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Priestly Celibacy "Open To Discussion".

India, Oct. 13 -- Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the new Secretary of State of the Vatican, made some surprisingly frank remarks about mandatory priestly celibacy that may indicate a new openness to the issue.

Parolin said in an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper that the tradition of priestly celibacy is not dogma, or a law of divine origin, and is therefore open to discussion.

Earlier in 2006, an Irish bishop had called for debate on celibacy. "The Church needs a debate on celibacy and has room for both married and unmarried priests," said Bishop William Walsh of Killaloe, Ireland in an interview with the Sunday Tribune newspaper.

While previous popes have declared priestly celibacy closed off from discussion, Parolin's remarks may be indicative of the possibility of a greater conversation about an ancient Church tradition.

The law of clerical celibacy is a hot topic in the Catholic Church. Tens of thousands of able priests have left the ministry on account of the law of celibacy. It has become overwhelmingly clear that that the law is not kept well in many parts of the world and that in consequence a great deal of duplicity and imposed silence has been required.

What we can easily expect from a discussion of mandatory celibacy is that married men will be permitted to receive priestly ordination.

After Christ's "calling of the apostles", as the synoptics tell us (and "they followed him"), we often see them still "at home" and in the same circles where they were working before their calling. Although they were married before they had this experience, they did not go back to their family lives but on the contrary devoted themselves, and their wives also, completely to their ministerial work and daily assistance to the Church (1 Cor. 9:5).

We admit that the pastoral care of souls is of primary importance in the Church and celibacy of its clergy is secondary and that if there ever is a genuine shortage of priests in the Church as a whole or in some area the value of celibacy would have to yield to the primary value. But we must be quick to point out that we must be very careful in how we define "shortage of priests." Perhaps the Holy Spirit is telling us something today by the decrease in vocations to the priesthood: so many tasks, even apostolic ones that were performed by the clergy in the past, really can and should be entrusted to the Christian laity.

But still, we ought to remember the first necessity: the people of God have a right to the ministry of their priests. This ecclesiological fact carries more weight than the Church law of a celibate priesthood. Like the West, the East sees the married priesthood as dictated by pastoral considerations. In no way should this be viewed as a second-rate kind of priesthood even though the Church in principle grants the preference to clerical celibacy in order to make the ministry "for the sake of the kingdom of God" into that striking eschatological sign.

If a time comes when there is a real shortage of priests, the Church should be willing to give the priesthood to deserving duly trained married men. We refer to the reintroduction of married deacons who officiate at the altar in priestly robes wearing their wedding ring. There is the widespread discussion about admission of viri probati, married men of proven character, to the priesthood in the Church.

If God calls married men to the priesthood in the East, he certainly does so in the West, as well. God is not partial but just.

According to the New Testament and prevailing theological teaching, both a divine and the Church's call are necessary for priestly vocation. Jesus chooses as apostles "those whom he desired" (Mk 3:13). Now it is an indisputable fact that God calls married men to the priesthood as well as celibates. This knowledge is based on the New Testament witness (Mk 1:30; 1 Cor 9:5; 1 Tim 3:2, 12) and in the uninterrupted tradition of some of the eastern churches, including the Catholic ones, as well as on the dispensations granted by popes to converted married clergy in the West since the time of Pius XII. All these married men have been accepted by the Church.

In conclusion, we can state that the historical situation of world and Church suggests that it would make sense from a Christian point of view to admit married persons not only to the diaconate, but also to the priesthood, in addition to having celibate priests. For individual cases this has been allowed repeatedly, thus recognizing the need to a certain extent.

If you really want to be celibate, celibacy must be among the more important elements in your life. And just as significant for any person who desires celibacy, you must spend time to understand celibacy and master its intricate implications in every phase of your development and growth. Most of all, you must realize it takes time to foster the one relationship that alone can sustain a lifelong celibate commitment - that is, with Jesus Christ, particularly, in prayer.

Consecrated celibacy is a love affair or it is nothing. It is a way of loving life and all life. It provides the core relationship around which all other relationships and friendships revolve. Consecrated celibacy essentially is an encounter with Divine Reality unmediated by marital love or involvement.

