Celibacy Lust and Love

I can speak from experience. I was a celibate Anglican priest for seven years. Then I got married. I was a married Anglican priest for three years. Then we joined the Catholic church. I was in the married state as a layman for ten years. Now I am a married Catholic priest and have been for six years.

This week the question of mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests is in the news again. The question is a real one–especially in light of the most recent scandal involving Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland. One of the most vociferous voices opposed to same sex marriage, it turns out that he had a few homosexual adventures of his own in his younger years. Repeatedly we have heard rumors and whisperings of the sexual crimes and misdemeanors of clergy who have taken a vow of celibacy and then fallen off the chastity wagon.

Is celibacy the problem? Would the sexual scandals be solved if priests were allowed to marry? We have to stop, take a deep breath and think it through with common sense. First of all, celibacy in and of itself doesn’t necessarily cause a person to run out and commit a sexual crime. One only has to check out sexual offenders. Many of them are married men, some are sexually promiscuous, some are using prostitutes. Sex crimes are more likely to be committed by the sexually active than they are by the celibate. Therefore, we can conclude that celibacy (not being engaged in sexual relations with anyone) is not the cause of sexual crimes and misbehaviors.

In addition to this argument is the fact that a huge number of men and women, for many different reasons, are sexually inactive. It is not just celibate Catholic priests who are not having sexual relations on a regular basis. Many single people are not involved in sexual activity. Many older people are not involved in sexual activity. Members of certain professions which involve solitude or separation from their spouse are not involved in sexual activity. These other people who are not sexually active are not immediately and insatiably involved in sex crimes. Therefore we can conclude that celibacy in and of itself does not cause sexual crimes and misdemeanors.

What does cause people to fall off the chastity wagon? It’s quite simple: the need for love. People need to be loved and give love. It’s a basic requirement. You can’t live life without it. The point of life is to learn the difficult lessons of love.

The kink in human nature is that this need to love and be loved gets twisted in all sorts of ways. The need to love and be loved can turn towards oneself and a person is locked into a sad and solitary existence of sexual fantasy, pornography and masturbation. The need to love and be loved can be turned (for many complex reasons) to members of the same sex–sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. The need to love and be loved can be twisted into other perversions–to pedophilia, bestiality, sado masochism and other distorted and horrific attempts to feed the very basic and fundamental “love hunger.”

People long for love and search for it in sexual intimacy.  The problem is that sexual intimacy on its own does not satisfy the love hunger. That’s why sexually active people are not necessarily satisfied. Sexual pleasure on its own does not equal love. The virtue of chastity–which is the discipline of the sexual appetites in order to attain true love–is the demand for men and women to rise above mere sexual gratification to discover a lasting, permanent and satisfying love.

This is the challenge and witness of celibacy–to learn how to love without sexual expression, and to show that there is a love which is above and beyond sexual intimacy. Why should this be an important aspect of the spiritual life? It is not only Catholic priests, monks and nuns who are expected to be celibate. Celibacy, at least for a time, is expected of devotees of other religions as well. Celibacy is a discipline which directs the sexual appetites toward their true fulfillment–which is the a consummation into Love itself–a Love which is higher and more eternal than mere sexual expression.

That it is difficult to attain this sort of spiritual union with Love itself is an understatement. It is the spiritual equivalent of climbing Mt Everest. That some fail (and fail disastrously) in this high and noble calling is to be expected. Not everyone who sets out to climb Everest make the summit. Some fail and turn back. Some freeze to death alone and lost. Some tumble over cliffs or plunge into a crevasse. Others are swept away by an avalanche.

The extreme challenge of celibacy can only be won as the individual learns how to understand and accept his or her own sexuality, and learn through prayer, self discipline and the love of others through service and community how to ascend to that higher Love to which we are all called. Furthermore, this calling to rise to the higher form of love is not only the call of the celibate. Each one of the baptized are called to ascend to the higher form of Love and be united with that Eternal Love through the virtue of chastity.

While the celibate seeks this higher form of Love by foregoing sexual intimacy completely, the married are expected to seek the high form of Love through the sacrament of marriage and the union between a man and woman for life. In a culture where everyone is expected to be copulating most of the time, we seem to forget that the Christian ideal of sexuality is one of chastity–where all men and women–no matter what their state in life–if they are not married–are expected to be celibate. We also seem to forget that even within marriage sexual activity is meant to be constrained and disciplined. The sexual act is not meant–even in marriage–only for non stop recreation and pleasure. It is designed and directed towards the procreation of children as well as the fulfillment and solidarity of the marriage. All sexual activity is not permitted for married people, and just because a person is married does not mean that he or she may indulge in a sexual free for all.

In other words, the celibate priest, monk, brother or sister is a reminder to all Catholics that there are limits to sexual activity, and that all are called to chastity. All are called, if they are unmarried, to celibacy. All are called universally, to rise beyond the love of human sexuality to the Divine Love which is above all and in all and through all and which is infused into and through human sexuality. All are called to sublimate the sexual urge and direct it toward this higher and more eternal form of love.

This is what Love IS. It is finally being called and drawn into the Divine Love. This happens through the rationalization  and integration of our sexuality–no matter how that sexuality is experienced. If this is what Love is, then Lust is anything which is directed away from this ultimate divine love back to what is below–back to “love” which is merely genital stimulation of some sort–back to a “love” which is centered on self pleasure and mere physical delight. Lust is the distortion, degradation and denigration of Love.

Celibacy, therefore, is not the enemy of true love, but it’s friend and ally. We should not be surprised when people fail in this high calling, but their failure does not mean that we forsake the goal or abandon the ideal. Their failure should encourage us all the more to reach forward to that high calling to be conformed fully to the image of Christ–who is the Divine Love incarnate.


