Live Science Does a Story on Priestly Celibacy

So this is odd.  A couple of days ago I get a request for an interview with a writer for  Live Science, of all things, wanting to discuss priestly celibacy.  I’m still not super-clear on why a pop sci site would want to talk about it, but it seemed like a chance to discuss the Faith with an audience that doesn’t get a lot of exposure to accurate information about what Catholics believe, so I said okay.

The interview was a pleasure to do.  The writer, Tia Ghose, is Jewish and so a lot of the theology and inside Catholic baseball was unfamiliar to her.  She asked reasonable questions and, in the resulting text, more or less got what I had to say about as well as could be expected for somebody coming at the issue from outside the Catholic tradition.  Some of our conversation isn’t mentioned and a lot is paraphrased in ways I wouldn’t quite put it.  But on the whole, about as reasonable as you would expect from a pop sci site that basically has a sociological, not theological, approach to the matter.

  • jf

    Ok, that was a ridiculous article. I guess it’s okay that they’re talking about it, but there seemed to be no attempt to understand the issue, just present it so people could mock priestly celibacy. At least, that’s my take :/

    Mr. Shea, this is not a criticism of your involvement – it’s obvious you tried to give them some good info, and that’s commendable, for sure. Keep it up!

    • chezami

      I don’t think the article is written to mock. Ms. Ghose was genuinely interested. I think it’s just an unfamiliar topic to her and she has no burning interest in defending the practice. It’s reasonable work for a stranger to the Tradition.

      • jf

        I guess I wonder what’s the point, then. I mean, if the purpose is to understand, then understand. It’s not *that* difficult a concept. The simple fact that she spends a lot of time on dissent and possible future changes to the tradtion (which are less than likely) seems to indicate she had absolutely no interest in understanding (or, at least, that she did a REALLY bad job of understanding, especially if she prides herself on her scientific reasoning). If that’s the case, then I’m still left wondering what the point is.

      • jf

        Maybe to clarify: if I were to write an article on Jewish abstention from pork, I wouldn’t focus on Jews who eat pork in dissension. I’d focus on those who do, why they do it, how they do it, psychological and health implications, etc. I might mention that some Jews don’t live this way, but it certainly wouldn’t be a main point of discussion, since it’s not really helpful to understand why Jews don’t eat pork.

        Maybe I’m not making any sense, but it seems clear to me: either there’s blundering incompetence here or ill will.

        • Dan C

          You presume you learn nothing from opposition. Adversarial systems exist to exact better meaning. Thomas Aquinas wrote and anticipated arguments, using these to sharpen the argument for the Truth. The inclusion of arguments against celibacy in this article did enlighten, and is NOT a threat.

          I think the word “dissent” also is one word one should use carefully in the conservative blogosphere too. Dissent is usually a conservative vocabulary term for those truths liberal reject.

          Actually on this matter, discussion has been permitted by this pope, and Benedict. It is not a matter of “dissent” as much as it is disagreement with a current discipline.

          • jf

            It’s not the case, your presumption of my presumption. Opposition definitely helps one hone his own position – but it doesn’t mean I have to like ignorance.

            Take, for example of why this article irks me, this quote: “But those who would like to see married priesthood argue celibacy is so difficult for many men that it dissuades people from the priesthood and can lead to sexually immature people pastoring their flocks.” This sort of statement can only come from someone totally ignorant of (a) the working of grace in a vocation, and (b) the reality of the situation with priests.

            Firstly, Jesus calls some to the high road of celibacy. To say that it is impossible for the men Jesus calls to do the Church’s work in the fashion that the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is calling them to do is just silly. A man who is called to the Roman Catholic priesthood and actually embraces celibacy is given the grace to be joyful in it. A man who only accepts this bitterly will not accept the grace given.

            Secondly, the reality of the situation, based on many surveys and studies, etc, in scientific fashion, is that the majority of celibate Catholic priests are happy with it and are not sexually immature. This is more true as we move to a model of vetting and formation based on regulations laid out by the Holy see and formulated in such local guidelines as the USCCB’s PPF (Program of Priestly Formation ) and move away from the model of accepting any guy who signs up, which, in a sexually immature time of our society has definitely led to many sexually immature men becoming priests because of a lack of good vetting and formation practices, and in some cases a willful desire by officials to accept sexually immature candidates.

            More ignorance: “The Catholic priesthood, in a sense, fosters a psychosexual immaturity by imposing celibacy.” This is patently false because the Church imposes celibacy on no man. End of story. The Church asks men to accept celibacy for a higher calling. In fact, these days, vocation directors generally won’t even look at a man who has any real difficulty with living celibately.

            So the implications here, that the Church imposes celibacy, and that celibacy leads to sexual immaturity, can only come from someone who does not understand the Church’s practices and traditions, and more importantly, someone who does not agree with them.

            Another note: “A.W. Richard Sipe, a sociologist and former Benedictine monk who has been married for 43 years” is probably not the ideal man to be “discussing” the potential of doing away with priestly celibacy. I don’t know his history, but even if he has a dispensation from his vows as a religious and his priestly obedience, the fact is that he made vows which he did not keep regarding celibacy (the vow to remain so for his whole life). I understand that it may have been difficult for him for whatever reason. Regardless. He’s not a good person to turn to for understanding the Church’s practices, and in my opinion he’s certainly not a good candidate for discussing an issue which he didn’t fully grasp when he was called to live it and promised to do so.

            Regarding dissent – the meaning of the word is the opposite of “assent”, which means to acknowledge, agree with and “give oneself” to an idea. When the Church requires a particular practice to which somebody does not “give himself” first, it’s dissent. A priest or layman who is joyfully living his faith and vocation discussing the possibility is one thing. A former religious priest – that’s another story. Even without making a judgement on his current state, which I don’t know, this is highly suspect.

            The Church’s tradition is there for a reason. While they may change, they shouldn’t just be questioned because particular people have particular difficulties with them, generally based on a failure to understand them. I’m fairly certain that St. Thomas would agree here.

  • Kathleen Lundquist

    I thought it was much less than horrible; my impression is that she tried to represent what you said as accurately as she could (having heard you say these things before and considering her thorough-going secular mindset).

    She would have done her readers a favor if she’d compared the Catholic tradition of celibacy to that of other religions, e.g. the Buddhist monasticism. My 0.02.

    • Dan C

      On this, I agree too. Celibacy is well known in Eastern religions too. Such as Thich Nhat Han and the Dalai Lama.

  • John Thrippleton

    I thought it was a good article. One aspect that I’m not sure you touched on with her is that since the Catholic Church has both married deacons and celibate priests she has the best of both worlds for pastoral care of the flock. Having both gives a subjective and objective view of both single life and married life.

  • enness

    Wow. Some of their oeuvre that I’ve seen has been things like ‘Gay Parents are Awesomer than You’ and ‘Republicans are Stupid, or Something’ (obviously I paraphrase, but I’m not exaggerating by much). There seems to plenty of pop and some questionable science. Kudos to you for doing it but I don’t think I could have.


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