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Whatever the BBC says we ought to think, celibacy is still one of the jewels in our crown

Their latest pope-bashing operation is entirely irrelevant to a Church which thinks in centuries

By on Monday, 13 September 2010

Men lie prostrate during their ordination to the priesthood in St Peter's Basilica (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Men lie prostrate during their ordination to the priesthood in St Peter's Basilica (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Another Sunday, another early phone-in, this time for the BBC 5Live breakfast show (do people really listen to the radio on a Sunday morning at 6.10am?) The BBC had organised a poll designed in the run-up to the papal visit to show divisions among “British Catholics” – a typically cynical BBC Pope-bashing operation.

The question I was asked to address was about the Pope’s teachings on celibacy. “The poll results… suggest,” the BBC reported, “that a large number of Catholics think that the Pope should drop his insistence on clerical celibacy. Just under a half of those polled, 49 per cent, said the celibacy rule should be relaxed, compared to 35 per cent. A further 17 per cent were uncommitted”.

How did I react to these disturbing figures? Well, the answer is that I wouldn’t have expected anything else, and that they are entirely irrelevant to what the Universal Church does or teaches. It isn’t the Pope who is “insistent” on celibacy: it isn’t a personal “policy” which he could change at a stroke of the pen; it’s been the normal (though not universal) practice of the Church for a thousand years.

Furthermore, a poll of what Catholics here think can’t have remotely the same effect on their Church as, say, a poll of English Anglicans on the Church of England, which decides its theology and practice at any given time by majority votes in the General Synod. The Pope has to declare the beliefs and practice of a Church which operates alongside every culture known to humanity, and which proverbially thinks in centuries and not in decades.

It has come to be the mind of the Catholic Church that its priesthood should be predominantly celibate. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church luminously explains: “All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate. Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord … they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.”

This isn’t just something that clergymen have thought up: its origins are principally biblical: in Matthew 19:12, Christ commends those who, “for the sake of the kingdom of God”, have renounced the married state, and St Paul says that “He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided (see 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 and 32-35).

This is a matter of discipline, and not of doctrine; and it is normative and not universal. There are, for example, several hundred married priests in this country who are ordained ex-Anglican clergymen. I know several, and they are dedicated and effective. But they are exceptional; and I do not believe their existence indicates in any way that we should, or that it is likely that we will, abandon a practice that is still one of the jewels in our crown.

  • catholic woman

    >>>BBC had organised a poll designed in the run-up to the papal visit to show divisions among “British Catholics”

    Good for the BBC! Representing, supporting, empowering and providing a voice for British Catholics- as it jolly well should – with our money.

    “Jewel in our crown” ? It is laughable how manipulators like Oddie give themselves away in their choice of words – materialistic pomp-and-power -obsessed – so far removed from the vocabulary the Carpenter from Galilee might have used.

  • burritobob

    Catholic woman, you seem a bit obsessed with Oddie. Is it just a disagreement over Catholicism or is it something more – something romantic, maybe?

  • Pseudo-Dionysius

    How typical of the so-called “Catholic” liberals, to sacrifice the authentic teaching of the Church and the truth of Scripture to modern social expediency, in the name of a nebulous and ascriptural Jesus who preached a do-as-thou-wilt pseudo-spirituality of no firm beliefs and no firm morals, divorced from its heritage and obsessively chasing the fashions of the world which rejected him (John 1:10).

    Oddie a manipulator? Remove the beam from your own eye, 'catholic woman'.

  • catholic woman

    Very interesting to me as an (amateur) student of psychology that men cannot conduct an argument with a clearly more intelligent woman without referencing their gender/sex/romance/emotions etc etc.

    Oddie insisted I was not a woman when I commented on a previous article of his. 'Catholic woman' is merely a 'pen-name' he proclaimed. As if any parents (Mr and Mrs Woman?) would have chosen to name a ittle girl “catholic” !

  • Pseudo-Dionysius

    Amateur is a word apt and universally applicable to your efforts.

  • catholic woman

    Well we don't need your spin with the pseudo-reference to John 1:10
    Instead please tell us
    1. When male-only priesthood was introduced into the RC Church?
    2 In which century did celibacy became mandatory for RC priests?
    3. How many Popes had concubines, wives, lovers and families?

  • catholic woman

    Well at least “Amateur implies inexperienced sincerity” unlike “pseudo” which is like announcing “beam in both eyes” with a tattoo across one's forehead.

  • AbusedSurvivor

    If the catholic church were to allow priests to be married they are afraid that it will out the significant percentage of priests that are gay. For this reason the hierarchy of the church feels that they must protect the existing clergy because many of them themselves are homosexual.