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  • megan

    Great article, Fr.! Thank you.

  • KS

    NO NO NO. What does the scandal of O’Brien have to do with celibate priests/priests marrying?? I am sooooo sick of this! O’Brien was after MEN. Does anyone not understand this? HE IS A HOMOSEXUAL. Therefore, how on earth would MARRIAGE help him? Are we really supposed to believe these men are turning to boys and other males because they want to be married but can’t?? GIVE ME A BREAK. Catholics need to start calling out this false narrative that is being spun by the media, seculars, and anti-Catholics.

  • Michael

    “Celibacy, therefore, is not the enemy of true love, but it’s friend and ally. We should not be surprised when people fail in this high calling, but their failure does not mean that we forsake the goal or abandon the ideal” Then don’t make it mandatory for secular clergy (because obviously it isn’t) and allow the religious to keep their vows (secular clergy take oaths to the bishop). Then their example would be viewed as a true calling and not an imposition.

    I knew two married Catholic priests and they didn’t work in a parish but were school chaplains with incomes that would support their families. I’ve always thought the practical reason to not opening up the diocesan clergy to marriage is the huge increase in salary that would then be necessary for them to be able to support a family and the perception is that it would cause too much of a financial strain on the Church.

  • http://simpleme1970.blogspot.com/ Robyn

    I agree with you Father.. I do think it is the need to love and be loved.. I know a Catholic Priest who is a very good and holy man.. He’s a wonderful priest who loves Jesus and the Church completely, but, he’s also very lonely .. Hes going through something serious at the moment in his life and he wishes that he had someone by his side to go through it with him and help him through.. The need for human contact from someone who truly loves you is what he misses and craves.. So again, I agree and I know as a lay person from personal experience it is certainly NOT about sex….. Awesome post..

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Great posting!!!! Now if we can only get articles like this into the mainstream media and the likes of the NY Times. But, sadly, much of what pretends to be in-depth analysis or spiritual or doctrinal insight on matters Catholic in the mainstream media is ever so often pure garbage or anti-Catholic harangue fueled by ignorant opinion.

  • Joshua Gonnerman

    Truly excellent stuff, and rich food for thought for single Catholics, too.

  • Stephen Sparrow

    Excellent essay Fr Dwight.

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    I’m not so sure that clergy ‘fall off the celibacy wagon’ because of love- those who I know have either succumbed to loneliness (so they leave the priesthood at 50+, so they gain a wife- but they won’t be bothered by children) or lust (either with same sex relationships or relationships with women who don’t really make good marriage material)

    Can the minuscule Eastern rites be an example right now for the Roman-rite? Ideally- a man discerns celibacy versus marriage first…and then he discerns if the clerical state is where he is called to be. So for a Roman-rite man, he would be called to celibacy even before the priesthood…I have a feeling it has become the opposite- a man wants the priesthood and then believes he can ‘handle’ celibacy

  • Kayla Doreo

    Actually, he is not saying that marriage is the ultimate solution. At least, that’s not what I took away from this article. He was laying the groundwork for the rest of the article in mentioning celibacy, chastity, and marriage.

    I think the underlying themes and the most important messages presented in this article are:
    1) Chastity as a challenge for channeling love to the Divine; ultimately that accepting one’s self and one’s sexuality is the road to a Higher love.
    2) The holiness of Love.

    When O’Brien failed in this particular challenge, he betrayed his own vow. That doesn’t sound like someone who knew himself well nor does it sound like someone who has accepted that kind of calling.

  • Margaret McKay

    Wonderful article, and I truly hope and pray that the Roman Catholic Church under the guidance and leadership of our new Pontiff really consider the issue of married priests. I welcome the fact that there are married priests that have moved from the Anglican Church, but the one issue is that does seem very unfair to have married clergy from other faiths and not offer that option for existing clergy. I have some friends who were RC priests but left and are now married. It is quite sad because they would have made wonderful married priests and their pastoral skills would and should have still been valuable for the RC Church. Coming from Scotland I am very sad about the existing situation here at the moment, but also feel that the church has created a rod for its own back and has been totally disingenuous about the current situation. As a result there is now a witch hunt going on with the press including those who oppose the RC church having a field day.

  • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

    KS– Cardinal O’Brien was an outspoken advocate for ending the requirement for priestly celibacy. In fact, he had to take an oath of fidelity before he was allowed to take the red hat.

  • Fr. Matthew Albright

    Fr. Dwight, Thank you for the thoughtful and inspiring article! It is truly about the human search for love and twisted descent on which some find themselves when they fail to find the love they seek or do not know where to look. Thank you for your courage and wisdom. We all need to stand together to help out Church rise from scandal into light and truth and holiness.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Even if the rule is changed regarding the celibate Catholic priesthood and the Latin Church copies the Eastern churches, Westerners ignore the Eastern Churches rule that once you are ordained as a celibate you are expected to keep your word and remain celibate or be” defrocked.” So the issue isn’t as simple as some people claim.
    And is it so bad for the Church to expect a grown man to keep his word, freely given. In the era I grew up in, a man’s word was considered his bond. So I don’t think that Catholic priests who have reneged on their word would make “wonderful married priests.” In a pinch would such men keep the seal of the confessional????What would their record of keeping their marriage vows be????
    As far as married CLERGY go, the Latin Catholic Church has a married ordained clergy whose numbers are growing by leaps and bounds and they can do virtually anything a priest can do. So to get a married witness into Church leadership it is not necessary to end the celibate’s unique holy witness.


    There is no excuse for hiding criminals in the Catholic Church. Those priests who commit crimes against children are meant to be dealt with under the law for the sake of justice. As even Christ obeyed the law!!! Otherwise we are colluding with criminals and we turn Christ Himself into a pedophile. This is a horrendous lack of responsibility by men in church. I am not talking about the latest scandal in particular, but to turn Christ into a pedophile is even worse than destroying innocent children if there is a worse crime? As a mother to me it is rotten and needs sorting out and accepting responsibility without making excuses for serious criminals it is not like they just went shoplifting after all!

  • AnneG

    KS, I don’t think Fr L said anything that would contradict your assertion. As a matter of fact he mentioned the disordered sexuality and discussed it beginning in paragraph 3. You might want to reread.

  • AnneG

    Margaret, just one clarification: men ordained to the priesthood or even the permanent diaconate cannot marry. They are ordained after marriage in certain circumstances but may not remarry if they are widowed.

  • Fortuna Veritas

    So what do you think causes clergy to want to sexually abuse their charges if it isn’t lust? Just plain old power tripping?

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Fr. D,
    I have a nagging question that’s been irking me ever since I read Card. Stickler’s work on celibacy (v. http://bit.ly/1672P5g ) for the Christian clergy, where he posits that in the early Church, even married deacons, priests and bishops were continent because, in order to offer the sacrifice of the Mass daily, much like the Levite priests were required to be continent before offering sacrifice, they were to abstain from marital intercourse daily, thus effectively celibate.
    Is that the case for married priests and permanent deacons nowadays? How does this jive with tradition? Is this Holy tradition or not?

  • Oregon Catho;ic

    Excellent point about celibacy first, religious vocation second. I think part of the problem the 50+ priests go through is the same mid-life, hormone mediated crisis their conterparts in secular life go through. Men and women both go through a kind of change of life period and many experience an intensification of sexual urges and a restlessness around this time before the sex drive diminishes again. Lot’s of batchelors often settle down to marriage as well around this point.

  • LongIslandMichael

    Great article and teaching moment Father. Thanks for posting this. Beautifully stated!

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The married ordained clergy I am referring to is ordained deacons. If the Catholic Church needs a married clergy then married ordained deacons (who can do 80% of what priests do– from preaching, to celebrating baptisms and weddings to leading wake and burial ceremonies to doing administrative work and supervising evangelization efforts for young and old— making the need for priests that much less) should be the ones called on to fill in any clergy shortage– not priests who broke their freely given word and now want to be trusted again.

  • Dolores

    Is your comment related to this particular post about celibacy or is this a mistake? I genuinely don’t understand what you are talking about. Perhaps you could clarify where exactly in this post is Fr. L excusing crimes.

  • http://www.jlewisstatues.co.uk jean

    Hello Fortuna,
    if I could offer my thoughts on that – rapists, paedos and even lotharios, are driven by a sense of sexual power over the victim, – arsonists – to clarify – those who like to set fire to things, find this act “stimulating” because it gives them a sense of power and release.They destroy buildings rather than people per se…
    My freind worked in a hopsital for the criminally insane, and these acts all seem to have an element of mental disorder; which evil may use because it enjoys misery.
    Paedophiles are devious, they will find their way into places they can access children. Som have the distorted view that a child is in love with them. As I said, it is a kind of insanity and so far research says its incurable. This is why the Church needs vigilance and much better psychological testing for seminarians.
    Equally, all establishments should do the same; hubby applied to a junior school as caretaker recently – the form asked if he was transgender and which personality he would be attending as. He’s not transgender by the way (-: but this was standard fare for the local council. Hows that for giving more respect to an adult than the children under their care?

  • http://www.jlewisstatues.co.uk jean

    Thanks for the article F.Longnecker,
    too many people think that celibacy is impossible in our culture. It is a grace from God – can’t tell you how many people don’t understand this was the case for the Mary and Joseph situation.
    Also, they muddle lust and love – no thanks to the media, they have become synonymous.
    On the subject of a lonely priest who wants a cuddle – not to undermine the need for human affection – this can be a form of “fasting” I think which could be the key to holiness for that particular individual. Most priests would jump a mile if you tried to hug them…..or is that just me…? 9=;

  • David Thornton

    I agree very much with the article. Regarding celibacy for catholic priests, this was brought in for pragmatic reasons, not theological ones. For many centuries in the early church priests (and even bishops according to the NT) could be married. The first bishop of Rome was a married man. Single priests were cheaper and could be moved around more easily. I recently heard the story of a catholic priest who left his priesthood to get married. The bishop moved an ex-Anglican priest (in the ordinariate) into the parish. The new priest was married, with several children. Perhaps it is time for the next Pope to abandon compulsory celibacy for priests.

  • TomS

    While intellectually interesting, this article misses a huge theological point, one called out in the good original Book: forbidding to marry is a doctrine of devils. Abstaining from marriage and sexual activity as a choice for the sake of Christ’s work is noble, as affirmed by the Apostle Paul, but forbidding it has out-and-out demonic motivations.

  • Oregon Catholic

    I’ve wondered too. What is the practice in the Eastern Rites in communion with Rome?

    The married orthodox priests still practice the sexual abstinance before offering the Divine Liturgy. I don’t think the orthodox are in the practice of daily communion.

  • Oregon Catholic

    Pedophilia is an abberation always and everywhere and has noting to do with not having sex. I had a friend who always used to spout off about how celibacy was abnormal and that’s what was the cause of priests going after little kids. Until I asked him in front of a bunch of other people ” If you couldn’t have sex with a woman would you turn to kids?” That was the end of his comments, at least around me.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    If you read Church history, you’ll find that though clerics were married, they were also continent and many didn’t live with their wives. At least according to Card. Stickler’s research: http://bit.ly/1672P5g

  • Kaye

    I understand being lonely, but since when does being married mean not being lonely? A good many married middle-aged married men and women feel lonely in their marriages. Then sometimes divorce/adultery ensues. That is not much different from the priest at the same age who is feeling lonely. My guess is that even with a married priesthood we would have much the same problems as now because there would still be looking for whatever is missing in the wrong places.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Forbidding sexual activity completely is wrong, but Catholic priests accept celibacy voluntarily. No one forces a man to be a priest.

