In Ireland there is much confusion regarding discussion upon Celibacy. Many want to air their views on this practice of the Roman Catholic Church holding only to the view that it should no longer be practiced and that many priests should be allowed to marry prior to ordination.
They hold that the current restriction on a married priesthood is somehow is a violation of being able to ”choose” and play with a lot of semantics as to why we should have such a restriction let go. These arguments usually include a lot to do with the sex abuse scandals, priests not being able to connect with family issues and the list goes on.
But I think most of these arguments made are usually from people who do not understand celibacy and it’s liberating grace. In the fourth century the Church did not put in this rule with the idea of somehow punishing those being called to the priesthood, but rather to liberate those called to the priesthood and give them proper freedom and lead them to a closer relationship with Christ. It is true that a celibate man is more close to God than a man who happens to be divided both ways, having to take care of his family, worldly matters and then having to focus on the spiritual also.
The priest is a symbol of a man who lives the imitation of Christ in his day to day life. Christ was not married and thus Saint Paul recognized this liberating freedom of being able to follow Christ with an undivided heart when he wrote about it in his letters. The Roman Church cleverly saw a good chance to choose the higher vocation and realized that it would not just benefit the priest himself but the Christian community and family unit as a whole.
Therefore priests who are always seen to be writing about doing away with the celibacy rule would want to really re-think the great gift that celibacy is. I think many priests tend to romanticize marriage and never really are opened up to the possibility of what a married priesthood could entail in creating more scandal within the Church. What if the priests wife decides she no longer wants to be married and runs away with another man? what if she ends up being a husband beater, decides that mormonism is more for her and so on. These can cause great and grave scandals in the community. Lets face it, what the priests wife does in the community has an effect on him and his ministry and the whole community.
What about the element of choice? Well when we are imitating the Lord and wanting to follow him in his ministry, you need to ask yourself: Would the Lord really want a divided heart who wants to have one foot in the world but also one foot in the spiritual? I highly doubt it.
I am a practicing Eastern Catholic who has a lot of respect for the married priesthood, but at the end of the day, if I’m looking for a spiritual father I’m gonna choose the man who is closer to Christ and has chosen to follow him wholeheartedly. A priest whose attention is solely on God and thus able to focus his attention on my spiritual needs and not be sitting there distracted by so much going on in the home. Not able to come and give me the last sacraments because ( as a married man myself ) the family must come first and if there is someone in his family who is in a current state of emergency he needs to focus his attention there.
There are many many liberating values of the celibate priesthood that if the Roman Church were to take that practice away, I do believe the whole meaning and whole example of following Christ ( i.e the priest himself being the example ) would lose it’s significance in the Christian community.
Finally I am open to talking about the idea of keeping or taking away celibacy but I am not open to being ”critical” of Celibacy. Why? Because when we criticize celibacy, we criticize Christ himself because it’s his great gift to humanity. I have no doubt as well that if a discussion began on the celibacy rule in the Roman Church that keeping the Celibacy rule entact would win hands down.