Sunday, 20 October 2013

Priestly Celibacy

I wrote this some time ago but forgot to put it up.

Whilst NBC news is reporting that Archbishop Pietro Parolin has said clerical celibacy may be relaxed, the interview transcript is saying quite a different thing. The secretary of state elect actually explained that celibacy is a tradition of the Church, not an irrevocable doctrine. NBC is spinning this as a sign of change in the Vatican but in fact it is the opposite. Pope Benedict XVI made it very clear that this was the case when he established the Ordinariate structures of former Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism in which, if a vicar was married as an Anglican he remains married if he chooses to be ordained a priest. If this had been an irrevocable dogma, Benedict would not have been able to allow this exception, but since it is only a Church tradition the source of canon law, the pope, was able to make his generous exception.

"You mean... I wrote something that twists the truth into something unrecognisable?"
Since the Secretary of State has made it abundantly clear that we are free to disagree with this issue, I think I should give my personal view priestly celibacy.

In the past it has been used by some men as a way of repressing and escaping from their homosexuality. No one would wonder why a man wasn't married if they were wearing a cassock. I suspect that this repression was a contributory factor to much of the child abuse that was perpetrated by priests ordained in the 1940s and 50s. The emotional and psychological support was not available during their time in seminary and so they came out warped.

Now, not only have seminaries changed but society has too. Seminaries take great care over the men they accept, the emotional support available and the human formation they are exposed to. There is also no longer, by and large, the compulsive desire or social requirement for homosexual men to repress their sexual orientation. We have all shades of homosexual identity from Graham Norton to Russell Tovey on telly and almost everyone knows a gay person personally. Society has an increasingly sophisticated grasp on gender and sexuality as concepts. My parents, Monica and Huldrych, not unrepresentative of your average Brits, don't expect to be able to tell if one of my friends is gay and don't care anyway. People trying to hide their sexual identity probably isn't the problem it was and if in an individual there is that desire, it can be dealt with once the mechanisms of seminary pastoral and spiritual care are underway. That there was no more likelihood of a celibate Catholic priest abusing a child than a married Anglican vicar is certainly an interesting statistic and maybe it had more to do with the deep rooted clericalism.

I think therefore that in this day and age that an end to clerical celibacy would have no benefit for child protection.

Many have suggested that we need to abandon priestly celibacy because we lack vocations. I would tend to disagree because we do not need more priests, we need more good priests. We need courageous, generous, mature priests. It takes an awful lot of courage, generosity and maturity for a man to decide to enter the celibate priesthood.

Behind the veil of "Damian" I can write very openly about this:

I am in the process of trying trying to work out what definite service God wants from me and I think it might be to be a priest. We'll see: I've got a bunch of people I trust around me, priests, family and a handful of friends and between us all we'll get to the bottom of it. I've been living a celibate life for some time now and it's got to the point where I'm starting to reap the rewards. I have really close, open and frank relationships with friends because they know that there's no alterior motive behind me being kind to them and so my ear is more available to listen and my shoulder to be cried on: I'm a safe person in their lives and that's what a priest needs to be.

I also feel that it suits my temperament and personality. I feel more like me when I'm living celibacy. I'm in a very unusual situation of having fallen in love already by my age and I know that it will happen again. When it does I expect I will still be celibate, and whilst that could be painful I know there are ways of integrating it healthily into my celibate lifestyle. If the pope were to turn around tomorrow and say priests could marry, I wouldn't choose to stop being celibate. If I woke up tomorrow morning to the realisation that I'd wasted my life and God didn't exist, I think I'd stay celibate because I think it's good for me on a human level.

There's a reason clerical celibacy has survived as a tradition of the Church, and that's because it's useful for priests themselves and for their people.

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