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Posted on Thu 16 March 2023

Priestly Celibacy - The Telegraph 15th March 2023

Pope Francis is right to say that priestly celibacy is a precious gift to the Church and to the world served by the Church( Pope suggests he is open to reviewing priestly celibacy, 13March)- for those who are called to it. We have before us the example of Jesus himself and of St Paul but both teach explicitly that celibacy is for those who can ‘receive it’. There is also the long history in the Church of ascetics, hermits, monks and nuns who are an abiding inspiration for us. 

At the same time, we know that some of the other Apostles, even St Peter himself, seem to have been happily married and we know that bishops, priests and deacons in the Early Church were often married, though at least some practiced continence within their marriage. Even bishops were married, such as Julian of Eclanum’s father with whom St Augustine was in close friendly relations, or Synesius of Egypt, who refused to put away his wife on being made bishop, and the father of the famous Cappadocian, Gregory of Nazianzus, who ordained his son Gregory to the priesthood.

The discipline of the 15 or so Eastern Catholic Churches, to which the Pope refers, in ordaining married men to the priesthood, is thus rooted in the practice of the Early Church. Since Vatican II, the Western Church has also ordained married men to the diaconate. Pope Francis has, more recently, allowed Eastern bishops to ordain married men for ministry in the West and Pope Benedict, in the Ordinariates established for Anglicans  entering full communion with the Catholic Church, allowed for the continuing ordination of married men on a case by case basis.

There is a calamitous decline in vocations not only in the West but in other areas as well. This alone should give us pause for thought about continuing to value celibacy but not making it compulsory for ordination. Of course, those called to the religious life will continue to take vows of celibacy, as will many diocesan clergy. Their example and sacrifice will enrich the Church but so can fidelity in the married state which also, as St John Paul II taught, conforms people to Christ.

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