Priestly Celibacy and the Vocation to Love

Interview With a Physician-Theologian

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PAMPLONA, Spain, SEPT. 29, 2005 ( The question of priestly celibacy is bubbling to the surface once again.

The topic came to the fore in Spain, where a married Anglican minister converted to the Catholic Church and was ordained. In Wiesbaden, Germany, meanwhile, 80 married former Catholic priests appealed to the Pope to put an end to the requirement of clerical celibacy.

To address the topic, the Veritas news agency interviewed Father Juan Ramón García-Morato, author of the recently published book «Created by Love, Chosen to Love» (EUNSA Publishers).

García-Morato, a physician and theologian, teaches a course on Theory of Culture in the School of Medicine of the University of Navarre. He is also chaplain of that school.

Q: Why do you affirm that celibacy is a path to Christian fullness?

Father García-Morato: Both celibacy as well as marriage are paths to Christian fullness, namely, to holiness.

We are all called to love, and Christian revelation points out two ways of realizing fully this vocation: marriage and celibacy in any of its forms. Both are included in God’s plans. Both need each other to understand each other better.

Both are a path of self-giving. And to give oneself, one must first possess oneself. «Half an orange,» as understood in ordinary language, doesn’t exist. No person is «by halves,» needy of another — especially designed for himself — to be complete.

Each person is complete in himself. Only a complete person can bring his whole self into play and give himself — to God or to another person — with sufficient maturity to make that decision freely.

This is why celibacy is also a path of human and Christian fullness. Because when it comes to loving God, in response to a call that implies that gift, all human dimensions must come into play, also those that depend on the masculine or feminine condition, excluding simply the exercise of sexuality. But that is the lifestyle of Christ, perfect man, and of the Virgin — a lifestyle that has an irreplaceable role in the history of redemption.

Q: Do you think it is a topic that can be revised theologically? Could the law of celibacy be abolished?

Father García-Morato: Of course, celibacy is not a dogma of faith. It is a way of life that grew within the Church since the second century.

In this connection, in the measure that the link between celibacy and priesthood is not essential, but of profound congruence between the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the sacramental participation in his priesthood, there is room for the hypothetical possibility to abolish celibacy, as any other ecclesiastical law that does not respond directly to an express mandate of divine law.

However, the conviction of the Church in regard to the congruence of the priesthood with the priestly ministry is neither pragmatic nor situational, but profoundly based.

I think that the explanation can be found here for the fact that — in a sociological and cultural situation such as the present one, with the difficulties known by all in the matter of vocations — the Catholic Church continues to trust in God’s continuing to distribute the gift of celibacy among many young men and in his sending the necessary sacred ministers for the life of the Church.

Q: As a doctor, do you think that celibacy is a «repression» or that it can result in psychological problems?

Father García-Morato: Celibacy does not impoverish the personality. On the contrary, by being one of the paths to full realization of the person’s vocation to love, it enriches him. I have seen this many times, thank God. However, I am aware that there are individuals who wonder if it is not emotionally and mentally healthier to have a couple and a family rather than to live celibacy.

As I said earlier, each person is complete in himself and is fulfilled in relation with others. But as it is not possible to relate to all persons, or to make use of the innumerable opportunities to relate to one another, each one chooses freely those he considers most appropriate for his personal fulfillment.

The problem, to my mind, does not reside in living celibacy. In life, what is terrible for the inner harmony and mental health of a man or woman does not lie in being celibate or married. The crux of the question lies in having made a free decision and having chosen something that affects one’s whole existence and then continuing to envy what one has not chosen, filling oneself with ever greater anxiety.

Thus permanent longing as a style of life — one of the ways of putting the hand to the plow and continuing to look back — can only be a source of immaturity, which destroys and plays havoc with any existing commitment and even ends up by making one incapable for future commitments.

We must all learn to make decisions and to understand that, with every decision, we discard many options; and assume it with the view of one who starts on new paths full of surprises. That is why, faced with the fundamental questions of life, decisions must only be made if we are aware and are prepared to have them be decisions that, in fact, draw after them the whole personality.

If a decision is made, and the rest of the personality goes another way, inevitably a high-risk situation is created for mental health and personal harmony, both in celibacy as well as marriage.

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