Tag Archives: celibacy

Gay Priest Receives Standing Ovation

Gay Irish Priest Comes Out To Parishioners — And Gets A Surprising Response


Bishop William Morris sacked for advocating women priests

THE Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris, has been effectively sacked by Pope Benedict XVI over doctrinal disobedience for his support for ordaining women priests and other liberal reform.

WilliamMorrisIn a highly unusual move, Bishop Morris complained in a letter to his followers that he was leaving unwillingly and claimed he had been denied natural justice.

The developments have led to an incipient revolt among at least some sections of the church.

In the letter read out to all congregations in the diocese at weekend masses, pre-empting a Vatican announcement tonight, Bishop Morris, 67, said he had taken early retirement because “it has been determined by Pope Benedict that the diocese would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop”.

It is understood that one of Brisbane’s auxiliary bishops will step into the diocese temporarily as administrator until a new bishop is appointed. Bishops normally do not retire until at least 75.

Some Toowoomba Catholics left church in tears yesterday, and priests have called a meeting at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday to consider what action can be taken, including the possibility of a mass resignation of clergy. But one senior priest who has followed the bishop’s controversial career said Bishop Morris had brought about his own demise because “you can’t keep telling Rome to get stuffed”.

Many parishioners arriving for mass last night were amazed and shocked about the letter.

At the cathedral, Maree White said the bishop was well appreciated in the diocese and she was stunned by the news.

Others disagreed. Jenny Goodwin said: ” I think, all things considered, the Vatican does not do these things lightly.”

The bishop’s letter shows things had reached a stalemate after he had been talking to the Vatican for five years.”

In his letter, Bishop Morris said the Vatican’s decision was sparked by complaints to Rome about an Advent letter he wrote in 2006. In that letter, he argued that with an ageing clergy the church should be open to all eventualities, including ordaining women, ordaining married men, welcoming back former priests and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders.

In contrast to some other provincial dioceses, the priest shortage has been exacerbated by Toowoomba’s appalling record over recent years in attracting virtually no new vocations.

Long before the pastoral letter, however, concerns had been raised about the material included in sex education programs in diocesan schools and the former practice of general absolution in the diocese.

The Advent pastoral letter sparked an investigation, led by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado, one of the most respected Catholic clerics in the US, who visited Toowoomba and spoke to priests and laity at length, and also spoke with other Australian bishops.

In the letter read out yesterday, Bishop Morris said that visit led to an “ongoing dialogue between myself and the Congregations for Bishops, Divine Worship and Doctrine of the Faith and eventually Pope Benedict”.

The style of Bishop Morris’s departure is unprecedented in that he has made his disagreements with the Vatican so public. In previous years, bishops who fell from favour have usually resigned on the grounds of ill health, or no reason has been given for their departure.

Bishop Morris complained he had never seen Archbishop Chaput’s report, and said he had been denied natural justice.

He said he had never written a resignation letter, and that he had offered to take early retirement “with profound sadness, knowing I still enjoy the support of the vast majority of the people and priests of the diocese”.

But he admitted his position had become untenable, and said he had proposed that he take early retirement to find his way through “this moral dilemma”.

“I have never wavered in my conviction that for me to resign is a matter of conscience, and my resignation would mean I accept the assessment of myself as breaking communion, which I absolutely refute and reject, and it is out of my love for the church that I cannot do so.”   (source)

Whether women rise on the last day

[§22. Women do not rise on the last day.]

Brother Andy:

You can say what you like, dear Eugene, I still can’t accept that women are human beings. For if you find the previous argument weak, what do you think of this one? Women and their daughters are not human beings because they do not rise [on the last day]. Why, my friend, will we not marry at the resurrection? Precisely because there will be no women in heaven, since we will all be like God’s angels. And what are the dear angels of God? They are certainly all men and not women!

Father Eugene:

You lay the answer on my tongue! (1) At the resurrection we will not marry, reason – because we will be like God’s angels. The Lord himself gives this reason and he teaches at the same time that this will not stand in the way of the resurrection of either men or women. (2) You are mixing up the condition of our life on earth with the condition of our life after the resurrection, as far as saved married people are concerned. For then neither men nor women will be interested in marrying or other things of the flesh, but they will altogether enjoy themselves in God’s sight, worshipping and praising him. (3) It is ridiculous that you make angels men, that is, in your opinion, they are just ordinary human beings.

Brother Andy:

Will women rise? Where is it written? Yes, we read about the daughter of the headmaster (Mt 9) that the Lord Christ raised her up, but this was to earthly life. You must notice that the Lord himself says on that occasion: “The girl is not dead. She is asleep.” For if she had been dead, he would not have raised her. Since she was only asleep however, it wasn’t strange that she could rise again.

Father Eugene:

You are asking (1) whether it is written in Scripture that women will rise [on the last day]? How can Peter then say (1 Pet 3) that women (with the men) are heirs to the grace of life? They will inherit the grace of life together with the men. Well, then they will rise and not remain in death. (2) But that you, dear Andrew, explain the words of the Lord who calls the death of a girl a sleep in Matthew’s gospel in this way that she had not really been dead, is almost blasphemous and does not become a religious person as you are. Think about it!

[§23. When a woman dies, she returns to nothingness.]

Brother Andy:

Explain it to me as you like, dear Eugene, for I cannot understand how the Lord would otherwise have raised her up again. That is also what the servant of the headmaster means when he came to his boss and told him that his daughter had died. For he added: “Why bother the Master any further?” For he knew that, once a woman has died, it was useless to call on Christ’s assistance.

Father Eugene:

Pay attention. (1) Don’t you remember at least this much from your being a Christian? The Lord raised her up through his omnipotent power. That was a easy for him as waking her up from sleep. (2) The witness of the servant unnerves your previous contention that the girl was not truly dead, but only asleep. (3) The ground why that servant did not want to bother the Lord any further seems more his politeness, but it arose from the fact that he considered the Lord only a human being. Don’t you think so too?

Brother Andy:

I know in that case what to believe. Since we are both gut Roman Catholics, it will hopefully not too far that we also produce some relevant facts from our Church’s legends. We read about the saintly Bishop Germanus that he miraculously raised up a donkey but nobody will conclude from that that the donkey will rise [to eternal life]. Therefore it does not follow from the fact that the little daughter was raised to life, that women will rise again [on the last day].

Father Eugene:

For us Catholics, indeed, (1) that story is indisputable and no one should take exception to it. Unfortunately we experience that heretics do not behave like that, rather they burst out in derision. We should be aware of that. (2) Also, we should notice a dissimilarity between Christ and Germanius. For Germanius did not raise the donkey through his own power, as Christ raised the little girl. (3) When we say that the fact of the girl’s raising by the Lord points to his raising all women at the last day, then we are speaking of an example of the true and final resurrection, namely that of intelligent creatures.

[§24. Women are illiterate.]

Brother Andy:

When we start from the essentials of our Christian Catholic doctrine, who is so blind and brainless that he does not see and understand that women are surely not human beings. For women don’t get involved in words and scriptures, but only in deeds.

Father Eugene:

Now you’re really joking, Andrew! For in that case they are good Catholics, don’t you think?

[§25. It means nothing that the risen Christ appeared first to women.]

Brother Andy:

It is an article of Christian faith in which women give themselves a lot of credit! In the same way, as far as I know, they appeal to the article of the resurrection of Christ, when they say: “Are we not human beings since Christ after his glorious resurrection revealed himself first to women?” To that we need to answer that, when Christ was born, he showed himself first to the ox and the ass, yet the ox and the ass were never human beings.

Father Eugene:

The revelation of the Lord (1) only has meaning for intelligent creatures for whose good he came into the world. (2) It is unbecoming and laughable to say that the new born Saviour, a small child unable to speak, showed himself to the ox and ass. Being seen by an ox and an ass, and showing oneself to them are two different things.

[§26. Christ knew that women can’t keep secrets.]

Brother Andy

As to laughing, that surely should not be at my expense, especially concerning women. You have overlooked something in your answer, Father Eugene: for you should have indicated the reason why Christ showed himself first to women. Since you did not do so, will I take the trouble to make up for it. It happened especially to ensure that his resurrection would be spread around and communicated as soon and as efficiently as possible. For whatever a woman knows, she passes on immediately not only to neighbours and close friends, but soon the whole community, yes the whole town hears of it.

Father Eugene:

There are many reasons why Christ revealed himself first to women. (1) I myself consider the best reason that it happened because the women were the first to seek the Lord. The men, such as the apostles, had hidden themselves and barred themselves in. They did not have the courage to make such an early start as seeking the Lord on the third day after his prophecy and promise. (2) You ascribe it to the loquacity and feebleness of women. This would certainly have been useful to the Lord if he had lacked other means. (3) You must remember that these were saintly and devout women (whom we Catholics honor so much on that account). They announced the resurrection to the disciples not with noise and fuss, but with the highest devotion and modesty.

[§27. Women cannot be valid witnesses.]
Prejudices like this came from Roman Law, which was accepted later in secular and Church Law.

Brother Andy:

Right! They announced the resurrection. Just what I was going to point out. For it is commonly known that women are to be rejected as witnesses and to be counted as useless. Therefore the Lord did not use them as witnesses, but only for propaganda.

Father Eugene:

Not for propaganda, (1) that was the task of the Apostles in due course, but only to pass on the message to the disciples so that these could come and see things for themselves, or at least remember the Lord’s promise. (2) But that women are not accepted as witnesses in secular courts, is not relevant here. There is good reason for it, but that does not reduce them to being less than human. The same was indicated earlier, namely why women cannot be appointed to public offices.

[§28. St Thomas was put off by the testimony of the women.]

Brother Andy:

Look at Thomas, the doubter. Precisely for that reason he did not believe the other disciples and accept that the Lord was risen, because they had heard it only from women and not from men.

