Bishops reaffirm celibate priesthood

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Philip Wilson has published a letter noting that, while celibacy is not essential to the priesthood, it has a value "not just as a personal choice" but as a "clear sign of the Kingdom of God".

Celibate priests and religious are clear signs, through their self-denial, of the fullness of life that is in God and that lies beyond man's efforts, Archbishop Wilson's letter said, according to a Catholic Online report.

"Celibacy has the positive value of being a clear sign of the kingdom of God," he said. "Whilst the kingdom of God is amongst us and includes our human endeavors, we know that its fulfillment lies beyond us and only in the mystery of God and in the next life," Archbishop Wilson said.

Celibate clergy and nuns, he stressed, "are clear signs of this mystery. They can continually challenge us to look beyond."

Catholics must see vocation in terms greater than "just an individual or personal life choice", the archbishop stressed. "If we only see a vocation from the individual's point of view, we will find it hard to see beyond the thought that priests and religious are missing out on something if they are not married."

He said that celibacy should not divorce the priest or religious from the concerns and lives of those who are married, but rather must be embraced by laity and the entire Catholic community.

"Each vocation is a call from God in the context of the Christian community and for the service of the community," he said. "The context of a loving, supportive Christian community is important."

He took issue with the belief that priests, by virtue of being celibate, cannot be helpful to married couples and families as they are not experiencing that lifestyle.

"There's a deeper way that priests and religious share in the human experiences of others and so can relate to them. It is in the experience of loss and letting go," Archbishop Wilson said.

"In remaining unmarried," he stressed, "the celibate learns how to love freely, directly open to the mystery of God's love."

The celibate priest can communicate from experience that a couple should not expect "that they will perfectly fulfill each other", he said. "He knows that, as wonderful as marriage is, there will always be a longing and a hunger in the human heart that only God can satisfy and that will only be fulfilled in the next life."

Celibate priests and nuns take the values of the kingdom and incarnate them in their lives, the archbishop said.

"More than ever in modern life when we are constantly tempted to think that life is what we make of it and that we can fulfill all our own hopes and dreams as long as we don't give up, we need witnesses of a greater and lasting truth," he said.

"When we are tempted to think that all our immediate desires and longings ought to be fulfilled here and now, we need the witness of the celibate who has been graced to direct those deepest human longings towards God," he said.

There is "deep wisdom" in the church asking priests and religious to be celibate and "in upholding the enduring religious vow of chastity", he said.

Celibacy clear sign of fullness of life that lies beyond efforts of mankind, archbishop says (Catholic Online, 15/8/07)
A reflection on the positive value of priestly celibacy by ACBC President, Archbishop Philip Wilson (ACBC, Media Release, 14/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
An appeal to the Australian Catholic Bishops to ordain priests for our paris (PetionOnline)
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Oz Vocations

Petitioners seek married priests (CathNews, 3/8/07)

16 Aug 2007