Catholic Priestly Celibacy: Source of Spiritual Fatherhood, Not Scandal
The combination of the ongoing clerical sexual-abuse scandal and a recent wedding of a former Catholic priest has made it popular to embrace throwing out the celibacy rule in the Catholic priesthood. But as Father Carter Griffin points out in the book Why Celibacy: Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest, celibacy does not cause scandals in the Church. Men not living celibacy or not living celibacy well does. A good father has no tolerance for the harming of children — and certainly does not do it himself.
Father Griffin writes:
Priests embrace celibacy as a radical choice to give themselves to God and neighbor in such a way that they are enabled to generate new spiritual life. Priests are celibate, in short, because their celibacy — when lived well — is a privileged way of embracing a fatherhood that transcends nature alone: it is a “supernatural” fatherhood in the order of grace.
He explains that the celibate commitment is positive and generates life. Seen this way, the priesthood can be
freed from its burden of functionalism and reaffirmed as a vocation that embraces the whole man in a paternal identity directed to the generation of new children in grace. For true renewal within the Church to take place, fatherhood must be liberated from a materialistic, “biologistic” oversimplification and once again upheld as the highest fulfillment of masculinity, ordered both to the procreation of life and to its fruition — both naturally and supernaturally.
Father Griffin shares the testimony of a former parishioner who is now a religious sister:
I just know that priestly celibacy has impacted my life in a profound way. The difference that priests have made in my life, I am convinced, could not have been made by married men, married priests, or even faithful women. There is something unique and irreplaceable about the role of a man entirely given over to God can play in a life. . . . My life is different because of priests who have given themselves over body and soul to the Lord and to the Church — or at least constantly strive to.
Spiritual fatherhood is critical. Do you see how many people are lost and suffering without any sense of meaning? I know in my life some of my best friends are priests, and the celibacy is the thing that makes them mutually generative relationships. We need priests to appreciate how critical their joyful celibacy is, and we need the world to value and nurture and be grateful for it.
The idea that celibacy is the cause of scandal is a lie. And you wish people well and mercy and understanding, but it is a tragedy when a priest leaves the priesthood. “You are a priest forever” is the call. It’s a good and holy one that many men commit to in freedom, and it bears tremendous fruit when they do. Take a little time this week to celebrate any priests in your life if you happen to know one or more. I thank God I know many, and I’ll stop writing and get on my knees in prayer for them now. Because they need it, and we — the Church and the world — need them.
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