Father Eugene:

It contradicts (1) the statement of the disciples who say: “We have seen the Lord” (Jn 20). They don’t say: “The women told us about him and his resurrection.” (2) Yes, they had heard the same thing earlier from the women, but this time they had seen it for themselves, as they tell Thomas. (3) How can you blame the women, if Thomas did not believe them? It was due to his lack of faith and his distrust of other people.

[§29. The Apostles rejected the testimony of women.]

Brother Andy:

How did the Apostle then believe at first that the women were mad when these said that the Lord was risen? Well, it is such a strange and unusual event to hear something from women that is intelligent and true!

Father Eugene:

The Apostles considered the words of the women fools’ talk and monkey business (as Lk 24 shows), but who was to blame for this? The women and their message, or rather the Apostles themselves? For example, when heretics consider everything the Roman Catholic Church commands to be idolatry and us idolators, as their writings and speeches manifest, is that the fault of the Catholic Church, or their own fault? I believe it is their own fault. The same applies here. (2) Notice also that St. Peter (whose see has been inherited by our Father the Pope, as no one will deny) persuaded by their message, dressed and ran quickly to the tomb, and saw for himself that he was not there and risen. We can learn from this that if he had reckoned women foolish and feeble, he would have disregarded their message and omitted a good action. (3) It was mainly due to their lack of faith and fearfulness that the Apostles gave so little credence to the women. That is why, though they held the women otherwise to be trustworthy, they could not so easily agree to them in this case until they themselves had seen and experienced it. And what wonder is it that they did not believe the women, since they did not believe the Lord, their master and the truth itself when he had so often foretold and promised such a resurrection, yes, when he even showed himself to them after he had risen from the dead?

[§30. Women should not be baptised.]

Brother Andy:

The women have also no claim on the holy sacraments. If women [in the Old Testament] were not circumcised, they should also not be baptised, for baptism was instituted to replace circumcision. What has been done to them so far, has been purely to avoid upsetting them.

Father Eugene:

Such a thing I have never heard a Catholic religious say, and I don’t believe that even the Holy Father the Pope has such an unfriendly attitude to women as you have! The holy sacraments certainly are meant for women. For (1) just as in the Old Testament they were considered circumcised, through their men as mentioned earlier, so should also in the New Testament baptism not be denied to them. (2) That they themselves are baptised and in their own flesh in the New Testament we owe to a very wise dispensation of God who has a wider view in the New Testament which is not only directed at the Jews but also at the pagans. (3) Your opinion is also contradicted by the fact that in the whole of Christendom women are baptised as much as men, and this not only to avoid upsetting them, as you maintain, but necessarily and on account of God’s command: “Go and teach all nations and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

[§31 Scripture reserves baptism to men.]

Brother Andy:

But what is the sentence that follows on it? It says: “Qui baptizatus [= male form in Latin], i.e. the man who believes and is baptised”, and not “qui fuerit baptizata [= female form in Latin], i.e. the woman who is baptised”. It also does not say: “salva erit [= female form in Latin], i.e. she will be saved”, but “salvus erit [= male form in Latin], i.e. he will be saved”. In this place you have to pay attention to the letters that are used.

Father Eugene:

I am almost ashamed to reply to that! I wish there was a schoolboy here who could speak for me! (1) As to the pronoun quis, ‘who’, it means as much as “a human being whoever he or she may be”, that is: it refers to both genders. It applies without difference to both men and women. Since in Christ there is no longer man or woman, as we have already seen from the Apostle Paul. (2) As to the words baptizatus (baptised) and salvus (saved), these are formulated as masculine in the Latin language. But in the Greek language, as in our own mother tongue [German] this does not apply. (3) Therefore it is utterly ridiculous that you maintain we should pay attention to the letter here, and not to the example and the mind.

[§32. Women were not present at the Last Supper.]
For the scriptural background, read Tunc and Maguire.

Brother Andy:

The same is true with regard to the holy sacrifice of Mass or the sacrament of the altar, as some call it. Christ celebrated this with his disciples as with men and human beings. He did not allow women to approach the table. Otherwise he would have had to start washing the feet of the women, if he did not want to seem ill-mannered.

Father Eugene:

What are you saying now?! Andrew, you must have watched all the business of women since you bring out so many things about them. I thought I was the only one who was so interested in them, so that I could take care of them and protect them! Ha, ha, ha! For though the Lord Christ does not invite women to the table at the service of Holy Mass, even less washed their feet beforehand, he has all the more wanted to commend them to us, in order that we nourish them too [through holy communion], and not only the men, as has been the custom for many hundreds of years, and also sprinkle holy water on them, on their heads, and other limbs and also their feet. And why should the abbess not wash the feet of her nuns, and the abbott that of his monks?

[§33. Christ did not want to have anything to do with women.]
The Gospels show just the opposite.

Brother Andy:

To make a speedy end of it, my dear Eugene, what must I make of the word in Jn 2 which Christ speaks to his mother: “Woman, what have I to do with you?” If he does not want to have anything to do with his mother, how much less with other women.

Father Eugene:

It is quite right, Andrew, that, as is becoming to a Catholic Christian, you ask your question about the worthy mother of God with more circumspection. For she may not be treated as just any ordinary woman. If Christ the Lord did not want to be told what to do, it was not to oppose his mother, but because it was not yet the time to perform a miracle (as he as omniscient Saviour alone knew). Even so he decided to help the young couple concerned and to please his mother.

[§34. Women have to wear veils because they are impure.]
Read the scriptural background for this, and how women were considered unclean.

Brother Andy:

St Paul also says that women should be veiled because they are impure. It follows from it that women cannot be saved because nothing impure can enter the Kingdom of God. And if they are not saved, I do not consider them human beings.

Father Eugene:

The reason (1) why the Apostle tells women to be veiled is not really that they are impure, because it is a question here of public worship. He tells them to be veiled for the sake of good order, and to show their obedience, or as the text literally says, because of the angels, who, as Chrysostom explains, are their witnesses of obedience or disobedience. (2) That women are sometimes held to be impure, belongs to the many defects and weaknesses we have to put up with in life. (3) Such defects and shortcomings in women as happens to them in life, do not detract from their salvation, as little as their bearing children as we saw before.

[§35. To be perfect you have to give up contact with women.]

Brother Andy:

Christ himself said: “Who wants to be perfect should give up on woman”. That’s why he took no wife, and that’s why the holy Apostles got rid of their wives, and advised other men to do the same.

Father Eugene:

It has to be understood conditionally that Christ tells those who want to be perfect to leave their wife; if, namely, the woman would oppose a man who wants to be perfect. Because he also says that one should equally leave one’s parents (Mt 19 and elsewhere). (2) He did not marry himself because it contradicted his mission and his task in the world. (3) The fact that the Apostles left their wives and so wanted to set an example to others, should not be extended beyond the task they had to accomplish in this world and the context of their own time. We are speaking here about the ordinary life of people, not about the clergy in our own time.

[§36. Females are born as abnormalities.]
This is what Thomas Aquinas taught, and was his main reason for excluding women from ordination.

Brother Andy:

I am keeping you too long, Father Eugene. Otherwise I could give you many more arguments by which I can prove that women are no human beings. It’s no use that you contend that every creature gives birth to its own kind, and that is why women must be human beings because, as mentioned earlier, they do give birth to human beings. Also, it’s no use that someone may be so bold as to tell a person to his face: “What? Was your mother a pig or a dog?” For then we can reply: “My mother was a woman, and nothing more.” And note, when a woman produces a daughter, she gives birth to the same kind, for she has given life to something equal to her a monstrum [= abnormality].

Father Eugene:

Experience shows (1) that every creature gives birth to a being according to its own kind. (2) Small wonder that women get impatient when they are taunted as not being human, and then become personal! (3) The giving birth is the same, whether the child is a son or a daughter, because she can only give birth as she conceived from the man.

[§37. The abnormality of women shows up in their menstruation.]
About this taboo, read Ranke-Heinemann.

Brother Andy:

The giving birth may be the same, but the birth is not. For when, as mentioned, the birth is a girl, it is a monstrum, as the mother herself. And there is nothing new, as far as the sons are concerned, that women also give birth to human beings who are not of the same kind as they are. For from a horse or a mule, only a donkey is born, from horse shit (excuse the expression) beetles, from sweat lice, from dust fleas, and so on. From a philosphical point of view, one knows that a human being has a pure nature. But woman is poisoned. The experience is found in her monthly flow, how harmful it is. I need not say more about this.

Father Eugene:

Monstrum is in one word: erratum naturae propter materiae inconstantiam, that is: a defect in nature because of an irregularity of matter, as known from Aristotle. Well, be so cheeky to point out such an erratum, a defect in nature, in women as they are born every day in the unhindered course of nature? Sometimes also monstrosi partus (miscarriages) of female gender are born, but the same happens with those of male gender. (2) As to the unequal birth among cattle or insects, who does not notice that these do not at all fit the birth of women? (3) If a human being has a pure nature, from a philosophical point of view, so has woman. As stated in this connection, also her monthly cleansing.

[§38. Sirach teaches that women are evil.]
Read Sirach.

Brother Andy:

My final summary: however poisonous an animal can be, a woman is more poisonous, yes more devilish and more malicious than the devil himself. That’s why Sirach says: “It is better to live among lions and dragons than with an evil woman”. Although one can find quite a few of them who politely hide their malice from people under conventional modesty, their inborn character and nature remains in secula seculorum [in all eternity]! For if one is good, a thousand will be against her. But if one is as keen as the others on venomous malice, then no letter or seal of a Lord will be of use, for women do not really want to leave the last word to anyone else. So they will not be able to refrain from asking another question. Namely, if they are no human beings, but beasts, to what animal should they be compared, so that they follow its example?

