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Is celibacy still necessary for Catholic priests?

By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Celibacy, according to Catholic Encyclopedia, is a practice of perfect continence by priests and bishops meant to foster single minded devotion to God and service in the Ministry of Christ. This has been the longstanding discipline in the Catholic Church and that in essence forbids marriage by priests and bishops and excludes married men from ordination.

Arguably, the law of celibacy is a late-comer in the Catholic Church and was imposed on priests and bishops. Modern scholars trace the beginnings of this tradition to the apostolic church itself.


The Council of Carthage in 390 AD said that it was fitting that those who were at the service of divine sacraments be perfectly continent so that what the Apostles taught and antiquity be maintained. The Catholic Church saw the doctrine  as the imitation of the celibate Christ who remained unmarried for the sake of the kingdom.

However, it is known from Biblical records that Christ called people like Peter from married life to be part of the Twelve Apostles. Several Verses in the Bible talk about Peter’s mother-in-law. Apostle John was an unmarried man. Apostle Paul, not originally of the Twelve, presented celibacy and virginity as the way to please God without divided interests.

Paul said to the Corinthian Church, “It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-2,9). Nowhere in the Old or New Testament does Scripture suggest that people should marry the Temple or the Church. The vow of celibacy  therefore seems to have no concrete basis within the scripture.

It must also be pointed out that there is no obligation on anyone to become a priest, even after successfully completing all the required studies. It is the calling from God through his Church and communicated to the candidate by his Bishop. But once, one has chosen to become a priest of the Catholic church, he is to abide by the laws, rules and regulations of the church as is done in social clubs or organisations.

Celibacy is one of the most distinct features of the Catholic tradition but over the years, this discipline is being flaunted by priests and severally, scandals have broken out in the church about the inability of priests to keep to this tradition. Instead of the doctrine of priests being wed to the church and loving the church with an exclusive love which cannot be shared, priests are now either reverting to homosexualism and secret or open affairs with the opposite sex.

In a sex-drenched society of today, the idea of a full-blooded man taking a life-long oath of celibacy appears preposterous. It is believed that abstinence is impossible and pledging abstinence is ridiculous.

Whenever crisis erupts over any form of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, it is perceived as the betrayal of the faithful. Catholic priests are assumed by many to be miserable in their celibacy. But that might not be true. Priests are known to love their vocation and given a second chance, majority of priests would still want to become priests.

Over the years, the press has been agog with sexual malpractices by priests of the Catholic Church. It is always big news when a Catholic priest is caught in a compromising situation with the other sex! This is common overseas but suppressed in Nigeria even though some priests in Nigeria are breaking the celibacy vow too!

In September 2008, a Catholic priest in Fresno, California, Reverend Father Farrow, told a local TV station that he is gay. He told his parishioners at Mass that he was opposing a Catholic-church-supported referendum that would overturn same sex marriage in that state.

He packed up his office and home and left. On that Sunday, Father Farrow reportedly told parishioners that he was taking a stand against the constitutional amendment seeking to overturn a State Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that allowed same-sex marriage. He also told Channel 30 that he is gay.

In February this year, a Miami Priest at St. Francis de Sales known as Father Alberto Cutie left the Catholic Church amid an uproar over tabloid photos of him kissing his girlfriend, Ms Carnellis on the beach. Cutie, a handsome charismatic TV talk show host, radio personality, newspaper columnist and author, said he had been struggling with celibacy for years. Soon after that, he made that relationship official and married the woman he was involved with for about two years.

Reverend Father Alberto Cutie did not  give up his priestly role before he had an illicit adulterous relationship with a woman. From the Catholic perspective, he has transgressed his vow of celibacy.

The situation was even

worsened that the relationship was with a divorced woman, Ms Carnellis . The Catholic Church has a hard  stance against divorce. It was adultery because she is divorced (Matthew 5:31-32). He broke the celibacy vow made before God.

He later left the faith and  joined the Episcopal Church. Cutie said in an interview later that Catholic priests should be given the choice to marry.

In Kenya, Catholics have been urged to shun rebel priests who have left the priesthood to marry or join new churches.
In New York in May of 2001, Archbishop Malingo from Zambia  at the age of 71, married Maria Sung, a 43-year-old Korean acupuncturist  in a group marriage ceremony. This marriage was arranged by Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church (a sect that critics refer  to as the “Moonies”)

Pope John Paul II was able to convince Archbishop Malingo to leave Maria Sung, and he was reconciled to the Church, but Malingo has recently gone back to Maria Sung. Malingo’s arguement was that St. Peter was a married man, so also many of the apostles.

