Celibacy is first and foremost to be a witness to the truth of the Gospel.
- Archbishop Naumann
Canons of the Church Council Elvira (Granada) ca. 309 A. D.
The first written mandate requiring clergy to be celibate.
Canon 33: Bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and all other clerics having a position in the ministry, are ordered to abstain completely from their wives and not have children. Whoever, in fact, does this shall be expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.
Second Lateran Council
Synod in the Lateran Basilica in Rome, led by Pope Innocent II, 1139 A.D.
Canon 7: “Adhering to the path trod by our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban and Paschal, we prescribe that nobody is to hear the masses of those whom he knows to have wives or concubines. Indeed, that the law of continence and the purity pleasing to God might be propagated among ecclesiastical persons and those in holy orders, we decree that where bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed lay brothers have presumed to take wives and so transgress this holy precept, they are to be separated from their partners. For we do not deem there to be a marriage which, it is agreed, has been contracted against ecclesiastical law. Furthermore, when they have separated from each other, let them do a penance commensurate with such outrageous behaviour.”
DECREE ON THE MINISTRY AND LIFE OF PRIESTS, PRESBYTERORUM ORDINIS
Promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965
“(Celibacy is to be embraced and esteemed as a gift). Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ the Lord(33) 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.(34) Indeed, it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church(35) 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. This holy synod, while it commends ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches. It permanently exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their holy vocation so that they may fully and generously continue to expend themselves for the sake of the flock commended to them.”
“This sacred synod also exhorts all priests who, in following the example of Christ, freely receive sacred celibacy as a grace of God, that they magnanimously and wholeheartedly adhere to it, and that persevering faithfully in it, they may acknowledge this outstanding gift of the Father which is so openly praised and extolled by the Lord.”
GENERAL AUDIENCES: JOHN PAUL II'S THEOLOGY OF THE BODY
Given in the Vatican in the Paul VI Hall on March 10, 1982
Virginity or Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom
“The counsel and therefore the charismatic choice of continence for the kingdom of heaven are linked, in Christ's words, with the highest recognition of the historical order of human existence relative to the soul and body. On the basis of the immediate context of the words on continence for the kingdom of heaven in man's earthly life, one must see in the vocation to such continence a kind of exception to what is rather a general rule of this life. Christ indicates this especially. That such an exception contains within itself the anticipation of the eschatological life without marriage and proper to the "other world" (that is, of the final stage of the "kingdom of heaven"), is not directly spoken of here by Christ. It is a question indeed, not of continence in the kingdom of heaven, but of continence for the kingdom of heaven. The idea of virginity or of celibacy as an anticipation and eschatological sign(3) derives from the association of the words spoken here with those which Jesus uttered on another occasion, in the conversation with the Sadducees, when he proclaimed the future resurrection of the body.”
Archbishop response to clergy sex abuse crisis
Appeared in The Leaven on August 31, 2018.
The requirement of celibate chastity for Catholic priests is not because the church does not value marriage and the importance of family life. No, just the opposite! The church asks her priests to relinquish what is arguably most precious and most dear, precisely because it is most precious and dear. The priest’s willingness to commit to a life of celibacy makes no sense if Jesus did not suffer, die and rise from the dead for us. The church asks her priests to stake their entire life on the truth of the paschal mystery, the dying and rising of Jesus.
Celibacy is first and foremost to be a witness to the truth of the Gospel. The priest’s life is meant to be a living symbol that challenges his parishioners to place God first in their lives above everyone and everything else. Celibacy also allows the priest to be available and accessible to his people. A priest is able to go wherever his gifts are most needed by the people of God without having to weigh the necessary question of a husband and biological father whether this ministry is good for his marriage and children. It is this embrace of the charism of celibacy that increases a priest’s ability to become a true spiritual father to his parishioners.
It is not enough for those seeking ordination to the priesthood to accept reluctantly celibacy as a necessary burden to become a priest. If our heart is not into embracing the challenges and beauty of celibacy with joy, then we are setting ourselves up for failure and wounding our people.
Nor is it sufficient for priests to live celibacy faithfully, but not be able to teach with conviction and enthusiasm Catholic sexual morality as articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Our Catholic understanding of human sexuality is beautiful and guides those who embrace it to the path to authentic love and happiness. The priest needs to be able to articulate, in a convincing and compelling way, why heterosexual intimacy outside of the marital covenant is gravely immoral, as well as why homosexual activity is also always seriously sinful.
My priority in evaluating men for the seminary as well as the suitability of our priests for serving God’s people is their commitment and capability of living celibate chastity with fidelity and joy.
The gift of the priesthood
I have been a priest now for more than 43 years. It is an incredibly blessed life. Priests have the opportunity to be the human instruments that God uses to touch with his grace the hearts of his people. We are privileged to spend our entire lives striving to help others come to know the good news of God’s love revealed for them in Jesus Christ.
At the same time, it is not any easy life. Jesus does not promise his disciples an easy path. I tell our seminarians that being ordained a priest is, in effect, placing a target on your back for the devil. Satan will do anything to strike the shepherds in order to scatter the flock. The priesthood is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage and generosity to serve God’s people as a priest. In my travels throughout the archdiocese, I witness and am edified by the zeal and dedication of our priests.