Euripides gives them an answer to this. They resemble hyenas, that is they are like: corpse-eaters, gluttons and wolves. If the women desire to know for what reasons they are compared to this, then they should be told: this corpse-eater, glutton, wolf has the head of a cat, the stomach of a wolf, and the tail of a fox.

From cats women have it in their nature to swallow, lick, stick near the stove, purr, prune, scratch and scrape, claw with sharp nails, hiss, spit, seethe, and show a venomous mood.

From their wolf’s stomach women have it in them never to be satisfied, the grabbing, embezzling, pilfering and robbing, growing lazy, greedy, harsh and bitter, having a big mouth and green eyes, being wild till pinned down.

From the fox women draw every ploy, trick and deceit, the nestling in strange nests, the being no good except for the bladder, and that’s why they can neither be cooked nor roasted. And just like the fox which is only useful when skinned, so quite a few women are only of use when they die.

Father Eugene:

You are a Benedictine [= someone who blesses]. OK. Beware that you don’t become for pious women a Maledictine [= someone who curses]. Use that kind of language only about evil women. I myself do not doubt, yes I agree, that evil women should be painted in such or similar colours and be exposed to the whole world.

But please, what we have discussed so far in great confidence and for the sake of the spirit, take with you in good trust. And, please, in the future leave out your teasing as if I love women – realise what you are saying! I have done my best to make clear what I find good or evil in this matter. See my right hand, and my trust. Goodbye!

End of this discussion

English translation © John Wijngaards

Numbering of the sections and purple commentary between brackets added by John Wijngaards

A thorough and profound description/ argument and conclusion, together with extensive replies

Concerning the question

Whether Women are Human Beings or not?

Put together mostly from Sacred Scripture, the remainder from other authors and experience itself / The German not earlier seen in print: but now available for everyone’s good instruction.

Dedicated to the female sex / in their defence as they deserve / comically written and published in the form of a conversation.

By a special lover of love and of modesty, anno 1617.

When a Priest Falls in Love

Mandated celibacy is a form of violence done to those called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy.  While these priests can have a profound sense of Call, celibacy never really finds a home within their hearts, regardless of the spiritual facade their bishops or spiritual directors attempt to wrap it in.  Celibacy is something they try to tolerate but deep down an intense loneliness prevails.  The thought of growing old as a celibate, and someday retiring in a home for priests, brings more pain than comfort.  Although their loneliness may diminish at times, it is often in the background of their lives, a kind of darkness that will not go away.
Priests who fall in love can feel imprisoned within the priesthood as they watch others freely celebrate their love and openly show affection for their significant other. They cannot deny that their love is a holy experience and find themselves perplexed as to why it has put them on a collision course with the priesthood, when, in fact, being in love has brought them new joy and enthusiasm for life. They experience a deep yearning within, not simply for sex, but for the union of two hearts and souls lived in the sacred mystery of love and companionship for the rest of their lives. Mandatory celibacy, however, forces them to face difficult choices. They can secretly embrace this love in the dark and shaming shadows of mandated celibacy, force this love out of their lives, or extract themselves from the priesthood and pursue the relationship. None of these choices seems appealing, but true freedom is found in the latter.