  • Will

    Your friend apparently didn’t realize that these men were pedophiles before they joined the Church, and joined it because they knew it would protect and shelter them from law enforcement throughout their lives. I see why he thought the way he did, but the truth is more insidious.

  • Will

    Celibacy isn’t the issue; it’s regulatory capture that’s at fault here. The Vatican oversees the Vatican, and the Vatican is massively corrupt. The hierarchy of the church is accountable to no one. Not surprising that they carry on hiding rapists and laundering money; no one watches the watchers in their case. Silly issues like letting women be priests or letting priests get married won’t do one thing to fix what’s wrong with the Church; they’re distracting the flock while the leadership resets for the next round. Saw it in Afghanistan, seeing it in Rome right now: power minus accountability directly equals corruption. If you want to really fix the Church, I’d start by firing everyone Bishop and above. Obviously, that will never happen, due to the innate hierarchy and the previously mentioned regulatory capture.

  • Will

    The issue isn’t loneliness anyway; I doubt you’ve ever been lonely enough to rape someone, right? That’s…pretty lonely.

    The issue is that pedophiles know that the Church has a history of covering up their crimes to avoid potential scandals, so they see joining it as an attractive way to gain access to children and carry on molesting with less personal risk. You are right that letting priests marry would do exactly zero to stop it; the Boy Scouts’ files demonstrated thoroughly that married men also molest kids.

  • CGDoc

    Celibacy was instituted in the Roman Catholic Church strictly due to money and family inheritance after a married priest passed away. Did the Church stand to gain or did the Priests family? Personally, as an Ex-Catholic, I believe that a Parish Pastor can better Counsel Couples if they have had On-The-Job Training with a Spouse and Children of their own. Do not believe that sex has anything to do with the issue of Celibacy. Believe that if the Roman Catholic Church wants to keep the Celibacy rule in place it should be able to. What I do feel is extremely unfair is to allow ordained ministers from other faiths that are married be able to become Catholic Priest. It seems like a strictly Political move by the Church. I wonder how other Catholic priest feel about their married counterparts?

  • http://catherineduval.com catherine


  • Juan Oskar

    I have much to say but I like to be brief.

    For clarity, I accept the Church’s teachings on celibacy. For men there is a dilemma married or not. That is the prostate gland. I believe a Catholic man should not fornicate, adulterate, or masturbate, but this little walnut size unit always reminds a man that he still can procreate. When I go to my urologist (Which I have been to many times over the decades) and he’s says: “To help alleviate pain and decrease infection, increase your sexual activity”… It’s not all under my control. After thirty-four years of marriage, grown kids, and grandkids, things have changed except for the gland and the male predatory instincts.

    Back in the 5th century there were not many 50 or 60 year marriages, most people didn’t even live much past 25 or 30 if that. I hope and pray that this third rail of celibacy is drilled into the hearts and souls of the young seminarian through his priestly formation. 100,000 priests have left the priesthood since Vatican 2 and that is not good.

  • FW Ken

    I’ve had 3 married pastors, and all are wonderful priests. Of course, their kids are grown. In the case of my present pastor, the grandkids are almost grown.

    The unasked questions concern what problems are solved by having married priests. We’ve seen a divorce in our diocese. Does anyone think married priests don’t have affairs? What happens if one of their adult children had an affair in the parish? Its silly to expect that the married state equals chastity, our that celibacy equals unchastity. That’s the fantasy of a degraded culture in which maturity and fulfillment require sexual activity, and lots of it.

  • Jim

    Interesting debate . I believe we Catholics place to much emphasis on Christ’s celibacy . I am not aware of him
    having spoken about his own celibacy at all . The author uses a degraded description of sexual gratification as ” mere” . Calling chastity a higher form of love certainly lessens the meaning of the act thru which we , in co-operation with God , create a new life . The fact is that our Creator, the good and loving God, gave us this gift and part of this gift is in the words of the author ” merely genital stimulation”. Perhaps more than embracing celibacy we need to embrace our sexuality and the beautiful act of sexual intercourse within a loving marriage .

  • Wendy

    Because a woman can not be a bridegroom. Just in case you are confused, the priest stands in the person of Christ as the bridegroom during the Consecration at Mass. And lets remember that although Jesus had several female friends and disciples, he only called the men to be preachers ( priests and deacons aka the ordained clergy)

  • Ray Hill

    CGDoc, you mean like “thou shalt not covet another man’s wife”??

  • desiree

    Thanks for the essay Fr L
    Can you expound on the state of a marriage of the laity where only one spouse is responsive to the work of gaining Holiness and the other is not.We are told that the gift of the marriage bed is just one of the benefits of marriage and to enjoy our sexuality in temperate and modest activity.What does that mean exactly? Isn’t that subjective and does it mean no sex is best in or out of marriage? Please teach more on this subject.I have yet to really delve into TOB but desire wholeness in all areas of my life and am grateful GOD is doing that work of healing to and for me.How do couples proceed who are not on the “same page” spiritually and I can share that whenever physical lovemaking occurs our attitudes and behavior toward one another is enhanced and grows the relationship in ways that nothing else promotes in my marriage.Thanks please teach more…PEACE

  • El Tigre

    Actually, I look at it the other way around. A person has unnatural sexual cravings. He wishes to stop them so he thinks joining a profession that forbids sexual activity will help him, but then he discovers that satan works even harder trying to ‘turn’ priests than laymen.
    Another problem is that persons identify sexual activity with ‘love’. Sexual activity can expand and make love more beautiful, but it is certainly no substitution for it.
    You have to distinguish between the two types of law. Civil law is action that is required. Break the law and you get arrested. Church law is to be aspired to. We are all sinners and the laws of the church are there to give us a goal to work toward.
    Also, I look at evolution as a factor. I feel that God imbued prehumans with a soul, thus changing them from animals to spiritual beings, however, because of Adam’s fall, the devil’s urging and our own preclivities, we tend to slide from the spiritual back into animalistic ways.

