09 February 2022, The Tablet

Celibacy and the reality of the way it is 'lived'

Celibacy and the reality of the way it is 'lived'

File pic: 23 priests lie prostrate during their ordination to the priesthood at a Mass at Myongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 28, 2022.
CNS photo/Archdiocese of Seoul

Pope Francis will open a symposium on February 17, 2022, reflecting on “a fundamental theology for priesthood”, organised by the Congregation for Bishops.

What amuses me about such initiatives, however unintentional, is the complete detachment on behalf of that well-intentioned assemblage in the Paul VI hall in Rome from the folk I meet in my local supermarket at home, scurrying for eggs while trying to remember the time to pick up the kids whilst a dog barks in the back of the car (because of course you couldn’t leave him/her at home, poor baby!)

“What has such a person to contribute to a theology of priesthood?” some may ask.

How would you know unless you ask? Maybe a lot. I mean, who would have asked a carpenter’s step-son, whose mother was rumoured to be a young mother, pregnant out of wedlock (Christologically speaking), about anything?

Speaking about this upcoming event in Rome, which I pray and hopes goes well, Professor Vincent Siret, rector of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome, commented: “Reflecting on the fundamental theology of the priesthood will also make it possible to return to the justifications for priestly celibacy and the way it is lived.”

For me the key words here are: “... the way it is lived”.

“Lived…” meaning reality.

I have no doubt that the Professor meant the way celibacy ought to be or the way it is intended to be lived. In other words, the idealistic. However, the way it is lived by so many is based on falsehoods and this will always be the case, because people are human.

For some, celibacy is lived out authentically and individually. Some individuals do indeed live celibate and admirable lives. But not all priests manage to do so. Failure to achieve celibacy can then come to be seen publicly as tarnishing the ideal.

Is this an anti-celibacy lecture, an anti-celibacy rhetoric asking the church to do away with celibacy, believing that married priests are the answer to all of the church’s woes? No, it is not. I am not anti-celibacy, just as I am not anti-married priest. I believe in both coinciding. I believe in truth, in saying the reality.

But what I am against is a repeated theological rhetoric that is rehashed in a distant framework, so far from the aisles of the church, the people, the supermarkets, and the streets, who know little of such happenings in Rome, a rhetoric that merely backs and reinforces opinion where real debate and opinion is not sought. If real opinion were sought, the church would be on the streets, literally. The Church has been brought to its knees over the abuse scandal. How they cannot see a light in their weakness, leading them to learn from people on the margins, is beyond me.

Will any priest, theologian, bishop or otherwise, between February 17-19, 2022, stand up and say and say something like: “Those who live a celibate a chaste life for the Lord, the glory is God’s, and the gift is yours given; to those who fail, the sacrifice falls on the shoulders of the crucified Christ and the innocent child, so many created by His hand. However, we as an institution can no longer ignore what is before our face, biologically, inevitably and Christologically!”

In other words, will the Church, at the upcoming summit really look at the way celibacy is truly, inauthentically and authentically, “lived”?

If the truth is told, then yes they will. Otherwise, people might as well prepare to pack their bags.

What do you think?


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