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Priestly celibacy: Misogyny of the

Catholic Church?


Maria Adelaide Raschini

Professor of Theoretical Philosophy

at the University of Genoa



That priestly celibacy can be associated with a presumed misogyny characterizing the Catholic Church is merely one corollary of commonly held ideas that make a few preliminary reflections necessary in this essay. Besides, with the prevalence of a mentality alien to the Christian spirit, questions can arise which many Christians too come to find disturbing, acting as they frequently do as inner gadflies. Often enough, under the guise of ‘necessity’, these questions barely conceal an underlying inconsistency or spiritual weakness making their sophistical nature and often ambiguous, marginal character readily recognizable to the alert Christian conscience. The Christian conscience should never allow itself to be disturbed by them, yet has a duty to take note of them lest an untimely silence, especially if misinterpreted, become accomplice to the infliction of even deeper wounds.1



It is timely to know what the world’s intentions are


The argument over the celibacy of the Catholic priest is a typical example of those questions raised from time to time sub specie boni. A question of this particular type normally brings other, collateral ones along with it, such as the priesthood of women, their role within ecclesial society etc., and finally takes the form of a weird insinuation that one of the reasons for the celibacy of the Catholic priest is to be sought in the Church’s real hostility to the female sex: which would immediately lend plausibility and ‘critical’ honesty to the question of the Church’s ‘misogyny’ as such.


We cannot, however, conceal the fact that the historical health of Christianity, generally speaking, does not seem to have been robust enough to consent to answer the aforesaid problems in a ‘naturally Christian’ way. The temptation to hearken to the voice of the world itself inasmuch as it is ‘the world-voice’, is so strong, so beguiling and so widespread, that we can never be too thoughtful or too wary. Not without agitation therefore, we approach this type of thinking, requiring a staunch heart, a mind fervently attached to the truth, a will directed to what is right: requiring, that is to say, that total disposition which, with God’s grace, summons all our human powers together and consents to their being grafted on to the tree of life, by which I mean Christ, Divided, these powers risk failure even of their individual purposes: in ‘fragmented’ human nature, the intellect ‘does not see’, the will is ‘passive’, the heart disintegrates in ‘indifference’ which is, in short, exclusive love of self. Of such ‘dividedness’ meanwhile, the questions behind which the modern mind masks its having chosen to become ‘worldly’ are a peculiarly appropriate sign. For it lives on a diet of rich and radical immanentism which sustains its culture and dominates its thinking, the latter accepting in passive and superficial manner not a few worn-out old commonplaces which it hails as acquisitions of truth. For an immanentism carried to extremes has indeed flung wide the doors to the spirit of the world, and this — so disguised as to deceive — quickly becomes apparent once underlying hybris grows so strong that it strips off all disguise.



The curse of ‘spiritual empiricism’


The most typical and most refined disguise adopted by the spirit of the world is one that assumes the likeness of a cultural paideia, and hence uses all the instruments of psychological persuasion in an effort to convince intelligent people. This makes ‘historically’ invalid the attitude of anyone who, even in connection with certain questions raised a parte mundi — and especially in the vain hope of better interpreting what is going on today — would seek to undervalue the importance of intellectual training, as though spiritual maturity could leave this out of account. A false argument, winning a sympathetic hearing even from the best intentioned of Christians precisely because it ‘distracts’ attention from the ‘whole’ (which is always the main issue), by inducing us to concentrate on details which in themselves are not devoid of plausibility. And since the human soul, being made for the truth, is always drawn to where it spies even a modicum of truth, the deceit finds sufficient room to worm its way in and seize on souls in good faith, precisely because sub specie boni. But this is the very essence of the temptation. Hence the need to be aware of the intrinsically falsifying procedures typical of the spirit of the world and to tackle them fairly and squarely. Hence the need to trust robustly in the weapon of reason wherever it can be used and to arouse ourselves once more to the responsibility of historical awareness, even as to questions which — such as that of priestly celibacy — seem only, or mainly, to concern the religious sphere.


The Fathers of the Church, who experienced and lived through periods of dramatic harshness, have left us a precious inheritance here. The Christian must never cease, by the light of revelation, to reason and think with that fides quaerens intellectum, lack of which in the contemporary world has assented to and often nourished areas of irrationality and unquestionably has encouraged the spread of that ‘spiritual empiricism’ afflicting the modern world, some of Christianity not excluded. If we do not take note of the sophisms repeatedly advanced as arguments, and if we do not succeed in utterly piercing their disguise, any discourse runs the risk of failing since it cannot lead to ‘entire’ persuasion. More than ever today, the paganizing pressures of the world require of the Christian an ‘entire’ training of the spirit, an achievement of the synthesis of our powers, with which we are called on to unite and strengthen one another in conscious love.



