Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church used to preserve the Vatican's wealth?

With the recent news from the Vatican that there is now a more streamlined way for disillusioned Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, a discussion of clerical celibacy has once again arrisen. This is a legitimate discussion, but there are some old canards that have reared their heads. The two main ones are that priests should be allowed to marry because priestly celibacy was only implemented by the Vatican to protect the Church's assets and also that priestly celibacy would reduce incidences of child sexual assault. Both of these are false assertions and I will explain why.

There is no evidence that the Church implemented celibacy to keep its grip on Church assets. Celibacy is advocated by Christ and St. Paul. Jesus says any man who becomes a eunuch for the kingdom of God is very blessed (spiritual eunuch). St. Paul recommends celibacy for those who can do it without sinning. Obviously St. Paul and Jesus were not advocating celibacy to keep their grips on the treasury of the apostles.

Celibacy was widely practiced by Christians well before it became mandatory for priests. Desert fathers and monks were always celibate and did not marry. It seems all of the apostles were celibate, especially after they became disciples of Jesus. Of course, there is mention of Peter's mother in law, but there is no mention of his wife, and we do not necessarily have evidence that Peter continued with marital relations after becoming an apostle. In any event, it does not matter in this case.

Celibacy was made mandatory by the Church in later centuries because it was seen as beneficial in many ways. First of all, it was following the example and teaching of Christ. Secondly, a man would not be torn between the will of God and the will of his family. The Bible speaks of the virgin who is concerned only with God, but contrasts this with the man who is concerned for his family. Celibacy allowed missionaries to travel to far off lands and convert large numbers of people. It allows priests to have a life of contemplation and holiness. They can be available at any time for an emergency, such as giving last rites. Celibacy is a way for a man (or woman) to give himself fully to the service of God.

What about money and inheritance? I would invite you to think logically about this. From a financial point of view, priests do not generate revenue, they are a liability. The more priests the Church has, the more it has to pay to give them a place to live, to provide food, transportation, travel costs, and other living expenses. Not only that, the Church pays for them to attend seminary in the first place, which also includes lodging. The Church is not preventing priests from passing on their inheritance, rather, priests would have no inheritance, and without the financial support of the church, would be paupers. The claim that the Church enforces celibacy in order to maintain its hold on finance simply flies in the face of reason.

Another illogical thought which has been floated by some Church skeptics is the idea that allowing priests to marry would reduce or eliminate priestly sexual abuse. Anything which can eliminate this perversion is very welcome, but this suggestion may not be sensible. Again, let's look at the information. The vast majority of cases of priestly sexual abuse involved POST-pubescent boys by male priests. This is clearly a homosexual issue, otherwise the abuse would have been of girls or young women. If these priests have homosexual tendencies, allowing them to marry would do little. They have a desire for sexual relations with male children, so allowing them to marry women would not satisfy this desire. Over the past couple of decades, there have been few incidences of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. With new guidelines, the incidences can be expected to decrease even further. There is also a bias in the public and in the media. Teachers sexually abuse children at a rate 4 times higher than priests, but the stereotype of pedophile teacher has not emerged. It's also important to note that around 98% of the time where a teacher was caught in this illicit activity, they were allowed to continue teaching or transferred to a new school. Many accuse the Catholic Church of acting inappropriately, but these allegations do not seem to come out for teachers. It seems this practice was not specifically endorsed by the church, but rather by psychologists who felt these priests and teachers were rehabilitated.

As you can see, mandating clerical celibacy is not a matter of maintaining wealth for the Vatican, nor would it reduce clerical sex abuse claims. Rather, it would have negative effects on the Church.


  1. I think this post misses the mark about the accusations of the priestly celibacy and church assets.

    While it's true that celibacy is ultimately a spiritual choice, in the Feudal ages, married and "co-habitating" priests was definitively a problem that led to church assets being appropriated. What happened was that men in prominent families would enter the priesthood, have children and then appropriate the land of the parish and pass it on to their children. This would, the family would build up its worldly wealth and clout.