If a priest is in love, it’s hard for him to understand why this love is disqualifying him from the priesthood, especially in light of I John 4:8 where we read that “God is love”. So, why is love an impediment to ordained ministry? Yes, we all know the old party line “Celibacy frees you to love everyone”, but, we also know it’s not true. Married people can and do love others just as passionately as celibates.
The fact is, when celibate priests fall in love they find what has been true all along: they are owned by an ecclesiastical institution which has turned romantic love into a force of evil and has an odd obsession with controlling their sexuality, to the point of bordering on a kind of a master/slave relationship. Disguised in religious jargon and contrived theology, mandatory celibacy is really about radical patriarchy (male domination) and  misogyny (whether it be in ordained priestly ministry or as wives of priests, women are perceived as inferior and an evil influence).
On the other hand, Christ has no interest in mandated celibacy and even cured Saint Peter’s mother-in-law in respect for Peter’s marriage.  Understanding this, the transitioning priest is justified in separating the will of God from the practice of the ecclesiastical institution.
For a reflection about the decision to marry click here. To see the positive role women would have on the priesthood, click here.
What about the vows and promises taken on the day of ordination? Things change and change is healthy and inevitable in the maturation process. To live in a dynamic relationship with God is to live in the midst of change. We could not stay in the priesthood because it prohibited changes God was calling us to make. The papacy has made mandatory celibacy and other teachings into idols to which many of us could no longer bow.
How can one find visionary leadership in a church that’s reluctant to change? Most of its bishops, especially during the past forty years, were chosen precisely because of their aversion to change and their willingness to attempt to restore the church to some former golden era. Pope John XXIII, Vatican II and countless dedicated priests and bishops worked hard to pry open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air only to find them being closed by a new generation of priests who refer to Vatican II as “Vatican too much”. There seems to be little room in this new Church for reasonable, Spirit-guided change, so many priests find it necessary to leave. Their journeys, prayerfully embarked upon, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. One of the oldest teachings of the church is one’s obligation to live according to the dictates of their conscience.
In a healthy maturation process, one moves from the locus of authority from being external to internal.  Author and  Methodist minister, James Fowler, in his book “Stages of Faith” proposes a staged development of faith across a person’s lifespan. Fowler’s first stage is called “Undifferentiated Faith” where an infant’s experience of reality is not distinguished from fantasy.  As the child develops the capacity for concrete thinking, she then moves toward stage two called the “Literal Stage”, where she starts distinguishing reality from fantasy. In this stage, God may be perceived as an old man living in the sky, while heaven and hell are viewed as actual physical places. Here, one believes that if they follow the rules, God will give them a good life.  But they begin to grow out of this stage when encountering conflicts and contradictions to what they hold to be true. The perplexing question, “Why do good people suffer?” begins to challenge them at this stage.
Around puberty, a person moves into Fowler’s third stage, “Conventional”.  As in the previous two stages, authority is still located outside of one’s self.  Here, people are not fully conscious of having chosen to believe something, because they are not engaged in any analytical thought about their faith.  It’s called “conventional” because most people at this stage see themselves believing what everyone else believes. They are reluctant to change their beliefs because of their need to stay connected to their peer group. Many church leaders may consciously or unconsciously attempt to keep people in this stage by discouraging analytical thinking about their faith. They imply that questioning one’s faith in itself shows a lack of faith. They prefer people stay in a sort of perpetual childhood where authority is located in themselves and their religion in order to continue exerting control.
Many men who leave the priesthood find it is necessary in order to further mature and progress to the next stage. In stage four, “Individuated Reflective” faith, young adults become aware of their freedom and burden to begin to sort through their beliefs, accepting or rejecting them. Here one’s sense of authority moves from the external to the internal.  A person is better able to govern themselves and is less dependent upon rules. The literalism of religious stories begins to give way to deeper meanings. The strength of this stage is the capacity for critical reflection, but the weakness is that a person may “throw out the baby with the bath water”, claim to be atheist, and fail to enter into the next stage.
Stage five is the “Integrating Faith” of middle adulthood. Here a person is able to expand their worldview beyond the “either/or” position of the previous stage, toward a “both/and” point of view. People in this stage are willing to cross religious and cultural boundaries to learn from people they may have previously avoided.  Here one believes in God, but not as a literal being living in the sky, and Heaven and Hell are no longer seen as physical places.  They re-examine their beliefs, while at the same time accepting that it is beyond their ability to comprehend. They realize truth can also be found in other religious traditions besides their own and no longer need to accept their faith on a literal level only.  This stage of faith makes it difficult to follow one’s conscious when church leaders insist their way is the only way.
Many priests find it necessary to separate themselves from the controlling tendencies of the ecclesiastical institution in order to mature in faith.  The same process is necessary for anyone experiencing the desire to mature when their tradition attempts to hold them  back.  Conservative religion is built upon unhealthy psychology. See this link for more discussion about the maturing process and faith.
When leaving the priesthood, it is wonderful, but not always possible, to have the support of family and friends. I found it very difficult to talk with my brother priests about leaving, even after being in a support group with some of them for over 12 years. I heard how they referred to other priests who had left and knew confiding in them would bring more pain than support. Besides, I might have been whisked off to a counseling program if they had reported to the Bishop that one of his priests was about to jump the fence.
I’m still amazed that I didn’t feel free enough to discuss something as important as leaving the priesthood with guys I had been meeting with in my “support group” for so long. For me, it became apparent that whatever fraternity we had was a mile wide and an inch deep. But, I think something else was at work. Leaving the priesthood is so taboo that even discussing it with “faithful” priests is perceived as sinful. Deeper still, even the thought of leaving is avoided by those who are repressing it, giving credence to the saying “Sow a thought, reap an action”.
If a priest is serious about leaving, it will be helpful for him to associate with others with whom he  can honestly discuss his fears, hopes and dreams.  It is important that he confide in people who are not brainwashed with Catholic fundamentalism, which eliminates his Bishop / Superior and most if not all his priest friends and other conservative Catholics.  The most understanding people I found were from the Corpus organization.  If he can find a Corpus group meeting in his area, that would be a great help. Corpus is comprised of priests and women religious who have transitioned out of ministry as well as other Catholics who are interested in significant change within the church. He may also want to find a good counselor who is supportive of his journey.
On the day of my marriage, as I spoke my vows to my beloved, I felt nothing but joy and happiness in the freedom to live my personal life out from under the oppression of mandatory celibacy. These vows made much more sense than the previous ones I had made in front of my bishop seventeen years earlier. The purposes of those were obedience and control, while the purposes of these were for love and companionship. Making the two mutually exclusive is an abuse of ecclesiastical power, an injustice to priests, and contrary to the will of God as found in the scriptures and first thousand years of Catholic Church tradition. The sixteenth century reformers were correct when they taught marriage is a divine right that no ecclesiastical law can negate. When you read the arguments against the practice of mandated celibacy these reformers made, you will find little has changed during the past 500, or so, years. You can find their arguments by clicking here.
Abused children are not the only victims of the sex abuse crisis in the Church today. Every priest in active ministry is a victim. Prior to leaving, I remember walking through an airport wearing my collar, when a mother pulled her young child closer to her as I approached. That hurt, and it had everything to do with the stigma of mandated celibacy.
Mandatory celibacy defines a priest primarily by sex and places an inordinate amount of attention on his sex life. When the typical lay person meets a priest, they perceive him first and foremost as a “celibate” and have an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “Is he really celibate? I wonder what he does with his sex drive. Is he gay? He must masturbate a lot. God, I hope he’s not a pedophile.” If he’s attractive, they think, “Father what-a-waste”, and, if not attractive, they think, “No wonder he went into the priesthood”. Those who think this occurs because our society is preoccupied with sex are mistaken. It’s always been this way. People are now just more willing to talk about it. The fact remains that, because “celibate” primarily defines a priest by his sex life, he is viewed and understood primarily by sex and for this he suffers now, more than ever. Priests are not “celibates”; they are “human beings”.
Priests who leave to marry are not looking only for sex.  From some of the emails received, many Catholics seem to think their quest is all about sexual union.  They cannot seem to see beyond sexual intercourse to the quest that a priest has for love,  emotional intimacy and nurture.  For them, it is all about f**king, which reveals what their marital lives must be like and one can only feel sorry for their wives.  The primary quest for priests who leave to marry is mutual love and intimacy with their spouses of which intercourse is only one part.  I find it offensive when someone implies that a priest leaves because “he can’t keep it in his pants”.  No, the issue is “he can’t keep the rock wall around his heart”.
The term “mandatory celibacy” implies that a priest is to abstain from sexual activity.  It objectifies sexual intercourse and separates it from the union of heart and soul that a healthy marriage entails.  “Mandated celibacy” gives the impression that f**king is what marriage is all about and tends to turn women into sexual objects.  Yet, that is not what most priests are after.  They simply long to have another person to love and share their life with like any other normal human being.  Mandated celibacy shames priests for having this desire, and because celibacy is all about sexual abstinence, their sexuality is shamed too.  This is a dark cloud that hangs over the priesthood, which all priests are forced to enter upon ordination.  They are forced to publicly declare that they will forever deny this important part of their lives.  This isolates them and makes them into an oddity that people often pity more than respect.  The problem is forcing celibacy upon priests.  The dynamic would change if celibacy was optional.
People may object by saying, “But celibacy is optional. No one was forcing you to be ordained.”  But you are mistaken.  Our Call is from God and it was profound.  The Church has imposed celibacy upon God’s call.  Mandated celibacy was not part of the early Church (Jesus cured the mother of Saint Peter’s wife. Mark 1:30-31)  and never became a law until around 1000 AD.  Mandated celibacy is not the will of God and it has caused tremendous problems in the Church.
It’s ironic that church officials, obsessed with controlling priests’ sex lives by mandating celibacy, have themselves created this sex abuse crisis. For centuries, they have constructed a mystical facade around celibacy and their efforts brought welcomed protection and privilege. But, like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, this crisis has pulled back the curtain and no amount of incense can hide the little man pulling the levers.  Mandated celibacy is far more integral to this crisis than the Pope and bishops are willing, or perhaps able, to admit.
Click here for a reflection about how mandated celibacy hinders healthy sexual integration. Click here to see the statement extolling the superiority of priests by Lacordaire and how it has created an atmosphere of clericalism, which has allowed sexual misconduct to become more prevalent within the priesthood. Click here to see how celibacy is a necessary component to a  clerical culture that enables sexual abuse. Click here to find where the ultimate responsibility should be placed for this crisis.  Click here to find a history of sex, choice and Catholics.
The Vatican’s public response to this crisis was the promise to screen out gay candidates for ordination during their seminary preparation. With this statement, they made homosexual priests the scapegoats in this crisis, even though they know pedophilia is a separate issue. They have taken the easy way out by exploiting society’s homophobia and sacrificing these priests on the altar of self-preservation. This is a far cry from Jesus, who stood with the marginalized and was crucified because of his solidarity with them. It’s revealing that the Vatican intentionally tied pedophilia to homosexuality in order to exonerate mandated celibacy and avoid having to make the systemic changes necessary to find real solutions. For more about scapegoating homosexual priests, click here and here.
Recently, the hierarchy paved the way for the ordination to the priesthood of numerous married Protestant clergy.  Most of these clergy left their denominations over the issue of homosexuality.  Their primary desire was to find hierarchical support for their homophobia, and sadly, they have found it within Catholicism.  History will soon prove the Catholic Church wrong on the issue of homosexuality as it has on so many other issues.  Even then, the hierarchy will continue to proclaim itself “Infallible” and those in the pew will again look the other way in order to maintain their illusion of faith.  Click here to see how the Bishops have lost credibility with the majority of Catholics when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.  Click here to read a story about the pain the Bishop’s homophobia has caused one man and how their teaching causes many gay people to commit suicide.
I have known I was gay from the time I was four years old, even though I could not articulate it to myself, let alone anyone else.  I thought everyone felt the same as I did, but gradually as I grew up and then went to school and observed others, I realized slowly over time that I was different.  And so did my classmates when I reached a certain age because I did not have, nor have any desire to have, a “girlfriend.”  Naturally, I became the butt of jokes from my male classmates from a very early age.  I became an altar boy at the tender age of seven and noticed immediately the profound respect I had from the older people in the parish that I never had before.  When I announced to my classmates at an early age that I thought I wanted to be a priest, it helped to stop the ribbing (at least from the Catholic ones), now; at least, they saw a reason why I stayed away from girls.  When I entered minor diocesan seminary with other students, we were surrounded by men who gave us an attention, respect, and honor that I had never experienced before.  Never once did they question my sexuality or make me feel uncomfortable.
Within the Roman Catholic priesthood, a high percentage of bishops and priests are bisexual or homosexual.  One should not be surprised at this.  As the priest cited above attests, the acceptance and respect shown to celibate priests is a strong drawing card for boys who feel alienated and demeaned because of a homosexual orientation that they themselves probably don’t understand.  The seminary environment is, itself, conducive to nurturing the emotional needs of homosexual men.  From the moment a man enters the seminary, he is surrounded by men and expected to associate primarily with men throughout his formation.
From the time a man enters the seminary and throughout his priesthood, special friendships with women are discouraged and often perceived as scandalous, while associations with males are, of course, acceptable.  Eyebrows are raised if a priest goes out to lunch with a woman, but he can live with other men and vacation with other priests, with no questions asked.  If he is gay, this is also a drawing card, as it would be for a heterosexual priest if the situation were reversed and he could freely, without raising any eyebrows or suspicion, associate with women.
