Celibacy has been the very heart and soul of the inner dynamic life and energy in the Church from the start and the endless source of authentic renewal and reform from the very beginning. With the current scandals in the Church, once again, critics have made it all about celibacy. Reformers demand we get rid of celibacy once and for all and all these problems will be solved. No, No, No!
Truth Shocks, Deceit Rarely Does
It is said that those who have been uncovering the truth about the corruption in the Church, most particularly in high places, are the instruments of the devil because they scandalize the faithful. But the devil is the purveyor of lies, not the truth. It is the Holy Spirit who is the purveyor of the truth, and those who speak the truth are acting in his name, and those who refuse to listen are committing the sin against the Holy Spirit. Why, oh why does the truth so often shock when deceit rarely does? It is time we all grew up. The devil wants to keep the evil that is corrupting the Church secret and hidden, so like insidious cancer, it can totally destroy it. It is those who wish to hide its pernicious growth and who seek to hunt down and punish those who speak the truth who are the instruments of the devil.
The current scandals that are at present corrupting the Church are predominantly sexual. Almost every week you hear of more shocking cases. Only yesterday the national news, as well as the Catholic news on EWTN, stated that over 3,600 young and innocent children have been abused by priests in Germany. These unthinkable cases of abuse were once latent, then blatant, but now they are rampant – so rampant they everyone knows about them both inside and outside the Church. They are so rampant that the possibility of hiding them is no longer an option. It is for this reason that the Pope has called all those who preside over episcopal conferences throughout the world to come to Rome in February 2019. Let us ask in advance what is the cause of so many clerics in the Church, from top to bottom, perpetrating the most heinous sexual demeanours imaginable against the young and innocent? It is time that the question is asked fairly and squarely or we will never find a solution.
Sexual Scandals and Celibacy
What have the current sexual scandals in the Church to do with celibacy? The answer is that they have everything to do with celibacy. Should we simply dump celibacy then, as the reformers did, and solve the sexual problems that are tearing our Church apart in one stroke? It is all but impossible to exaggerate them – as a psychiatrist said to me ‘the very nature of the current sexual crimes is such that, like the iceberg, what is seen above the surface is nothing compared with what is below’, that may or may not come to the surface later. So, as President Regan once put it, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I am not just talking about the abuse of young children and young adults that have been covered up for years, but of other forms of sexual abuse too.
On February 18th, 1995, Sr. Maura O’Donohue a medical missionary of Mary and a consultant physician with impeccable credentials presented her report on the abuse of women in the Church to Cardinal Eduardo Martinez in Rome. The contents are horrifying – detailing the abuse of women by priests and bishops in 23 countries, although she explained time prevented her surveying other counties where she had no doubt that she would find further horrors.
That report has never since seen the light of day although I have read it, as many sleepless nights will attest. I don’t want to be accused of sexism, so I suppose I should mention the abuse of young women by female religious orders in their laundries, in their orphanages and in the way unmarried women and their babies were treated, but their dreadful behaviour to which the Pope referred openly during his visit to Ireland is now well known. Once again it is all about celibacy. Surely the reformers were right – let’s get rid of celibacy once and for all and all these problems will be solved.
In Defence of Celibacy
No, No, No: Celibate men and women have been the very heart and soul of the inner dynamic life and energy in the Church from the start and the endless source of authentic renewal and reform from the very beginning. The absolute importance of celibacy in the Church can be seen in the life of Jesus himself. He was celibate so that at all times he could be totally open and available to receive and experience the love of his Father that would enable him to communicate that love to his disciples and to others, both before and after the resurrection.
Catholic apologists who have defended celibacy in the past have argued that it gives freedom to an unmarried priest or religious to be available to all. It is a popular way of explaining celibacy because it makes a certain rational sense even to non-believers. But that begs the question – available to all with what? Love or lust? Christ was available to all with love – the love that he continually received and experienced from his Father. It is the continual experience of this love that made him the most secure, mature and therefore the most adorable person who ever walked on the face of this earth. The infinite loving of his Father is personified in him, in such a profound but spiritual way, that he can enter into all who would open themselves to receive him. When this begins to happen the receivers begin to experience the same fire of love that possessed Jesus, giving them a similar inner spiritual security and maturity too. But it does more than that for God’s love simultaneously fills them with the truth. This is no ordinary truth for it is the truth of the Holy Spirit himself which is wisdom. And that is not all, for the believer is not only able to see the truth with ever greater clarity, as he or she progresses in the spiritual life, but are also given the strength to do the truth, as all the required virtues are infused too through love. Just as a single shaft of light contains all the colours of the rainbow so the light of God’s love contains all the virtues that we need to become ‘other Christs’.
