18 March 2010

Clerical celibacy

A few days away because of a family bereavement; and I find awaiting me endless emails on the subject of clerical celibacy. "And" (as the Daft Dimbleby said when commentating the 'Queen Mum's' funeral procession because he hadn't done his homework on all the regiments she had a link with and which were marching behind her coffin) "still they come". I'm just deleting them all now unread as fast as they pour in.

Personally, I am unfazed by the question of whether married clergy in the post-Apostolic period did or did not continue to have "sexual relations" with their wives. Let us assume that complete sexual abstinence was the rule. In that case, the approval by the Church in subsequent centuries and in particular contexts of married and sexually active clergies is a clear example of development. And to those of us who believe in development under the safe guidance of a Magisterium, there surely isn't any problem about this.

However, "Continuing Anglicans" with a fetich for clinging to what they believe the Bible says and the "Primitive Church" - whatever that is - did, really have got to disprove the case for clerical abstinence in those "early" days of the Church, or the poor soppy things really are up a gum tree without their trousers on.

There are also not inconsiderable problems for papists who derive extreme conclusions from the case for such abstinence. They have to explain why a "development" sanctioned by the Papacy really is - in their view - so iffy. And since the Latin Church itself has abolished celibacy for all in Major Orders by allowing (not as an exception but as a regular institution) married deacons, and since the Sacrament of Order is one and undivided ... well ... isn't there a spot of explaining to be done there too?

I suspect that there is a fair bit of work to be undertaken here. It should perhaps be done within the context of the very considerable development in the understanding of sexuality which Pius XI displayed in Casti Connubii.

5 comments:

Michael Vyse said...

By all means treat clerical Celibacy as a matter of RITE & DISCIPLINE (e.g. the DISCIPLINE of the use of Latin for the EF of the Roman RITE); but never as a DOGMA/ DOCTRINE.
S. Paul's comment "Bishops should be a husband of one wife" does not (as some Protestants claim) denote a requirement for married Bishops, but it does mean that Married Bishops are at least perfectly consistent with Catholic Doctrine, even if not the Latin & Eastern practices.
The Church cannot contradict herself (S. Paul's letter is part of the Church's own Deposit of Faith)!

motuproprio said...

Even as an Anglican, I was always unhappy about priests getting married - and in fact my then Diocesan forbade matrimony being solemnised during the diaconal year (whether he had the authority and power to do so is another matter - but it was not pleasant to experience his displeasure). Rome has made no stipulation about post-ordination cessation of sexual relationships between married convert clergy given dispensaton for ordination and their wives, and I cannot imagine it being a live question in the Ordinariates. BTW I see Canada and the USA are forging ahead (including the existing Anglican Use Catholic parishes becoming part of the new ecclesial structure).

Sir Watkin said...

There are those who argue that whilst celibacy may not be, continence is required (as well within marriage as for the celibate) under current Canon Law.

e.g. http://www.canonlaw.info/a_deacons2.htm

Fr LR said...

"Continent" has two meanings.

1) Temperate (which means moderate and self-restrained).

2) Chaste (which means abstaining from unlawful or immoral sexual congress).

(I pray for continence and chastity every time I put on my cincture.)

I am continent, temperate and chaste in my marriage and my life...and I have a happy wife and six children to prove it!

Isn't it inherently wicked and deceitful (c.f. The Bible, S. Thomas Aq.) to deny one's lawful wife the "marital embrace?"

A pox on the vile and boring Jansenists!

GOR said...

Yes, celibacy is a discipline and not a dogma. It is also a vocation and, as with any vocation, it is not for everyone. Just as the monastic life of a Trappist or a Carthusian - though it may have attractions to many when viewed from a distance - it is not for everyone either. Though the celibate priesthood of secular clergy in the Latin Rite has some things in common with celibate monks, their vocations are very different callings. Not every secular priest could endure community life - the “ora et labora” of Benedictine living - nor could every monk endure the vicissitudes of parochial life.

I view married priests and celibate priests in a similar light. They have things in common in terms of mission, priestly role and function, but are distinct and different callings. Because you can do one, does not mean you could do the other - successfully. Not every celibate priest could manage both a parish and a family, nor could every married priest handle the ‘aloneness’ of celibate life.

Fr LR has the right perspective: we are all called to chastity and continence whether married, single, in cloistered religious vows or the discipline of clerical celibacy while living ‘out in the world’. We each work out our salvation in the vocation to which God has called us. Each of us has our own challenges, advantages and disadvantages in our own particular calling.

While “faraway hills look green”, each vocation has its own challenges and comforts, joys and sorrows, temptations and graces. I think it was Fr. Longenecker who told of an old Irish priest who once said to him, with a twinkle in his eye: “There will be times when we are envious of you and there will be times when you are envious of us”.

Unicuique suum.