In no way do we want to imply that an all male environment influences men to become homosexual, because sexual orientation is genetically predetermined.  However, within a male environment, it is understandably easier for a homosexual or bisexual man to have his intimacy needs met than it is for a heterosexual man.
Because homosexual relationships are frowned upon in most areas of society, welcomed in very few and completely rejected in others, the priesthood is, and has been throughout the history of mandated celibacy, a refuge for gay men. But, there is another reason why gay men are attracted to the priesthood, they are very good at it.
During our years in the priesthood, we found homosexual priests to be some of the most pastorally gifted and successful people in ministry and learned to respect them deeply.
Although it is easier for gay priests to have their intimacy needs met, they risk public ridicule if their sexual orientation becomes public knowledge.  Therefore they must keep their sexual orientation “in the closet,” and that is more easily done within a community of celibate males.
If the Church’s hierarchy were honest, it would acknowledge the high percentage of priests who are gay and affirm their ministry.  Instead, they appear to be ashamed of these priests and attempt to deny their existence.  In so doing, they are contributing to society’s homophobia and encouraging gay priests to view their God-given sexuality with shame.
Some cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests in ecclesiastical offices responsible for homophobic polices are themselves gay, which shows to what degree they will sacrifice their integrity in order to maintain their power.
The history of the Church indicates that even some popes have been homosexual.  The hierarchy is well aware of the high number of homosexuals that minister within their ranks.  Sadly, their policy has been to be dishonest and deny it. Gay priests are also expected to join in this falsehood and be dishonest about who they are.
Regardless of whether priests are homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, the real problem lies with the hierarchy’s seeming inability to deal with human sexuality in an emotionally healthy way.  Their outlook exemplifies an Augustinian view where sexual orgasm is perceived as a defiling act rendering the priest impure.  This sick, medieval view of sexuality is the heart of the problem and the foundation upon which mandatory celibacy rests.
It is very difficult for priests to integrate their sexuality in a healthy manner when it is perceived as an alien force within them.  My moral theology class in the seminary taught that masturbation (or even so much as thinking about it with delight) was serious sin.  My professor summed it up in these words: “If you are celibate, no orgasms!”  This came from a very conservative moral theologian whom the Church had elevated as an authority on human sexuality in one of the largest seminaries in the United States.  The message that came through to us seminarians was:  “Your sexual drive is evil and alien to who you really are and must be repressed, or you will be punished by God.”  This resulted in seminarians running off to confession every few days with sex as the major “sin” with which they were preoccupied.  Teaching such as this is psychologically damaging and harmful to healthy sexual integration.  This is why there will always be some sort of sexual crisis within the priesthood, and the responsibility for it needs to be placed at the very highest echelon within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
A priest who is gay and has transitioned created a blog intended to be a safe place where gay or bisexual priests (currently serving or have served) in the Church, can find support. He states, “It is my hope that, through the process of sharing the challenges that exist for being gay and priests, support and encouragement can be found regardless of dispirited rhetoric and dictums from the Church’s hierarchy, which oppresses gay and bisexual men into feeling lonely and shameful. This blog is intended to allow a healing process to exist, whereby priests can find understanding, hope and a sense of peace.” Click here to find the blog “Make It Known”.
For an excellent in depth discussion about homosexuality and the Catholic Church, see this article in Commonweal.
The experience of falling in love is overwhelming for anyone, but especially for a priest.  When love erupts in a priest’s heart, he realizes everything he has worked for is put at risk – his ministry, reputation, the esteem of parishioners, other priests, his bishop and possibly family and friends.  He risks losing his job, home, health insurance and, sadly in some dioceses, his retirement.  On top of all this is the fear of spiritual condemnation by the Church who claims to wield the power of God Himself.  So, rather than romantic love being a treasured gift from God, it becomes a threat to a priest’s very survival and puts him in crisis.
Even though they know this, most priests still yearn for a significant other with whom they can have a close, intimate relationship.  If gay, they long for a male, and if straight, a female companion who will see beyond the curtain of their professional lives into their hearts and embrace them with tenderness, nurture and unconditional love.  Their primary desire is not for sex, but for the warmth, tenderness and nurture that a healthy relationship of love offers.  Unfortunately, mandated celibacy makes all of this “sinful”, or at least, the near occasion of sin, which priests are trained to avoid.
It is true that there are priests who are primarily looking for sexual gratification and are willing to use others for this purpose.  But these priests are emotionally troubled and do not represent the majority.  Those who have been recipients of their abuse would call them criminals and possibly even attempt to sue them or their diocese or religious order for their behavior.  Mandated celibacy can and often does attract dysfunctional men who are emotionally and sexually confused.  Furthermore, it can arrest what would have otherwise been healthy psychosexual development because it prohibits the very intimate interaction necessary for this development.  This is particularly true for priests who are “lifers”, i.e. they entered the seminary during high school when the psychosexual factors of their lives were being formed.
Women who fall in love with priests—and the same is true for gay men who fall in love with priests—often find a sort of “schoolboy” mentality, which is indicative of men whose psychosexual development has been arrested.  But it is also a product of the environment in which priests live for all the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this section above.  A priest in love must keep it hidden and often the first person he tries to hide it from is himself.  What love he is able to show cannot be overt, and like a schoolboy he is awkward trying to express it, feels shame if anyone notices it, and if asked would strongly deny it exists.  What is going on in his heart is euphoric and at the same time frightening.
Rather than run from this love, priests may find it helpful to have a good trusted counselor with whom to discuss it.  They may find that attempting to run from love is actually running from God’s greatest gift and something they will someday regret.  On the other hand, careful discernment is necessary to see if he and his companion have the emotional maturity to make a marriage work.
Because mandated celibacy prohibits this relationship, proper discernment while in ministry is difficult.
If a priest finds that he would like to pursue the relationship, he may be better off leaving the priesthood.  In this way, he can be honest and express his love in the light of day, rather than in the shaming shadows of celibacy, where now his lover is also required to live.  I fail to understand why a priest would expect the person he loves to also live in this oppressive environment that perceives their relationship to be sinful.  She is susceptible to verbal and other emotional abuse if word gets out that they are in love.
Such is the sad situation of the Roman Catholic priesthood.
In order to leave, the priest needs to look at everything he does as a stepping stone out of the priesthood.  This begins in his own heart with a clear intention to leave, i.e. “Sow a thought and reap an action.”  Finding emotional support is helpful, but if he is looking for priest friends or his bishop to validate his desire to leave, he will be disappointed.  He must believe, not only in God, but also in himself.
To someone outside of Catholicism, they may think, “What’s the big deal?  If you want to leave, just leave!”  But it’s not that easy.  Click here to see more reasons why it’s hard to leave.
He can leave with or without going through the laicization process.  If he and his beloved want to continue within Catholicism, get married and receive the sacraments, he will need to be laicized and this process can be lengthy, but it can occur after he leaves.  Further information about being laicized is available on this website’s blog, “The Laicization Process”.
The first step to transitioning out of the priesthood is for the priest to have a theology that allows him to leave.  He must also perceive that he has the internal resources necessary to create a new life elsewhere.  Even if he finds that this particular love relationship does not end in marriage, it has served to help him mature and begin a new phase of life.  Once a priest tastes the sweetness of intimate romantic love, it becomes the benchmark for other relationships.  He has been to the mountain top of romantic love, where, perhaps to his surprise, he has found the presence of God and a whole new dimension of life.  It changes everything and he begins to see forced celibacy for what it is – an oppressive ecclesiastical law that stands apart from the will of God.  Of course, the situation would be completely different if celibacy was optional.
It takes tremendous courage for a woman to confide to a priest that she is in love with him, or for a priest to confide to a woman that he is in love with her.  And of course, the same would apply to gay relationships.
When a priest is in love, his love is often expressed with innuendo and under the table, so to speak, which is indicative of the schoolboy dynamic.  If the woman has reached a point in the relationship where she wants to be honest and express her love to him, she will be hurt if it is not reciprocated.  The rejection may occur for several reasons:
  • The priest is not in love with her and she has read more into the relationship than was there. In this case, he must ask himself if he intentionally led her on.  If this was the case, he joins the ranks of other abusive priests.
  • The priest lacks the courage to admit his love for her, though he may come around to it in time.
  • The priest may truly love her, but not enough to face the possible ramifications of developing a deeper relationship.  At least, he should admit this.
  • The priest truly loves her, but is too steeped in Catholic theology to ever seriously consider leaving because he fears putting either of their souls in jeopardy.  He feels that by remaining a priest he is practicing “sacrificial love” and awaits their perfect union in Heaven.  In this situation, in the mind of the priest, the ecclesiastical institution has become divinized.
By discussing the nature of their relationship, the woman has been the mature one by admitting her love, no longer willing to play schoolboy games.  She has been honest and called him to honesty too.  Like so many women in the history of humanity, she is the hero but is often viewed as the villain.  To all the women who have been hurt by priests who love them but are afraid to come out from behind their collars: your honesty, integrity and courage are an inspiration.  He is a slave of the institution.  Hold your head high and move on to a man worthy of your love.  Healing will come in time.
A priest in love normally wants the relationship to continue under the table, because of the crisis it involves for him to be honest about it.  Often when in love, his denial is primarily to himself about the blossoming love relationship, but he cannot deny the joy he feels while in her presence.  It’s time for him to man-up and face the truth.  It may be costly but such is the price of true spiritual growth and maturity.
He needs to wake up and see how he has been brainwashed by the Church and embrace this love as a gift from God.  Regardless of what the Church says, this is the real conversion where he takes responsibility for his own life.  Just as he found Christ present in ministry and now in romantic love, he will find him also present and guiding him into the future.  Faith is confidence assurance about things hoped for and conviction about things unseen.(Hebrews 11:1)
Mandated celibacy forces a priest to live a sort of schizophrenic relationship with himself when it comes to romance and nurture.  Intimacy lurks beneath the surface of his life and he dreams of someday finding someone with whom he can share it.  If he does come across someone that causes the violins to sound off, he feels both attraction and fear of where it may lead.
This can be a challenge for married couples as well, who find their hearts being touched by someone other than their spouse.  It is less an issue if their need for love and nurture are being met with their spouse, and this involves much more than sex.  But, for a priest, there is no one filling this void in his life.  While it is true that some find their needs for intimacy met in their spirituality, many do not.  Christ longs to bring these priests love, nurture and intimacy through another human being and they have a right for this.  Ecclesiastical law can never nullify the divine law to marry and experience the union of two people coming together as one.
There are women and priests in love who have made a mutual commitment to somehow live this love within the context of the priesthood.  Some of these relationships are celibate and some are not.  I don’t know how, over the long haul, they do it.  They live in fear of their love becoming public and must sometimes have to lie to keep it hidden.  I don’t think living  this way is emotionally, spiritually or physically healthy.  Yet, some have managed to make it work.  Love will have its way, even if it must be lived within the shaming shadows of celibacy.  However, priests who ask their beloved to live in this way must examine themselves to see if it is truly mutual or the result of a lack of empathy.  In some countries, a priest having a concubine is tolerated, perhaps even expected, but that is not the case in the United States.
Only in the Roman Catholic Church is God’s gift of love perceived as evil.
Some priests find their needs for love and intimacy met within their life and ministry but many do not.  An obvious solution to this would be to make celibacy optional.  Unfortunately, the Church is entrenched and blind to this, and it’s time for priests in love to move on with their lives.
Ecclesiastical leaders eager to pass judgment on priests who seek companionship need to understand that they have turned God’s gift of love into a force of evil.  This is one of the greatest perversions of religion today and they would do well to remember that turning God’s gift of love into a force of evil is the real sin.  By so adamantly maintaining the current law of mandated celibacy, they are mainly responsible for the pain suffered by priests and women in love and for whatever scandal might ensue from these  relationships.
A question women who fall in love with priests must ask themselves is, “Am I part of a fantasy world he is creating?” Most priests have no intention of leaving the priesthood, but welcome a romantic relationship, whatever the degree, because it provides relief from the loneliness of the priesthood. Women involved with these relationships can find their lives on hold sometimes for years only to find the relationship to be going nowhere.
If a priest is really in love, he would leave. Period. No, “Well, if only…” Or,  “I would leave if ….”  Many women who enter into the world of mandated celibacy and romance end up deeply hurt.  Romance and the priesthood are indeed an oxymoron.  If a priest is unwilling to be honest and discuss the relationship with the one he loves, it is an indication that the relationship is going nowhere.
Father, if you are in a romantic relationship, whether gay or straight, you are fortunate.  Giving and receiving romantic love is a huge part of what it means to be a human being.  It is an experience where the presence of God cannot be denied if one is honest about it.  If you are still active in the Catholic Church, no one needs to tell you how complicated the relationship is given the fact that you have to live it within the shaming shadows of mandated celibacy.  It is unfortunate that now the one you love must also try to express their affection within this oppressive system.  Your options are to force this love out of your life, or strive to secretively nurture it within the confines of the priesthood, or leave and live the relationship openly in the light of day.  True freedom is found in the latter.  Romantic love opens up a whole other world.  Your superiors will demonize this relationship, but how can love be evil?  Realize they and their predecessors have turned romantic love into a force of evil, which is the ultimate corruption of religion.  How can their corruption of romantic love be the will of God who identified himself with love?  Because mandated  celibacy is not the will of God, you are free to leave.   (source)

