There is new energy in the debate over celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. The pedophile sex scandals that have rocked the church in recent years have certainly stirred that debate. But more recently it is the revelation that a wildly popular priest in Miami has admitted his love for a woman and an ongoing relationship. The priest is Rev. Alberto Cutie. I know, Hollywood couldn’t even come up with a name like that in a situation like this.
CNN.Com has two commentaries that look at opposite sides of the issue. One supports the Roman Catholic position of required celibacy for priests, http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/15/barron.why.celibacy/index.html and the other does not. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/15/cozzens.celibacy.discussion/index.html Having received my Bachelors Degree in Theology from a staunchly Roman Catholic university, www.franciscan.edu I was naturally curious as to how each commentator would approach the subject.
Now you may be wondering what place this subject has on this blog and what it has to do with you. Well you must admit that discussions about Rev. Cutie having a day at the beach with a bikini clad woman, and him in swim trunks and no collar is somewhat provocative. But that is a different kind of provocative all together. The main reason why I am writing on this is that the whole subject deals with how we interpret scripture and what personal arguments and traditions we allow to trump a basic understanding of God’s Word. In this case it is pretty clear to me that the argument for required celibacy flies in the face of Scripture.
In the argument for required celibacy on CNN.com the author acknowledges that many of the arguments for the practice do not stand up to scrutiny. In particular would be the argument that married life is not as “spiritual” as celibate life. I am sure he would add, that the argument since Jesus was not married then priests should not be married is also pretty lame.
The argument he does put forth is that celibacy points us to something future. The author says “God chooses certain people to be celibate. Their mission is to witness to a transcendent form of love, the way that we will love in heaven. In God’s realm, we will experience a communion (bodily as well as spiritual) compared to which even the most intense forms of communion here below pale into insignificance, and celibates make this truth viscerally real for us now.” I agree completely that God chooses certain people to be celibate. But not for the reason of giving us some glimpse into what heaven will be like. His idea is that since there will be no marriage in heaven that the celibate priest functions as a symbol and reminder of a life to come. Somehow I get the feeling that no one ever thinks of heaven when they think of priests being celibate. He continues along that line, “the priest is fascinating and that a large part of the fascination comes from celibacy. The compelling quality of the priest is not a matter of superficial celebrity or charm. It is something much stranger, deeper, more mystical. It is the fascination for another world.” My suspicion is that for most people the “stranger, deeper, fascination” is more along the lines of, “Can someone really never have sex?” and not with some eternal state of bliss.
The basic problem with the argument is that it is trying to support required celibacy for priests from philosophical argument about a potential benefit and not from a Biblical argument. As a result it misses the very practical and understandable Biblical teaching on celibacy. The Apostle Paul writes about marriage, sex, celibacy, and ministry in 1 Corinthians 7. He says that it is good for some people not to marry. But he also makes the point that not everyone can do this and if they find that they really like and need sex, then get married. “1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.[a] 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 So celibacy is a gift and so is sex. You just need to figure out which gift God wants you to have.
Paul’s reason for people not getting married is purely practical and has nothing to do with modeling eternity or living a fascinating or even provocative lifestyle that gets people thinking of another world. In Paul’s mind, the person who is celibate has more time and energy to devote to ministry. They are not concerned with the daily domestic affairs of a family and household.
“32I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34and his interests are divided.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-34
That is a very simple and understandable reason for celibacy. But it is also the argument for it NOT being required of people in ministry. Paul never says that if you are married then you can’t be involved in full-time vocational ministry. He simply says that you will not have as much time and energy to devote to it if you were single.
It seems perfectly clear and simple that the answer for the Roman Catholic Church should be for optional celibacy. That is the simple teaching from Scripture. The only reason that the move has not been made prior to this time is that tradition is being allowed to trump Scripture. Now before you jump all over the Roman Catholic Church for letting that be the case, make sure to take the log out of your own eye. Even the most “Biblical” of Non-Roman Catholics have traditions that have nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible and often run counter to them. We all have our blind spots.