Celibacy: Its Roots and Fruits

On July 26, 2013, as Pope Francis was riding in his motorcades through Rio de Janerio, Brazil, a boy, Nathan de Brito broke past the barriers and went to the pope, whispering into his ears: “Your holiness, I want to be a priest of Christ, a representative of Christ.” The Pope bursted into tears and said to Nathan, “I am going to pray for you but I ask that you pray for me.” The video circulated, and it brought tears to the eyes of passionate Catholics.

I wonder how many times the boy had to rehearse this before he heard the count: One… Two…Three…action! The timing and location had to be right too, with a lot of cameras around. I love good drama, don’t you? Without being distracted by the emotional tryst, Nathan de Brito did raise a serious point: the priest represents Jesus to the Catholic. The same belief was echoed by “mother” Teresa:

“When the Priest is there, then we can have our altar and our tabernacle and our Jesus. Only the Priest puts Jesus there for us… This is why I love Priests so much.” (Speech at a Retreat for Priest Worldwide, October 1984).

There you have it. Without the Catholic Priest, there can be no Catholic Jesus.
One of the things that gives priests this exalted position is celibacy. Since the sacrament of holy orders is deemed higher than the sacrament of matrimony, priests (and nuns) are deemed to be on a higher spiritual footing. However, celibacy is still an intolerable burden which only a small minority of persons could possibly bear. Once you strip this whole celibacy business of all its tabloid fancies and sentiments what you are left with is a pretentious joke.

The Roots

Celibacy was well known in pagan Rome. The vestal virgins and the priests of Cybele were known to be celibate. It was also observed by ascetic pre-Christian philosophers (like the Pythagoreans) and the Stoics and in some forms of Gnosticism. Celibacy, as part of asceticism, was observed by Hindu and Jaina priests. The same goes for Buddhism. If you are conversant with the news, you will agree with me that sexual depravities fill up their clergies.

In Judaism, however, the case is different. “Celibacy has played little role in Judaism in which marriage and raising children are understood as holy obligations” says the Britannica. “The prophet Jeremiah, who apparently chose not to have children, is the only prophet who did not marry.” The Old Testament priests were married but forbidden from marrying “a wife that is a whore, or profane… [and] a woman put away from her husband [divorcee]…” (Leviticus 21:7).

In the NT, nowhere is celibacy made a standard of church leadership either. The apostles were married (1Cor. 9:5) and a bishop was to be “the husband of one wife.” Apostle Paul in fact, classed the doctrine of forced celibacy as part of “doctrines of devils” (1Tim 4:2-3). The Catholic Encyclopedia also admits: “We do not find in the New Testament any indication of celibacy being made compulsory either upon the apostles or those whom they ordained” (Vol. III, 483 “Celibacy”).

It was not until the second century that celibacy began to crop up.
(a) During the early persecutions, some people apparently withdrew themselves into the deserts and began to form communities believing that a life of persecution was better lived in isolation.

(b) Some early Christians also believed that the coming of Christ (parousia) was imminent and therefore it was useless to marry and raise families. Of course, this was an extreme view.

(c) Some people came under the influence of Gnosticism and began to embrace its pagan philosophy that the evil body had imprisoned the pure soul, hence the soul had to be set free by withholding all bodily pleasures and subjugating all its passions. They observed how priests of Eastern religions were dedicated to their gods to the point of being celibate and began to copy that mode.

(d) Celibacy found its way in gradually. A rule was established at the Council of Neo-Caesarea in 315 that “absolutely forbids a priest to contract a new marriage under the pain of desposition” if his wife died (Cath. Ency, 484). Later an edict in 386 forbids married priests from having sex with their wives (Imagine how unbiblical and unreasonable this was).

(e) The church fathers also had a very low view of women which didn’t help matters. This further created an extreme aversion towards marriage and sex. For example:

St. John Chrysostom wrote: “It does not profit a man to marry. For what is a woman but an enemy of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic danger, delectable mischief, a fault in nature, painted with beautiful colours?” (cited in Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, 1988, 130).

Origen described women as “the devil’s gateway … the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; the first deserter of the divine law… she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack” (On the Apparel of Women, Ch. 1).

Augustine of Hippo: “I consider that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its heights as the fondling of women, and those body contacts which belong to the married state” (Soliloq I:10).

