Sunday, October 30, 2005


Pope Benedict XVI on Celibacy

" It is not a dogma. It is a form of life that has grown up in the Church and that naturally always brings with it the danger of a fall. When one aims so high there are failures. I thnk that what provokes people today against celibacyis that they see how many priests really aren't inwardly in agreement with it and either live hypocritically, badly, not at all, or only in a tortured way... People need to get straight in their minds that times of crisis for celibacy are also times of crisis for marriage as well. For, as a matter of fact, today we are experiencing not only violations of celibacy; marriage itself is becoming increasingly fragile as the basis of our society. In the legislation of Western nations we see how it is increasingly placed on the same level as other forms and is thereby largely 'dissolved' as a legal form. Nor is the hard work needed really to live marriage negligible. Put in practical terms, after the abolition of celibacy we would only have a different problem with divorced priests. That is not unknown in the Protestant Churches. In this sense, we see, of course, that the lofty forms of human existence involve great risks.

The conclusion I would draw from this, however, is not that we should now say, 'We can't do it anymore', but that we must learn again to believe. And that we must also be even more careful in the selection of candidates for the priesthood. The point is that someone really ought to accept it freely and not say, well now I would like to become a priest, so I'll put up with this. Or:I'm not interested in girls anyway, so I'll go along with celibacy. That is not a basis to start from. The candidate for the priesthood has to recognize the faith as a force in his life, and he must recognize he can live celibacy only in faith. Then celibacy can also become again a testimony that says something to people and that also gives them the courage to marry. The two institutions are interconnected. If fidelity in the one is no longer possible, the other no longer exists: one fidelity sustains the other. ...

In both cases a definitive lif decision is at the center of one's own personality: Am I already able, let's say at age twenty-five, to arrange my whole life? Is that something appropriate for man at all? Is it possible to see it through and in doing so to grow and mature in a living way--or must I not rather keep myself constantly open for new possiblities? Basically, then, the question is posed thus: Does the possibility of a definitive choice belong in the central sphere of man's existence as an essential component? In deciding his form of life, can he commit himself to a definitive bond? I would say two things. He can do so only if he is really anchored in his faith. Second, only then does he also reach the full form of human love and human maturity. Anything less than monogamous marriage is too little for man.

The point is that, in any case, it has to be free. It's even necessary to confirm by an oath before ordination one's free consent and desire . In this sense, I always have a bad feeling when it's said afterward that it was a compulsory celibacy and that it was imposed on us. That goes against one's word given at the beginning. It's very important in the education of priests we see to it that this oath is taken seriously....

I think giving up this condition basically improves nothing; rather it glosses over a crisis of faith. Naturally, it is a tragedy for a Church when many lead a more or less double life. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that has happened. In the late Middle Ages we had a similar situation, which was also one of the factors that caused the Reformation. That is a tragic event indeed that calls for reflection, also for the sake of the people, who really suffer deeply." (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Salt of the Earth Ignatius Press 1997 pp. 196-198)

To take this opportunity to put in a shameless plug of my own (after all it is my weblog), my own meager contribution on the subject can be found HERE.


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