have felt guilty for taking them away from their families to attend to me. I have also had bad experiences with untrustworthy married men – but very, very few with celibate priests.
Arguing that ordaining married men in Australia will solve the mythical priest shortage is just a red herring. There is no priest shortage; we’re sitting at around one priest for every 200 practicing Catholics.
We do have a priest distribution problem, but ordaining married men is the least workable solution to that. Married men can’t just up and move like single men can.
Back to the spirituality of celibacy: the celibate priest really is another Christ. Celibacy is the sharp chisel that helps to carve him into that image.
Jesus blessed marriage, but He chose celibacy for Himself. And in order to live it, priests need our prayers for their perseverance.
I have seen priests go wrong, usually from a combination of poor formation, inadequate pastoral support, and lack of spiritual direction. But the underlying cause was lack of prayer on their part – and lack of prayers for them.
So many people of both sexes have been wounded terribly by the sexual revolution. We face a lot of work to rebuild a culture in which we can really support the celibate priesthood in the Church.
But we won’t achieve anything without prayer – not just for new vocations, but for the priests we already have.