Do the Pope’s Remarks Undermine Celibacy?

shutterstock_93071191 - 2When Pope Francis said he wouldn’t judge gay priests he unwittingly undermined clerical celibacy.

Catholic teaching has always recognized the inherent dignity of all persons, It also holds that only God can judge the heart.  Nevertheless, judgment calls on what is good for the Church, like in every organization, must be made by its leaders.

This in the case with celibacy.  It stands as a sign of the Kingdom of God which is to come and where there will be no marriage.  This witness, by priests of the Western Church, is deemed so valuable that men who cannot bear it are excluded from the ministry.

People make the mistake, however, of seeing celibacy only as a prohibition for physical intimacy.  If this were so it would be no more than a biological act of will power akin to one’s attempt at dieting.

Celibacy is the total giving of the person to Christ and his church.  This means all aspects of a priest’s human condition must find fulfillment in God alone.  For the majority of persons these physical, psychological and emotional needs are fulfilled in an intimate relationship, most notably marriage.

Orthodox seminaries have always been wary of what is commonly called particular friendships (PF’s).  These are exclusive relationships which have always been deemed detrimental to the celibate ideal.  PF’s do not necessarily entail sexual activity. But, for sure, PF’s are indicative of personalities in need of a specific type of relationship. PF’s also warn of a real potential for physical activity which often comes with such intimacy.

Because of this the church has tried to screen out homosexual persons from the priesthood.  The all-male environment of seminaries and the ordained priesthood afford a safe-haven for homosexuals.  Men with same-sex attraction, under the cover of celibacy, can easily “date” and engage in couple type activities without raising an eyebrow.  For example, homosexual clergy can go out to dinner; certainly innocuous in itself.  However, if a straight priest attempts this with a woman tongues will wag.  And, if it is a repeated occurrence he will find himself in the bishop’s office with a stern warning that his behavior is scandalous to the faithful and dangerous to his vocation.

When the Pope rhetorically asked, “Who am I to judge a gay person of good will who seeks the Lord?,  he effectively gave the green light for homosexual men to enter the priesthood.  He also compromised his office.

The Pope is called to govern the church.  This does not mean he is to be judgmental.  It does, however, mean that he must make prudent statements and judgments for the good of the whole church.

Organizational theorists will readily attest that in any organization like brings on like.  Human power structures are comprised of persons of similar vision and compatible personalities.  Therefore, Francis is being naive when, he says, referring to the alleged presence of a lobby of gay priests within the Vatican ranks “that the problem isn’t having the orientation.  The problem is making the lobby.”  The fact is, that any group with a strong common identity is a natural lobby which effects an organization.

Logically then, if homosexuals are welcomed into a clergy which affords them such natural support and power, why shouldn’t heterosexuals be allowed to have the same opportunity for intimate relationships?

Pope Francis’s remarks have implications for the church far beyond a pastoral approach to homosexual priests.


Image credit:

Avatar photo


Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976 and has a broad background in teaching and educational administration. Fr. Orsi has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He has served as Assistant Chancellor, Assistant Vicar for Pastoral Services, Director of Family Life Bureau, and Coordinator of Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey for the Diocese of Camden. He has also served as a member of The Institute for Genomic Research at the University of Pennsylvania and as a member of New Jersey’s Advisory Council on AIDS. Fr. Orsi holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2005 Fr. Orsi was appointed as a Senior Research Associate to the Linacre Center for Bioethics, London, England. Fr. Orsi co-hosts a weekly radio program The Advocate which discusses law and culture on WDEO-AM 990, WMAX-AM 1440 in metro Detroit and WDEO-FM 98.5 in southwest Florida [also linked at].

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage