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Austrian Priests Rebel Against Forced Celibacy

It’s as if we are reliving the Reformation! The Roman Catholic Church is being challenged by its own priests just as Martin Luther and his colleagues demanded an end to the requirement of celibacy in the 16th century. Today in Austria Catholic priests are again pushing against this rule as a requirement for their profession. The movement of seven hundred married priests in an organization (Priests Without a Job) and four hundred priests who have signed a document demanding that Roman authorities reconsider celibacy and allow married priests is also demanding ordination of female priests, allowing divorced people to have communion, and the development of a liturgy to allow “priestless eucharest.” Coming at a time when Rome is busy putting out millions to settle lawsuits involving pedophile priests and clueless supervisors who have intentionally covered up a long sordid history, this could lead to a serious schism. Ah, these are certainly interesting times.

Of course, I write as a Protestant in a long line of Reformed Christians who disapprove of any outside authority controlling priests/pastors’ sex lives beyond simply requiring righteousness.

But few people are aware that the rules of celibacy were given Roman authority and spiritual meaning only after Rome realized that married priests meant their children would inherit wealth and property that the Church could otherwise access. Over the subsequent years families were torn apart as married priests were eventually forced to choose between their livelihood or their wives and children. So much for the family values of Rome.

But in spite of the erotophobic and homophobic teachings throughout church history, it is a basic premise of the Roman Church that sexuality is good and marriage a sacrament. (Protestants are less inclined to teach marriage as a sacrament.) So why not extend this affirming teaching of sexuality to its own leadership? Because celibacy is supposed to be purer than being sexual. Unfortunately that is a true perversion of the creation stories of Genesis.

Alas, the Virginity Movement in the US, (also called The Purity Movement) fueled by sexually repressed Christians makes good use of such teaching when focusing on singles, whether of 13, 25 or 40 years of age. For example, when teaching adolescents "abstinence" they use life savers covered with someone else's spit as a metaphor for premarital sex. But aren’t there biblical teachings that would agree that celibacy is better? Only if one reads the Apostle Paul’s letters in the Bible without context.

First, Paul is clear that he gives his opinion on some of the sexual matters and carefully notes he has no direction from the Lord. Secondly, he also is writing with the pressure of believing in an immediate return of Christ, hence the need to stay single and not get distracted by the issues of a new marriage. And lastly, he was married himself, a fact that the Reformers failed to correct in the translations of scripture. (Philippians 4:3 is mistranslated thanks to the work of Jerome, himself a misogynist, who invented a new Latin word rather than translate the word “faithful spouse” which the Greek word actually means. Both Clement and Origen as well as other church fathers living before the Roman push for celibacy had no disagreement that Paul had been married since this was consistent with all good orthodox Jewish teaching for the rabbis. See p 6-18 in Sexual Liberation, The Scandal of Christendom by Raymond J Lawrence Jr.)

So should anyone be celibate? Celibacy can be a spiritual gift. It is true that being in an intimate relationship, sexual or not, takes time and energy that could instead be directed towards one’s spiritual calling, whatever that may be. But it is God who gives the gift, not the church. And frankly, if it is a lot of work and becomes a distraction or obsession, then it is quite likely NOT a spiritual gift. But what about celibacy as a preferred lifestyle over being sexually active? Depends. Celibacy may free our minds and our schedules to do great work to make the world a better place resembling the realm of heaven. However, being in a satisfying intimate relationship can boost both creativity and energy levels making us more productive, happier, and more satisfied with life.

But the pernicious thinking that undergirds the big push for celibacy is the destructiveness of linking sex to impurity. There is nothing impure about the body. (see Mark 7:15) The body is good. Pleasure is a gift from God. And sexual pleasure specifically is not something to avoid unless coupled with irresponsibility. Let us celebrate it as we live responsibly and righteously. If there is one lesson Rome should have learned from its sex scandals it is that taking vows of celibacy does not guarantee responsible sexuality.

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