Time to rethink Catholic Priests’ Celibacy

By James Lutaaya Esq., Uganda:

Barely had the white smoke emerged on March 13 2013, than the debates of the changes needed in the Catholic Church gathered pace. By the time the world knew “Habemus Papum”, we had a new pope; Paul Francis. The most prominent of these debates focused on priesthood celibacy. Recent scandals world over have brought this issue to the forefront of the world news.  It emerged recently that a Catholic Priest, father William Finnegan would be sentenced on April 11, 2013 after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Bradford. His lawyer shocked the court by saying the father was indeed so in-love with a mother of two, he ignored the Catholic Church's ban on marriage to marry her in secret and as such could not have been sexually frustrated as he was enjoying a fulfilling sexual life whilst performing his priestly duties to the oblivion of the church.

This is one of many scandals associated with some Catholic priests the world over, including sodomising alter boys and other men, impregnating nuns, pedophilia,  abortions in convents, fathering secret children among other celibate related scandals. On the 20/03/2013, Father Anthony Musaala was also suspended from church service following his advocacy concerning the marriage of catholic fathers. This was justified a day before by Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga saying Anthony Musaala published a document that was damaging to the morals of the Catholic Church and faults God's gift of celibacy, bringing the Catholic church in to disrepute.

So why is Chastity very important in Catholic Priesthood and is it still relevant in this day and age? Should the Pope help to preserve and promote this “fundamental principle” of the Catholic Church rather than subvert an existing retrogressive tradition? Celibacy is seen as a virtue or discipline; a free choice inter-related to holding Catholic priesthood. However, over the years, it has been subject to several exceptions and loopholes exploited, one easily derives a conclusion that several a priest could do without it. Unfortunately for those priests that argue for a discussion on this, like father Musaala, the Catholic Church reacts by suspending them.

One of the biggest obstacles to the Catholic Church's progression is its conservatism; inability to embrace change or deal with fundamental issues at the cynosure of their disintegration. This issue is not going away and needs logical and realistic discussion. Discussing it is not damaging to the morals of the church and neither is it faulting God's gift of celibacy. Marriage has been recognised by all religions as an institution in which human beings enjoy their conjugal rights. The Bible does not look at celibacy as God's gift that should not be faulted, as Arch Bishop Lwanga asserts. It is argued that remaining single allows one's attention to be undivided in serving the Lord (1 Cor 7:32–35). But in the same vain we are called to go forth and multiply in marriage. We have to have a balance between serving God righteously and living a family orientated life. Most religions have embraced marriage and family life and thrive in leading their brethren; minus the scandals that blight the Catholic Church.

How does a priest counsel people on marriage, family and intimacy problems when he has never experienced the same? The fuss over celibacy is further seen in the exceptions to it. In the Eastern rites of the Church, married men can be ordained to the priesthood and in the Latin rite, married men or converted ministers from other faiths can also be ordained to the Catholic priesthood. However, one can not marry after they have been ordained, except in extraordinary circumstances.

This archaic presupposition brought forth in the 4th Century 385 after Pope Siricius left his wife in order to become pope needs doing away with. Although its motives were pious, the reality in enjoyment of carnal knowledge is a natural bestowment and with it the right environment should not be denied. Several priests have tried and failed dispensing themselves from celibacy and resigning in order to marry or marrying in secret. Seven Popes are documented to have been married before the end of the 15th Century. Persisting with this vow, which has several exceptions and loop holes to exploit only paints the Catholic Church in one shade – hypocritical. One can not advocate for enjoyment of a right within set guidelines and deny himself the same right. Then he goes ahead to preach and counsel on it expertly based on theoretical assertions. Worse, still breaches the same rules he set himself secretly or mutinously. This might not be the norm with every priest but the averages if known could be alarming.

We should not also forget the victims of the failings of priests that we trust with our moral guidance. The young boys sodomised by people they look up to like fathers. The nuns raped or coerced to break their vows; or those that act on their natural inclinations and are forced to abort in atrocious ways, the several brethren misled to compromise to feed the priests urges and sworn to silence, the increase on unreported pedophilia in religion hushed but known of, the quiet compensation culture that leaves victims bitter, scarred for life and gagged from shading light on some of the greatest betrayals of trust.

No one is forced to become a Priest. One makes a personal decision, and vows before God that he has offered himself to Him for life. If one falls short of this vow, does it then stop him continuing his service? Aren't those who have left the Catholic priesthood and married still priests? They are, because ordination makes an indelible mark on one's soul, one is a priest forever. However, once the vow of celibacy is broken, he is not allowed to exercise this faculty. Whilst religion preaches forgiveness, confession and starting afresh, isn't it wrong for its leaders to be treated differently?

Chastity justifications make priests easier to model; configure themselves to being Christ like. Very often this illusion is dispensed when the human realisation sets in. Whether this vow continues or not in the future, time will tell. Its relevance in executing religious duties will always be a controversy whose burdens only those battling it will understand. Alluding to the fact that these same people are bringing the Catholic Church into disrepute by talking about their personal battles and seeking solutions is to believe that ignoring a problem will make it go away. This debate needs to be discussed and resolved once and for all, and the Catholic Church should take the lead.

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3 thoughts on “Time to rethink Catholic Priests’ Celibacy”

  1. n case you did not know, the Church is pursuing a path to weed out this
    vice. When he visited Australia during his tenure, the Pope Emeritus
    Benedict 16 said we should report sexually abusive clerics DIRECTLY to
    the police as we would with
    anyone else. It is true more emphaisis
    has been put on protecting the image of the Church than on protecting
    the vulnerable and ministering to the victims. Benedict XVI also
    mandated each Diocese and each parish should develop and implement
    policies designed to
    protect the vulnerable. So, Catholics, lets all ask our Parish Councils and Parish Priests what policies they have in place.

    investigation announced by the Archbishop can be accessed via your
    Parish Priest. If you get no joy go to the Ecclesial Court at Lubaga
    Cathedral next to the museum and ask for Fr Andrew Kato Kasirye).If you
    prefer you can also go to the Papal Nuncio (ambassador) at Mbuya
    (opposite the barracks). Just tell them what it is about and you will be

    Another thing you do not know is that when allegations
    were made against Father M. in 2009 he was put under investigation. The
    Bishop’s decisions following that process are the trigger for his

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