The Post-Conciliar Attacks on Celibacy

It is disconcerting that vicious attacks on Celibacy continue to trouble the Church today. This is a bizarre phenomenon in the post-conciliar renewal of the past two decades. The N.Y. Times, The Washington Post, The National Catholic(?) Reporter and the other sterile organs of the liberal Catholic Press have made no secret of their disdain for the Church's discipline of obligatory celibacy for the "progressive" Church of the West, and have bent every effort to discredit it.

Such attacks continue despite the 2nd Vatican Council's ringing affirmation of priestly celibacy and Pope Paul VI's fervent defense of a celibate priesthood in his 1967 encyclical "Sacerdotalis Cœlibatus". The major pseudo-arguments hurled against priestly celibacy were refuted forcefully by that Pontiff who lauded that discipline as "a particular manifestation of grace" in the Church and the sign of "a more perfect consecration to the Kingdom of Heaven on the part of those engaged in the ministerial priesthood." As Pope Paul VI observed:

"Who can doubt the moral and spiritual richness of such a consecrated life, consecrated not to any human ideal no matter how noble, but to Christ and to His work to bring about a new form of humanity in all places and for all generations?"
("Sacerdotalis Cœlibatus" no. 24)

Nevertheless, even at the recent World Synod of Bishops' meeting in Rome there could be heard the echo of rebellious voices (wedded to the dialectic of revolution in the Church) that have agitated for "optional celibacy", a married priesthood, the ordination of women, and the restoring of laicized priests to their sacerdotal functions. It is no secret that Paul VI's hope that all the Bishops of the Church "would leave nothing undone to foster, by your teaching, prudence and pastoral seal, the ideal of consecrated celibacy among your clergy" — was ignored by all too many prelates.

Faced with the shortage of priests in the U.S. and Canada and hesitant to deal with the serious effects of the Sexual Revolution on the Church itself, Bishops have become grist for the mills of the media delighting in scandalous stories of paedophilia, homosexuality, fornication and adultery involving Catholic clergy. The failure to come to grips with widespread doctrinal dissent and disobedience evident among priests and theologians, charges of homosexuality in their seminaries, and a corrupting sex education in their schools has had lamentable results, not least the erosion of sexual morality in the Church and a devaluation of the priesthood itself.

One has only to watch such TV talk shows as Geraldo and Donahue to see how recent Church scandals have been used to stigmatize priestly celibacy as "unnatural" and "unworkable". Ex-priests like Dr. Anthony Padovano and columnists like Fr. John Catoir of 'The Christophers' join in registering their support for the Church's reinstating the married priests banded together in Padovano's organization "CORPUS". Padovano himself has expressely made known his personal pleasure that he, "a noted dissenter", continues to be consulted by various American bishops.

We Catholics live in a very secular and increasingly godless society, so it is not surprising that there is little respect for virginity, chastity, and consecrated celibacy on the part of those addicted to sensuality and impurity. In some impressive reflections on celibacy, Fr. John H. Miller, C.S.C., has rightly observed:

"It is rather ironical that the enemies of the Church contend that celibacy is psychologically harmful and [that it] impedes personal development. It takes a psychologically well-integrated person to accept consecrated celibacy: one who has a strong and noble self-image and is loving. Furthermore, it surely requires a well-balanced and mature personality to keep one's promises. On the other hand, fixation on sex, impurity, pornographic indulgence and promiscuity all indicate a more or less high degree of immaturity... Consecrated celibacy, then, is like marriage, a promise - a promise to love, to love the Bride of Christ, to beget in love Christ's love in others, in sum, to lay down his life on behalf of his beloved."
(See 'Called by Love', Daughters of St. Paul, 1989)

An interesting feature of the attacks on celibacy mounted since the 2nd Vatican Council have been the historical falsehoods and misconceptions uncritically repeated by those engaged in such relentless propaganda. A favorite tactic has been to appeal to the practice of the Eastern churches (both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) who have had traditionally a married clergy. Now, Fr. Roman Cholij, himself a Ukrainian-rite/Catholic priest has published a stunning work which not only engages in a rigorous study of early Church legislation but demonstrates that there is indeed a solid doctrinal foundation for priestly celibacy.

Contrary to the view of those ignorant of the true history of priestly celibacy in both East and West, Fr. Cholij shows that priestly celibacy is not a mere disciplinary matter which the Church can change at will. Clerical celibacy is of Apostolic origin and the Eastern tradition allowing priests to use their marital rights represents an innovation of the 7th century. The Western Latin tradition remains more faithful to the actual practice of the early Church. In requiring, however, that their bishops and monks be celibate, and that their priests and deacons practice temporary continence, the separated Eastern churches witness in their own way to the permanent value of the apostolic rule of celibacy.

Fr. Cholij's book "Clerical Celibacy in East and West" (available from IDEA, Inc., P.O. Box 4010, Madison, WI 53711 - $17.50 plus $2.50 shipping) is invaluable for its refutation of some of the most popular fictions, falsehoods and even lies used to support the anti-celibacy propaganda of today's neo-Modernists. It provides a powerful reinforcement for Pope John Paul II's teaching on Celibacy.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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