Monday, October 26, 2009

The Church and Priestly Celibacy

God-willing, a great number of Anglicans will soon be entering into communion with the Catholic Church.  They will no longer be Anglicans, but Catholics.  This is not a "merger" or "union" of "churches", but rather the entrance of non-Catholic Christians into the Catholic Church en masse.

Some of these Anglicans are considered ordained ministers in the Anglican Communion.  While the Catholic Church does not recognize Anglican orders as valid, this does not mean that she will not discern whether those men who became Anglican deacons, priests, and bishops heard (and responded as best they knew how) a call from God to the vocation of ordained ministry.  Some of the Anglican clergy will indeed be ordained (not "re-ordained" or "conditionally ordained") as clergy of the Catholic Church.  Some of these men have wives and families.  Under the "pastoral provision", there is permission for married clergy of the Anglican communion (for example) to be received into the Catholic Church and ordained as priests; married men may not be bishops though, a discipline respected by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  This means that married Anglican bishops will not receive episcopal ordination in the Catholic Church.

"But I thought priests couldn't marry!" you say.  And you are right:  priests cannot marry.  But that does not mean that married men cannot become priests.  This is the case in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church (as well as the Orthodox Churches), but the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church has preferred a discipline of priestly celibacy:  only unmarried men are ordained to the priesthood.  In rare cases (such as under the "pastoral provision") are married men allowed to receive priestly ordination.

The next question, obviously, is "Why does the Latin Rite have this discipline?"  And that is answered for us by the Church herself.  First of all, I suggest you read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the matter, since it is a distillation of everything else that follows:
All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.

In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry. (CCC 1579-1580)
With that out of the way, let us look at some recent Church documents which address the issue of a celibacy in the priesthood.  Let us use Vatican II's documents as our starting point, since many people suspect that Vatican II somehow changed the Church's view of priestly celibacy.  Three documents mention clerical celibacy specifically.  First, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:
Likewise, the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the Gospel by Our Lord to His disciples. An eminent position among these is held by virginity or the celibate state. This is a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls, whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart. This perfect continency, out of desire for the kingdom of heaven, has always been held in particular honor in the Church. The reason for this was and is that perfect continency for the love of God is an incentive to charity, and is certainly a particular source of spiritual fecundity in the world. (Lumen Gentium 42)
Second, the Decree on Priestly Training:
Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to the holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this state with great care. For renouncing thereby the companionship of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 19:12), they embrace the Lord with an undivided love altogether befitting the new covenant, bear witness to the resurrection of the world to come (cf. Luke 20:36), and obtain a most suitable aid for the continual exercise of that perfect charity whereby they can become all things to all men in their priestly ministry. Let them deeply realize how gratefully that state ought to be received, not, indeed, only as commanded by ecclesiastical law, but as a precious gift of God for which they should humbly pray. Through the inspiration and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit let them freely and generously hasten to respond to this gift.

Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul.

They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity especially in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both divine and human, let them learn to integrate their renunciation of marriage in such a way that they may suffer in their lives and work not only no harm from celibacy but rather acquire a deeper mastery of soul and body and a fuller maturity, and more perfectly receive the blessedness spoken of in the Gospel. (Optatam Totius 10)
And third, the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests:
Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ the Lord and through the course of time as well as in our own days freely accepted and observed in a praiseworthy manner by many of the faithful, is held by the Church to be of great value in a special manner for the priestly life. It is at the same time a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and a special source of spiritual fecundity in the world. Indeed, it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches where, besides those who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there are also married priests of highest merit. ...

Indeed, celibacy has a many-faceted suitability for the priesthood. For the whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through his Spirit in the world and which has its origin "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God" (Jn 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ. In this way they profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them-namely, to commit themselves faithfully to one man and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse. They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives.

