Is Priestly Celibacy Psychologically Dangerous?

Interview With Psychiatrist and Professor

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By Carmen Elena Villa


 
ROME, MARCH 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Priestly celibacy is not psychologically dangerous, and in fact, sexual behavior based on "anything goes" is what is truly destructive to the personality.

This is the affirmation made by Dr. Aquilino Polaino Lorente, a physician and psychiatrist who teaches courses on psychopathology at the University of St. Paul in Madrid.

The psychiatrist -- best known for his work in children's and family psychology -- was a speaker at the two-day conference held last week at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

The conference, "Priestly Celibacy: Theology and Life," was sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy as an event for the Year for Priests.

ZENIT spoke with Polaino about his view that a correct understanding of sexuality leads to a correct understanding of celibacy for the Kingdom of God.

ZENIT: Is priestly celibacy psychologically dangerous?
 
Polaino: It's not dangerous at all because perhaps it blends very well with what is the realistic anthropological structure of the human condition. Celibacy has its difficulties of course given that human nature is somewhat deteriorated and fallen and all the dimensions must be integrated.

It seems to me that open sexual behavior is more dangerous, not normative in that anything goes; I believe that has consequences that are more destructive of the personality than celibacy well lived in its fullness, without ruptures or breaks.
 
ZENIT: What does a priest need in order to be faithful to his vow of celibacy all the days of his life?
 
Polaino: The tradition of the Church has a multitude of counsels that can be put into practice and that are effective, for example, protecting one's heart and sight. What is not seen is not felt. Not that one must be looking at the ground; one can see without looking. This ensures the cleanliness of the heart and also the living of the first commandment which is to love God above all things. Flies do not enter a pressure cooker. A satisfied heart does not entertain stinginess or fragmentation.
 
ZENIT: Do you think that the hedonist culture of this new century, so widespread in the media, influences the fact that some priests are not faithful to their vow of celibacy?
 
Polaino: It's possible, because priests also have the frailty of the human condition. I think we must focus more on the huge number of priests faithful to their vocation. The exceptional also happens in priestly life but it is exceptional. Although periodically it might be very appropriate to address the exception, we cannot be blind to the immense majority of priests who are loyal, who live their vocation to the fullest, who are happy, to whom the world owes happiness. This must be emphasized.
 
ZENIT: Can a correct view of sexuality give a correct view of the celibate life?
 
Polaino: Yes. I believe sexuality today is a very confused function, it is a faculty about which there are more errors than points of agreement with what human nature is. And perhaps it is a program to teach and impart in all ages because as it is one of the fundamental pivots of human life, if it is not well looked after, if people are not well formed, what they will experience is the reigning confusion. This affects seminarians as well as young people and engaged couples about to be married. Today that education is an education for life. It is a subject that at times is badly taught because errors are taught and that means to confuse even more, instead of explaining the subject with a scientific rigor that is founded on human nature.
 
ZENIT: What does it mean that a priest is called to be a spiritual father?
 
Polaino: I believe that is one of the topics that has been least reflected upon. Spiritual paternity must also be lived by biological parents and many of them have never heard anything about this. Spiritual paternity is, in a certain way, to live all the works of mercy, to console the sad, to ransom the captive, to be hospitable, to affirm the other in his worth, to avoid creating problems for him and to encourage and motivate him so that he will grow personally, to stimulate the appearance of values that he already has because they came to him with his nature but perhaps he has been unable to identify them or make them grow. I think this world is an orphan of that spiritual paternity and maternity, and I think it is a dimension that the priest already lives without realizing it.
 
ZENIT: Can the celibate life make this spiritual paternity more fruitful?
 
Polaino: Necessarily yes because there is more time and more availability. If the final objective is union with God, spiritual paternity takes on greater meaning because it is the best image of the divine paternity in the contemporary world; hence [the celibate person] is like a mediator and to the degree that he lives the divine filiation, he will also lives spiritual paternity very well.
 
[Translation by ZENIT]