The virgines et continentes
From the very beginning, individuals and then groups of individuals supported by their bishops began to embrace celibacy, as Jesus had done before them, in order to open themselves radically to the love of God. This was long before monasticism began to grow in the desert. In fact, St Antony, the Father founder of monasticism left his own sister with one of these fast-growing communities on his way into solitude. They long pre-dated monasticism. The occupants of these little communities came to be called the virgines et continentes because of their commitment to celibacy. The great Fathers of the Church wrote encouraging little spiritual guides for them. The common theme was this – if celibacy does not lead a person through a life of profound prayer to come to know and experience the love of God then disaster will follow. Moral theology will lead a person nowhere without mystical theology. All it does is to show you how to behave without giving you the power to do it! In the same way, celibacy will lead a person nowhere without the teaching detailed in mystical theology that instructs a person how to be open continually to God’s love as Jesus was.
This love firstly transformed them and then others, but without this love, they would, not only be unable to help others, but they would be unable to help themselves. Deprive a celibate of the experience of God’s love and they begin to seek its counterfeit, as lust takes possession of them. We have all seen this and are still witnessing it on a global scale. The only answer is that the teaching and practice of mystical theology that was all but abandoned over four hundred years ago must be reintroduced without delay into all seminaries and houses of religious education, where those in training are asked to make vows of celibacy.
Celibacy Minus Love = Disaster
If young men and women are asked to make a vow of chastity, without at the same time being taught how to come to know and experience the love of God, then disasters will follow as we have all witnessed. Disaster will follow because no one can live fully without love. If a person has had to forgo the experience of God’s love reaching out to them through another human being in the sacrament of love, then it is an obligation on those who insist on this sacrifice to teach them how to come to know and experience God’s love in prayer.
Experience Love in Prayer
By prayer, I do not just mean saying prayers or performing prayers of obligation, but practising the deep prayer that leads onward beyond first beginnings into the mystic way. It is only here that we will come to know and experience the love that surpasses the understanding. This is the love that was the making of the great saints, mystics, and prophets who we need today like never before. They were there before, during and after all the great reforming councils of the past. Why they were absent before, during and after the Second Vatican Council will be a question to which I will return next. This is the only love that can compensate them for the love that they have given up. It is the only love that can make them fully human as they are being prepared, like Jesus before them, to communicate what they have received to others.
Mystical theology, as the foundation and completion of spiritual theology, must be taught by practitioners to all young men and women in seminaries and houses of further education. This is their right that must be granted to them by those who have placed on them the obligation to forfeit their natural desire to seek God’s love in and through the sacrament of marriage. If it is their right, then it is also the obligation of their superiors to teach them how to come to know and experience the love of God through profound mystical prayer. Failure to do this means that they, their superiors, are guilty of leaving them in a state in which they are perpetually in danger of sin, and traditional moral theology would call this serious sin.
Moral theology also teaches that those who place someone in that position are morally culpable, a culpability for which they will one day have to answer. If it is discovered in their formation that a person who thinks they have a vocation to the celibate life cannot, for whatever reason, journey on through purification to come to know and experience God’s love in prayer, then it is a clear sign that they should not continue, but seek God’s love elsewhere in the Sacrament of love.
No need for so-called psychological testing by people and for people who do not know and appreciate the inner dynamics of the mystic way in which the real Spiritual director – the Holy Spirit does his work. Spiritual directors are only there to direct those who turn to them for help to Him, and to teach them how to begin their journey with orthodox meditation and how to manage the pitfalls on the way. This is how vocations were tried and tried successfully before the heinous heresy Quietism destroyed mystical theology being taught side by side with moral theology over four hundred years ago.
All laws, all precepts and all decrees of the Church must be directed to enable every member of the Church to come to know and experience the love of God too, by learning how to love him with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind. That is why the great theologian Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all.” But let us begin with the shepherds, and let us begin now. If as much time is given to the teaching and practise of mystical theology as to moral theology in the training of our future priests and religious, then we will have a future, if we don’t, we won’t!