  • El Tigre

    Yes, by all means, embrace sexuality, but disciplined sexuality. You control your sexuality, don’t let it control you.

  • Debenzd

    Thank you. I have been wondering about this. It is not about being married. It is about understanding the commitment one has. They have a good number of years to decide whether they can do it or not. Here in Nigeriabwe have had priests quit after 10 years of formation to get married. You cannot eat your cake and have it. What about those who have being loyal to their calling? Who is celebrating them.? Marriage is not the answer. The secular press will not highlight these. The world wants to church to join the bandwagon. So many Protestant pastor wives would wish they had their husbands with them. They need celibacy to fully carry out their duties.

  • http://www.jlewisstatues.co.uk jean

    the woman who knew most about Jesus was his mother, but she was never chosen for the priesthood. In humility the Catholic church cannot re-write this fact. Jesus chose men for the priesthood.

  • http://www.jlewisstatues.co.uk jean

    If I could just get very Catholic for a moment; – Mother mariana de jesus torres (1500′s I think) was asked to be a victim soul for the 2oth century – she was told that because people had given themselves over to luxury and pleasure there would be few “pure” souls to give themselves to the priesthood.
    Perhaps the culture has been to blame for the 100,000 priests leaving the preisthood during that time. Childrens innocence is no longer protected, and I am sick of hearing adults say “Oh I let them watch/do it because they know so much more than we do”.
    Authority figures, parents, teachers, ecclesia, Govt, all need to step up to the plate and bring back CHristian morality starting with PRAYER & more PRAYER so that our children can enjoy their childhood.

  • Luz

    I would like to add that loniless and lack of a deep prayer life, plus watching todays TV programs will take you to sin. When you have a good prayer life your relationship with Christ fills you completely and his grace will help you to avoid everything that can separate you from him. For me is like a math formula: loniless + lack of prayer life + exposing to occasions of sin = sin lust etc.

  • Bain Wellington

    This supposed historical explanation is not only incorrect but incoherent. At best, some priests (those with “livings”) enjoyed the income of certain Church property for their lives, but the property itself never passed out of Church. On death, a priest might have accumulated some savings, and these pass to his heirs – just as any property he owned outright before ordination will pass to his heirs. The Church has no claim on such private property. Celibacy has nothing whatever to do with any of these “property” issues. What belongs to the Church cannot be alienated by a priest (married or not), and what belongs to a priest (married or not) cannot be claimed by the Church.

  • http://www.jlewisstatues.co.uk jean

    Hi Jim,
    the best kind of love is to desire heaven for the other person. This was Jesus’ love. He didn’t need to speak about his own celibacy, He didn’t give himself to one woman – because his total giving of self was to the redemption of all mankind.
    It is this ideal that is reflected in the priesthood – total dedication to God’s people for the sake of their sanctification.Chastity can therefore be a higher kind of love, because it considers the good of the other first. In this way it is a spiritual and self -sacrificing love. whichI think is given the term ” Agape” (At least that is how I percieve it – someone might see otherwise.)
    It is possible for lust to enter into the marital act, (i.e. Merely genital stimulation) even if it results in the goodness of The Creator to produce a new soul by those means. God has allowed the pleasure of conjugal sex to help bond the pair and so strengthen their relationship.

  • Alexander Maria Wang

    Father, I found your article very interesting and eye-opening. I live in Indonesia where Catholics constitute a small percentage of overall population. Clerical sex scandal is one of a few hot issues in inter-faith dialogue. Celibate life is hard to understand for the majority of population and even there are some Catholics, including I, don’t understand it. May I translate your article into Indonesian so my other Indonesian brother and sister may get the same adventage of reading your article? I will provide appropriate citation and link to the original article. Thank you very much. God bless

    Alexander Maria Wang

  • Gail Ramplen

    A great reply – but we need to realize that life is a journey in God’s kindergarten – we fall, He picks us up, dusts us off, forgives us when we ask, chastises us as necessary, and we struggle on in faith. We need to forgive ourselves and others if we want Him to forgive us – so we can soldier on, realizing that generally mistakes are made through immaturity, weakness, ignorance and even seduction by evil persons and events. Lack of forgiveness of self leads to a mortal fall (compare Judas Iscariot), as the Lord Himself has said recently.

  • Gail Ramplen

    Christ naturally obeyed His Law given to the Hebrews, and gave respect to just civil laws no doubt but I doubt if He could keep the American Law as it stands today which defies His Law. You seem to have such an artless, unquestioning faith in the legal system which is even more corrupt. Wake up and see the real world.