Pagan mask and Christian countenance:

spirit of transgression and spirit of obedience.

The sophism of ‘liberation’


Now, it is impossible to deal with any question put in terms of historical expediency without knowing what conditions give rise to it. To understand instances passed off as necessities of the moral, human, functional order, we must first ask what it is in fact that dictates their being advanced. Whence the need to identify the particular sophism of contemporary ‘de-formation’ or dys-paidagoghia, where the conditions of any possible transgression or, better, of transgression as such, are concealed, understood as a ‘sign’ of ‘liberation from’ and of ‘self-affirmation’.


The sophism is always brought into play at the level of principle, after paradoxically the theory has been advanced that it would be ‘wrong to raise matters of principle’ on the grounds that they are ‘abstract’. Thus the sophism on which all possible transgressions depend, is hidden where one would be least likely to look for it, namely, in the appeal to the intrinsically moral character of existence as such, that is to say, to the principle of the ‘goodness’ of all that is. The disguise has the apparent function of affirming and clinching the principle of the goodness of existence; in fact it uses it sophistically, in accordance with what we might define as the most radical ontological transgression. Thus, the sophism is cunningly and quickly prepared: if the Christian conception of reality entails the affirmation that all that is’ is good, the sophism in its intrinsically deceitful way insinuates: my ‘natural desires’ are legitimate from the fact of existing and of being irresistible; therefore their demands and the things done in consequence are ‘naturally’ good, since they cannot be expunged from the sphere of the goodness of existence other than at the price of infringing the rights of the subject in whom they inhere. Unwillingness to see this sophism for what it is — and the ‘naturalism’ of which is obvious — means having already so far abandoned the Christian spirit as to accept the postulate actually generating the sophism, as already to deny, rather than reinforce, the very truth that the sophism is designed to refute.


But this very ‘unwillingness to see’ has created the conditions, making room for this radical ‘disorder’, thanks to which historical physiology in one part of Christendom too is now on its deathbed: as is clear from the amount of evidence today as paganism makes its come-back. So grave a disturbance and disorder cannot but have causes to match. It will not be hard for us to identify them and, in doing so, we shall confirm the abyssal quality of the divergence between the Christian and the pagan spirits. A divergence which Rosmini helps us to measure thus: the Christian spirit, in recognizing its own weakness, errors and shortcomings, sees in the Truth the guiding norm for its growth as an intelligent, free entity and places the conditions for its own complete ‘fulfilment’ in ‘freedom’ from evil. The pagan spirit on the other hand makes its own weaknesses the theoretical unit of measure and the criterion of ‘ethical’ approval, whence one becomes enslaved to them in the name of a false ‘liberation’ from the norm. Liberation from the norm always leads to denial of the truth, to which pertains all that participates in the act of being and from which only the will-to-reject escapes. As a result we see the ‘natural’ and ‘worldly’ koinonia, and indeed complicity, between those who reject the truth out of egotistical love of self (‘practical’ denial: truth ‘orders’ the space of the subjective and hence discourages the free range of the passions) and those for whom the lawfulness of the subjective and of all its operations follows from their having rejected the notion of the truth (‘theoretical’ denial).


The responsibility of those who ‘take advantage’ of these sophisms is truly enormous, since they go beyond the individual sphere and involve the fate of other people, who, however, are not regarded as ‘neighbour’; for it is not given to all to see this and protect themselves from it. But those who do not detect the artfulness of the disguise cannot be held to blame. Saying as much does not necessitate or justify procedures on account of their underlying intentions. Rather, it means recognizing operations which, precise postulates having been accepted, follow on by inexorable logic: even were the postulate such as to negate all logic.


Now, the postulate of denial, be it theoretical or practical, becomes visible, thanks to the depressing evidence of its ‘negatory’ nature, at the level of its consequences, which can no longer be justified owing to the deceitful substitution of principle. So the radical and squalid spiritual lie has to be disguised: which refuses to distinguish between two antithetical attitudes — on the one hand, the fall through human weakness, where understanding is needed and love is due, and on the other, the rejection by the intellect and will of their proper ends, viz the true and the good, by virtue of which limpidity, sincerity and exactitude are enjoined. The fall through weakness needs the love that raises up again and sustains, that ‘delivers from evil’; the rejectionist will is ‘the will that divides the truth’ (diàballein), a self-blinding which ‘enjoins’ all falls as ‘liberation’ from the truth.



