Monday, March 4, 2013

Choosing Celibacy | Fr. James Martin

NOTE: A great New York Times article from March 25, 2002 by Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin.  Here, Fr. Jim talks about celibacy.  As all of the calls to end celibacy are heard and all of the mis-directed articles try to link celibacy to the priestly abuse scandal (re-read here if you want to be set straight), Fr. Jim gives a touching reflection on the beauty of the celibate life.  What is often missed in commentary is that priests and religious are not "weighed down" with celibacy or "forced to endure" this vow.  We choose it.  We embrace it.  We live it with joy and with love!  And the overwhelming majority of us wouldn't change it!  That, I know, surprises a sex-obsessed world - and maybe that is its greatest strength - to speak a completely different message to a world obsessed with sex.  Celibacy offers the world a completely different way to love and to live and it is something that most celibates - especially those who have learned to live a healthy, celibate life - would never seek to change.  Have you ever noticed the one group missing in any significant numbers in this debate?  The one group that is not clamoring for a change in the discipline of celibacy in the Church?  The one group not really seeking any change here?  Celibates!  Here's a good explanation why.  - FT

By Fr. James Martin, SJ | New York Times | March 25, 2002

By almost any measure, the wave of pedophilia scandals sweeping through the country represents the greatest crisis ever to face the Catholic Church in the United States. Not surprisingly, the scandals have prompted widespread anguish among American Catholics. The discussions taking place around the country -- in homes, in schools, in parishes -- are necessary if the church is to emerge from this crisis healthier and more open.

At the same time, commentators have frequently twisted together a number of distinct strands that need to be pulled apart in the discussion. Conservative observers frequently, and wrongly, link pedophilia with homosexuality and imply that being a gay priest means that one is ipso facto sexually active. Liberals declare that so many incidents of pedophilia show the need for the ordination of married men and women. Still others claim that only a celibate clergy could misunderstand the problem of pedophilia.

At the heart of many of these misreadings, perhaps, is a fundamental misunderstanding of celibacy. In general, many Americans -- many American Catholics for that matter -- view celibacy as at best misguided and, at worst, masochistic. The unspoken question is: What kind of sick person would willingly give up sex? This is not a surprising reaction in a culture that prizes sex and sexuality and places such an emphasis on sexual expression.

In this current crisis, however, the value of celibacy is not the issue. It seems odd to have to point this out, but the vast majority -- the overwhelming majority -- of priests, sisters and brothers who take vows of celibacy keep their vows. And the vast majority of these men and women lead healthy and productive lives in service to the church and the community.

Celibacy is not only an ancient tradition of asceticism, but more important, it is an ancient tradition of love. Celibacy is, in short, about loving others. Those who opt for celibacy (or to use religious terminology, those who feel ''called'' to embrace it) choose it as a manner of loving many people deeply, in a way that they would be unable to if they were in a single relationship. It is certainly not for everyone. And it is not a better or a worse way of loving than being a married person, or being in an exclusive relationship with one person.

The criminal acts of a few do not negate the value of celibacy, any more than spousal abuse or incest can negate the value of marriage or marital love. And even if women or married men were admitted into the Catholic priesthood, celibacy would inevitably remain a choice for many. Because for many -- myself included -- it is not a disciplinary restriction, it is the best way they have found for living a meaningful and committed life.

The pedophilia scandal is about sick priests, bishops who have made tragically wrong decisions about responding to criminal behavior and the silence of the Catholic Church on this matter. One might of course argue that the inclusion of women or married men into the ranks of leadership in the church would encourage greater diversity, more openness and therefore a changed clerical culture, but again, this is largely a question of culture, not of celibacy per se.

Throughout the history of Christianity, celibacy has been part of a religious life dedicated to serving others. Jesus of Nazareth was celibate, as was Francis of Assisi, and so were more recent and much-admired figures like Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa. All of these people are model celibates: not because of their unhealthy approach to life or because of some perverse notion of sacrifice, but rather for the way in which they understood love.

1 comment:

  1. A few years ago I heard someone say that the Latin Church doesn't call its priests to celibacy, it calls only celibate men to priesthood (with some exceptions for married men who were clergy in other denominations).