  • Theresa

    Educating article by Fr Dwight. I have also found various comments interesting. I would like to add that at the end of it all, if I love God, I am called to be faithful to him, no matter what my state in life is. If I am single and not a priest even at 30, 40,50… should I indulge in sexual activities, If I am married, do I engage in extra marital relationships or even any type of sexual activity with my spouse? We have all been called to chastity and if we love God we will seek to attain this. I do not think that marriage is a solution otherwise everyone would live happily ever after getting married. Having married priests would only bring in another set of challenges. If it is not one thing it would be another. I am a married woman in her late forties. I did not get married till my mid thirties. When I got to begin to really know God and his love for me, I knew that I could not be where he wanted me to be if I was not chaste in thoughts and deeds. Sexual sin is not the only sin but like some other sins, you cannot grow in Christ when you are struggling with it. God always gives us freewill. Being a priest is not forced. Like marriage, it is a vocation. When you make your vows, you make them to God. God is always ready to help each and everyone of his children if they would let him. Whether married, priest, religious or single, you need God’s grace to faithfully be the person he wants you to be. The debate can go on and on- wherever you are in life, there would always be challenges and struggles, only God can help us overcome if we also do what we need to do.

  • AnneG

    Catherine, because the Church does not have permission to ordain Females. Females cannot receive the graces necessary. That is a closed issue.

  • http://themightyambivalentcatholic.blogspot.com/ Steve

    Fr. Longenecker, here’s what I don’t understand. I’m open to hearing your explanation; I’m not trying to be snarky here.

    If you believe that the celibate state is the best, most ideal state for a priest who is Catholic, why did you choose to seek ordination as a Catholic priest since you were already a married man — and a man who had children, at that? I DO understand, of course, that the Church permitted you to be ordained given your situation as a former Anglican priest who was already married; I’m not questioning the canonical validity of your ordination or anything like that. Rather, I’m questioning what seems to be an inconsistency in your reasoning. You’re a fan of a celibate priesthood, and you have seemingly logical reasons for supporting it — yet you chose to become a priest even though you would not be that kind of priest. Did you wrestle with this as you discerned your vocation to the Catholic priesthood? If so, what ultimately led you to believe that you could be a very good priest even though you would not be a celibate priest?

  • Sara

    I disagree that one would discern the celibate life first before a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. It seems to me that God calls a man or woman to a particular vocation and then gives them the grace and temperament to successfully live out all of the aspects of that vocation from the practical details like living in community for religious; and the more major aspects: a celibate life.

    Fundamentally, I think we’re all called to marriage and sexual intimacy. So, living a celibate life as a religious or priest is done by a very particular grace to ‘renounce’ the good of marriage and live out a celibate life. So, you would discern the primary vocation as a priest or religious first. Any man or woman who goes into a celibate life thinking they can ‘handle’ it themselves is terribly mistaken. You can’t, you need the grace from God.

    Obviously, we’re dealing with God and discernment here, so there is no hard and fast rule, but that is usually how the call to the priesthood or religious life and the necessary life of celibacy is explained to me and how I’m inclined to think about it.

  • lydia

    Its what Christ Himself established and we respect that decision. A history lesson If Jesus wanted popularity and instant acceptance Most pagan religions accepted female priestess’ the religious observations in most homes was the job of the matriarch Jesus for whatever reasons chose 12 males rather than 6 of one 1/2 dozen of the other. The Church honors that and the tradition cont. Sound reasoning Females hold strong positions within the Church be satisfied or join some always changing the rules I’m sure you’ll you’ll more comfortable

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your comment and question. The superiority of celibate priesthood does not negate the good of marriage for a priest. My marriage is happy and my ministry as a priest is happy, but without denigrating marriage at all, my priesthood would be even fuller and more dedicated without the responsibilities of wife and family.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I would be flattered if you were to translate my article into Indonesian and distribute.

  • Zeke

    Fr. Longenecker,
    In what way would it be fuller and more dedicated? Would not most couples trust the advice of a priest who actually has experienced marriage, sex, and raising children over someone who has not?

  • Lynette

    God doesn’t call us to a vocation and then not provide the graces to live that sacrament, whether holy orders or the married vocation. Where we are called, usually in our very young and tender years, is meant to teach us to do his will. Whining and complaining about where the grass seems to be greener in later years when things are hard, and they are hard for everyone, is a call to prayer and gratitude for the Cross of Christ. Marriage for an already overworked and spiritually attacked priesthood, with just as much ignorance in the ranks about gift of self as the average lay person, is just not the answer.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Just because a man is married does not make him a good father or husband or advisor on marriage. Some of the best and wisest counsellors on marriage are celibate priests.

  • Justin

    I agree with you, but isn’t loneliness also a hunger for love and intimacy? That is what Father said. Men fall off the chastity wagon because they are seeking love, albeit in a misdirected and sinful way, but it is often loneliness that drives that search. The proper antidote for loneliness is a healthy, meaningful personal relationship with God and others.

  • richard

    Hi, Father. Very impressive and persuasive statement regarding this topic. Thank you for your insights — as a Catholic male, never married, I try to resist physiological urges. I am not always successful in doing so, however. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Anyway, your article was good, and always remember, no contraction for [its] (possessive), just for shortening of it is [it's].

  • Terah James

    Among all the ideas about which qualifications are best for ordained ministry, celibate or married and since the 5th century, when celibacy began to be discussed as the “ideal”, and since 1139AD, when celibacy was made mandatory for the Latin Rite, has anyone EVER stopped to see what God specifically wrote about the men He wanted?

    Does anyone even care what God wants? Why is the Bible hauled out on Sundays, as a prop, and a few New Testament parables used, to make us on our best behavior, but outside of that, God’s word is like chopped liver? It’s okay to not like it, and to disregard it.

    Why did Paul write, “… for if a man cannot manage his own household with dignity, how can he take care of the Church of God?”

    Oh, I know. Let’s all question if Paul even wrote the Pastoral Letters. We can join the segment of Jews that doubt Moses actually lived. Question everything. But then, don’t wonder why the morals of most developed countries, even those in the USA, are in the proverbial toilet. Obey God or pay some consequences. It’s time for us to see what God says about who best is qualified to serve in ordained ministry. It’s His church.