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

The Trouble with Celibacy

The Trouble with Celibacy

In Africa, Catholicism’s best growth market, many priests have little use for Rome’s chastity mandate.

By Lisa Miller | Newsweek Web Exclusive |  07 April 2010

LisaMillerIn 1998 a Roman Catholic nun named Marie McDonald wrote a brief and painful summary of her concerns to her colleagues and superiors. It was labeled “strictly confidential.” She was worried, she said, about the sexual abuse of nuns by Roman Catholic priests in Africa

The memo—titled “The Problem of the Sexual Abuse of African Religious in Africa and in Rome” was concise. “Sexual harassment and even rape of sisters by priests and bishops is allegedly common,” it said.  Sisters, financially dependent on priests, occasionally have to perform sexual favors in exchange for money. McDonald analyzed the causes of this widespread violation of chastity vows and then made this plea: “The time has come for some concerted action.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, which made McDonald’s memo public in 2001, Vatican officials did take steps to rectify the problem, but publicly, their stance was chillingly familiar. “The problem is known and is restricted to a limited geographical area,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman at the time. This is an isolated incident, in other words; we’ve got it under control.

Even as new cases of child sexual abuse by clergy emerge each day in Europe and the United States, abuse in the regions where Catholicism is growing fastest—Latin America, Asia, and, especially, Africa—are still largely ignored. In the West, the focus has been on the violation of minors, and on the role of celibacy in engendering this problem. In Africa, the problem is somewhat more complex. Though many good priests do adhere to their chastity vows, says the Rev. Peter Schineller, a Jesuit priest who has spent 20 years in Africa, sex between consenting or semi-consenting adults is commonplace. Transgression against chastity vows by priests run the gamut from harassment all the way to fathering children; it’s not criminal necessarily, but it’s certainly against doctrine. “The violations are huge,” says Schineller. As the Roman Catholic hierarchy continues to crow over its success and vitality in the global south—the growth rate in Africa and Asia has been about 3 percent a year, twice the rate worldwide—the African church may put mandatory clerical celibacy to its harshest test yet.

Sexual coercion is just part of the story. The 2001 investigation by the National Catholic Reporter uncovered three separate reports of sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests. The story described priests raping religious sisters and then paying for their abortions; sisters fearing to travel in cars with priests for fear of rape; sisters appealing to bishops for help only to be told to go away. “Even when they are listened to sympathetically,” wrote McDonald, “nothing seems to be done.”

Much less well documented is a broader problem: priests with unofficial “wives.” In Africa, “there’s a tremendous problem with the vow of chastity in regard to women,” says Schineller. “Statistics are hard to get, but it’s a reality. Bishops are sometimes involved with it, but mostly they simply have not faced it. It’s kind of a hidden thing. Laypeople want priests, so they put up with the priest having a friend.” About four years ago, Schineller worked with the bishops of Nigeria to produce a pamphlet warning parish priests about the dangers of violating their chastity vows. “There are consequences for all of this,” he said.

Schineller believes that priests all over the world fail to maintain their celibacy—more, he says, than anyone wants to admit—but that Africa presents priests with a unique set of problems. In Africa, parents have a higher social status than childless adults. “To be a man in Africa—it varies from culture to culture—but it is expected that you will have children and a family. To be a celibate male is not a high value.” Also, he adds, priests are often very isolated: they get lonely. “Priests are separated, living out in the bush. Family expectations are high, temptations are strong.” And women, as Marie McDonald put it in her top-secret document, hold an “inferior position.” “It seems,” she wrote, “that a sister finds it impossible to refuse a priest who asks for sexual favors.” (It’s easy to imagine that holds true as well for women who are not nuns.)

Nuns hold a unique place in this sexual landscape. In a universe where AIDS is widespread, sex with nuns is thought to be safe; some imagine it might even have positive, healing powers. Priests who might have visited prostitutes see religious sisters as a healthy alternative. “One of the most dangerous myths in history,” adds Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, “was this: if you were suffering from a serious sexual disease, sex with a virgin would cure it. That had awful consequences.”

The Vatican has known about these sins and crimes for some time. When Benedict XVI traveled to Africa in 2005, for example, he addressed the question of celibacy explicitly. He urged the bishops there to “open themselves fully to serving others as Christ did by embracing the gift of celibacy.”

Indeed, Benedict holds celibacy so high that last year he excommunicated a Zambian priest, the Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, for being married. Mbewe now heads a breakaway sect of married Catholic priests in Uganda called the Catholic Apostolic National Church, according to The New York Times. “The creation of the splinter church underscored the increasingly vexing problem of enforcing celibacy for Roman Catholic priests in Africa, which has the world’s fastest-growing Catholic population but where there have been several cases of priests living openly with women and fathering children,” the Times wrote. One wonders at the priorities of a man who failed to defrock a priest in Wisconsin who molested hundreds of children but acted so decisively in the case of one who married a consenting adult.

Lisa Miller is NEWSWEEK’s religion editor and the author of  Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife .  (source)

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

Priests talking about celibacy

Thomas Doyle interviewed by Frontline (05 Sept 2013)

Q: You’ve talked about the illusion of celibacy. What do you mean exactly by that?

Thomas_P_Doyle2A: Many, many priests are involved in long-term relationships; many are involved in a series of short-term relationships; many have had occasional sexual relationships with men or women. If you’re in the world, as I was for many, many years, I saw it. I saw it around me. So I think it is illusory, and I think what’s mainly illusory about it is that it somehow is necessary to have mandatory celibacy to have an effective priesthood, and I think that’s where the illusion becomes total, because the priesthood, as a form of ministry and sharing the life of Christ, would probably be immensely more effective if married men were allowed and if priests were not mandated to be celibate.   (source)

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

Cardinal O’Malley Challenged

The Beginning of Lent, 2014

Dear Cardinal O’ Malley,

JackSheaI am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I write not to challenge the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on women’s ordination. Rather, my concern is the theological explanation of this teaching— theology being, as Anselm said, “faith seeking understanding.”

Two years ago, I wrote to all of you with the same request. At that time, I was teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. The teaching on women’s ordination was extremely important for many of the students—women, of course, but men as well—and a number of them were simply leaving the church because the theological explanation that was offered made no sense to them. Before my letter, I had already stepped aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained. After my letter, Jesuit-run Boston College terminated me as a professor. My provincial, with the urging of several archbishops, has given me two “canonical warnings” threatening me with being “punished with a just penalty” for voicing my concerns.

In case you are wondering who is writing to you, I am an Augustinian priest, solemnly professed for over 50 years. Before serving at Boston College (2003-2012), as Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Care and Counseling and Dual Degree Director (MA/MA and MA/MSW), I taught in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University (1981-2002). My areas of expertise are in pastoral care and counseling (Fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors) and the psychology of religious development (Ph.D., Psychology of Religion), areas that today would be considered practical theology. I also have graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, pastoral counseling, and social work.

I mention this background because as a practical theologian I too have questions about the theological explanation of why women are not ordained. In all of my study, in all of my training, in all of my counseling experience, and in all of my years of teaching I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are not fully able to provide pastoral care. Likewise, I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are deficient in religious development or maturity. From the perspective of practical theology— a theology of the living church, a theology that takes experience seriously—I find absolutely nothing that does not support the ordination of women to priesthood.

It seems that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document on the ordination of women that the Vatican and the bishops keep pointing to, is actually an historical explanation of the issue. It looks back at what it we think Jesus was doing in appointing the 12 Apostles. An historical explanation, however, raises a number of questions. Was commissioning the 12 a unique event? Did Jesus mean to ordain the way we understand ordination today? Was it the intent of Jesus to inaugurate ministry only males could carry out? Did he ever say this? Was Jesus only doing what he thought would work best in the patriarchal culture of his day? What was it about the religious role of the scribes and the Pharisees—all of whom were male—that so incensed Jesus? Was Jesus patriarchal? Did he see women as inferior to men? Did Jesus envision women in ministry? Finally, what about the history of ordination in the last two thousand years, an amazingly checkered history that clearly includes women?

The problem with historical explanations is that they suffer from an incomplete logic. They cannot complete the circle. On their own, they cannot say that “what was” also “had to be.” On their own, they cannot say that this particular event must have this particular meaning. History necessarily involves interpretation. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, for example, gives a paradigmatic meaning to the commissioning of the 12 Apostles. Could not another perfectly logical interpretation of the meaning of that event be that a number of patriarchal men—then and now—were and are dead set against women having any authority over them?

If history is not a good proof, it does have many valid uses. A very brief look at the history of slavery, the history of racism/religious intolerance, and the history of women’s inferiority in the church is helpful in challenging our tendencies to absolutize as well as in chastening some our hallowed self-evaluations. Each of these three issues is about what makes us equal and fully human. Each is the cause of incredible violence—often in the name of God—violence that is beyond all telling.

