Celibacy and Dogma

by nonewsisnew


I’ve recently written about some of the issues raised in this piece, but haven’t yet touched on celibacy.

Celibacy: Not just for clergy

Celibacy: Not just for clergy.

In thinking about the Church and celibacy, the first important distinction to make is between moral practices and expedient practices.  Some practices are morally right in themselves.  One such practice would be helping a drowning person.  Other practices are disciplines by which we might more easily practice morality.  Regular and predetermined prayer is such a practice (the Divine Office is a good example).  Clerical celibacy has always been seen as the later, not as the former, and could therefore be reformed if the practice no longer encourages holiness.  The goal of clerical celibacy is to increase the ease of doing moral acts.
Put another way, the moral teachings of the church are high up the scale of infallibility, while the ways in which moral teachings are lived out in any particular generation are much lower on the scale.  Priestly celibacy slowly grew over generations as a way for priests to live holy lives.  It kept particular churches from becoming dynasties, and was especially important in the Middle Ages when clerical abuse of office was more common.  So while not explicitly a more moral way to live, celibacy among the clergy does help encourage moral actions.One of the ways we can tell that celibacy is an aspect of discipline rather than moral dogma is that it is not required of all people.  The Church calls everyone to holiness, so that if celibacy was a necessary step on the way to holiness all people would be called to celibacy.  What everyone is called to is chastity, not celibacy.  A married couple is chaste when they don’t use each other for sex.  An unmarried person (like a priest) is chaste when he/she doesn’t have sex.  All people are called to live out chaste lives within the context of their vocation because chastity is an issue of morality.  Not all people are called to live celibate lives because celibacy is an issue of discipline.The fact of the matter is that Catholics already have married clergy.  To be open to discussion about married clergy is simply to accept the “facts on the ground”, and this is presumably what Pope Francis is willing to do.  An interesting addendum to this all is that the discussion about married clergy is something that laity need to do rather than clergy.  When one becomes ordained, they become the mouthpiece of the Church (they are ordained more perfectly into Christ’s own prophetic role).  Their obligation is to spread what the church teaches currently (even on matters that aren’t explicitly moral, like celibacy), not to speculate on what the church might teach in the future, and certainly not to act as though the church has already changed her teaching.  This dramatically limits what bishops, priests, and deacons might talk about outside of a church council on the matter.  So if one hears about bishops being excommunicated over talk of celibacy, it is because their unique roll as pastor limits what they might express, rather than because the idea of married clergy is heretical.