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