Clerical Celibacy - Modern Roman Catholic Church

Modern Roman Catholic Church

Celibacy is represented in the Roman Catholic Church as having apostolic authority. Theologically, the Church desires to imitate the life of Jesus with regard to chastity and the sacrifice of married life for the "sake of the Kingdom" (Luke 18:28–30, Matthew 19:27–30; Mark 10:20–21), and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in being "married" to the Church, viewed by Catholicism and many Christian traditions as the "Bride of Christ". Also of importance are the teachings of St. Paul that chastity is the superior state of life, and his desire expressed in I Corinthians 7:7–8, "I would that all men were even as myself —but every one has his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried and the widows. It is good for them if they so continue, even as I."

Practically speaking, the reasons for celibacy are given by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:7–8; 32–35: "But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment."

I Corinthians 9:5 is sometimes cited by those opposed to celibacy, as the verse is often rendered as referring to the Apostles carrying "wives" with them. Even apart from disputes about the significance of the word translated as "wives", this passage is of doubtful relevance to the rule of celibacy for priests of the Latin Church, which was introduced much later and is seen only as a discipline within that particular Church alone, not a doctrine binding all: in other words, a church regulation, but not an integral part of Church teaching. St. Peter, often seen as the first pope, as well as many subsequent popes, bishops, and priests during the church's first 270 years were in fact married men, and often fathers of children. The practice of clerical continence, along with a prohibition of marriage after ordination as a deacon, priest or bishop, is traceable from the time of the Council of Elvira. This law was reinforced in the Directa Decretal (385) and at the Council of Carthage in 390. The tradition of clerical continence developed into a practice of clerical celibacy (ordaining only unmarried men) from the 11th century onward among Latin Rite Catholics and became a formal part of canon law in 1917. This law of clerical celibacy does not apply to Eastern Catholics. Until recently, the Eastern Catholic bishops of North America would generally ordain only unmarried men, for fear that married priests would create scandal. Since Vatican II's call for the restoration of Eastern Catholic traditions, a number of bishops have returned to the traditional practice of ordaining married men to the presbyterate. Bishops are still celibate and normally chosen from the ranks of monks.

In the Latin Rite exceptions are sometimes made. After the Second Vatican Council a general exception was made for the ordination as deacons of men of at least thirty-five years of age who are not intended to be ordained later as priests and whose wives consent to their ordination. Since the time of Pope Pius XII individual exceptions are sometimes made for former non-Catholic clergymen. Under the rules proposed for personal ordinariates for former Anglicans, the ordinary may request the Pope to grant authorization, on a case-by-case basis, for admission to ordination in the Catholic Church of married former Anglican clergy (see Personal ordinariate#Married former Anglican clergy and rules on celibacy).

Because the rule of clerical celibacy is a law and not a doctrine, exceptions can be made, and it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope. Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, spoke clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice is unlikely to change.

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