The Celibacy Thing

Those in ministry bear a significant trust and responsibility, and when that trust is broken, many suffer. So it is that the recent revelations of misconduct regarding members of the Catholic priesthood cause much consternation. Indeed, the charge of pedophilia is a serious one, and those who are guilty ought to be prosecuted so that justice might be done quickly and equitably. As with our war on terrorism, wherein we seek to punish not only terrorists but those who harbor such and expedite their activities, let us hope that all offenders face punishment, as well as those in positions of authority who might have turned a blind eye to such misconduct.

This being said, I find it interesting (though predictable) that opponents of the church’s position on celibacy in the priesthood have used these revelations as an opportunity to step up their calls for the church to abolish the practice. Celibacy is certainly not the issue here, but there will always be those who shamelessly exploit tragedy to further their own interests. We see this every time there is a shooting of innocent people in America; as predictable as the rising of the sun are the well-meaning but misguided calls for more gun control. Now, with the rash of cases of clergy misconduct, the choruses are being raised again for the Catholic Church to overturn its ban on marriage in the priesthood. It is my sincere hope that the Roman Catholic Church proceeds with extreme caution in entertaining these calls for abandoning this practice.

I say this as one who stands in disagreement with the practice itself, and truthfully, with the Roman Catholic Church on even more substantive matters as well. Frankly, I see no warrant in the Bible for denying priests the right to marry; to the contrary, I see just the opposite being taught. But here is the rub: it seems to me as though many opponents of the church’s teaching seem to think that truth is to be determined by majority vote. In other words, if a high percentage of people belonging to a particular faith group disagree with that group’s teaching upon the subject, then those in authority ought to reinterpret their teaching in order to fit with the prevailing opinion of the day. At least so goes the reasoning. But this cannot be the role of any religious group which would expect to retain credibility.

Sadly, while we see just this sort of thing operating in mainline Protestant churches with some regularity, we recently saw it take place in a conservative setting. I personally take issue with Bob Jones University on a number of points, though in the broad spectrum of things they tend to be of a more minor nature than my disagreements with Roman Catholicism. The University came under fire for its policy prohibiting inter-racial dating, a policy for which I find no more Scriptural warrant, by the way, than the Catholic policy at issue. But in a shameful move, Dr. Bob Jones III publicly announced the abandonment of the policy, in the face of public pressure, during a TV appearance with Larry King. Dr. Jones might have done the right thing, but it is obvious that he did so for all the wrong reasons. There was no indication that those in power at Bob Jones U had arrived at this change through a search of the Bible and, having found warrant there, reversed themselves. To the contrary, it was public pressure that precipitated the change.

In so doing, the University acquiesced to the spirit of the age, which suggests that there is not even a category which we can label “truth” anymore, at least not in any absolute sense. Therefore, the reasoning goes, “religion” is fine as long as it seeks to foster warm and fuzzy things. It is wrong at all costs, though, to claim that one’s particular faith is the correct faith, much less to claim that what one believes is really true, except maybe in the sense that “this is ‘true’ for me”. Again, the actual rule in question was a silly one without justification from the Bible, but to change it solely to satisfy the howling mobs with little reference to the Bible was simply wrong.

Whither, then, the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on celibacy? I will welcome the Catholic Church changing its position if the changes be precipitated by a careful examination of the Scripture. It would be tragic, though, for the church to change its position on the basis of pressure from those who see the church as more beholden to their special interest of the day than to an understanding of truth.

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