Since such a low view of women was being espoused by these leading men, it became a condition for all “good” men to avoid women and sex. The more they kept to this twisted tradition, the “holier” they appeared to be.

(f) Celibacy wasn’t really about chastity per say, rather it had a lucrative side to it. As the Catholic church was conquering nations and gaining more wealth, it would prevent the priests, bishops or popes from bequeathing the wealth to their families, which may end up impoverishing the Church. Nevertheless, even in the 11th century, it was still accepted for priests and bishops to be married and supposedly live in celibacy with their wives. Celibacy was finally made official at the 2nd Lateran Council (1139).

The Fruits

A Catholic historian honestly wrote: “The fact is that priestly celibacy has hardly ever worked. In the view of some historians, it has probably done more harm to morals than any other institution in the West, including prostitution … This theological confusion in an age of depravity led the clergy, in fifth-century Rome in particular, to become a byword for everything that was gross and perverted” (Peter de Rose, The Dark Side of the Papacy, 1988, Crown Publishers, 395, 402).

According to a writer, “all the ecclesiastics had mistresses, and all the convents of the Capitol were houses of bad fame.” (J. H Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Great Reformation of the 16th Century in Germany, 1843, II:11). Rome soon became a “holy city” in name only. As celibates multiplied, so did prostitutes. Pope Sixtus (1471-84) developed a lucrative means of charging all the brothels in Rome and each priest who kept a mistress with a tax – and it made the Catholic Church more wealthy. At the time: “There were 6800 registered prostitutes in Rome in 1490, not counting clandestine practitioners, in a population of some 90,000” (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, 1950, IV:18).

Cardinal Pierre D’Ailly (1350-1420) wrote that he dared not describe the immorality of the nunneries, that taking the veil was simply another mode of becoming a public prostitute. In 1477, the night dances and orgies held in the Catholic cloister at Kercheim (Germany) was described by a historian as being “worse than those seen in the public houses of prostitution” (A. C. Flick, The Decline of the Medieval Church, 1930, I:295)
The ugly fruits of celibacy is not limited to centuries ago; the wholesale exposure of the gross immorality of the Catholic clergy in the last 2 decades proves that. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that the tendency of some to exaggerate details of these “is at least marked as the tendency on the part of the Church apologists to ignore these uncomfortable pages of history altogether” (Vol. III, 483).

Having realized that celibacy is a curse, rather than a blessing, there were pleas to have it cancelled during the Second Vatican Council. It wasn’t granted. Some Catholic bishops from Canada once appealed to Pope John Paul II to allow married priests under certain conditions. The request was turned down. Centuries of an “infallible” decree can’t be turned around so easily. So let the ball keep rolling.

Today, it has become a public knowledge that the Catholic church has served as an umbrella to all sorts of sexually depraved “celibate” priests. In Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia, more cases are springing up almost daily and they are too many to recount here. A BBC news report stated the Catholic church has confirmed sex abuse allegations concerning about 3,000 priests dating back to up to 50 years. This is even a conservative estimate as there is still much cover up of such abuse in 3rd world countries.

Even with these media exposures, Rome still attempts to deny, threaten, bribe and minimize the pain of her victims with various tactics, while the thousands of criminals in its ranks are protected. Former pope, Joseph Ratzinger, while the archbishop of Munich protected many paedophiles such as Fr. Hullerman who abused many boys for many decades. “During that time, church officials repeatedly transferred Father Hullermann to new parishes and allowed him to work with children” (New York Times, 25/03/2010).

In another report, of the examined 10,667 allegations against 4,392 paedophile priests between 1950-2002, 81% of their victims were found to be male while the females were younger than 8 years! A 2012 police report detailed 40 suicide deaths in the state of Victoria, directly related to abuse by Catholic clergy (Canberra Times, 13, Apr. 2012) A religion that covers and abets such heinous crimes against the innocent is marked for divine judgement (Mark 9:42).

Catholicism’s clerical celibacy – both past and present – has resulted in a very rotten fruitage, with effects reaching far beyond its capacity. The hypocrisy is when this same religion stands and tries to lecture the world on morality and piety. Shame died for Rome a long time ago. My heart breaks for the many Catholics who still look up to men as “Christs” and for the many who have turned away from God because of a priesthood of depraved men.

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