The requirement of contemplative prayer cannot be reduced to an external regulation, as if it were some spiritual cookbook recipe. Time is part of the essence, but the quality of the growing relationships within prayer is of equal importance. Prayer, particularly contemplative prayer, is indispensable and fundamental for the celibate life, for there is no other effective way to confront God-Self-Other within the core of the celibate reality. All other services and ministries are built on this foundation. All other relationships and friendships are grounded in this core, or in the end they will fail from the point of view celibacy or celibate life.

In studying consecrated celibacy over forty years, I have never found one exception to this fundamental rule: prayer is necessary to maintain the celibate process. A neglectful prayer life ensures failure of celibate integration. Yet like everyone else, the celibate should be free to choose and explore his or her own method of prayer.

There is a necessary connection between celibacy and mysticism. The priest of Jesus Christ is, first and foremost, a mystagogue, one who bears the Mystery and initiates others into it. At the heart of the Christian faith is a confrontation with the all-grounding and all-encompassing mystery of Being itself, which is God. The believer is grasped, shaken, overwhelmed by that powerful force, which in Jesus Christ, is revealed as wild, passionate, unconditional love. Without a sense of that ever fascinating and uncontrollable power, the priesthood becomes a social welfare system.

The priest is the one who bears that strange Mystery and who leads the people of God into an ever more intimate contact with it. The priest is the "experiencer" and transmitter of God's radical, tremendous, incredible, fantastic, excessive and extreme love.

If the priest is to be a mediator between heaven and earth, he must be in habitual contact with the Mystery; he must stand stubbornly in the presence of God in silent prayer. He must take with utmost seriousness the command of St. Paul to pray continually, to orient the whole of his being to the experience of God in prayer. In short, the priest must be a mystic, a contemplative, a person of prayer. This is hardly the unique vocation of a monk; it is the parish priest, the privileged mystagogue, who must be, in every fiber of his being, formed by prayer.

Simply put, the priest must be an authentically religious leader for this people; he must be, in the richest sense possible, spiritual director, mystical guide. One of the greatest post-conciliar mistakes was to turn the priest into psychologist, sociologist, social worker, counselor - anything but a uniquely man of God, religious leader (mystagogue). The priest is not, primarily, someone who works, preaches, ministers, counsels; rather, he is someone who - at the core of his being - has been set on fire by God experience, and who invites others to catch the flame.

Karl Rahner expects every Christian to be a mystic! He writes: "The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or will not exist." ("The Spirituality of the Church of the Future," Theological Investigations 20, 1981, p. 149). By that he means that the future of Christianity stands or falls with people being able to find God in a personal religious experience. The Christian is one who has experienced the touch of Jesus Christ and has consciously appropriated it through prayer so that it continues to be a present reality. The Christian is one who is aware "...of the fact that he (God) is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist..." (Acts 17:28). In this historical moment a secondhand experience of God that derives from culture or family or Church is insufficient. Though indeed these realities may mediate such an experience, the person must become actively invested and involved in God experience.

The highest goal of meditation and contemplation is enlightenment. Spiritual teachers of all ages have been unanimous in declaring that we can come to taste God through meditation and contemplation. Through direct experience - not through bookish learning or intellectual conceptualization - we may reach a state of conscious union with the Ultimate Reality. In that state all the long-sought answers are given, along with peace of mind and heart.

Only against a contemplative vision can the celibacy of the priest be properly grasped and appreciated. When one tries to justify celibacy on functional grounds, the arguments sound tinny and unconvincing. Not surprisingly, mystagogues, those who have been chosen by the Mystery to experience the Mystery at depth and share it with the people, see the appropriateness of the celibate lifestyle. Called to stand on the horizon between heaven and earth, set on fire by the presence of God, the mystagogue rather naturally chooses the option of celibacy.

The depth and quality of our prayer life, therefore, is the touchstone for the depth and quality of our celibacy, and a heightened awareness of the one (e.g., through review of prayer life) is almost synonymous with a heightened awareness of the other.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Oct 13, 2013
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