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Priestly celibacy is not just ‘part of the package’

By Susan Gately - 08 October, 2015

Bishop Brendan Leahy

Bishop Brendan Leahy

Priestly celibacy should not be regarded merely as part of a package deal in priesthood as it has deep roots, the Bishop of Limerick has said.

If the Church was purely imposing celibacy on men to be pragmatic, that would be wrong, said Bishop Brendan Leahy, former Professor of Systematic Theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth.

“You have to go back to the deeper roots,” he suggested.

Unfortunately sometimes men had gone along with celibacy because they saw it as part of a package.

“It isn’t as if someone wants to become a priest and therefore has to put up with celibacy. It should be the other way around – you wants to follow Jesus and you see the gift of celibacy is a way of living being offered to you by God for you to live as a priest.”

The Bishop of Limerick has said that it is not specifically necessary for the vocation to priesthood and celibacy to be conjoined but that in the Latin Rite (most of the Roman Catholic Church), this has been the case for a very long time and for good reasons.

“The main reason is that at a certain point reflecting on the life of the Gospel and on what priesthood is, people saw there is a logical link between priesthood and celibacy. For instance, at Mass the priest says words such as ‘This is my body given up for you’.”

“People came to understand that it was good that men who felt they had a gift to be able to live a celibate lifestyle like that of Jesus, should be the ones who would be priests,” Bishop Brendan Leahy told the CatholicIreland.net.

In other rites of the Catholic Church like the Greek Catholic and Coptic Catholic Church, the vocations to priesthood and celibacy are not joined and men can marry before ordination though bishops must always be celibate.

Bishop Leahy explained that while compulsory celibacy came into the Catholic Church as a universal norm in the 12th century, from the times of the apostles there were people who lived their lives as celibates.

“We know that right from the 3rd and 4th centuries we have local areas, like a synod in Spain, which are legislating for celibacy for priests,” he said.

Bishop Leahy said generally he was happy to live as a celibate, but he did not live his life “as a bachelor on my own”.

“Celibacy reminds you all the time of what is the focus of your life – to be a follower of Jesus and the kingdom of God, and concretely to love people.”

“In general I’ve been happy with the lifestyle I’ve lived,” he said, “also through my discovery that I can’t live this on my own. I’ve to live with other people.”

Celibacy did not cut him off from women but like a married man who has taken on a life commitment he too had to be faithful to his and in relationships with women be pure in his love.

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