Debating the celibacy vow

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The Issue of Celibacy and inappropriateness involving respected members of the Catholic Church has stirred controversy over the past couple of weeks in the country.

I have been mulling over whether celibacy is still the noblest and purest glories of the Roman Catholic Church. Sadly though, the facts paint an entirely different picture as they portray that the opposite has been the case from its inception up to the present century.

Well, I did a little bit of research on celibacy in the church and lo and behold, Kenya is not the only country where it has generated a lot of heat.

One of the earliest bad fruits of clerical celibacy was ‘spiritual marriages.’ Priests and nuns who had taken the vows of celibacy professed to be ‘spiritually married’ and so lived in the same house and even shared the same bed.

This practice became so widespread that council after council; Ancyra, Nicea and Anjou, of the fourth and fifth centuries denounced it in the strongest of terms.

Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate, who lived during this time, complained that “holy orders were assumed by some on account of the superior opportunities that clericature gave for improper intercourse with women.”

In the sixth century Bishop Salvianus deplored the fact that in the African Church the most diligent search can scarcely find one chaste among so many thousands. In the eighth century Carloman “the Pius,” son of and successor to Charlemagne, enlisted St. Boniface to reform the clergy. Boniface bemoaned the fact that adulterers were more numerous among the clergy than those who obeyed the rules of the church.

By the eleventh century legitimate marriages and concubinage, open or secret, were almost universal. Nor were the priests content with but one concubine. In the twelfth century there is record of one abbot having been deposed for having seventy concubines.

During the next few centuries cardinals, papal legates and penitentiaries bitterly complained about all ranks of clergy officiating at the nuptials of their own children, legitimate and illegitimate and about the scandal of priests openly kept concubines.

However, down to the 20th century the fruits of clerical celibacy left much to be desired in Latin-American lands and particularly in the Philippine Islands, where according to one historian, “the vow of chastity was never much more than a myth.”

Even in the second half of the twentieth century, press reports on a crime committed by a priest that he probably would not have been guilty of had he not been tied to a vow of celibacy have not diminished.

This brings me back to our beloved country Kenya where many are of the opinion that a priest should lead a celibate life no matter what. They even point out the fact that a priest has to undergo eight years of discernment to think about celibacy and if he knows he cannot survive, then he can opt out.

One thing to note is that as humans, we are all imperfect and try what may due to our condition and also the fact that our circumstances differ, we all make mistakes and that no amount of time can reduce the shortcomings of even the most pious of all men.

As to the issue of celibacy, given its history and the kinds of divisions that it has and is still causing in the Church, I am of the opinion that it should be scrapped all together. Indeed if we had priests who were allowed to marry, then the society will be a better place.

Think of the view that most people have of their priests. They had their total confidence and even the priests who have been involved in misconduct were initially people whom the society trusted completely and even to think that they might be involved in inappropriateness was a sin requiring divine intervention.

I think that if celibacy was done away with and priests given a chance to marry which by the way was an arrangement whose origin was divine, then there would be no clamour between their flesh and their holy calling. They would serve the society whole heartedly and if time were allowed to pass, they would regain people’s confidence again. 

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