  • Mephistophiles

    Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. “The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:13-19).

    Is this the kind of Scripture you mean?

  • Mephistophiles

    Better to be a professional simpleton, eh?

  • Carolwright8568

    This scripture proves that men in the hierachy of the church SHOULD ALL BE MARRIED

    1 Timothy 3:1-16 (New International Version)

    1 Timothy 3

    Overseers and Deacons

    1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer,[a] he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

    8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

    11In the same way, their wives[b] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

    12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

    14Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:

    He[c] appeared in a body,[d]

    was vindicated by the Spirit,

    was seen by angels,

    was preached among the nations,

    was believed on in the world,

    was taken up in glory.


  • AbusedSurvivor

    What the church 'should' do is not how the question is approached by those that decide policy. It is not about what is good for the congregation members. It is about how to maintain protection for those that have turned to the vocation of priesthood because society condemns them for their sexual orientation. Until this fact is dealt with openly there is no scripture or argument that can be listened to.

  • Carolwright8568


  • Carolwright8568

    that should read “far from the truth of Jesus”

  • Carolwright8568

    Personally I dont think that is the case, I think it is a financial decision on the fact that it would cost the church more money to support a priest with a family and accommodate them in housing suitable for their needs.

  • AbusedSurvivor

    The facts that have been reported about the sexual abuse of children are that the victims in the vast majority of cases involve teen age boys. In my own discussions with representatives of the catholic church they openly admit that these statistics are indicative of the behavior of homosexual men. Their argument then becomes that this is a small minority of the members of the priesthood. I agree with them that the numbers of priests that act out in this way is a small percentage of the priests, but they are a small percentage of the priests that are homosexual as well.They have a difficult time with this argument with me however because not only was I mollested by 3 different priests, I also attended the seminary for a time and am a witness to the homosexuality that was/is present.
    But don't take my word for it. Investigate this line of questioning with those that have attended seminary or left the priesthood. The truth is very easily obtained when we are able to accept it. In fact we often find it has been staring us in the face the whole time.
    The real question is why has it been so difficult to deal with in this case?
    Whenever we make something more important than the truth it harms ourselves and others.

  • catholic woman

    From the New York Times


    Church Responds to Belgian Abuse Report
    BRUSSELS — The head of the Roman Catholic Church here acknowledged on Monday the scale of the scandal that has engulfed Belgium over sexual abuse by priests and promised to engage further with victims, but he offered few short-term solutions and said little of substance about further pursuing the abusers.
    The church leader, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, said that suffering had caused a “shiver” to run through the church, but that it was too soon for a detailed response to the crisis, the extent of which was revealed in a report published Friday.
    The one concrete step he announced was that the Church in Belgium would set up a new center for victims to focus on “recognition, reconciliation and healing.”
    That 200-page document, from an internal commission set up by the church, discussed more than 300 allegations of abuse over several decades and included harrowing testimony from victims, one of whom reportedly had first been abused from the age of 2. Thirteen people are thought to have committed suicide as a result of abuse, the report said.
    The internal commission, led by Peter Adriaenssens, a prominent psychiatrist, decided to wrap up its work after a police carried out a series of high-profile raids on church property in June. In one raid, the police searched the local church headquarters in Mechelen, disturbing the tomb of a cardinal in an unsuccessful hunt for proof of a cover-up.
    Still, after the release of the report the archbishop promised to engage with the victims as much as possible.
    “We must listen to their questions to re-establish their dignity and help them to heal the suffering they have endured,” he told a news conference in Brussels.
    But there was no clear proposal for pursuing the perpetrators of abuse or for compensating their victims, largely in part because much of the wrongdoing took place more than 10 years ago, past the statute of limitations — a fact that disappointed some groups representing those affected.
    The scandal first became public when the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April after admitting he had abused a boy later revealed to be his nephew. Mr. Vangheluwe said Saturday that he would leave the Trappist monastery where he had been living and go into hiding.

  • lokionline

    Hate to be the one to break it to you Pseudo-Dionysius, but Catholic Women has clearly bested you in this exchange.