It is estimated that about 50,000 priests have abandoned priesthood to get married. A new association called Married Priests Now are calling for the Catholic Church to reconcile with priests who are now married.But the Church would not condone it. In 2006, Archbishop Malingo and the four married priests he ordained were excommunicated by the Catholic Church which nullified their consecration.

The Pope and Cardinal Okogie
The Pope and Cardinal Okogie

As recently as March, the outgoing Archbishop of New York said in a radio interview that the celibacy requirement has to be looked into, given the dwindling number of priests. “I think that it’s going to be discussed”, Cardinal Edward M. Egan said.

To buttress the above, research showed that the United States had 57,000 priests for 52 million Catholics in 1985 and by 2008, there were fewer than 41,000 for 64 million Catholics.

In Nigeria, the story is not different. During the Third Republic, one of the factors used against a Catholic priest who later became a governor of one of the 36 states was the allegation that he had children outside priesthood. During his political days as governor and even afterwards, he was known to be decked in traditional attires and not priesthood robe but that did not suggest he was  suspended or excommunicated.

A few years ago, a Nigerian priest in the US was allegedly excommunicated because of his sexual escapades.
Not long ago, in Akure, Ondo State, when an allegation came up against a Catholic Bishop and he was investigated, it was discovered that he had a woman who had for him,  four children at Ibadan,  and the church sent him packing.

A Roman Catholic priest who was a lectuter  at one of the higher institutions in the South East  in the early 1970s ( names with-held)  left priesthood and got married. Stories abound of priests who ran away from their stations with or without women and never returned.

An ex- Seminarian told Saturday Vanguard that  he started his priesthood ambition with total commitment but when he saw the lust for flesh in the priesthood, he left. According to him, they were 72 student priests who entered a popular seminary in the South- East in the ‘70s but only eight of them were ordained priests.

“Some of us left on their own and the rest were sacked. And it is better to be sacked than to leave on your own because you will be severely dealt with. I left on my own and as punishment, the result of my London GCE was not given to me.

I had to wait for four years to get that and by that time, I had to sit for another GCE with which result I went to the University.

“Seminary life is so rigid. The discipline  is hard and there, you truly learn not only the fear of God but the fear of man.

My experience when I opted to leave was even better. There was a case of a Seminarian who was ahead of me in the Seminary. He was already ordained a deacon which precedes his  final ordination.

On the D day, the deacon  invited all his relations both at home and abroad for the sacred vow to serve God but his name was never called. He never got that opportunity to say “ I am present. I am ready and willing”. He was humiliated and nobody told him anything either before or afterwards.

He didn’t know the offence

he committed. He went back to the seminary for an extra year and the next year, the same thing happened. He was ignored during the ordination. It was after the second humiliation that he decided to ask what was going on and he was told a woman wrote a petition against him that he  promised to marry her.

The deacon  demanded to know the name of the woman but nobody gave  him any name. The obvious thing was that he was no longer wanted.

“There is so much corruption, so much womanising going on in  priesthood . Celibacy is a farce. We are all flesh and blood. I know many are willing to serve God with all it takes. But the flesh is weak. I know so because I was there. But many priets are sleeping around and  don’t even take it as anything. They sleep with  women in the church  and others.

The case of Reverend Sisters are even better because they renew their vow every year and are given the option to quit before the seventh and final vow because after the seventh vow, there is no going back. Many Reverend Sisters left before this time and got married. So, I left the Seminary because of what I saw. But these issues are under reported in Nigeria.

If I had stayed, I would not have been different.  I told myself the truth and I left. I am a married man now and if you ask me, I am a better Christian because I have no guilt. This celibacy thing is just like the issue of infallibility which is another controversy in the church. How can a human being with flesh and blood be infallible?”

An ex- Catholic faithful from  Delta State who left the faith for a Pentecostal church said she lived next to a  parish house  and saw the wroth with her eyes. “When I saw  how priests were violating the celibacy vow, I could not take Holy Communion again. Priests would commit adultery and then administer Mass and Holy Communion the next morning.

