Priestly Celibacy and Earthbound Thinking

Father Emil Kapaun is going to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor, and that’s a very good thing. His cause for sainthood has been opened, as well, and that’s a good thing, too, for all of us and for the Catholic priesthood, which being pelted and sometimes willfully misunderstood, by many, especially those who cannot see a priest without thinking, “that person is not having sex. How weird, and unhealthy.”

There is great power in celibacy, which is why Taoists and Buddhists practice it to varying degrees. Not only religious people but artists also subsume co-creative sexual energies in order to use them elsewhere. Actor Al Pacino famously never had sex while he was filming a movie; he saved that energy for creation.

If you ask them, most celibate priests and nuns will tell you that yes, celibacy is a challenging discipline, but it is also a freeing one, in that it allows the love one would bestow upon one’s spouse and children to be used for many, in many ways. Spiritual motherhood, fatherhood, brotherhood extended to many. It’s no accident that Mother Teresa was a celibate, no accident that monastics are celibate; you can’t do their work, be it tending to abandoned people in the slums or praying six-to-eight hours a day and still give your family everything you ought.

You can’t do the work such religious do, or the work Father Damien and Brother Joseph of Molokai did — to the extend and completeness that they did it — if one is married and involved with a family, and trying to get by in the world, not unless you bring your family completely into the work.

Marriage is an office and a vocation, just like the priesthood and the religious life, and where you place your heart and make your vow gets (and deserves) the best of your love and your energy — most particularly the energy of co-creation.

But most people don’t really want to think about that; it’s easier to be earthbound.

Jesuit Father James Martin takes issue with Frank Bruni’s extremely earthbound understanding of celibacy. After linking to it on Facebook, Martin linked to a very good defense of celibacy he wrote in 2010.

Read them both. I think Bruni’s biggest error is in equating sex with sex. People who prey on others sexually are all about sex as power.

By the way, no one ever makes on Buddhist monks and nuns or harangues the Dalai Lama about celibacy. I’m living proof that sexually active hetero men can still be predators of children.

But I must say, I do love my husband’s response to a woman who was carrying on to him about how celibacy was the whole cause and catalyst for our terrible scandals. He asked her, “have you had periods of your life when you’ve been celibate?”

She said, “of course!”

He then said, “and during those periods, did you feel like you wanted to have sex with kids?”

She got the point.

Today, as we keep an odd sort of joyful living vigil over the papacy of Benedict XVI, it’s a good time to pray to understand more completely the “joy of Christian life” in all of the ways it is undertaken, and to ask for wisdom in understanding all of those ways, and all of our Offices.

Don’t miss Rocco Palmo on the pope’s last audience.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • votermom

    Your husband’s response is great.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    “artists also subsume co-creative sexual energies in order to use them elsewhere.”

    If one is going to contradict Freudian psychology and say that celibacy does not effect mental health – which we all know it doesn’t (Freudian psychology is a fraud) – then one shouldn’t use that sub conscious sex drive nonsense to substatiate other claims. That “co-creative energy” from celibacy is just as much a fallacy. [Don't mean to be harsh if I'm coming across that way. I have a personal animus toward Freudian nonsense.]

    God bless Fr. Kapaun. I’ve only recently learned of him. I bet if we looked at a lot of priests who served in combat that quite a few would be worthy of sainthood. I’m still waiting on fellow Staten Islander, Fr. Vincent Capadanno.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_Robert_Capodanno

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Haha! I just read your husband’s comment. Well hey, most marriages become celibate at some point too, especially if you can’t use birth control. ;)

  • Paul H

    Manny,

    Why would not using birth control lead to celibacy in marriage? Do you mean that couples who use NFP instead of birth control will probably practice periodic celibacy at one time or another (i.e., abstaining during the fertile time in the wife’s cycle)? If so, then OK, I get your point. But if you mean permanent celibacy, then I don’t understand what you mean.

  • boaz

    Your husband’s response misses the point. Requiring those of young age to commit to a life of celibacy greatly increases the likelihood of selecting sexually disordered people. What kind of men would agree at age 20-30 to be completely celibate for the rest of their lives? Extremely religious men, yes, but also men who have disordered views of sex.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    @boaz, you said,
    “but also men who have disordered views of sex.”

    No they have perfectly sound views. It’s that they have prioritized holiness for gratification. It’s knowing priorities, not a disordered view.

  • Kurt

    Boaz,

    What exactly do you mean by : ‘disordered views of sex’? If by disordered you mean contrary to the ones(s) held up by popular (secular) society, then yes they would be disordered. But then so would any Catholic who holds true to Church teachings. I think Manny is correct here. It’s societies views of sex that are disordered.

  • BunRabs

    It is also telling that Protestant Churches and Public Schools, which of course do not require celibacy, abuse children at higher rates than did the Catholic Church. Maybe we should require celibacy of them.

  • Captain America

    It’s good to see something about men on the internet that’s positive, particularly when it’s something written by a woman or wife.

    I’m a heterosexual male, married, but there have been years of celibacy in my adult life. The thing that Manny says is true: it’s a matter of knowing your priorities better that makes celibacy valuable.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    @Paul

    Just saw your question. I forget about NFP. You’re right. You don’t have to be celibate if you trust NFP. But don’t screw up. ;) The issue is more for women over forty but still fertile. It’s probably not the wisest thing to have a child at over forty, or say mid forties. And yes I know, there are plenty of women who have children at over forty.

  • http://www.lorrainevmurray.com Lorraine Murray

    I had a little bit of trouble with “Marriage is an office and a vocation, just like the priesthood and the religious life, and where you place your heart and make your vow gets (and deserves) the best of your love and your energy — most particularly the energy of co-creation.”