  • a simple Catholic

    The 3 questions you pose are meaningless. The answers might as well be “so what?” It's like asking, “When was interracial marriage allowed in the United States?”, “When was slavery abolished?”, etc etc. The questions imply that because something came in late (or some popes had wives), that everyone should… In fact, your questions are revealing. The fact that slavery was abolished in the 18th century implies that people realized that slavery prior to the 18th century was not a good thing. It also implies that the people of the United States for instance correctly made use of the powers given to them by the Constitution to abolish slavery. In the case of celibacy for priests, there is no moral right or wrong. Centuries of taking care of priests and their families, as well as the difficulty married priests had in attending to their parishes because of increasing families, led the Church to adopt the celibacy rule. It's not dogma, but it's not unscriptural either. Jesus and Paul talk about it and even praise it. Needless to say, the Church did nothing wrong in using the authority given to her by the Lord to shepherd His Church.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PQ65SNIU37WSLFWIMWMPD63SCU __A_YAHOO_USER__

    “Celibacy is still one of the jewels in our crown” Indeed, I am a proud John Paul II generation Catholic, you know, “eager to be educated about our faith, loyal to the Church and to more traditional practices.” If people out there ought to call yourself Catholic and disagree with the church's teaching, I am truly sorry that you are unhappy with the Church's teaching, but maybe you should move along the see what's the next church down the road has to offer, by all means, married minister, woman priest, contraception, the “whole deal” etc…surely you can find a church other than the Catholic Church that can cater to your self serving mentality since there more than 33,000 denominations of Christian (by the way branched out from the Catholic Church) for you to choose from, that should not be a difficult task. Leave the Catholic Church alone.

    “The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic, is that there are 10,000 reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” —
    — G.K. Chesterton.

  • louella

    If clerical celibacy wasn't so valuable – then all the enemies of the Church wouldn't be doing their best to destroy it. Like Samson's hair – it is a source of strenght to the Church. And all its enemies want to cut it – so to weaken the Church they dislike so much!!

    Long live priestly celibacy!!

  • Lnewington

    Dr Codie may well believe celibacy is one of the “jewels in our crown” but for children who have fathers members of the clergy, (refused rescripts of their vows to leave with dignity), forced to be part of their parents dubious “brother/sister” arrangements acceptable to the church, deceiving the faithful who, indirectly would be supporting the whole family out of the sacrificial giving.

    What a price to pay for a “crown jewel”, and a counterfeit at that; not wearing well with everyone.

    These arrangements not setting any precedence either and acceptable to many being Canon Law.

  • Carolwright8568


    1 Timothy 4

    Instructions to Timothy

    1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

  • Carolwright8568

    Do the followers of this Pope actually read their bibles or do they rely on word of mouth from their pulpits?

  • Jng

    One must admire William Oddie's doggedness, but the culture of the BBC is anti-Catholic, even though catholics in the UK are obliged by law to pay for it. Perhaps the Catholic hierachy is merely reaping what it sowed as some of the absurd lies promulgated about Pius XII on television went largely unchallenged, making the Chúrch appear an easy target. Hiding behind the parapet might seem safe but not when the stone is being chiselled away: and have they no responsibility for the more than 99% of good priests in the front line, faithful to the teachings of the Church, who must courageously lead their, often unappreciative, parishioners, while their leaders, some like civil servants who have manoevred their way to the top jobs without a thought of whether they can do them, seem paralysed by the blatant anti-Catholic culture in the media, seeking only appeasement? It is, of course unfair to expect them to be heroes like the leaders of the Church were wise enough to know that hatred cannot be appeased and led, even into the mouths of lions, but now it is a case of “after you, Claude,” or even William.

  • Lnewington

    Louella, lack of integrity is more likely to weaken the church than enemies without.

  • Lnewington

    It seems there are those grasping at the straws of non optional celibacy who are quite happy to support priest's and their whatever you want to call it arrangements.

    Better move over into the Anglicans.

    At least they make honest men and women of them.

    We are destroying the church ourselves with double standards.

    Long live celibacy yes, but for those who do truly have the gift to offer to God which doesn't always become evident until later in life, especially when permitted to exercise their “creative power” whithin the boundries of law so long as it is kept out of the public domain.

    The it becomes, tut tut cause for scandal.

    Nothing at all to do whith Samsons hair as a given example.

  • hoops

    Yes it is! Its help us avoid having our espoused moral values from deteriorating to the level of the Church of England and other state churches in the Orthodox and Protestant lines.

    But the focus on self-abnegation and the danger of FIDEISM and blind faith and mere human allegiances are real as the Belgian thing shows clearly.

    My impression is that we could all do a lot better, but that some sort of catastophe is needed before people – even Catholic Christians will be honest enough to live up to and out of the divine honestum bonum of Christ in his sacraments. Many things discovered in the 20th century remain unused- Adrian

    van Kaam's efforts spring to mind- encounter movements have fallen by the wayside. I think however there are broad signs of hope in the culture generally. Some things are being discussed intelligently that weren't before and in a good way.

  • Lnewington

    This is such a tragedy. Whenever celibacy rears it's head, homosexuality always seems to link in somewhere.

    The comments of Abused Survivor only confirms that many who are oriented this way and enter the seminary, more times than not been abused themselves.

