Married Priests Will Always Be an Exception

Interview With Theologian on the Foundations of Celibacy

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By Carmen Elena Villa


 
ROME, MARCH 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Married priests are an exception and the Church is increasingly convinced that they must remain so, according to a spiritual theology professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Father Laurent Touze explained the foundations of priestly celibacy when he spoke at a 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 Father Touze about the exceptions to priestly celibacy and the future of celibacy for the Church.
 
ZENIT: Is celibacy a dogma of faith or a discipline?
 
Father Touze: Neither one nor the other. It isn't a dogma of faith because we see married priests in the Church today such as, for example, some [priests] of the Eastern Catholic Church. Not all but some admit married priests. Or as has been reminded recently in the Holy Father's motu propio "Anglicanorum coetibus," published last Nov. 4: Among the ex-Anglicans who want to return to communion with the Catholic Church, there will be married priests admitted.

ZENIT: With this measure, do you think that one day, celibacy might become voluntary also for priests of the Latin rite?
 
Father Touze: No, because the Church is understanding more and more the relation between priesthood, episcopate and celibacy. It is something that could be likened to the revelation of a dogma, though it isn't so at this time; one tends increasingly to understand that a practice must be promoted among all priests and also among Eastern Catholic priests which is truly similar to the one lived in the first centuries.
 
ZENIT: But in the first centuries there were many married priests, including the Apostles?
 
Father Touze: Studies have convincingly shown that this must be questioned: Celibacy of all clerics wasn't lived, but from the moment of inclusion in the priestly order these men had to live continence with the permission of their wives, because this was a commitment of the couple.
 
ZENIT: Why, then, are exceptions made?
 
Father Touze: Historically because there has been a manipulation of texts and I believe a bad translation that the Eastern Church, which has separated from Rome and has recognized that what they had declared contrary to tradition, could be accepted. In this connection there truly are some exceptions. The Church discovered that she had the possibility of admitting exceptions but that these should be understood as such. Respectably, as the Second Vatican Council stressed, there are very holy married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches who have contributed much to the history of the Church and to the faith in times of persecution, but they are truly exceptions and must be understood as such.
 
ZENIT: However, these exceptions are not made with bishops. Does episcopal celibacy have a special meaning?
 
Father Touze: Undoubtedly. It is very different, both theologically as well as historically. What's more, with the constitution "Lumen Gentium," Vatican II defined that the episcopate is the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is necessary to discover the specificity of the episcopate and, hence, episcopal celibacy. And it can be demonstrated with the fact that for the celibacy or continence of a bishop an exception has never been made.
 
This is something studied by the Church on which the Roman pontificate has had to reflect more recently in contemporary history on two occasions: after the French Revolution, where some bishops, or better, former bishops, asked to marry.
 
This has been studied and it has been said that it is impossible, that this had never been done, that at stake was the dogmatic issue. Or still recently with the ordination of married men and married bishops that were effected in former Czechoslovakia by imposition or with the pressure of the Communist Party in power. There also the Church affirmed on the fact that the bishop must always be celibate or if he had married before his ordination because he would have to live continence from the moment of his episcopal ordination.
 
[Translation by ZENIT]