Good morning to you all!
When I was in France I spent a year in the seminary. As a part of that year I spent a month with the community known as l’Arche.
L’Arche looks after people of all ages with both mental and physical disabilities and has spread all over the world.
L’arche in french means an ark and just as Noah built an Ark to save humanity from the flood, so did l’Arche community build an ark to give life and hope to these people who may otherwise have drown in the floods of our modern tides of selfishness and hatred.
The founder of l’Arche community, Jean Vanier who is now dead has more recently found out to have been less than perfect when it comes to sexual contact with some women and sadly these facts have put a certain cloud over all the good that he did.
This blog is not about judging him as that’s not my place but it does open up once again the question of celibacy and religion.
As a child all I knew was that catholic priests couldn’t get married while protestant priests could.
To my young mind all this meant was that Catholics were better than protestants (which any good catholic boy will tell you 😂😂😂).
Celibacy meant that they were not married and not having sex and as sex etc. was unspoken of and in hindsight treated as a necessary evil in order for procreation, these priests who were both abstaining from both marriage and sex were obviously the ‘crème de la crème’ when it came to holiness and pleasing Jesus.
Of course only later in life and during my teenage years did this bubble of catholic perfection and pride get burst with case after case of scandals and sexual abuse by priests spread on every newspaper and T.V. show.
Yet perhaps the Lord allowed this too to teach us all something. That the priest isn’t perfect, that his sexual and emotional desires and needs don’t just die the day he gets ordained and that sex itself is not evil and taboo.
Last Sunday I made desert here in the house. I made a turtle cake which I learnt to do when I was in France with the l’Arche community as I was saying.
While the cake was delicious I was surprised and admittedly amused that most people’s first reaction was to look at the head and to think of something else!!
Like it or not we are sexual beings and many of us have sex on the brain.
So what then about celibacy? Should priests be allowed to marry and thus have a wife and kids and a healthy sex life? Would this be good?
Again I don’t have the answer but to me it seems that the issue is around the expression of sexuality.
Celibacy does not mean that a priest or other has his penis removed and no longer has any emotions or feelings for other human beings.
Celibacy in its true sense means that the priest or person in question discovers other ways of expressing his love and sexuality besides sexual intercourse.
Just like with this cake. You can look at it innocently or perversely and so too with our sexualities. We can look on them and indeed ourselves innocently or perversely.
We are all called to love and to intimacy with both God and eachother and it’s the same for the priest. He’s called to loving us and what pastor or father will not pick up and kiss his wounded lambs?
Yet sadly sometimes priests are not only expected to be celibate, they are expected to be cold and almost like stones.
Many poor priests have become afraid to even give a parishioner a hug in case they be accused of sexual abuse and this is not healthy.
On the other hand it is true that it’s not easy to resist all sexual temptations and urges when one is up close and personal so to speak.
Yet this is the journey that we are all called on and it is why we all need prayer, support, spiritual direction, inner healing and community.
It is no different for our priests. They are just men too and they need our love, our support, our prayers, our understanding, our forgiveness, our friendship….us, they need us.
They need us to take them down from the pedestals of perfection and of unhealthy celibacy and for us to love and respect them like brothers and to help them live a health celibacy.
And so going back to my question, should the rules around celibacy be relaxed and priests allowed to marry?
In my opinion it’s not about ‘relaxing the rules’ but rather about understanding the rules in the first place.
If celibacy means being forced to live a single life as an emotional cripple then yes, it most definitely should be abolished immediately because it’s abusive.
If on the other hand celibacy is a voluntary act that involves learning to love and to show intimacy in other ways outside of sexual intercourse then perhaps we should all consider it!!
Either way, the journey is not an easy one and whether or not we allow priests to marry is secondary as the countless miserable marriages that end in divorce testify to.
So today, let us pray for our priests, our brothers, our sisters and indeed ourselves that we may all learn to give and receive love in healthy and holistic ways.
Let us also (and especially as Catholics) be merciful to both ourselves and to others who have fallen short of perfection. Those who would have been tarred with shame and judgement in the past such as women falling pregnant outside of marriage, husbands not faithful to their wives, imperfect priests, the gay community need our prayers, our mercy, our compassion and our friendship.
“Lord Jesus, teach us how to love and never to judge and just like all the ingredients that go together to make a wonderful cake, bring us all together to make a wonderful church and please bless our priests in a very special way and lift off their shoulders all burdens and expectations that they should be perfect”.
Have a day full of love,