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    This is the conclusion that I don’t understand- HOW does having a wife and family diminish your ministry? Is it because you can’t run off to Haiti at a moment’s notice? because all priests I know get about 8 hours to sleep and then 4 or more hours a day that are not directly related to ministry.

    Do you feel diminished because you sometimes think of your wife during a staff meeting at school (she’ll find what Mr. X said funny…I have to remember to tell her during dinner…) instead of thinking of the latest Mass collect? Is your ministry diminished because you decide to play Nerf guns with the kids instead of staying another hour at the chancery…talking shop with fellow clergy after the meeting? Is your ministry diminished because you decide to grocery shop with your wife instead of golf with buddies?

    I’m not ‘anti-celibacy’ by any means…but let me tell you- the fact that my husband has to support wife and family makes him wake up at 3 in the morning to go anoint someone at the hospital…passing 8 sleeping celibate priests on the way

  • Patty

    Celibacy is a Way of the Cross. To reject the comforts of the physical and emotional comforts of a sexual union – hopefully through the Sacrament of Marriage – requires a strong will and love for Jesus Christ. Fr. Longnecker seems to be on some sort of a road, but I’m not sure what. First, a promise to Jesus of celibacy as a priest, then a marriage, then Catholicism…what next? Celibacy gives a personal drive to clarity and purity in all matters. Through time, the consistent rejection of a sexual union, allows a celibate to experience the Fire of Divine Love and Jesus who is Purity Himself is allowed to communicate in a fuller manner. That’s what He wants – to communicate His Love – He knows our human effort at love is wanting and it always has been….so He comes close and is Love Within Us for His purpose. Celibates and virgins will always be more capable of experiencing His True Light than those whose way has been satiated for comfort, simply put, their souls don’t seek Divine Comfort which takes a penitential, sacrificing spirit because they are satisfied and don’t search. Bravo for all the celibates and virgins for Jesus Christ!

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Just to clarify, while I was a celibate Anglican priest I did not take a vow of celibacy. The discipline of my church at allowed priests to marry.

  • Lynette

    Matthew 19: [8] He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
    [9] And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”
    [10] The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.”
    [11] But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.
    [12] For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

  • Zeke

    Agreed, but this is not the same as saying that non-celibate priests are inferior, which seems to be the point of your defence of celibacy within the priesthood. But that’s not my (or a few others) question. You stated that your priesthood would be more fuller and dedicated without a wife and family. How so?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    By being free to not be concerned at all about money and also being free to live more simply and move anywhere instantly.

  • FW Ken

    The fact is, the celibate priesthood had worked quite well for the Latin Rite, the largest and most far flung part of the Catholic Church, for the reasons Father mentions. Others have brought up the sign of sacrifice which celibacy gives to the Church.

    Are there priests unfaithful to their vows? Are there adulterous married men? Does the priesthood sometimes serve as a place gay men can hide? Do many same-sex attracted men serve with devotion, living faithful lives of meaning and purpose? Are priests sometimes lonely? Well, I’ve heard married folk speak of being lonely.

    Perhaps when we cease to think of marriage as the only normal way off life, and sex as a necessity, then we stop concerning ourselves with the discipline of celibacy, and start using the gift of Christ’s priesthood which he exercises through frail men.

  • Lynda

    If one has accepted the vocation to marry, then one’s primary duty must be to one’s wife and children before others. If a priest is married, his duty to wife and children naturally has priority over his duty to the Faithful or potential Faithful that he serves. A priest ideally serves in his ministry to the Church first, before all kinds of duties. Only a celibate can dedicate himself entirely to the vocation of priesthood, and be available to his people without any prior call on him. Bishops are not married; and for the same reasons as they are not, the norm for priests ought to be celibacy too. Of course, we can all think of married priests who are more holy, conscientious and reliable than certain celibate priests, but that is beside the point. God knows there are many older priests that probably ought never have become priests.

  • Tom

    Thanks Father for a beautiful teaching.

  • Ellen

    Was it St Augustine who said that Our Heart is restless until it rests in THEE? — This GREAT ARTICLE should be expanded – much insight gained from your article, Father — We are living in a world of ADDICTION, and I gained much insight from reading – GRACE AND ADDICTION ( CHRISTIAN PSYCHIATRIST), When I confronted a Planned Parenthood gal who was counselling a group of YOUNG TEENAGERS on BIRTH CONTROL, She told me that once they become SEXUALLY ACTIVE – that we can;t expect them to be celibate — GRACE is definitely needed in our world today.

  • Leigh

    I see your point Linda, but what you say is not the example of Jesus himself. In selecting his apostles it is more than noteworthy that He selected married men, with Peter being the foremost. Not only was he married, but had two daughters as well. Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, and was devoted to the church
    being filled with the Holy Spirit.
    If it was good enough for Jesus, then it should be good enough for us.

  • Terah James

    There are 3 letters attributed to St. Paul in the New Testament known as “The Pastoral Letters”, written to Timothy and to Titus. Timothy was setting up a church in Ephesus. Titus was setting up a church in Crete. Paul was clear about what the qualifications should be for men in ordained ministry.

    So Lynette, note 1Timothy 3: 1-5 and Titus Chapter 1, then please see how these verses specific to Church Structure differs from the Matthew 19 quotes you cut and pasted to this forum that pertain primarily to divorce, spoken privately by Jesus to His Apostles, and only after the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up, about their question to Him pertaining to divorce.

    About your quotes, God “hates divorce”. Agreed. There are some men that are ‘eunuchs’ for the Kingdom. Agreed. But neither mandated eunuchs nor celibacy is a qualification for a man in ordained ministry. If it were, why would Paul write about married men, “…for if a man cannot manage his own family with dignity, how can he take care of the church of God?” That statement makes NO SENSE, unless Paul (through the Holy Spirit) was instructing them to choose married men.

