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>> in the know with Fr. Joe

Dear Fr. Joe: Why does the Church require priests to be celibate? Are there spiritual advantages for celibacy that the rest of us don’t understand or does it do more harm than good? Doesn’t the Church realize that we would have more priests if celibacy wasn’t required?

    These are very important and deep questions with many layers and I will answer them a bit at a time. Now, to be clear, I am not able to cover all the reasons why the Church asks her priests to be celibate – that would take too long. Instead, I am going to base my answers off the Catechism and my own experience. So ... here we go!
    Let’s start with our Catechisms. Section 1579 states: “All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 19:12) Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to ‘the affairs of the Lord,’ (1 Corinthians 7:32) they give themselves entirely to God and to men. ... accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the reign of God. (Cf. PO 16)”
    That is some good stuff! Let’s take it apart. First of all, celibacy is a sign and a means for priests to serve the Lord with “undivided hearts.” This is not meant as an attack on marriage at all, but a statement about the FOCUS of the priest. A married person, by virtue of the sacrament, is called to focus primarily on his family: working to feed and clothe them; taking time to be with his spouse and children in order to love, honor and educate them; and all other sorts of duties.
    The priest is bound by none of these things and able, therefore, to freely serve God and His people. Priestly celibacy is a great sign. And you gotta admit, it’s a GREAT sign. It gets people’s attention, doesn't it?
    Ask a priest you know and he will most likely tell you he is questioned about celibacy more than any other topic. Ask him why he chose celibacy. This is a different question then asking him why the Church requires it for priests. See where his answer takes you.
    Hopefully, faithful priests proclaim a message with their celibacy; they witness powerfully  without opening their mouths. I hope that my celibacy shouts out that Jesus is worth a radical commitment. In the words of Tony Campolo: “After what Jesus did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Him!”
    Does celibacy do more harm than good? Taking the entirety of the priesthood and not the few the media are so often writing about, I would say the answer is no for two reasons. First of all, your priest is able to be there for you. Granted, there are always human and temporal limitations, but, for the most part, a priest is able and willing to be there for his people 24 hours a day, six days a week (day off!).
  Secondly, priestly celibacy is totally unrelated to the issue of pedophilia. Most priests can tell you that we hear about sexual abuse from many sources in many contexts. And priests are no more prone to pedophilia than any other profession.
    In terms of recruiting more priests, let’s take a look at that issue. The latest statistics say that there are 63 million Catholics in the United States and about 38,000 active priests. That is tough to be sure and I know that at the end of most days, all I can do is fall in bed and pray that tomorrow will be slower!
    Is celibacy the reason that fewer and fewer young men are going into the priesthood? Perhaps, but that does not mean the Church needs to change. I believe with all my heart that it means the American culture needs to change. Have you noticed how often we get angry at the Church for not being like us? We assume that disagreement with the culture and ideology of the people of the U.S. is reason alone to change a 2,000-year-old institution!
    Too often the American culture treats celibacy as if it is just about sex and sexual activity. It is more than that. I remember clearly the moment I made my promise of celibacy, and I will tell you what was in my heart – radical commitment; total abandonment; and, complete surrender. I was thinking that Jesus is worth it and His bride, the Church is worth it, too! I was thinking that serving God’s people all day everyday is what I wanted to do (with occasional breaks for eating and sleeping, of course). I was thinking about love and sacrifice and commitment. I was thinking about good priests I have known through my whole life. I was thinking about some of the holy men and women throughout our 2,000 year history who have done exactly what I was doing.
    You see what I mean? Celibacy involves sexuality, but it’s not limited to it. It seems that for Americans, this is a hard concept. I know most people speak of celibacy as strictly being about sex when it isn’t. It is about proclaiming a message of total imitation of Jesus. It is about showing a culture of throw-away relationships that commitment is everything. It is about dedicating our lives to the service of people. It is all about Jesus.
    Enjoy another day in God’s presence!

by Father Joseph Krupp

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