Is it time for the Roman Catholic Church to repeal the celibacy vow imposed on those who would serve?

While there were traditions of celibacy even from early times in order to embolden ministers of the Gospel in times of tribulation, the requirement for celibacy is from the twelfth century. Churches whose schism with Rome predate that do allow marriage of elders and deacons (the only terms for Church officers which I can justify biblically, since these are the only ones which are defined in the Epistles). The Bible itself requires that a “bishop” (from episkopos or overseer, a synonym with elder or presbyter) must the the husband of one wife and haven proven parenting skills. The new Testament also clearly defines the forbidding of marriage as “a Doctrine of Demons”. So we know where it comes from. The mechanism by which it appeared sensible in the Middle Ages was purely carnal – the coffers of the church were depleting through a widespread disinterestedness in faith in Europe, and money was not available to provide for the widows and orphans of ministers. Aware of the verse that says (1 Tim 5 v 8) “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” they simply cynically made sure that such claimants would not exist.

This was not the action of spirit-filled Church leaders but of carnal eccesiastical politicians whose effect has always been hard to combat in the Roman Church because of their interpretations of Apostolic succession and Church governance and from where, in the life of a Church, authority derives. These were the key issues of the Reformation which at the time led to bloodshed as they were politically charged. These days and for the last 200 years Catholics and Protestants have been able to discuss these issues in a civilised way, often a way of great love and respect, and still we have differing views. I am ready to say that most protestants are wrong on something – there are so many strands of thought in Protestantism that of course we are all wrong on something probably many things, hopefully mainly secondary things but are right in having a personal relationship with God based on faith in Jesus – but the chances that only one denomination has got the whole of theology right – how high are they? Catholics also therefore need to be able to question where they derive authority.

This celibacy doctrine, which began so unworthily, underscores so many of the sexual scandals and crimes of people who have been ministers in the Roman Catholic church since the twelfth century, right up to today. of course if someone does not have a normal sexual relationship which is considered not sinful they will be at a higher risk of temptation to have a sinful one. It is hard enough, Lord knows, even for those of us who are lawfully married. It is all very well for Brother Francis to apologise for the sexual crimes of church ministers and say that he takes responsibility, but unless something is then done by him to correct it, it will doubtless seem to many to be an empty and bogus acceptance of responsibility.

If on the other hand Brother Francis has the will and ability to right this wrong, this denial of basic human rights to his colleagues in a way Christ never commanded and which indeed is in flagrant disobedience to Apostolic Revelation, then many Christians, Roman or non-Roman, will respect him and it will be a huge step towards enabling more Christian union around the feet of our Saviour

6 thoughts on “Is it time for the Roman Catholic Church to repeal the celibacy vow imposed on those who would serve?

  1. I think these are excellent points. In all fields of spiritual pursuit there seems to have been a belief that the removal of the physical appetites would leave the practitioner of the spiritual life more freedom and mental peace to follow the dictates of the their calling. In hind site we know that the psychological suppression of any desire leads to many additional problems that can ultimately destroy an individual. So, the motives were probably well-meaning but misguided. No doubt some of the priesthood managed (as they do today) to live a celibate lives (and eat sparse diets) without any problems, but overall there were many not able to follow this difficult path. It would certainly make more sense to allow the priest hood to marry now if they feel unable to live a celibate life (St Paul’s ‘better to marry than to burn’).
    However I do agree with uncle davey that Popes and senior representatives of the catholic church must take far more responsibility for actually setting their house in order. This means action not words alone. Actions both ecclesiastical and civil. The difficulty though is that with sexual misdemeanours I’m not sure that excommunication and prison sentences actually has any meaningful effect. As with all addictions, punishment does not enable the afflicted person to deal with their craving. It might lead to hatred of the established order or self or both; it probably increases guilt without leading to a genuine freedom from the sexual drive.
    Channelling of the drive into a more healthy and socially acceptable form of sexual activity, i.e. marriage, is probably the best one can do. To this end, action by the Papacy to allow priests to marry would be a step in the right direction. Another way for priests themselves to handle the issue would be to leave the priesthood and relinquish their vows if they discover that they can no longer suppress a need to engage in sexual activity. Their commitment to and faith in the trinity would surely remain despite the decision to renounce a life of celibacy.

  2. I think the motive for priestly celibacy was not a miserly, mean-spirited one of achieving cost-savings in support of widows and children of priests, but rather a quite commendable attempt to stop the priesthood, and ecclesiastical appointments, from becoming hereditary sinecures. With a celibate priesthood, the church was hoped to be immune to the vagaries of feudal dynastic politics, and more able to focus on spiritual leadership in a world of venal, warring family factions. Of course, the attempt failed, and there were ecclesiastical dynasties like the Borgias; but something had to be tried, and it did seem to work for a century or too….

    1. Indeed. It was the only policy successfully implemented by the Concordat of Worms, which was a response to the Investiture Controversy. It is true that celibacy is only a discipline, not dogma, and can be changed. There are also currently married Catholic priests (usually former Anglicans and eastern-rite Catholics).

