Catholic On Campus

Ah, college.  The time of life where we dedicate hours to studying, reading, and banging our head against the wall in frustration.  When a majority of our budget goes to tuition, books, and a ridiculous amount of coffee.  In the midst of this crazy time, we also may have to encounter face-to-face anti-Catholic bias from our teachers, friends, family or roommates.  How do we deal with these issues?  While each incident most definitely requires it’s own judgement, I’ve decided to present the Catholic counter to many questions you may be asked during your time on campus (and even after graduation!)

The first topic…..Priestly Celibacy.

This is a big one.  I’ve been on a college campus and have run across this topic quite a bit.  Unfortunately, it’s usually brought up as a last resort from people making an anti-Catholic argument – a final stab, if you will, concerning the celibacy of priests.  This has become increasingly popular due to the sex abuse scandals (particularly those involving minors) in the Church.  Let’s take a look at the basics of priestly celibacy in order to establish a good foundation.

Point One: Priestly Celibacy is not a dogma or doctrine of the Church

If the person you are discussing this subject with knows their Bible, they will inevitably direct you to Mark 1:30, which says, “Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.”  Following a logical thought process, one can assume that you can’t really have a mother-in-law sans a wife.  Your questioner may also point out that since Peter was married, he couldn’t have been the first pope, or that Catholics invented the idea of a celibate priesthood, and the concept isn’t biblical.  

It is here that you can shock their socks off by telling them that celibacy is not the norm for a lot of Catholic priests.  For instance, Eastern rite Catholic priests are typically married, as well as those in the Orthodox and Oriental. Granted, there are restrictions, such as if one is married upon ordination, following the death of one’s wife, remarriage is not allowed.  Also, Eastern bishops are not allowed to be married.

So where did this practice come from?  Priests and bishops have taken a vow of celibacy in the Western and Latin Church since the middle ages. Yet even here there are exceptions – someone who is a Lutheran minister who converts to Catholicism and is ordained a priest can still be married.  

Moral of point one: Priests taking a vow of celibacy is not a concrete dogmatic practice of the Church.  Rather, it is a disciplinary rule practiced by members of the Church.  

Point Two: Priests do not take a vow of celibacy because they believe sex is bad.

No one gives up something they do not desire.  A prime example of this is found during Lent.  When your little brother tells you he decided to give up peanut butter for Lent, and you know that he hates peanut butter, you have to smile at his “sacrifice.”  It’s like giving up homework for Lent.  Big deal.  

The real sacrifice comes when you give up something you want.  So, if I was to give up coffee for Lent, it would be a struggle (and you probably would only want to talk to me on Sundays).  So, for a priest to take a vow of celibacy does not mean that he thinks sex is bad.  Rather, he is directly saying with the action of this vow, “Sex is a beautiful gift of God.  Marriage is a beautiful way in which humans are able to interact with God in concern to bonding and procreation.”  The act of sacrificing this ability to interact physically with other humans and with God in the procreation of the soul in fact points to the glorious gift of sex and marriage in the Christian life.  

Point Three: Celibacy isn’t only for priests.

While we most commonly think of priests or other religious who have taken a vow of chastity when we said the word “celibate,” the term actually applies to a lot more people than we realize.  If you are unmarried, you are called to be celibate.  The Catholic Church recognizes that the only place for sex is marriage between a man and a woman.  So if you are a priest, you shouldn’t be having sex.  If you are a single, you shouldn’t be having sex.  If you are divorced sans annulment, you shouldn’t be having sex.  People are called to chastity – regardless of their vocation. Ultimately, sex is a marital blessing, not a free-for-all-whenever-you-feel-like-it activity.  

Point Four: Priests who sin does not a Catholic Church ruin

Catholicism is not defined by a handful of men who do not understand what it means to be a priest.  The Church in no way ever glorifies or celebrates the decision that a vowed priest has made to break his vow of chastity with anyone.  There have been examples in the Church of attempts to cover up or ignore obvious issues of abuse (either of minors or adults).  In no way is this practice condoned by The Church as a whole.  To prove this point, Pope Francis has recently spoken out concerning the sex abuse scandal in the Church, and has formed a committee to discuss how to deal with post-abuse victims, how to better screen for seminary, keep up on priests with issues and provide support to the Church.  

Point Five: It’s not just Catholic Priests.
Catholic clergy aren’t more likely to abuse children than other clergy or men in general.
 According to the best available data (which is pretty good, mostly coming from a comprehensive report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, as well as several other studies), 4 percent of Catholic priests in the USA sexually victimized minors during the past half century. No evidence has been published at this time that states that this number is higher than clergy from other religious traditions. The 4 percent figure is lower than school teachers (at 5 percent) during the same time frame and perhaps as much as half of the numbers of the general population of men. (Do the Right Thing,, March 24, 2010)  

Point Six: It’s about anticipation of a sweeter song.

Catholic celibate priesthood is an incredible way of anticipation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 22:30 says “For in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in Heaven.”   While marriage here on earth gives humans a taste of what Heaven will be like and an incredible opportunity to interact with God in the creation of another soul, it is just that – a taste.  Heaven is a complete adoration and giving to God out of complete trust.  When people who are married go to Heaven, they have a vocational change – their marriage was able to bring them closer to Heaven, and now that goal has been reached.  But when those who have pledged their earthly lives to God reach the goal of Heaven, they have the easiest transition of all – they have been practicing for this their entire lives!

Hopefully this helps give a basic knowledge for the case of defense for the Catholic position of priestly celibacy.  If you have any questions, situations where you have had to defend this subject that you’d like to share, or other thoughts, please post so in the comments below!

God bless!

Chloe M. 

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