By Mathias Mazinga
Pope Francis was recently reported by the western media to have promised “solutions” to clerical celibacy.
The pontiff’s remarks, reportedly from his interview with Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, have intensified the long-standing debate on the contemporary relevance of the celibate state of Catholic priests.
Although the Vatican spokesperson has disowned the alleged papal remarks, debate on the possibility of the Vatican abolishing celibacy for her priests has remained hot.
So, is celibacy still a necessary clerical requirement?
Will the closure of celibacy increase the number of Catholic priests and also, make them better servants?
The Rt Rev Msgr Gerald Kalumba of Kampala’s Christ the King Church has dismissed the concerns of those who advocate the abolition of celibacy as “empty and unfounded.”
He explains that humanity and imperfectness are two things that cannot be separated, which is why isolated irregularities cannot be the basis to abolish people’s cherished traditions.
“It is true that some of the Catholic priests have failed to live out their celibacy. But this does not mean that the tradition of celibacy, which has stood for over 1,000 years, must be dismissed.
“By the way, even other institutions have their problems. For example, many marriages are breaking up. But this does not mean that we abolish the institution of marriage! Marital problems do not make the institution of marriage evil!”
Pope Francis has been reported to have promised “solutions” to clerical celibacy
Kalumba says the Roman Catholic Church embraced celibacy, because of the convenience it offers the ordained ministers to serve God with utmost dedication.
“As a celibate priest, I have enough time to do the work of the Church. If I were married, I would inevitably concentrate more on the affairs of my family.”
He further calls celibacy a crucial discipline, which the Catholic Church cannot afford to abolish.
“Today celibacy has become even more relevant than ever, owing to the challenges of affluence, permissiveness, individualism and poverty. Celibacy is what helps us to dedicate our lives to the sole service of God and his Church.
“Celibacy is a sacrifice, which can be compared to the Islamic tradition of fasting. When our brethren the Moslems fast, it does not mean that they don’t want to eat. Likewise, even the Catholic priests would enjoy to marry beautiful wives and have beautiful children. But they make this sacrifice for the service of God.”
According to Kalumba, it is celibacy that enhanced his sacerdotal commitment, which is why he would remain unmarried, even if celibacy were abolished.
“You would have to change many things if you abolished celibacy. Even the architecture of our presbyteries would have to be changed because it was designed to accommodate celibate Church ministers.”
Rt Rev Msgr Gerald Kalumba calls celibacy a crucial discipline, which the Catholic Church should not abolish. PHOTO/Juliet Lukwago
'Not from a vacuum'
Anthony Mateega, the youthful head of the laity of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Kampala shares his views on the issue.
“The benefits of Catholic clerical celibacy highly supersede its associated shortcomings. It is unfortunate that our society now thinks in terms of sex, which is why the isolated sexual scandals in the Catholic Church are always blown beyond proportion.
He says celibacy did not emanate from a vacuum.
“It has biblical and traditional foundations. Jesus, in Matthew 19: 12, talks about the celibate state. It is celibacy that enhances the unwavering service of priests and their availability to the Christians. But since it is practiced by human beings, who have natural weaknesses, celibacy has to be upheld with prayer, social and moral support.
“Our people must know that Catholic priests are not forced to be celibate. They take the challenge willingly as a requirement of their priesthood. The fact that some of them have failed to live up to the celibate requirements doesn’t bedevil this wonderful discipline.”
Mateega says he does not agree with critics who blame paedophilia in Europe and the US on celibacy.
“If you say that celibacy is the cause of child-abuse, then how do you justify the local cases of child-abuse among the evangelical Church ministers? How do you justify the many cases of marital unfaithfulness?
“These are just sophisticated problems that have come into our society, which all faith groups must work harder to eliminate.”
He adds that those who argue that celibacy has reduced the number of vocations should also think twice, being mindful of the fact that the world is experiencing a powerful wave of secularism.