Posted by: L. E. Barnes | April 15, 2010

Celibacy: Healthy and Helpful

Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin recently wrote and excellent defense of celibacy, debunking common myths and showing how it actually is a help rather than a hindrance to clergy and religious as they carry out their ministries:

In light of the recent explosive news of sexual abuse by priests in Europe, many in the media are wondering again if celibacy leads to abuse. Can you be healthy and celibate?

The irony is that some of history’s most loving and generous persons — those that even nonbelievers admire — were chaste. Think of St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa. Would anyone say that they were not loving? Or somehow sick?

Better yet, think of Jesus of Nazareth who, most serious Scripture scholars agree, never married. Does anyone doubt that Jesus was not a loving person? Was he sick? 

Loving examples

Whenever I hear that stereotype of the cold, bitter or unhealthy celibate priest or religious, I wish that I could introduce people to all the loving priests, brothers and sisters that I’ve known, men and women who led lives of loving chastity, and who simply radiate love. (Technically, celibacy is the restriction on priests marrying; chastity, which we’re all called to, is the proper use of one’s sexuality. But here I’ll refer to chastity in the way it’s normally understood — as a religious commitment that includes refraining from sexual intimacy.)

Freedom to serve

One of the main goals of chastity is to love as many people as possible as deeply as possible. That may seem strange to those used to defining celibacy negatively — that is, as not having sex. But this has long been the tradition of the Church. Chastity is another way to love, and, as such, has a great deal to teach everyone.

Chastity also frees you to serve people more readily. We’re not attached to one person or to a family, so it’s easier for us to move to another assignment. As the Jesuit constitutions say, chastity is “essentially apostolic.” It is supposed to help us become better “apostles.” Chastity, like all the vows, helps Jesuits to be “available,” as St. Ignatius would say. So chastity is about both love and freedom.

Obviously, most people are called to romantic love, marriage, sexual intimacy, children and family life. Their primary way of loving is through their spouses and children. It is a more focused, more exclusive way of loving. That is not to say that married couples and parents do not love others outside their families. Rather, the main focus of their love is God and their family.

For the person in a religious order, the situation is the opposite. You vow chastity to offer yourself to love God and make yourself available to love as many others as possible.

Chastity is a reminder that it is possible to love well without being in an exclusive relationship and without being sexually active. In this way, the chaste person can serve as a signpost in our hypersexualized culture, where loving someone may be confused with hopping into bed. Thus chastity can help us to refocus our priorities: The goal of life, whether single, married or religious, is to love.

By the way, chastity doesn’t lead to unhealthy behavior. The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was more about — among other things — a small percentage of psychologically unhealthy men who should have never been admitted into seminaries or religious orders in the first place, a closed clerical culture that fostered secrecy, and some bishops who should have never shuttled them from one parish to another, than it was about chastity per se. Chastity doesn’t lead to pedophilia, any more than marriage does. (Most abuse, after all takes place in families.)

Please read the complete article here.



  1. a goor posting. I have a Faith Based Blog Roll and I have added you to it.

    • Glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting! I’ll check out your blog as well.

  2. I agree, celibacy has nothing to do with the abuse crisis. My father abused me. He was not celebate.

    • So many think that if the Church did away with the celibacy requirement, it would solve most of their problems in this matter, as well as taking care of the priest shortage. I even remember a professor I had (an ordained Anglican priest) saying that the Catholic Church would not have a very pure priesthood until they opened it up to married men. I just don’t buy into that.

      I’m so sorry to hear that you were the victim of abuse. And in fact, most instances of sexual abuse take place within families, and I’ve read that most of the culprits are married men.

  3. one entry you offer says communism fails because it is unnatural; that owning property and the right to do so is. i suggest communism fails because of the ‘human factor’ involved. when communism is personalized as, “i can’t own anything because i am a communist” the point is missed; believing/feeling/voicing the negative. communism is a lifestyle filled with opportunity.

    celibacy is unnatural in my eyes. i suggest celibacy fails because of the ‘human factor’ involved. again, when celibacy is personalized as, “i can’t have sex (relationship) because i am celibate” the point is missed; believing/feeling/voicing the negative. again, celibacy is a lifestyle filled with opportunity…

    • I was quoting Peter Kreeft regarding communism, but I tend to agree with him. Or perhaps the better way to put it is that attempts to force communism on society are doomed to failure. Just as you said, the “human factor” gets in the way of things. Simply put, human nature just really doesn’t allow for it. By communism, I’m thinking primarily of state control of things, forbidding private ownership and insisting on a planned economy. That kind of system has proven again and again to be oppressive to the extreme and unsuccessful over the long term.

      Granted, there are some communities where communism of a sort is successful. Monasteries immediately come to mind. But this is voluntary communism, and only for a small segment of the population. Likewise, there are those who choose celibacy (often for religious reasons) and are happy to be so. But yes, most people would neither desire nor be suited for such a lifestyle.

      So I agree with you actually. If you insist on framing either of those things in a negative (i.e., what you are giving up) rather than seeing the benefits/opportunities, communal living/sharing and celibacy would be undesirable and unsuccessful. From a Christian standpoint, it all comes down to what you feel the Lord is calling you to do with your life.

      Thanks for commenting! I like to hear from readers and engage them in discussion.

  4. I am with you, brother. I like exploring communism and celibacy on the same page. “Forced” is a strong word, huh? I hold God’s greatest gift to us is free will. the church seems hell bent, excuse me, to reverse that in so many arenas. Poverty in the diocesan arena is an option; not in religious communities. People have an option to be either ~ men do, anyway. I wonder the consequences should the church offer celibacy as an option like poverty? Personally, i find intentional poverty much more radical than celibacy.
    I live both…in a secular world.

    • The Catholic Church could switch to the same rule that the Eastern Orthodox churches have regarding priestly celibacy. That is, a married man can become a priest, but if a fellow is not married prior to his ordination, then he must remain celibate if he wishes to continue serving as a priest. Also, the bishops are always chosen from the celibate clergy. The Church has pointed out that the current celibacy requirement is a discipline of the Church, not a dogma, and is therefore subject to change. Such change, however, seems very unlikely to say the least!

      If the Catholic Church chose that route, I’m sure it would only apply to diocesan clergy. Religious orders/congregations would likely continue to require the 3 vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. I’ve been Catholic only 3 years. Frankly, I’d like to see the Church keep things as they are, but if the leaders decide to give diocesan priests the option of being married prior to ordination, I suppose I wouldn’t raise a fuss over it. God only knows what will happen…

      And like you, I too live as a celibate and in (relative) poverty. I’m 35 and have never been married and have never been sexually active. And unless I feel the call to marriage, I shall continue to be celibate out of my love for God.


  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Messenger. The Messenger said: Learning 2 LOVE Celibacy: Healthy and Helpful « Evan's Cove […]

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