  3. Unfortunately,John Paul I stacked the deck against any kind of liberalization by promoting ultraconservatives and undermining the more moderate clergy. Francis I is going to have a difficult time turning around a church that is hell bent on committing suicide. Young people no longer view sex as being morally suspect. Certainly not in the context of marriage. This is why nobody in his or her right mind would want to take on religious orders and become a priest or nun in that kind of a church. How can anyone minister to a couple having marital problems when they have been a celibate all their lives.

    Your use of Brother as a term of address for Francis gave me pause. I think I know why you choose it and it does fit this pope’s bearing.But it is a term very familiar to those of use who passed through the catholic school system.Brother is a title given to a man who wants to take on Holy Orders but only wants to teach.They can’t perform the sacraments like a priest but wear the same cloak,except for a brown band on their white collar, and are of coarse celibate. Most of them were decent men but not all. One of them vented his frustrations out on me by banging my head against the black board. I have seen many incidents where the nuns and brothers have physically assaulted my fellow students and I am convinced that sexual frustrations played a part in their mood.

    1. Dear Anonyous of May 19, 2014:

      I appreciated your letter. I do try to use terms as instructed by the Scriptures, but I am ready to fill in the blanks where it appears that the Scripture has intentionally left blanks to fill in, and anyone who thinks that Scripture is a comprehensive guide to everything clearly hasn’t read the scripturs carefully enough, as they themselves say that the whole world could not contain the books describing everything Jesus Christ has done. Indeed, this statement rounds off the four gospels of the New Testament and therefore should not escape the attention of any believer.

      The term “brother” seems to be used to all believers but not applied to non-believers unless of course they are literally your brother, as in someone sharing the same earthly parents. Sister likewise for female brethren.

      In many languages, the plural of the term has a standard form for literal brother and a higher register term like “brethren” for religious brothers, which doesn’t stop the standard form applying to religious brothers or indeed the converse, but to use “brethren” for ones physical family seems rather archaic.

      The Bible shows us that in one sense there is a Brotherhood of Man – we are shown to come from one family after the Flood, quite apart from the origin in Adam, and also Paul in the New Testament preaches that God has made all people of one blood.

      Nevertheless a man who is “not a brother” is mentioned, which I take to be the context of not a believer in Christ.

      Muslims will sometimes extend the term “brother” to Christians – I take this to be a courtesy and if asked why they will usually say that it is also for people of the Book, they are also entitled to call us “brother”. I am in two minds whether to respond to this in kind. On the one hand they clearly believe in something, however they place limits on what God can be when God has clearly shown Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, they reduce the Creator and Redeemer back to the staus of a mere messenger and also change His words.

      I therefore do not extend the term “brother” to Muslims personally, but as all humans are related then in a sense they are like cousins or nephews, etc.

      I also do not use the term for people who claim to be Christians but cannot assent to the Nicene Creed.

      The term “neighbour” is given by Jesus which perfectly descibes any non-brother whom God has placed in our path for a purpose.

      Jesus also uses the term “Friend” specifically to His followers. The term is used in common parlance to address with good will and a degree of respectful familiarity almost anyone we come up against, and therefore seems to function in the way “Neighbour” could function, but be understood that way by more people, who might take “neighbour” literally and think you were under the impression that you lived near them. The term “friend” has many levels of meaning but in this social media age the most non-committal level of meaning has become almost universal. One is almost at a loss to find a word to define/describe an actual friend these days.

      Similarly you might say, if I use “brother” for any Christian, from the newest convert in a slum right up to high profile confessors of Christ like the Pope, how do I then make a distinction for the people in my own immediate Church? My answer to that is – do I really need to? Should I need to?

      We probably shouldn’t be making these distinctions among Christians.

      It even says “call no man father” and yet this is another verse (Matth 23 v 9) which some brethren appear to have either not read, forgotten, or rationalised into oblivion with specious arguments. Usually the latter – and the internet is full of such explanations by Roman Catholic commentators trying to explain all this away, and each one is more tortured in its logic than the next. The question that always arises in my head is “why do they need to do this? Why not just simply obey what is clearly written?”.

      So I do not call Francis by any elevated title. He is (but should not be) King of a Country so there are standard usages for Royalty which protocol would demand I adhere to if I should so happen to be able to meet him, and no doubt I would adhere 100% to the accepted protocol in such a case. This is because that would not be the time or place for explaining my views and those around would be distressed and feel quite rightly that I was not playing by the rules. There is a time and a place for everything. However, here in this public discussion, or any other public discussion I would take part in in which the rights and wrongs of Christian nomenclature are fair game, I will say exactly what I think, much as I would if Francis came into my office and asked me to tell him privately exactly what I think, with no possibility of offence, only the possibility to share my thoughts with a highly infuential figure – which is never to be sniffed at.

      And namely I think that Francis should be termed a Brother. I have no problem with treating him with the title Brother and the dignity and commnunion that I would hope to afford every other believer who can assent to the Nicene Creed. I understand he is in a denomination where he probably would not want to share the lord’s table with me as I am in another one. I would find it distressing anyway to some to the Lord’s table and only partake of one element and not the other. It makes me want to cry for hours at a time that so many Christians have never partaken fully of the Lord’s table and have never taken the Chalice to their lips. Nevertheless, none of this is a reason to deny Francis the title of brother.

  4. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…including that of marriage!!!

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