  • Slavery—That men, women, and children would become slaves either by conquest, retribution, or inferiority was seen as something almost “natural.” Strangely, Jesus and St. Paul did not seem to have had a lot of problems with it. For centuries the permissibility of slavery was seen as part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Over time, however, and in conjunction with racism and religious intolerance, the thinking in the church changed dramatically. Now, the inherent evil of slavery is part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.
  • Racism/Religious Intolerance—Jews came to be seen as “perfidious” and were severely persecuted. Muslims were “infidels” and had crusades led against them by the popes. It is fair to say that for centuries the inferiority of Jews and Muslims was part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Later, with the colonization of the Americas and then of Africa, the question was whether or not these native peoples were really human beings with souls like those of European males. It took a long time with immense suffering, but eventually the utter abhorrence of racism and religious intolerance became part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.
  • The Inferiority of Women—Women’s inferiority was seen as “natural” by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians— arguably the two most influential in the West—not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways. No thinking in the church is more virulent and intractable than the patriarchal strain that so disrespects women. When the Vatican reasoned in the 1970s and 1980s that women could not be ordained because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” it was affirming an “ordinary infallible teaching” with roots incredibly deep in the substrate of our church.

A theological explanation weighs any issue against the core of the Christian message. It obviously takes historical events and their interpretations into account, but the focus is on those understandings of the Christian faith so central that our Christian identity and the very meaning of the faith are at stake. In their ordinary infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained in the church because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” the Vatican and the bishops were offering a much- needed theological explanation of the issue. It was an explanation meant to complete the circle, an explanation meant to settle the question of women’s ordination in terms of Christian identity.

Unfortunately, this teaching that “women are not fully in the like- ness of Jesus”—qualifying, as it does, as a theological explanation —is utterly and demonstrably heretical. This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus. This teaching says that women are not made  whole by the saving favor of our God. This teaching says that the “catholic” church is only truly “catholic” for males. In time, many Vatican officials and bishops rejected the ordinary infallible teaching they had just affirmed. Now they say: “Of course, women are fully in the likeness of Jesus in the church.” Respectful words to be sure, but are they real?

We revere Jesus as priest, as prophet, and as ruler. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they fully share in the priesthood of Jesus—but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they speak for God as Jesus did—but women are completely without voice in the church; as if they were children they cannot read the Gospel at the liturgy and are forbidden to preach the Word. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, then they [should] fully share in the formal authority of our church. . . .

John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Tony Flannery: Hero of Conscience

Historian Dermot Keogh on the new book by the popular priest Fr Tony Flannery

by Dermot Keogh 15/09/2013

Historian Dermot Keogh on the new book by the popular priest Fr Tony Flannery

Dermot Keogh

Published 15/09/2013 | 05:00

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bookFlanneryWritten by the well known Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery, this book ought to be his reflections on more than 40 years’ service to the Gospel and to the Catholic community in Ireland.

During that time, Fr Flannery preached tirelessly at parish and school retreats around the country, holding novenas in towns and cities that frequently attracted large congregations to usually empty churches. In the process he became one of the best known and most valued spiritual leaders in the country among ordinary Catholics.

That’s what this book should have been about – his service to the Catholic community in Ireland and what that has taught him.

Instead, this slim volume, with a foreword by former President Mary McAleese, chronicles Fr Flannery’s painful journey since February 2012 when he was ‘silenced’ by the Vatican. Being ‘silenced’ means he was forbidden from saying Mass, hearing confessions, conducting retreats, leading novenas or otherwise practising his ministry as a priest.

So one of the best-known and most-valued priests in Ireland, a man regarded with respect and affection by so many Catholics here, has been stopped in his tracks – his life’s mission brought to an abrupt halt.

Why? Because of his work as a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). And also because of some passages in articles he had written for the Redemptorist magazine Reality.

Both of these matters had come to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome, the body Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger presided over before becoming Pope. The CDF has existed for centuries and is the powerful church body based in the Vatican whose job it is to promote and safeguard Catholic doctrine and take action when there are transgressions among the clergy or the faithful.

The CDF presumably did not like the perceived potential challenge to the existing power structure in the Catholic Church in Ireland which the ACP represented. And the CDF presumably did not like some of the views Fr Flannery had put forward for discussion in his monthly column in Reality, on issues like the attitude of the church to sexuality, birth control, celibacy and the ordination of women, among other topics.

When the weight of the Vatican fell on him, he had not seen it coming.

TonyFlanneryRemote from the workings of the Holy See because of his pastoral ministry here, Fr Flannery explains in his book how it came as “a shock, a bolt from the blue” when he was telephoned to be told that the CDF “had their sights” on him.

Over the following period he was told that he had to issue a public statement, saying he accepted all the moral teachings of the church and also that he accepted that women could never be priests.

He was also warned about the requirement for total secrecy about the involvement of the CDF and forbidden from having any dealings with the media on the matter.

Born in 1948, at 12 he entered the minor seminary of the Redemptorists in Limerick as did two of his brothers.

He went to the major seminary at 17 and was ordained 10 years later. Very typical of his generation, his formation was infused with the changing ideas generated by the Second Vatican Council for which he never lost enthusiasm.

He confesses that for someone who grew up in the 1950s it was not easy to shed the fear of authority. Summoned to Rome to meet the superior general of his order in February 2012, he was a worried man and even more so when he was told that he was in serious trouble and that Cardinal Lavada, head of the CDF, was taking personal charge of his portfolio.

Fr Flannery was handed two A4 pages on un-headed and unsigned paper by his superiors and it was made clear to him that they had come from the CDF.

The first page contained four extracts from articles he had written for Reality relating to structures in the church and the need for reform, the nature of priesthood, the new missal, priestly celibacy and the role of women in the church. On the second page, his superiors were ordered to “seek to impress upon Fr Flannery the gravity of his situation”.

He was not to be allowed to write or to give newspaper interviews.

Further, he was to be instructed to withdraw from his leadership role in the ACP and also from public ministry and to undertake a period of spiritual and theological reflection.

He was angry as he wondered who “those faceless people were who had produced this document” of diktats and given them to his superiors. He wanted to confront his CDF accusers face to face, to show them that their quotations from his articles were cited out of context. He has not, to date, been given that opportunity.

This book shows how its author grew very critical of his Redemptorist superiors in Rome as the process developed.

Fr Flannery argues that, instead of standing up for him, they had bought into the way of thinking and acting of the CDF and of repeatedly going ‘cap-in-hand’ to the Vatican authorities.

He became convinced that his superiors in Rome had “signed up to the Vatican’s way of doing things, which decreed that when it came to the test I as an individual would not be of any real significance . . . [and] I would be viewed as dispensable”.

Returning to Ireland, Fr Flannery wound up his pastoral duties. He did not publish or give interviews and entered into a period of reflection in a retreat house in Ireland. However, he did not stop work with the ACP, which openly supported him.

In early summer last year Fr Flannery received another document from the Vatican, the contents of which exacerbated an already delicate situation. He had two meetings with his superior general, one in Ireland and the other in Rome.

In Rome he was told there had been another “very angry letter” from Cardinal Levada.

Back in Ireland, his period of reflection having ended, he resumed his pastoral duties while preparing a response to the new Vatican document, which he sent to his superiors in late June last year.

Fr Flannery was relieved when he heard that the outcome of the meeting had been positive.

But there was a new twist to the story.

By September last year, with a new head of the CDF – Cardinal Muller – in place, there were further demands that the author’s statement be amended.

New instructions to discipline Fr Flannery were issued: he was to go on a further extended period of reflection to a retreat house outside of Ireland and he was to cease all involvement with the ACP.

Believing he was being bullied by the CDF and his superior general, he again felt angry and prepared an extensive response.

But under direction from the Vatican, when Fr Flannery refused to cease contact with the ACP, his superior general invoked rule 73, number 3, of the order.

This imposed a ‘formal precept of obedience’ which obliged him to obey or run the risk of being dismissed from the order. Fr Flannery refused to conform or sign any pledge.

In mid-January this year, the author went public, giving an interview to The New York Times and holding a press conference in Dublin outlining his case.

He has continued to speak in favour of church reform since then.

The election of Pope Francis this year may help find another way to deal with dissent in the Catholic Church which does not involve the abrogation of the rights of the individual and the use of a system of personnel management that is as archaic as it is unchristian.

It will be interesting to see if the new regime in the Vatican will allow Fr Flannery to explain his views and to clarify matters face to face.

While this volume is a very personal account, and other voices need to be heard and recorded, I am glad as an historian that this book has been published.

I wish the author – and other ‘silenced’ Irish priests – the strength and courage to see things through to a just end.  (source)

Dr Dermot Keogh is Emeritus Professor of History at University College Cork.

Fr. Flannery’s website=http://www.tonyflannery.com



Michael H. Crosby, OFMCap.

Human Development 32.2 (Summer, 2011), 30-33

MichaelCrosbyI believe one simple reason explains why fewer candidates now are joining the mainline non-clerical groups of men’s and women’s congregations in countries like ours. My conviction has little or nothing to do with the assumptions that seem to underlie the kind of questions being asked by the Vatican investigators of women religious in the United States and Ireland. On the contrary. When one looks at demographics from places like the U.S. and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the U.K., Ireland and Western Europe, the lack of vocations to such groups ultimately involves one thing and one thing only: celibacy. Simply stated: the average person desiring to prayerfully serve God in some kind of permanent ministry can do so without being celibate.

This represents a relatively new phenomenon in the Roman Catholic Church; as a result its influence on young peoples’ conscious and unconscious decision-making involving celibacy is not being considered to the degree it should.

