Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Celibacy, Vocations and the Priesthood

Q - Having read in the news about the discussion in some circles concerning the lack of new men entering the priesthood and the issue of celibacy I am fearful for the future of the Church. In what ways can the Church address this shortfall so that we won’t end up with a situation where it will have to deviate from its beliefs on celibacy? We already see in some places, especially in the western world, one priest in charge of several parishes. Your views would be greatly appreciated.

A – Thanks for your question! I think it is understandable to have some questions about the situation, but the problem is two-fold. 1) The mass media does not understand the Church, the Vatican, or the teachings of the Church and they mess it up often. They really don't understand celibacy, because it is contrary to most reporters' world view. I will clarify below. 2) There isn’t as much of a crisis as what many people believe and there are many signs for hope, not worry.

First off, (in 2006) the media portrayed the discussion in the Vatican about the issue to seem as if the practice of allowing married priests in the Latin Rite was up for grabs. That isn’t the case. It was a very specific question – should the Church allow Latin Rite priest who have left active ministry and gotten married to come back to active ministry? The Vatican has now answered the question and the answer is "no". You can read about it here. From this, we can see that the Vatican was not looking at allowing any priest to marry, just in this one particular situation.

We must remember that the teaching on priestly celibacy is not doctrine, but a noble practice. There have been, and are presently, priests who are married, though they are exceptions to the norm in the largest part of the Catholic Church – the Latin Rite. In other the smaller Eastern Rites married priests are more common. Also, ministers from certain Protestant denominations that are married and then become Catholic are allowed to remain married when they become priests, if they receive a special dispensation from the Vatican.

Secondly, there isn’t as much of a vocations crisis as it is made out to be. For instance, in the Austin Diocese there are more seminarians than there have ever been. While things are much tighter in other areas and may become even worse in the next few years, we are starting to see an upswing in the number of seminarians across the country. We should not fear that God will provide shepherds for His people, but we all need to do our part to help pray for and foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

In fact, here at St. Mary's we are pojecting between 7-10 men and women to enter formation for the priesthood and religious life this year. We are also getting close to 150 Aggie priests and religious (in addition to the high number currently in formation). Think of these young people when you need hope.

Some believe we need to abandon celibacy in order to get more priests. This really won’t help when we look at it objectively. Most Protestant denominations (who allowed married clergy) are suffering for ministers as well. Also, married clergy would cost more, have less time to devote to the Church, and there are no guarantees would help the numbers. Celibacy helps the priest to live as a more perfect “sign” (or sacrament) of Christ. St. Paul says in 1 Cor 7 that it is better to remain celibate in order to serve the Church.

Celibacy must not be seen in the negative “giving up sex” manner. It is a positive. The priest gives a good thing away in order to point to something even better – life with Christ forever. Both married life and celibacy are gifts from God.

One of the problems with vocations come from the misunderstanding of the priestly life of celibacy as well as the over-sexed nature of our society and the problems many young men have with remaining celibate and chaste while single.
Matthew 19:11-12: "Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom it is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.
I hope this helps.