Celibacy can be a really fulfilling lifestyle, and priests need to get that message across, according to Maynooth theologian, Dr Breandán Leahy.
In a radio interview, Dr Leahy said that the big challenge for all Christians, whether they are married or celibate, is to love other people.
There were marriages which ran into difficulties, and there were some priests who had difficulties with celibacy, but just as you would not throw out marriage because of the difficulties experienced in some marriages, neither should the Church throw out celibacy.
Dr Leahy was responding to calls for a change in the rule on celibacy following the recent revelations concerning Clare priest, Fr Michael Hogan.
Dr Leahy agreed that it was a choice that many did not understand. “Jesus himself in Matthew 19, said ‘Not everyone will understand it.’ And I know that. But you can be terribly happy living a celibate life, just as you can be terribly happy living a married life.”
According to Dr Leahy, who is professor of moral theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth, there was a tradition of celibacy in the Catholic Church from the very beginning.
Church documents from the second and third centuries show it was the practise of people who wanted to give their lives to God completely and to be at the service of the community, to live celibate lives.
Celibacy was a call from God to work at the service of the whole community. The Church never forced people into it. “I remember when I was in the seminary, I was told several times that ‘You have to be sure you want to make this decision.’ I had to write a letter to the bishop saying I wanted to be a priest and that I felt free in my heart to take this step.”
Answering an assertion that perhaps celibacy suppressed urges, which then came out in ‘warped’ sexualilty and at worst, paedophilia, Dr Leahy said celibacy does not warp people if it is lived properly.
“Very often priests can live it too much as loners. That is not the idea Jesus had in his mind at all. What did he do? He formed around him a community of people. Priests are called to form a community with the people from their parishes, but also a community among priests.”
He himself was part of such a community, and regularly met with a group of priests who shared how they were trying to live the Gospel and socialised together.
Celibacy was a form of loving, said Dr Leahy.
“The one thing we all have to do in life is to love people. To love people in a way that is right and true, whether you are married or celibate. The important thing is not to live your sexuality in a warped way, but to live it in a way that is a gift of yourself.
“As priests we are called not to express our love in a physical, sexual relationship. We are called to love with our hearts, our affections, our will and our minds.
Just as a married man enters a relationship with one woman and therefore can’t flirt with every woman he meets, with a priest the relationship is with God, whom we experience as love and with other people, and priests.
That has a certain consequence - that we don’t live other compromises in sexuality.
That would be wrong.”
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