    Yes, marriage is a vocation and so is the priesthood, but the Catholic Church has many married priests –who combine both vocations– in its Eastern wing. And with the recent conversions of Anglican priests (many of whom are married with families), we now have men combining both vocations in the Western Catholic Church too — and we will undoubtedly see many more married priests in coming years, as more Anglicans are received into the Church.

  • A. Nanimoos

    Celibacy = Foregoing marriage for the Kingdom of God (also known as virginity, or the evangelical counsel of chastity.

    Continence = Foregoing sexual activity (for a time or permanently).

    Several uses of the word “celibacy” in this blog and in the comments section should be corrected to say “continence.”

    [It worked in the context. -admin]

  • Matthew

    Great article, Elizabeth. It’s good to never forget that the primary reason for celibacy is love–the total gift of the self to the God who has enraptured the free soul. Freedom for service can be a fruit of celibacy, of course, but it is secondary to the love relationship.

    Manny–the Church’s spiritual praxis has long taught that there are sexual energies to be sublimated if one is to be celibate. While we are not, as Freud taught, completely driven by our sexual energies, but they are a force that needs to be dealt with (even for married folks!)

  • MARY JOAN ROURKE

    I think you should read about Mary Jo Copeland and what she has done in her lifetime for the poor and homeless. She and her husband also raised 12 children

    [Comments are moderated for first-timers. I will delete your other, multiple comments. Ms. Copeland is probably a living saint; I don't think I by any means suggested that married people could not do heroic things or that marriage precluded sainthood. What I said was "You can’t do the work such religious do, or the work Father Damien and Brother Joseph of Molokai did — to the extend and completeness that they did it — if one is married and involved with a family, and trying to get by in the world, not unless you bring your family completely into the work. Which Copeland did. You need both a totally supportive family and "a special gift of Grace" as Copeland has said herself, to accomplish what she has. I'm sure she would be the first to say that without the full support of her husband and family who believed in her calling and assisted in it, her efforts would not have blossomed so thoroughly. Likely Dorothy Day would have said the same thing. Her daughter supported and joined in her work. - admin]

  • https://www.facebook.com/runneryan Ryan Larson

    Doing away with poorly thought out arguments that celibacy leads to the sexual abuse of minors is not enough to build a positive case for mandatory celibacy for diocesan clergy.

    The argument is frequently made that celibacy leads to Catholic priests being more pastorally available. But is there any real evidence that Catholic parishes are able to provide better pastoral care than Protestant or Orthodox churches staffed by married clergy? Doesn’t it seem to be the case that the better ratios of clergy to parishioners in Protestantism and Orthodoxy points to celibacy resulting in Catholics have less access to to their pastoral leaders than other Christians do?

  • catharine

    What most of these poorly-informed persons do not realize about child sex predators is, the classic one is a white (actually, WASP) married with 3-4 children. Also, that public school teachers, coaches, scout leaders, etc. all offend in this regard at much higher rates than Catholic clery. That said, even as long ago as 1961, the Vatican released a letter to the world’s bishops reminding them that men of homosexual orientation were not to be ordained as priests or admitted to ministry of any kind. As we all now know, there were any number of active predators back then, and they were already causing problems for the church.
    I think the church’s best bet is to continue to require psychological/psychiatric work-ups of ALL persons seeking admittance to either the priesthood or religious life, including nuns. Persons with certain narcissistic or other personality disorders simply should not be admitted, at least not at that point in their lives.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    @Matthew, you said:
    “Manny–the Church’s spiritual praxis has long taught that there are sexual energies to be sublimated if one is to be celibate.”

    How long is long? The word sublimation as it applies to psychology came about with Freud, and that’s about a 100 years or so. I suspect the Church, if they actually used that term, picked up Freudian lingo as everyone was suckered into believing Freudian psychology. I frankly don’t believe our minds sublimate anything. That’s all psycho babble.

  • Fr. JFXP

    @ Boaz: Get real, my man. Jesus was celibate and He did not have a disordered view of sex. Sexual relations before matrimony were frowned upon in Judaism. It still is. Even many pagan cultures forbade sexual relations before matrimony. And so, according to your logic they ALL had a disordered view of sex? To be frank, your statement is one of the more ludicrous I’ve ever read. Sorry, but true. It reminds me a bit of Bruni’s dumb op-ed in yesterday’s New York time. Especially the line where he maintains that chastity is a “by-product” of celibacy. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Chastity comes first before celibacy. Chastity is a virtue whereas celibacy is a discipline of the church for those seeking a ministerial office including diaconate; he cannot remarry once ordained and his wife passes away or walks out the door! All the Baptized are called to chaste, meaning they don’t break the sixth and ninth commandments. But not all the baptized are called to be celibate. God gave you the gift of reason. Use it!

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  • Gerry

    Some quote got jumbled or something:
    “I’m living proof that sexually active hetero men can still be predators of children.”
    Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

  • Ron Van Wegen

    “Some quote got jumbled or something:
    “I’m living proof that sexually active hetero men can still be predators of children.”
    Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

    Better fix that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Donal Mahoney

    Has there ever been a breakdown of the age and gender of the youngsters molested by Catholic clergy? Do we know how many girls and boys have been molested or raped? Might such numbers tell us something about whether the problem has been true pedophiles who prey on the little ones or some other group in the Catholic clergy who turn to adolescents as a “safe” outlet. Adolescents are not apt to give one HIV or AIDS. Let’s call the problem what it is rather than indict all Catholic priests for the problem largely created by what may still be a minority in the Catholic clergy.


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