John Paul II and Pastores Dabo Vobis
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza

Priestly celibacy in Papal teachings

At the beginning of this year [2011] a colloquium was held in Ars, France, on the theme: "Priestly Celibacy: Foundations, Joys and Challenges". The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, gave a series of talks on the teachings of the Popes from Pius XI to Benedict XVI. The following is a lecture the Cardinal gave on John Paul II.

From the beginning of his Pontificate John Paul II paid great attention to the theme of clerical celibacy, stressing its perennial validity and placing in evidence its vital bond with the Eucharistic Mystery. On 9 November 1978, a few weeks after his election to the Papal throne, in his first allocution to the clergy of Rome, he said: "The Second Vatican Council recalled to us this splendid truth regarding the 'universal priesthood' of the whole People of God, which is derived from participation in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Our 'ministerial' priesthood, rooted in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, differs essentially from the universal priesthood of the faithful.... Therefore our priesthood must be clear and expressive... closely linked with celibacy... due precisely to the clarity and 'evangelical' expressiveness referred to in Our Lord's words on celibacy 'for the kingdom of heaven' (cf. Mt 19:12)" (n. 3).

Certainly one outstanding point, among all the themes regarding the priesthood and priestly formation, was the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, (25 March 1992), in which the gift of celibacy is received as a bond between Jesus and the priesthood and, for the first time, the psychological importance of such a bond is also mentioned, but not in a way separate from the ontological importance. In fact we read in n. 72: "In this bond between the Lord Jesus and the priest, an ontological and psychological bond, a sacramental and moral bond, is the foundation and likewise the power for that 'life according to the Spirit' and that 'radicalism of the Gospel' to which every priest is called today and which is fostered by ongoing formation in its spiritual aspect' .

Therefore, life according to the Spirit and evangelical radicalism represent the two essential guidelines along which the well documented and motivated permanent validity of priestly celibacy run. The fact that John Paul II immediately underlines its validity, proposes the ontological-sacramental reading of it, even to welcoming the right psychological implications that the charism of celibacy has in forming of a mature Christian and priestly personality, to encouraging and justifying the reading of such an irreplaceable ecclesial treasure within the teaching of the great and uninterrupted continuity and most audacious prophecy.

We could in fact say that placing holy celibacy in question or relativising it constitutes an attitude which goes against the breath of the Holy Spirit while, on the contrary, its full appreciation, its adequate welcome, its brilliant and insuperable witness constitute an opening to prophecy. True prophecy, even in the Church of today, even despite the recent dramatic events which have horribly stained its pure raiment, bears witness in an ever more evident fashion, especially in the face of our hypereroticised society in which the banalization of sexuality and the body reign supreme.

Celibate chastity cries out to the world that God exists, that he is Love and that it is possible, in every epoch, to live totally from Him and for Him. And it is entirely natural that the Church choose her priests from amongst those who have welcomed and matured, at a high and therefore prophetic level this pro-existence: existence for Another, for Christ.

The Magisterium of John Paul II, so attentive to the value of the family and of the role of women in society and in the Church, was not afraid to underline the perennial value of holy celibacy. There are already many studies that treat the interesting theme, laden with enormous consequences, of "bodilyness" or the "theology of the Body" in the Magisterium of Pope Wotyła.

It was the Pontiff himself, perhaps more than anyone in recent times, to develop and live a great theology of the body, who gives to us a radical predilection for celibacy and the overcoming of any attempt at a functionalistic reduction, by means of the clear ontological-sacramental and theological-spiritual dimensions.

Another element which emerges from the Magisterium of John Paul II (and already present in Presbyterorum Ordinis), not indeed as a novelty so much as a precious emphasis, is that of priestly fraternity. It is considered not from the reductive perspective of its psychic-emotional aspects, but in its sacramental roots, both in relation to the sacrament of Order and in relation to the Presbyterate united to its particular bishop. Priestly fraternity is constitutive of the ordained Ministry, highlighting its "bodily" dimension. It is the natural locus of those healthy brotherly relationships, of concrete help, both spiritual and material, and of companionship and support along the common journey of personal sanctification, which is achieved precisely through the ordained Ministry.

I would like to make a final reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published during the Pontificate of John Paul II in 1992. It is, as has been noted in various spheres, the authentic instrument at our disposal for the correct hermeneutic of the texts of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. It must become increasingly clear that it is the irreplaceable point of reference both for catechesis and for all apostolic action. The Catechism repeats authoritatively the perennial validity of priestly celibacy when, in n. 1579, one reads: "All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven' (Mt 19:12). Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to 'the affairs of the Lord', they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God".

All of the themes we have seen heretofore, touched upon by the Magisterium of the Pontiffs, are wonderfully synthesised in the definition of the Catechism: from the reasons of worship to the imitatio Christi in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, from those that derive from apostolic service to those that are ecclesiological and eschatological in nature. The fact that the reality of celibacy has entered into the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of how it is intimately related to the heart of the Christian faith and it testifies to that joyful proclamation of which the same text speaks.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 October 2011, page 6

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