For these reasons, based on the mystery of Christ and his mission, celibacy, which first was recommended to priests, later in the Latin Church was imposed upon all who were to be promoted to sacred orders. ... Insofar as perfect continence is thought by many men to be impossible in our times, to that extent priests should all the more humbly and steadfastly pray with the Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never denied those who seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids available. They should especially seek, lest they omit them, the ascetical norms which have been proved by the experience of the Church and which are scarcely less necessary in the contemporary world. This holy synod asks not only priests but all the faithful that they might receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their hearts and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift upon his Church. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 16)

Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical in 1954 on the matter of consecrated virginity, in which he re-states the "doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state" because of the opinions of some in his day who "exalt marriage as to rank it ahead of virginity and thus depreciate chastity consecrated to God and clerical celibacy." (Sacra Virginitas 32, 8)

Fifty years ago (before Vatican II), Bl. Pope John XXIII wrote about St. John Vianney – recently brought to mind again by Pope Benedict XVI in this Year for Priests – and his model of chastity:
The ascetic way of life, by which priestly chastity is preserved, does not enclose the priest's soul within the sterile confines of his own interests, but rather it makes him more eager and ready to relieve the needs of his brethren. St. John Mary Vianney has this pertinent comment to make in this regard: "A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love—God." What great benefits are conferred on human society by men like this who are free of the cares of the world and totally dedicated to the divine ministry so that they can employ their lives, thoughts, powers in the interest of their brethren! How valuable to the Church are priests who are anxious to preserve perfect chastity!  (Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia 25)

Shortly after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical expressly on priestly celibacy.  First, he acknowledges that questions had been arising in his day about the discipline's purpose. (1-4)  Next he addresses the objections to this ancient discipline. (5-16)  Then he provides reasons for clerical celibacy (17-59), including an analysis of celibacy in the life of the Church (35-49) and a defense of celibacy as a human value which is not opposed to nature, but which is rather an effect of grace perfecting nature. (50-59)  Then the formation of priests with respect to celibacy is considered (60-99), addressing the priestly life (73-82), defections and dispensations from the law of celibacy (83-90), the fatherly role of the Bishop (91-95), and the role of the faithful. (96-97)

There is far too much material from his encyclical to cover in this post, but it is an excellent resource for the question of celibacy since it provides arguments against the discipline and then presents the Church's answers to those arguments. (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus)

Pope John Paul II, in a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, wrote about priestly celibacy in these words:

Referring to the evangelical counsels, the [Second Vatican] Council states that "preeminent among these counsels is that precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father (cf. Mt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7) in order more easily to devote themselves to God alone with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34) in virginity or celibacy. This perfect continence for love of the kingdom of heaven has always been held in high esteem by the Church as a sign and stimulus of love, and as a singular source of spiritual fertility in the world." (Lumen Gentium 42) In virginity and celibacy, chastity retains its original meaning, that is, of human sexuality lived as a genuine sign of and precious service to the love of communion and gift of self to others. This meaning is fully found in virginity which makes evident, even in the renunciation of marriage, the "nuptial meaning" of the body through a communion and a personal gift to Jesus Christ and his Church which prefigures and anticipates the perfect and final communion and self-giving of the world to come: "In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life."

In this light one can more easily understand and appreciate the reasons behind the centuries-old choice which the Western Church has made and maintained - despite all the difficulties and objections raised down the centuries - of conferring the order of presbyter only on men who have given proof that they have been called by God to the gift of chastity in absolute and perpetual celibacy.

The synod fathers clearly and forcefully expressed their thought on this matter in an important proposal which deserves to be quoted here in full: "While in no way interfering with the discipline of the Oriental churches, the synod, in the conviction that perfect chastity in priestly celibacy is a charism, reminds priests that celibacy is a priceless gift of God for the Church and has a prophetic value for the world today. This synod strongly reaffirms what the Latin Church and some Oriental rites require that is, that the priesthood be conferred only on those men who have received from God the gift of the vocation to celibate chastity (without prejudice to the tradition of some Oriental churches and particular cases of married clergy who convert to Catholicism, which are admitted as exceptions in Pope Paul VI's encyclical on priestly celibacy, no. 42). The synod does not wish to leave any doubts in the mind of anyone regarding the Church's firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin rite. The synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the kingdom which is not of this world - a sign of God's love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God's people, with the result that celibacy is seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood."

It is especially important that the priest understand the theological motivation of the Church's law on celibacy. Inasmuch as it is a law, it expresses the Church's will, even before the will of the subject expressed by his readiness. But the will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church. The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self in and with Christ to his Church and expresses the priest's service to the Church in and with the Lord.

