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Discussing the future of celibacy requires understanding the value of continence

September 12, 2013

Every time a ranking prelate so much as hiccups while making a comment on celibacy, the hive starts buzzing about a potential change in clerical discipline regarding marriage. I think that kind of instant speculation is unfair to the hundreds of thousands of clergy living in celibacy and to the thousands of others seriously discerning that life, but hiccups are gonna happen and we just have to deal with them.

To the degree that some recent Roman provisions inconsistent with a celibate clergy, as opposed to steady Roman rhetoric in support of it, have contributed to confusion-approaching-consternation among those who already live, or who are discerning, this “special gift of God” (c. 277 § 1, more about that here), then some critical self-examination seems in order even at high levels. Step One might be something like, No more comments requiring theological precision for a proper understanding to be made before reporters unable, or unwilling, to make and communicate those precisions.

But ultimately, what must be appreciated is this: the clerical celibacy issue cannot be adequately addressed until, among other things, the more fundamental question of clerical (diaconal, to be sure, but even more crucially, sacerdotal) continence is forthrightly addressed. Folks who persist in treating celibacy questions as identical with continence questions (some to the point of not even acknowledging that continence questions exist) do so, I suggest, in plain disregard of the historical, canonical, and sacramental evidence to the contrary. More about that here.

Bottom line: Some kinds of questions can be tabled pending further study, but the more that resolutions to derivative issues depend on the answers found to those prior questions, the more urgent becomes the need to face those fundamental questions directly. Understanding the value of continence is crucial to assessing the future of celibacy.

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