Conclusion of Cardinal Piacenza’s Address to Priestly Celibacy Congress

“Celibacy Is a Question of Evangelical Radicalism”

ARS, France, JAN. 27, 2011 ( Here is the conclusion of the address that Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, delivered Monday to the Colloquium “Priestly Celibacy: Foundations, Joys and Challenges,” which took place this week at the Foyer Sacerdotale Giovanni Paolo II in Ars.

The three-day conference, organized by the Society of John Mary Vianney and the Ars Shrine, ended today. The cardinal’s address is titled “The Teaching of the Pontiffs From Pius XI to Benedict XVI.”

The full text is available on ZENIT’s Web page:

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At the end of this journey, which has seen us drawing attention to some significant passages of the papal Magisterium from Pius XI to Benedict XVI, we shall now try to draw out an initial summation by way of conclusion, which might offer a working basis for the formation of Priests for the welcoming and living in a fulsome manner of this gift of the Lord.

1. Above all there emerges the radical continuity between the Magisterium that preceded the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and that which came after it. Albeit with accents that demonstrate the different sensibilities of the times, some more liturgical-sacral, other more Christological-pastoral, the unbroken Magisterium of the Pontiffs in question is consistent in basing Celibacy on the theological reality of the ministerial Priesthood, on the ontological-sacramental configuration to Christ the Lord, on the participation in His unique Priesthood and on the imitatio Christi which is implied in that. Only an incorrect hermeneutic of the conciliar texts could lad to the conclusion that Celibacy is something left over from the past and from which one ought to liberated at the earliest opportunity. Such an approach is not only historically, doctrinally and theologically erroneous, but it is also extremely damaging to the spiritual, pastoral, missionary and vocational outlook.

2. The reduction of Celibacy to a mere ecclesiastical law, common in some environments, is to be absolutely overcome in light of the papal Magisterium that we have examined. It is a law only because it is an intrinsic demand of the priesthood and of the configuration to Christ that the sacrament determines. In this sense, formation for Celibacy, above and beyond every human and spiritual aspect, must include a solid doctrinal dimension, because it is with difficulty that one lives that which one does not understand.

3. The debate concerning Celibacy, which is reignited periodically over the centuries, does not contribute to the serenity of the younger generations in coming to an understanding of a fact that is to determinant of the sacerdotal life. What is authoritatively expressed in n.29 of Pastores Dabo Vobis is true for all when it assumes word for word the opinion of the entire Synodal Assembly, stating: “The synod does not wish to leave any doubts in the mind of anyone regarding the Church’s firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin rite. The synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the kingdom which is not of this world – a sign of God’s love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God’s people”.

4. Celibacy is a question of evangelical radicalism. Poverty, chastity and obedience evangelical counsels that are not reserved exclusively to religious, but are, rather, virtues to be lived with intense missionary ardour. We must not betray our young! We must not lower the level of formation, nor, in fact, what the faith proposes. We must not betray the holy People of God, which awaits saintly pastors, such as the Curé of Ars. We must be radical in the sequela Christi! Let us not be afraid of the fall in the number of clerics. The number decreases when there the temperature of the faith is lowered, since vocations are a divine “affair” and not a human one, and they follow the Divine logic, which is foolishness from a human point of view. Faith is called for!

5. In a world which is gravely secularised, it is ever more difficult to understand the reasons for Celibacy. However, we must have the courage to ask ourselves, as the Church, if we wish to resign ourselves to such a situation, accepting the progressive secularisation of society and of culture as an unchangeable fact, or if we are prepared for a task of a profound and real New Evangelisation at the service of the Gospel, and thus of the truth of Man. I hold, according to that meaning, that the reasoned support of celibacy and adequately evaluating its worth in the life of the Church and the world, might represent some of the most effective means to overcome this secularisation. What else could the Holy Father Benedict XVI means when he says that celibacy shows that, “God enters into the reality of our time”?

6. The theological root of Celibacy is to be engraved into the new identity that is given to him who is invested with the Holy Orders. The centrality of the ontological-sacramental dimension and the consequent Eucharistic dimension of the Priesthood are the spheres of the natural understanding, development and existential fidelity to Celibacy. The essential question, then, is not to direct the debate so much to Celibacy as to the quality of the faith of our communities. Could a community which lacks great esteem for Celibacy, as an “awaiting” for the Kingdom or as a Eucharistic “yearning”, be truly said to be alive?

7. Your colloquium has “Foundations, joys, challenges” as a subtitle. I am persuaded that the first two, knowledge of the foundations and the joyous experience of Celibacy lived to the full, that is thus profoundly humane, provide a response not only to the challenges that the world always makes to Celibacy, but that this will also make of Celibacy a challenge for the world. As already alluded to in the first point of these conclusions, we must not allow ourselves to be conditioned or intimidated by a world without God, which does not understand Celibacy and that would like to remove it. On the contrary, we must recuperate the reasoned understanding that our Celibacy offers as a challenge to the world, placing its secularism and agnosticism in profound crisis and crying out, through the centuries, that God is Present and Active!

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