For an adequate priestly spiritual life, celibacy ought not to be considered and lived as an isolated or purely negative element, but as one aspect of the positive, specific and characteristic approach to being a priest. Leaving father and mother, the priest follows Jesus the good shepherd in an apostolic communion, in the service of the People of God. Celibacy, then, is to be welcomed and continually renewed with a free and loving decision as a priceless gift from God, as an "incentive to pastoral charity " as a singular sharing in God's fatherhood and in the fruitfulness of the Church, and as a witness to the world of the eschatological kingdom. ... (Pastores Dabo Vobis 29)

And more recently, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about priestly celibacy in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist; he echoes Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, as well as the Second Vatican Council:
The Synod Fathers wished to emphasize that the ministerial priesthood, through ordination, calls for complete configuration to Christ. While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure, and is also confirmed by the Eastern practice of choosing Bishops only from the ranks of the celibate. These Churches also greatly esteem the decision of many priests to embrace celibacy. This choice on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ's own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride. In continuity with the great ecclesial tradition, with the Second Vatican Council and with my predecessors in the papacy, I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God, and I therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition. Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself. (Sacramentum Caritatis 24)
I hope these excerpts have helped you understand why the Catholic Church values celibacy in her priests.  I urge you to read Sacra Virginitas and Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.


preacherman said...

Extremely intersting post.
Thank you so much for this information.

Norah said...

What is the implication in the following for the discipline of celibacy in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church?,25197,26247534-7583,00.html
Christopher Pearson | October 24, 2009

Excerpt from comments by Abp John Hepworth

JH: Bishops in the new Anglican structure will be unmarried. This is out of respect for the tradition of Eastern and Western Christianity. But priests who come from Anglicanism will be able to serve as priests in the new structure, whether married or not, after satisfying certain requirements. The truly radical element is that married men will be able to be ordained priests in the Anglican structure indefinitely into the future.

Will we be seeing married Latin Rite Catholic men seeking ordination under this provision?

It is anticipated that Anglican bishops who are married when they joined the new structure will still be able to serve as priestly ordinaries, exercising some of the responsibilities of bishops.

Bishops in all but name? Sounds hypocritical to me. A bit like married priests not being permitted to be parish priests but being parish priests in reality but called 'administrators.'

Abp Hepworth was a Catholic priest who left the priesthood, married, divorced, remarried and became an Anglican.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Norah, I hope I've correctly identified your questions in the text you posted...

"Will we be seeing married Latin Rite Catholic men seeking ordination under this provision?"

Only if there becomes a distinct Anglican Rite within the Catholic Church, and even then, I'm not sure. The pastoral provision is SPECIFICALLY for married clergy from other Christian communities; it is not a "solution" for married Catholic men who want to be priests.

"Bishops in all but name? Sounds hypocritical to me. A bit like married priests not being permitted to be parish priests but being parish priests in reality but called 'administrators.'"

I don't have any input on this issue. It's a matter of governance that I'm not qualified to postulate on. I will only say this much: as far as I understand it, it's a matter of balancing between having only unmarried men as bishops (which won't change) and having competent men as ordinaries.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Norah, as for Hepworth's comment: "The truly radical element is that married men will be able to be ordained priests in the Anglican structure indefinitely into the future."

I'm not aware that this is the case. Perhaps I didn't read the initial document closely enough, but I don't think that's part of the arrangement.

Here's an excerpt from a ZENIT interview on this matter:

ZENIT: The Vatican announcement provided for the possibility of an Anglican ordinariate having seminarians, who are to be prepared alongside Catholic seminarians, "though the ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony." Would this include the possibility of marriage for these Anglican seminarians?

Msgr. Stetson: The specifics have not yet been made known on this question. At the very least I would assume that the seminarians would have to be both married and studying in an Anglican seminary at the time they sought to enter into full communion, and then continue studying for the priesthood in a Catholic seminary. They would have to be dispensed from the norm of celibacy on a case-by-case basis by the Holy See. Future seminarians would have to be celibate. (Source: ZENIT)

Father Schnippel said...


Saw this linked over at Rich's blog.

Father S.