“I remember the bishop  in  the  nearby town where I lived who got to hear what was going on. He called me and counselled me not to look unto man but  unto God. But that did not convince me. I could not bring myself to say confession to these priests or take Communion administered by them.

I am not condemning them or anything but you know they were supposed to be role models and it hurts when you hear stories about them breaking the vow. Eventually, I left.  I am now of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles.

In 2002, two female students of Enugu State University of Technology, ESUT, were engaged in a fierce show-down. One was alleging that the other stole her boyfriend and the boyfriend in question turned out to be a Catholic priest !

In  a local government area of Anambra State, a story was told of a Monsignor (now late) in a popular parish who allegedly brought in little boys to live with him in the parish house.

These boys also were Mass-servers but the people got to know that two of them were his children. He was later transferred.

The scandals are endless but whether substantiated or not, they should offer an opportunity  for the church at  all levels to examine their conscience regarding the integrity of their commitment to the Lord and his church and perhaps make celibacy a choice, not a rule as some Catholics suggest.

Priests should marry if … Nigerian Catholics say

It’s not an easy opinion to express but as a thorough-bred Catholic, I know priests are not keeping the celibacy oath. We hear all kinds of stories in our parishes but there is nothing to do. You know what they depict in some of these home-videos are real. They say a lot of things but the church  does not  take any cue from that.
— Mrs. Sylvia Ebere

I was a teacher in Delta State. I was a staunch Catholic and I lived next to the parish.  I was married but my husband was living overseas then. Priests kept making passes at me and said I should consider it a blessing that  annointed men of God wanted to sleep with me.

I used to be invited to the parish house to cook but I was vehement in my refusal to fall to temptation. All kinds of women were spending nights in the parish house and the priests would still conduct Mass the next morning and serve communion.

One of them later died in an accident. That was many years ago. I remember I did not take Communion for four months and did not attend confession. A brother in the church later went  to report to the bishop. I was called and asked questions and the bishop counselled me. But that did not solve the problem. I had to leave the faith and become a Pentecostal.— Mrs. Celestina Chika

It’s not easy to keep the celibacy oath but I know it is impossible for the Catholic Church to approve marriage for priests. It did not start today. Attempts were made in the past but it did not work. That is the main discipline for priests which the Catholic Church is known for and anybody who wants to become a priest knows that too.

But I would still suggest that instead of breaking the oath and bringing bad name to the church, celibacy should be a choice. In the absence of this, anybody who cannot control himself should not take the vow.
— Rev. Anthony

I don’t know really. I had this strong urge to become a priest and I went into the Seminary. Some people who start  the race don’t complete it.  A lot of Seminarians are into women. But it has nothing to do with my leaving the Seminary. I lost interest in becoming a priest and I left.

If God truly called me, I would go back. But right now, I am an undergraduate in a secular University and that is all I know. I don’t subscribe to marriage for priests. If you cannot keep the vow, don’t take it. That is my position.
— Kingsley Matthew.

Two years ago, I lived in a compound in Ibadan and I know this particular priest was visiting a single lady living in the compound. Initially, I thought they were related but one night, I saw them in  a compromising situation and I began to ask questions.

The people in the compound began to allege all kinds of things but there was no proof. Apart from the way I saw the priest holding the lady one night, I cannot substantiate my allegation. Although the neighbours said there was something, I cannot say for sure except that the priest kept coming.

I was worried then because of my Catholic faith. But I later moved out of the compound and have not visited the place ever since. Celibacy is not easy. I am a man and I know so. Marriage for priests is a serious thing and as a Catholic who is used to seeing priests the way they are, I won’t like to say my confession to a married priest.

And in this carnal society where sex is being hawked as pure water, you don’t blame them. The society is too sex-conscious and one might just get tempted.
— Sunday Aloysius

Celibacy of Catholic priests is not a Biblical injunction. The only thing the Bible said is that those in the service of God, and the Bible specifically said Bishops  should be husbands of one wife. It is the Catholic Church which I belong to that took that decision and is paying the price because each time a priest breaks the vow of celibacy, the name of the Church is being rubbished.

But you must understand that priests have genuine intention to serve God and man but like Apostle Paul said, it is better to marry rather than give into passion of the flesh. You can be married and still serve God and humanity.
— Florence Gabriel


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.