Huston Smith, a renowned commentator on world religions, submits that you should not judge a religion by its worst expressions, but by its best: its saints. That’s also true in terms of judging the merits of vowed, consecrated celibacy. It should be judged by its best examples, as is true too for the institution of marriage.
I write this apologia because today consecrated celibacy is under siege from critics in almost every circle. Celibacy is no longer understood or deemed realistic by a culture which basically refuses to accept any restrictions in the area of sexuality and, in effect, sees all celibacy, lived for whatever reason, as frigidity, naïvety or a misfortune of circumstance. Our culture constitutes a virtual conspiracy against celibacy.
More critical still is how consecrated celibacy is being judged in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandal. More and more, there’s a popular conception, both within society and Church circles, that sexual abuse in general and paedophilia in particular is more prevalent among priests and Religious than in the population at large, and that there’s something inherent in consecrated celibacy itself that makes priests and vowed Religious more prone to sexual misconduct and emotional ill health.
How true is this? Are celibates more prone to sexual misconduct than their
non-celibate contemporaries? Are celibates more likely to be less healthy and happy in general than those who are married or who are sexually active outside marriage?
This must be adjudicated, I believe, by looking at the deepest intentions of sex itself and, from there, assessing where both married people and celibates for the most part tend to end up. What’s the ultimate intention of sex? What is this powerful archetypal energy meant to do in us?
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