Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Sexuality of the Catholic Priests and Religious

The sexuality 
of the 
Catholic Priests 

One that has life is an animal. As man has life, man is also an animal. Like other animals, man is also a sexual animal. According to the Bible, man, like other animals, participate in the creation of God and proliferate themselves. Life is continuing in this way.

One may ask what ‘the sexuality in the Catholic priestly and religious life’ is. How is it possible to have sex when Catholic priests and Religious are supposed to spend their life asexually – a life chosen completely on one’s own volition and to be lived compulsorily?

Yes, sexuality is a reality, although none will speak about it publicly. Since the teachings of the Catholic Church are given from the standpoint of sin, we always hear of the sexuality and sins of the laypersons – not of the priests and Religious.

Here we will limit our writing to the sexuality of the Catholic priests and Religious.
According to the Church teaching, members of the Catholic Church consist of the clergy (priests, bishops, cardinals, and the pope), the Religious (professed priests, Brothers, and Sisters – also known as ‘nuns’), and the laypersons (ordinary men and women). 

According to the 2017 Pontifical Yearbook, there were 1.29 billion Catholics in the world. Among them, only 5,353 were bishops (all the bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope included), 414,969 priests (of them, 281,831 were diocesan or ‘secular’ priests and 133,138 Religious priests), 52,625 Brothers, and 656,445 Sisters.

From ancient times, certain pagan religions had their own types of priests and priestesses – many of whom were married, but some unmarried.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the monotheistic Hebrews (Jews) had male priests – all of whom were married. Their sons inherited this priesthood, too.

In the New Testament, long before the coming of Jesus Christ, Druid pagan priests in western Europe and Aztec temple priests of South America used to be celibate (unmarried) and it was expected that they absent themselves from engaging in sexual activities with others.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ was God as well as a full human being. As a man, he, of course, was subject to all temptations and weaknesses. Yet, he lived his celibate life with extreme self-sacrifice and asexuality. Following his example, some of his disciples also lived a similar life. In short, we can say that Jesus’ sexuality was fully self-sacrificing sexuality. His life, mind, and spirit were fully dedicated to the service and salvation of mankind.
Among the married disciples, St. Peter was an important figure (Matt 8:14), who is recognized as the first pope in the Catholic Church. Apostle St. Paul (1 Cor 9: 5) mentions of some married disciples of Christ.

Alike some disciples of Christ, apostle Paul, too, was unmarried. He, in 1 Cor 7: 32-35, mentions of the benefits of the celibacy.

There are two types of priests in the Catholic Church – diocesan or ‘secular’ priests and Religious priests. Diocesan priests work directly under a bishop in his diocese. Although they don’t take any official vow, they remain celibate and abstain from sexual activities. They do not live a community life. If necessary, they can live alone separately from other priests and they can personally acquire and own money and property. The Religious priests, on the other hand, officially take vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty and live in a community, to which all money and property belong. They work in the dioceses with special permission of the bishops.

In the first thousand years of the Catholic Church, priests could marry. In 308 A.D., the Council of Elvira in Spain, after observing widespread extra-marital affairs and unbridled sexual activities of priests, laid greater emphasis on the priestly holiness and sexual chastity, and, for the first time, ruled for the celibacy of their local priests. In 325 A.D., Emperor Constantine called for the Council of Nicea and rejected the celibacy imposed by the Council of Elvira.

 Yet, in the early Middle Ages (5th and 6th centuries A.D.), the trend for celibacy of priests started to gain support in the Western Catholic Church. In face of sexual immorality of married priests, Pope Benedict VIII ruled that children of married priests could not inherit any Church property. Several decades later, Pope Gregory VI banned the marriage of priests. In 1139, the Second Lateran Council officially banned the marriage of priests. In 1563, the Council of Trent supported the celibacy of priests. This tradition of priestly celibacy is continuing till today.

What does it mean to be a celibate priest? Those who want to be a priest, they willingly and with full understanding, become celibate priests by following the example of Jesus Christ. They know that they cannot have a wife or a mistress; they cannot engage in sexual activities with any other male, female, or underage boy or girl; above all, they also cannot masturbate, even by themselves, as all of these are grievous sins – against God and the teachings of the Church. In short, they are supposed to be fully dedicated to God’s work and live a selfless asexual life. It then becomes their responsibility for maintaining their sexual chastity. This is called the sexuality of priests.

On the other side, there is the sexuality of the Religious life. The Religious include professed priests, Brothers, and Sisters. Living communally, they follow their Society’s rules and profess the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty. They are to remain celibate, be sexually chaste, refrain from owning any money or property personally, and be obedient to their Superior. The sexuality they observe, by following Jesus, is the sexuality of the Religious.

Some people’s unbridled sexuality and sexual activities are pervasive in the world. Irrespective of race, caste, and creed, this situation was present in the past, is on at the present, and will be so in the future. It takes a worse turn and becomes a scandal to others when dedicated religious leaders and priests become part of this degradation. Their only responsibility and duty are to remain firm in their path of God and, through their regular teaching and example, keep others on the right path.

For the last few decades, unrestrained sexuality of some priests, Brothers, and Sisters has been giving scandals in the universal Catholic Church. Not only that, a good number of underage boys and girls, as well as adult males and females, became sexual prey to their machinations. In the past, religious leaders tried to cover up these sins and crimes, but with the spread of modern media and technology today, these come to the open faster and the cover-up became almost impossible.

Under the circumstances, it became imperative that for proper formation, seminarians and candidates for Brotherhood and Sisterhood be imparted formal and appropriate training on sexuality, sexual sins, and sexual crimes.

Pope Francis, by taking some measures, is trying hard to take the Catholic Church forward. He has been placing special importance on the teachings of the Gospel and the ideal of Christ. Every Catholic needs to cooperate with this attempt of his. We are hopeful that the sexuality of the priests and Religious return to its ideal and, at the same time, the glory of God and the Church increase manifold. 

(This is the English version of the Bengali-language write-up of Jerome D'Costa, published in the Pratibeshi weekly of Dhaka, Bangladesh. You may read it here

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