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Forced celibacy is a sexual immorality
What, in the name of Christ, is happening in the Catholic Church? I think we can all agree that it’s never been completely kosher, but the events regarding Cardinal Keith O’Brien have brought up an important question – Why isn’t the issue of celibacy and marriage in the clergy not being confronted?
The story starts in Scotland. The former Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned in March over allegations of “sexual misconduct”, and he admitted it. “In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them. However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
So, a celibate anti-gay campaigner has been accused of homosexual behaviour during his ministry and apologised. This man is a hypocrite, obviously. But who can blame him? The Catholic Church is broken. It forces its members into impossible situations, choosing between what they think is right and what the church stipulates. The Catechism stipulates that we should follow our conscience, but it does so in a sort of passively aggressive way, stating that the right decision will be “in accordance with reason and divine law” – and when you put your faith in the Catholic Church, their law is divine law. It also says that an informed conscience will be one that does not “reject authoritative teachings”, so it’s actually a pretty useless tool.
So you are left with a choice: follow your conscience or follow the teaching of the church (which is what your conscience should be telling you). If you follow your conscience and it differs from “authoritative teachings” i.e. those of the church, then it is possible that you have been “subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin”. You aren’t given much of a choice at all really; especially as a Cardinal. You have to embody the church. You live under the impossible pretence that you are the perfect example of a perfect child of God. Speaking out against it is to speak out against yourself. For some reason, the Church would prefer to keep important issues under the carpet in the interest of “unity”.
Well where is the unity in having men torture themselves for lifetimes, struggling to come to terms with what they have been told is a flaw, or a sinful way to be, or simply wrong? Where is the unity in allowing men to live lies, to themselves, their peers, congregations and, most likely in at least some cases, to God? Where is the unity in allowing these men to take a weighty decision like celibacy, without first confronting their sexuality? Celibacy will not work if it is used to try and escape the way you feel. You can only make that vow having explored your feelings deeply and coming to the conclusion that your sexuality, your human nature, is compatible with that way of life. To defeat sexual urges, no matter where they are directed, you must first know and come to terms with them. Celibacy as an escape from your sexuality is an impossible situation. It can only go wrong. The vow of celibacy should be a sacrifice you make to devote yourself to God, not a last resort.
That doesn’t mean to say that the former Cardinal O’Brien elected to join the clergy rather than accept his homosexuality. It’s doesn’t mean to say that he is homosexual either. His alleged relations with other clergymen could be the only outlet they had at the time; it could simply be a desperate act that became a habit. It is surely different in each case, and isn’t really for me to delve into, but I firmly believe that they should be offered some help to avoid breaking their vows.
Just days before resigning, Cardinal O’Brien raised the issue of marriage in the clergy, noting that many priests struggle with celibacy. It would be interesting to find out if the Catholic Church has a support method in place to help its clergy refrain from sex. But, as Cardinal O’Brien noted, priests were once allowed to marry and it is not a scripture-based dogma – let’s raise the issue. The fact that he raised the point should be seen as an obvious and desperate plea for help – as if he was saying “Let’s confront this issue, before it’s too late.” Unfortunately, he’d left it far too late for himself, but his example should help others in his predicament. What about the people who still live a lie?
What about people who want to dedicate their lives to God within the Catholic Church, but see that dedication in raising children? Or committing to another individual? Is the Catholic Church saying that the people most capable of becoming shepherds of the flock are asexuals? Catholic asexuals who have had a calling from God? That’s quite a small group of people. The number of Catholic priests is dwindling, and it’s no wonder – my first question when thinking of becoming a priest is not “can I lead a congregation based on Catholic teaching?” but “Have I considered never having sex?”
I know priests are meant to married to the church, but the church cannot give a man everything – like the fulfilment of the needs God gave us. Sex is not a sin, but breaking a vow surely is. Of course, priests will say that the church gives more than any other form of marriage, but if a man cannot love a wife, or indeed a husband, through loving the church, just as he should love every neighbour, then the very foundation of the church must be questioned. Why can’t a man who refuses to make a vow he knows he will not be able to keep be seen as worthy?
I feel for Cardinal O’Brien. How could we possibly expect him, or any Catholic priest, not to seek what his very nature commands him to? Forced to fight against himself, with a natural impulse and on one hand and an antiquated rule on the other. What better way to combat lust than by allowing love to grow? What better way than to dedicate your life to God by recognising the way he made you and honouring him through that path? What better way to combat sexual immorality than by establishing a sexual morality? And for those that will argue that the church cannot simply establish a sexual morality: It can. It did. Or at least it tried. That’s exactly what the rule of celibacy was designed to be, and it has been a catastrophic failure. How can you weigh up the morality of an issue which you refuse to fully address? Denial is not sexual morality. Denial is the absence of it.Tweet Share6
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