Monday, 19 May 2014

Celibacy for Catholic priests - is it scriptural?

                     As 26 Italian women in loving relationships with Catholic priests urge Pope Francis to relax the celibacy rule, I felt it was time for a little research into this highly-charged, emotive issue.*   


       So is there any scriptural basis for enforced celibacy? Far  from it, according to the New Jerusalem Bible: “The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron: they forbid marriage and prohibit foods which God created to be accepted with thanksgiving by all who believe and who know the truth.” (1Timothy 4:1-3)

       Even Pope Paul VI, a pontiff not generally noted for liberal thinking, admitted in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (Priestly Celibacy, 1967) that “the New Testament which preserves the teaching of Christ and the Apostles….does not openly demand celibacy of sacred ministers…..Jesus Himself did not make it a prerequisite in His choice of the Twelve, nor did the Apostles for those who presided over the first Christian communities.” – The Papal Encyclicals 1958-1981 (Falls Church, Va.; 1981), p.204.

       Considering that Simon Peter** was married (Mark 1:29-31) as were the rest of the apostles along with Jesus’ fleshly brothers and first century ‘bishops’ (1Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:2), then the Catholic church has no real basis for insisting that priests should be celibate, a doctrine that must surely be partly responsible for the shocking incidence of child abuse by various clergy.
       Obviously, Christian teaching has never endorsed celibacy except when freely espoused by its adherents. The apostle Paul, while outlining the benefits of singleness, also advised it was “better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) The ultimate authority, of course, was Jesus Christ who described singleness as a ‘gift’ for which “not all men can make room.” (Matthew 19:11)
       Celibacy was commonly practised before the Christian era by Buddhist priests and monks, and even earlier by the higher orders of the Babylonian priesthood – The Two Babylons by A. Hislop. P.219. But why this dogma has continued to the present day is totally beyond my comprehension.
*See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/the-pope/10839223/Italian-women-appeal-to-Pope-Francis-to-end-priests-celibacy-vow.html
**Peter was also known as Cephas – (John 1:42)

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