My experience of +50 years as a Capuchin Franciscan reveals that celibacy was the stated reason why we lost such large numbers in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Furthermore, at least in economically developed countries like the U.S.A., I believe it will remain the main reason why the congregations of women and men founded since the French Revolution will continue aging with lesser and lesser vocations. As I noted in my opening paragraph, those who would have been likely candidates in the past now are finding groups with whom they can pray and minister without having to be expected to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. As the saying goes vis-à-vis ministry in the church and celibacy, they now can have their cake and eat it too.

In the past I have written on mandated celibacy, especially among men. In this article I want to discuss the celibacy-based reasons why non-clerical groups of wo/men in the economically developed nations will not witness any upswing in vocations for the foreseeable future, if ever. I base my conclusions on various factors: scriptural, theological, cultural and practical

1. There is no clear scriptural foundation for any “call” to celibacy.

No less a scriptural authority than Paul himself declared that, when it came to any follower of Christ remaining a virgin, he had “no command of the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). Furthermore, in giving his “opinion” on the matter, his conclusion was based on a faulty assumption: that the parousia was inevitable. For this reason, he argued, people should be intent on preparing for Christ’s imminent return rather than being preoccupied with relational dynamics around marriage.

The other key scriptural passage traditionally used as a rationale for celibacy in the church comes from Matthew 19. The context is Jesus’ stance on the only option available to the aggrieved party in a divorce. Assuming the marriage was valid, we have come to interpret that “difficult” passage to say that such people cannot remarry. Indeed this passage remains the key scriptural argument as to why the Roman Church insists that only if a marriage is determined to be invalid can either party be free to remarry.

Without a clear evangelical “call” to religious life in its present celibate expression, some have stressed the notion of celibacy as a “charism” in the church. But, again, there is no such place in the scriptures where charisms are discussed (such as the key texts in Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12) that we find any mention of celibacy.

In a wider or extended sense of such scripture passages one can (and should, I believe) apply to celibacy both the rationale for 1 Cor 7 (i.e., “waiting on the coming of the Lord”) and Matt 19 (“making oneself an eunuch for the kingdom”). However, this must be done aware of the fact that any study of the purpose of celibacy at the time of Jesus makes it clear that it had no value in itself except when practiced temporarily. And then it was discussed as something done by men. Thus soldiers and priests were to refrain from sexual activity before battle and before offering the sacrifice.

Other efforts to point to the scriptures in support of permanent celibacy cannot be sustained by deeper unbiased arguments, including the argument from silence that Jesus was a celibate, although I believe this to be the case. What he may have accepted or even embraced for himself was not something he considered important enough to be promoted in any way. Furthermore, the “leaving” father and mother and livelihood passages that are applied to discipleship refer to discipleship, not sexual/genital relationships. In this case Peter himself, who “left all” to follow Jesus, never left his wife.

Simply put, celibacy in the permanent form it has taken in religious congregations has no clear scriptural basis. Indeed to be celibate was not normal; thus it never was normative, much less made a norm.

As it was “in the beginning,” so now, the basic reason as to why celibacy is not “normal” comes from a definite scriptural assumption: “it is not good . . . to be alone” in such a way. It is not without reason that, given this tradition stressing marriage for all women, that Jephthah’s daughter, knowing her impending death, went into the desert to “bewail” her virginity (Judges 11:37).

2. Given the weak scriptural foundation for celibacy, its theological basis is equally weak.

From the earliest days of the church evidence reveals individual women who were called “virgins” and “widows.” The data whether or why they may (not) have remained so permanently does not seem to be that undisputed. In addition, only with the rise of the third-century coenobitical groups do we find a communal dimension highlighted and, when it appears, most often, this communal expression involves men, although we do find some ammas along with the abbas.

As religious life evolved, especially in the non-cloistered, apostolic form that arose during the last 500 years, two main theological assumptions buttressed its appeal to potential candidates, especially women. Besides being free of the direct day-to-day demands of a man, such women could serve God apostolically, convinced that such apostolic service made them unique among other women. This assumption—again being resurrected by more traditionalist groups and ideologies–has little current theological currency.

Any theological basis distinguishing between the communally-celibate expression of baptism and that of any other baptized Catholic was dissipated by two key teachings of the Second Vatican Council. First, the previous assumption about “states of perfection” that represented a kind of hierarchy of holiness was undermined by Lumen Gentium’s “universal call to holiness.” (Given this, it is interested to listen to recent discussions in more conservative circles about various “states in life;” such talk seems to represent a hankering for the earlier ideology and practices connected to the “states of perfection”).        The second factor arising from Vatican II involved the theological understanding that, rather than having a “call” to some certain apostolate in the church, baptism itself became recognized as the one call to witness to the Gospel with many apostolic expressions (male and female, single and married, celibate and non-celibate). Now every baptized person is called to witness to the gospel in whatever they do.

3. The wider cultural underpinnings for celibacy are weakening, if not already gone.

In many countries, including the United States and Canada, until the “sexual revolution” of the mid-to-late 1960s, sex was seldom discussed opening; it was protected. Something only intimated. However, often with appeals to the First Amendment, “freedom of expression” became increasingly linked with freedom of sexual expression, without boundaries. In generations since the ‘60s, what once was not culturally tolerated except for late night television seems de rigueur even on “family hour” television. Now any sexual and genital innuendo has become quite explicit to the point of a kind of non-critical form of promiscuity whether it is in the soft-porn advertising for Abercrombie and Fitch or the easy availability of hard-core pornography itself. Just ask any priest hearing confessions as to the increase in those confessing addictive-type behaviors related to watching pornography. Or ask the real reason why many formators of postulants, novices and those in temporary vows (at least in men’s congregations) have found it necessary to put blockers on house computers.

Most religious women (or men) over 60 will tell you that they never really considered celibacy as a critical component when they made their decision to enter religious life or make perpetual commitment in it. It simply came with the package and the package, for them, was mainly about doing something apostolic. Their goal was to “do something” apostolic; only later did they realize celibacy was about “being something” quite different. And, oftentimes, through many mistakes and sins, they were able to begin to “make themselves so” for the sake of the kingdom noted in Matthew 19.

Proponents of a more culturally conservative form of Catholicism will point to the the relatively large numbers in some of the very traditional forms of religious life that are identified with specific apostolic activities (often episcopally sanctioned and supported), unquestioning acceptance of Vatican decrees, with members who live communally strict hour plans, including daily Mass and prayer. They do not recognized that now, as in the past, celibacy is still too often “part of the package” that can be handled because one’s identity disassociates (at least for a while) one’s sexual drives from other drives such as power and prestige for being part of such groups—at least among those who identify with a patriarchal, clerical form of Catholicism. Furthermore, some of these groups, notably in my case as a Capuchin, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, have had great success in appealing to the youth-market with their various rallies and seminars and have very savvy expertise in the internet and other forms of mass media communication not enjoyed by many other groups.

However, those touting the “success” of such groups that fit into a more conservative form of patriarchal and clerical Catholicism do not note that these tend to be, with some notable exceptions like the Nashville Dominicans, newer expressions of the older forms of apostolic religious life. If this were not so, then one must ask why some of the equally traditional groups, like the Little Sisters of the Poor or Hawthorne Dominicans, are diminishing as rapidly as are their mainline equivalents. This data raises the question about the “pool” of potential candidates for religious life and my final point.

4. The practical reasons for celibacy are less and less convincing.

Recently I had conversations with several people working with young Catholic adults aware of “trends” among them. Consistently they pointed to polls showing that  Indeed only 15% of this cohort are attracted to such forms. If this be so, it follows that the existing groups that are more traditional (such as those noted above) will continue to attract such people, but they will not be the norm; they will appeal merely to the 15% of Catholics who are seeking such a patriarchal, clerical form of religious life—including women willing to submit to it for all sorts of reasons too complex to address here.

So, then, what is the “norm” for the wider cohort of younger Catholics who previously might have felt “called” to those forms of religious life that were reinforced by once never-challenged assumptions that made candidates then think that they were scripturally, theologically and culturally unique?

Simple stated, these young people are finding prayer groups and other such faith-based supports to help them sustain their various ministries. For many, seeking temporary expressions, they find such in Teach for America, JVC and my own Province’s CapCorps, and other volunteer programs like the Catholic Workers. And for those of them that want to spend their foreseeable futures in full-time apostolic activity, they have found outlets that allow them to fulfill their dreams without having to commit to life-long celibacy. Some of these are found among movemental groups like the Focolari and Communion and Liberation (to say nothing of the more patriarchally conservative groups like Opus Dei).

A good example of this shift comes from the demographics revealing the largest source of lay ministers in the United States: the religious studies programs in college after college. The Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University in Chicago is one such example. Founded almost 50 years ago, it once served mainly women religious. Now its student base is mainly lay, with the number of young adults increasing each year. Just this summer, teaching there, among my class of 20, I had at least 5 young IPS students. These were the “candidates” of yesterday who would have been open to consider progressive forms of religious life today but now they know they pray and minister with others without needing to remain celibate.

Given the above, I think it is safe to conclude that the days of huge numbers of people in non-clerical forms of religious life have ended. I don’t think that this change has occurred because religious congregations are too liberal or too questioning of the Vatican. They have done nothing wrong (as many believe to be the case in the Vatican Inquiry); they are simply the faithful remnant of an era that honored celibacy in a way that will not likely come again. While I believe some life-long communal forms of celibacy will remain, I think that among men, most candidates will go to the clerical groups and not the communities of brothers. For the women, especially the mainline groups, candidates will be fewer and far between.


Michael Crosby, OFMCap. is celebrating his Golden Jubilee as a Capuchin Franciscan this year. He has authored many books, including Rethinking Celibacy: Reclaiming the Church. His website is www.michaelcrosby.net.

More  Resources:

Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love