Why celibacy should be voluntary and encouraged but not obligatory

THE media have, Rot unnaturally, focused on the sensational aspects of the Bishop Roderick Wright affair It is sensational story…

THE media have, Rot unnaturally, focused on the sensational aspects of the Bishop Roderick Wright affair It is sensational story but the questions it raises about priestly celibacy are serious and should be addressed.

The Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, to his credit, has sought to raise some of these questions in the media. Last April, the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Willie Walsh, writing in these columns, said a celibate priesthood risked "being isolated and being emotionally detached and less than fully in touch with marriage and the struggles of married people".

He also said, however, that celibacy has given many priests the opportunity to, get close to a small number of families and that this has given him some sort of intimacy in his life.

The reality of celibacy in Ireland should not be glossed over. I believe there are many priests today who suffer emotional, psychological and isolation because of the celibacy rule. Some, for example, are unto relate emotionally to members of their parish because of suppressed and stunted feelings.


There are priests who have become alcoholics, depressives, sexual deviants etc, where in many cases, all they are doing is trying to kill the isolation and loneliness of celibacy.

AS A priest for more than 23 years, I know that some misery can result from celibacy. Psychiatrists have told us that the enforced deprivation of natural inclinations and emotions can, at times, cause problems.

Having said that, celibacy freely chosen suits a number of priests and religious.

While it has apparently served the church well through the centuries I would argue that it is now something of a burden for most priests in the modern world.

We live in a very couple oriented society: the celibate life is no longer considered to be a greater calling than the married state.

When I and my colleagues joined the priesthood in the early 1970s, we felt we were being called to a greater state. Today, that kind of thinking would be considered an insult to the sacrament of marriage.

Since then, over 100,000 priests and religious have left because of the celibacy rule and vocations are at an all time low. This year, only 18 seminarians entered Maynooth, the lowest number in its history.

Ask any young man if he would like to be a priest and he will most probably tell you he wouldn't fan living in a big house on his own or being shunted from one parish to another.

Contemporary society knows more about the lifestyle of the modern priest because we are more open and accessible than before, yet in another sense we are physically removed as many people find it difficult to relate to our daily lives.

Scripture tells us Jesus Christ chose a married man as his first pope - in fact, many of the first bishops were married. St Paul speaks about bishops as "being married only once and good fathers to their families". We know that since celibacy was not a concern for Jesus or the apostles and disciples, it is therefore not intrinsic to the priesthood.

Some church figures argue that, obligatory celibacy has been part of, the tradition of the church. But until the 12th century, priests and bishops were allowed to marry and have children.

For hundreds of years tradition in the church has encompassed both optional and obligatory celibacy. It all depends on which era you want to base your argument.

I BELIEVE that we should go back the pre 12th century tradition where celibacy was encouraged but not obligatory. To attract young people into the church ministry today, celibacy should be optional.

Many young men and women are being lost to the ministry because they are afraid of the isolation and loneliness of celibacy.

Parents are no longer encouraging them because they, too, are afraid.

Many of the 100,000 priests and religious who have left to get married yearn to come back but the door is closed. Other churches have ordained men and women, including bishops, who are married with families and are dedicated to their ministry.

Many of their partners, wives or husbands, are also involved in the ministry and enhance their work.

As we approach the third millennium we, as a church, should openly debate this very relevant topic of celibacy, among others, with its effects and defects and its impact on the priests and people.

The challenges offered by such discussions would bring to the Catholic Church a new and vibrant people, committed to their church and openly working for its betterment. What could be wrong with that?