    This practice definitively did sap the Church of its revenue, and in an age where the economy was land-based, this was a danger. It was a dishonest practice. It was theft. So this practice did provide the incentive for the Council of Lyons to absolutely forbid priests from marrying. Before, a priest *could* marry in the sense that the sacrament was valid, if illicit. So if the priest got married and had relations with his wife, there was no sin of fornication, only a sin against breaking his promise of celibacy.

    But of course you're right that the spiritual discipline of celibacy pre-dated this situation. People focus on the High Middle Ages because it's better documented and more well-known. We know that celibacy was in force before this time, if not always strictly followed.

  2. I posted before on your blog about needing to more positive and less attacking of other groups and did not receive a reply, but I have decided to try again.

    Although I agree with you that the facts state that sexually abusive priests are by no means different from any other sector in the work force. I disagree with you using other profession and media bias to somehow lessen the wrong of pedophilia in the priesthood. You may say this is not what you are doing; however, if you read your blog, it does not come off that way. As Catholics, the best thing that we can do when faced with questions about pedophilia in the priesthood is to say 2 thing:

    1. It is completely immoral and the Church and myself are completely against it


    2. It was wrong of the Church in certain cases, to cover up these wrong doings.

    Anything else seems like an indefencable act is being defended.

    I ask you again, as a young Catholic, to temper your attacking of mainstream media and everyone who is against the Churches position. Our goal has to been Evangelizing and Acceptance, not Condemning and Controlling.

    One more question for you to ponder. I disagree with the Church on some issues and have spoken to my Priest and even my Bishop about whether this is okay, they say yes, unless it is a moral stance, then it is fine for me to disagree. Pardon my candor, but you seem to have an inability to disagree or even debate anything the Church says, so here is my question:

    If the Church changed its position on celibacy and allowed Priests to marry, would you immediately change your tune on this issue?

    Remember as one Church Father states:

    "Reason without Faith is futile, but Faith without Reason is blind"

  3. Thank you for your comments. I want to start by making it clear that I do not condone any of the sexual abuse in the Church. I said, for example "Anything which can eliminate this perversion is very welcome". Then I went on to show how allowing priests to marry would not solve this problem.

    My goal with this blog is to defend the Catholic Church. She gets attacked from all angles, and quite unfairly. For every 10 critics, there is one supporter. I am a supporter.

    I believe the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and that on issues of faith and morals, she speaks infallibly through the Magesterium. I apologize for not having enough pride to think I, one single individual, know better than the Church which Christ established. Reason will not contradict the Catholic Church, because the Church proclaims the Truth, and Reason cannot contradict Truth. If you could name that Church Father, I can guarantee you, he was not a heretic who taught against the Church. Rather, he probably defended her.

    God has endowed me with the gift of Reason, and I use that. I have never found a more convincing argument about the state of humanity as that presented by the Catholic Church. To me it's like if everyone tells you to eat fast food, but the Church shows a healthy way of eating. I believe in her foundation, her mission. Christ established a beacon of truth and hope, he didn't leave us to our own devices to guess everything for ourselves.

    I would ask you to consider a quote from Ignatius of Loyola:

    That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtingly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same.

    I believe many modern people have such pride, perhaps not yourself, that they believe they know more than the Church. Humility is a bizarre concept indeed for them. The Saints did not do it their own way, they did it God's way. They did not invent their own rules, they sought more to do the will of God.

    As St. Benedict of Nursia said in his Rule, one should hate one's own will, but do God's will. And as Christ said, not my will, but your will be done.

  4. I'm not the person who posted before you, but it seems to me as if you totally dodged the question.

    Also, that quote you provided is somewhat frightening in an Orwellian sense. It also contradicts your statement of being endowed with the gift of reason, if in fact you believe that quote yourself, because a reasonable person does not just take an entity at their word, no matter how grand the entity may be. A reasonable person considers what they were told and uses their gift of reason to come to a conclusion themselves, regardless if it is in contraction to what they were told or not.

  5. If a reasonable person encounters a being who never lies, is loving and is omnipotent, as God is, then yes, you take HIM at his word.

    If you don't trust him, then you can't trust humans to faithfully reveal his word.