    About forgoing marriage, ANYONE that is unmarried is not to be sexually active. Celibacy and continence is not just expected of an ordained man. It’s expected of any Christian, outside of marriage.

    Lynette, you likely mean well. But taking Scripture out of context is why society in the USA is in such bad shape. We can’t defend even traditional marriage anymore. Just today, I learned dozens of formerly conservative politicians jumped ship to support homosexual unions (they want to redefine marriage and declare California’s Prop 8 vote illegal). Even formerly family-friendly corporations (like Disney) just did a 180 degree turn on that subject. Lynette – how badly do you want to be “right”? Christians are losing credibility. Taking God’s word out of context comes with a big price. American society (not to mention Europe) is eroding morally.

    Please, let’s read God’s word in context and in its fullness, and then, let’s OBEY God. Married MALES with children are the ideal clergymen – priests, bishops, cardinals and popes. The role for women in the church is as a priest’s wife and the mother of his children. No women are to be ordained priests.
    No women are to be “lay pastoral associates” (aka, a ‘pastor’ without the title). But we already have many of them leading parishes, women serving as lay pastors. Lynette – is that what you want? St. Paul would be appalled by it. His Pastoral Letters are being ignored.

  • Byzcat

    Patty, your comments are a bit harsh. Remember that in the Eastern Church the priesthood has always permitted married men. Bishops could never have been married, but men who were priests could choose to be married before they became priests (not afterward). This was due mostly to the different ways in which the practice of the Faith developed in the East as opposed to the West. I think Father’s point is that, married or celibate, we are all called to love, and that the perfection in love for each individual includes periods of celibacy and chastity according to our state in life. Some are called to perpetual celibacy, as consecrated souls, others are called to celibacy as single people in the world, and some are called to celibacy due to the circumstances of their married life, such as their health or the health of their spouse.

  • catherineduval


  • Juan Oskar

    When a man converts to the faith with a wife he can’t dispose of her.

  • Juan Oskar

    Using the term “Fairness” is very 7th grade. The ordinance of celibacy is flexible in regards with your local bishop.

  • Juan Oskar

    Jesus, St.Paul and others lived celibate lives. One doesn’t have to be a fire fighter to know you don’t walk into a burning building. The celibate (with the help of the holy spirit) can give guidance to any one. No matter what profession is chosen.

  • Juan Oskar

    I agree amigo. I’ll talk about it later……………Peace………..JO

  • http://tmcmorrow@charter.net Terri McMorrow

    Hi Father Longnecker,
    Could you please site your sources for the data that you reference in paragraphs 3 and 4 of this essay. I would be most interested in reviewing these studies that substantiate your statements that include the following direct quote; “Sex crimes are more likely to be committed by the sexually active than they are by the celibate. Therefore, we can conclude that celibacy (not being engaged in sexual relations with anyone) is not the cause of sexual crimes and misbehaviors.”. I look forward to hearing from you soon – God Bless. I love your Blog it is a great source of information for me and my family.
    Yours in Christ,
    Terri McMorrow :-)

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I forget where I read those statistics, but some internet research should back them up.

  • Terah James

    Fr. L is correct. Celibacy is not the root cause of sexual abuse of children. Children are, in fact, more at risk for abuse by their own fathers, or the boyfriends of their mothers, or by extended family members or friends, male or female, and even in extra-cirricular organizations (the Scouts) or in school. Children are likely much safer now, around priests. I believe you can find that fact on the John Jay report that the bishops paid for, and that was released a few years ago. Even though the bishops PAID for the report, common sense would back up that statement, according to statistics.

    However, mandated celibacy is the reason for other problems in our church. Homosexual men are lauded, and they “give up” nothing, because they are not attracted to women.

    Heterosexual priests can have “lapses” and their extra-marital sex can even result in the births of children (like Bishop Zavala of Los Angeles, etc.) and the priest can confess his “sin”, and continue in ministry, unless what he did hits the press, and his actions draw outrage. So women are still not “safe” – and women are *always* to blame, even when the priest makes the first move. Homosexual lay men are still at risk, if a homosexual priest has a “lapse”.

    Most important is that the Holy Spirit does not require mandated celibacy for men in ordained ministry, and in fact, that “practice” is against the requirements specifically called for in Paul’s Pastoral Letters.

    Mandated celibacy IS the reason why so many ordained men are emotionally & sexually immature, not capable of healthy interpersonal relationships. Mandated celibacy IS the reason why there are so many alcoholics in the priesthood, and there is so much emotional problems, or even lonliness.

    God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” and God made man a suitable helper for him. Rome says, “It IS good for man to be alone, and we’ll give him enough work to choke a horse, because he’s not married and he has no family to care for.”

    The saddest case I remember reading was a newspaper article about a very well liked, responsible priest, whose bishop had him as a “Circuit Rider”, going to 3 parishes in a rural area, about 30 miles apart.

    One day, after acting normally, the priest said Mass at one of his 3 parishes, then went to his room, and committed suicide. Upon hearing of his death, their diocese spokesman said, “We had counseling available within the diocese for him, but he never said anything was wrong.” Like it was all that priest’s fault.

    We need some common sense, folks. How about structuring the church *God’s way*, for a change?
    God blesses obedience. In order to obey, we must know His word. Read Paul’s epistles, all 13 of them, in their fullness, and in context, for this Year of Faith.

  • catholicforever

    Those who with their own free will decided to be Jesus’ disciples, please read Luke 14:26:
    If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
    Those who asked to be allowed to be married is under the snare of evil.
    Quote from Pope Francis:
    We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us that there is nothing we can do in the face of violence, injustice and sin.