    The dilemma is that many of these priests who through their naivety now have aids.

    Richard Sipe who isn't always appreciated for his openess, has done lot to bring the plight of these once innocent young men, out into the open.

    Imagine the pain of their mothers who doing her duty as a Catholic, fosters a vocation in her son for him to end his days in physical and mental isolation.

    For anyone interested, look up ;Never another Pat Clergy in Crisis.

    It needs to be read with sensitivity and respect.

  • Anthony

    Catholics love their priests, and one of the fundamental reasons for this is that the priest has made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his flock by forgoing marriage, family, prosterity and independence.

    This is the cross that a priest, in immitation of Chrsit, must carry. It highlights the sacrificial nature of his life as a precondition of acting in persona Christi. The congregation deeply recognises the sacrifice made on their behalf, most especially the loneliness that can creep up on a priest as he approaches old age.

    Although new priests from outside with families and children will be welcome with special permission, somehow there is the sense that “they have it all”. They may not have as yet a regular salary but at least they have a family to comfort and support them. These priests of course will be respected, but they will never radiate to the congregation the sacrifice and suffering, so reminiscent of Christ, that a life of celibacy can entail.

  • Ratbag

    'Fat from the Truth of Jesus' ? Deliciously put!

  • Xtopep

    celibacy -should be a personal choice not a medieval vatican imposition, for medieval economic reasons.

  • hoops

    Why was my comment flagged? pray tell.

  • Cmw1975

    I agree. The catholic church sticks to the teaching of the Bible which is a grest strength, and has kept the RC Church humble and sreadfast whilst other denominations lose followers by the hour due to lack of concrete ideals. Surely it is right that a priest puts God and his parishoners before the many complications of married life, and i dont think the vast majority would disagree.

  • Boutros Neru

    Dr Oddie, you dismiss the views of at least 49% of Catholics in the survey as “entirely irrelevant to what the Universal Church does or teaches”. Not so. Have you never heard of the “sensus fidelium” (understanding of the faithful), which goes alongside tradition from the very beginning? Celibacy is not a doctrine, it is a discipline, and the Pope could change it overnight, and do nothing contrary to Catholic Faith. When you presume to teach/preach as an author, you have a responsibility not to pass on mere opinion as truth. A classmate of mine did a D.D thesis in 1963 on the history of celibacy, and one of his findings was that this “jewel in the crown” was honored more by the breach than the observance. Your article is a disappointing waste of opportunity. Boutros Neru, Australia

  • Mamasnookems

    I thought only Jehovah witness try to “earn their jewels” to their crown!

    Celebacy is not in the bible, Paul chose not to marry and Peter was married, his mother in law was healed by Jesus. I also think Barnabas was married too, he was a follower of Jesus also.

  • Mamasnookems

    The celibacy of the priesthood was decreed by Pope Hildebrand, Boniface VII in 1079

    Jesus imposed no such rule, nor did any of the apostles. Peter was a married man, and Paul says that bishops were to have wife and children. Read 1st Timothy 3:2,5 and 12 and also Matthew 8:14-15.

  • Lnewington

    The interpretation of the scriptures is given to us by the church (in case we get it wrong), Judas Iscariot has always been depicted as the ultimate betrayer, which remains an expression of speech today.

    Recently Pope Benedict has given him a make over saying just that; we were wrong, no doubt for the benefit of our Jewish brothers and sisters who's land we are seeking concessions.

    If the Church has the power to change authentic teachings on one thing it can change it for another; even for expediency.

  • Lnewington

    I can't comment on how many Popes had concubines, (this one has a right hand woman), but as far as priest's go, that's well and truly on record and in the public domain.

  • Gordon S

    William Oddie clearly continues using the weak arguments for the very unnatural state of celibacy. A way of life that we now clearly see produces many sexual perverts. Sure we have good celibate priests, they by no means are all abusers., Yet, you know many of them are depressed, disturbed and even drunks.

    We are not doing these good troubled men any favours by pushing the party line-the married priesthood is long overdo… Gord

  • Philomena Carolan

    What a load of rubbish.

    How many more times has it been said, that the Pope has not done anywhere near enough to prtect victims of sex abuse, he will not ablosh celibacy and much much more the Pope deserately needs to do for the Catholic church and yet he continues to say that celibacy is the “Jewell in The Crown”, what utter rubbish, that man is well over due for resignation, I think he should be forced to…..NOW!

  • http://twitter.com/A55S88 agnesmaria

    I am a happy Catholic but today I am even a happier one…..thanks to this article…..I just feel so blessed that our Catholic Church has celibacy of priests as one of our ‘jewels in our crown” ..and find the statement “…thinks in centuries not decades….” very informing and also comforting.