Apparent ingenuousness and prejudices


If, therefore, a query is put ‘historically’ in the form: ‘Is priestly celibacy perhaps the effect of misogyny on the part of the Catholic Church?’, the question is only apparently ‘ingenuous’, since it can only have been framed in the course of a preceding mental journey which, precise premises having been accepted, can only arrive at attitudes which completely distort Christian truth and ecclesial reality. Hence the question can only be advanced once the misogyny of the Church is already taken for granted. Besides, therefore, not being ‘ingenuous’, the question is in no sense ‘critical’ either.


This has to be said straightaway, not only as regards the problem of women and the role accorded them in the Church (to which the question of the Church’s presumed misogyny must bring us back), but almost all the captious questions to which people have recourse, almost as though it were a conscientious duty, whenever the topic of priestly celibacy comes up. Today’s mental trickery, for the most part, runs as follows: the urgent need for a wider understanding among people, the need for an ‘ecumenical’ broadening of the sphere of ‘the religious’, the postulate of a ‘planetary’ catechesis (with consequent ‘opening’ for an increase in priestly vocations), must pass by way of a ‘justification’ of the human as such, given that this appears to be the only common denominator among people. Therefore, while Christian doctrine ‘bases’ the essence and dignity of the human on the intimately theistic constitution of the person and on awareness of our religatio to God, the spirit of the world, under guise of religiousness, smuggles in a relationship which — in the various modalities of spiritual empiricism spreading into the Christian sector too — in every way clinches the assumption of the self-sufficiency of human ‘naturalness’ which, along with the veritative basis of the idea of God, also drives out the notions of authority and discipline which depend on it. This inversion of values has led a part of the Christian world first to accept the historic-naturalistic thesis according to which God is no more than a human projection; and next, internally and logically has led from ‘becoming aware’ of the fictitious nature of the ‘projection’ to denying any plausibility in the idea at all.


All religatio ad Deum as ontological relationship being thus cut off, what remains of the human personality is the range of feelings that can be experienced ‘as regards’ a human being whose ‘justification’ lies in his or her own naturalness’: a human being ‘too human’ because no more than human, owing to a methodical reduction of his or her theistically oriented ‘nature’, which is then his human nature.


The journey, however succinctly thus described, is really a road that needs to be travelled backwards until we touch the roots of the aforementioned problem and decipher its various aspects, in which even serious questions risk being compressed and distorted. Let it be said in passing: responsibility for assuming the duty of being historically and critically aware, grows greater in Catholic culture day by day.



The radical denial is reflected in matters concerning order and obedience


It is not a sign of Christian love to assent in a disordered fashion to solicitations, be they what they may, merely adducing in excuse that they concern the so-called ‘secondary Christianity’, namely, that part of or in Christianity not constituting a dogmatic element. What is not a dogmatic element, for this very reason, neither nourishes ‘theological’ anxieties in the Christianly orientated conscience nor does it injure the firmness of faith.


It may well happen that we find ourselves having to live in difficult situations implying disciplinary obedience though not, as such, involving a matter of dogma. But this difficulty ‘does not make law’ except in relation to that awareness of the law which we have chosen to obey in response to a precise vocation: that law inclusive of all obediences since founded on the obedience of Christ, who came to do the Father’s will. This means that the spirit of obedience in the widest and most positive sense inheres in the essence of the priestly vocation and even dictates those acts of self-denial, those life-styles, those relationships which otherwise it would be for us ourselves to ‘regulate’ in accordance with other, different vocational choices during our lives. In a certain measure, an analogy may be drawn with another sacrament, marriage: the strict and imperishable tie established between husband and wife makes them ‘positively’ choose and accept everything which, internally, would be suffered ‘negatively’ if, ab initio, it were received according to provisional, unstable and temporary modalities. This, therefore, refers us on to the problem of ‘vocation’ and the serious and essential responsibility for training each of us for our own vocation, and makes the care taken by the Church in the screening and process of ‘advanced training’ of its priests all the more valuable.


Vocations and vocation


Many and diverse are the ways, all ordered if directed towards Being; within the horizon of the existence in which we exist, each of us, being aware that life is a ‘time of trial’, ought to find — and should be helped to find — the way on which we are ‘called’ to undergo ‘our particular’ trial. Each way involves ‘total’ commitment, even when we are talking of vocations other than that of the priesthood. How much the more radical, therefore, will the commitment of priestly vocation be, if the Church has given clear signs constantly maintaining esteem for the ‘non-separation’ of the ‘two charisms’ of priestly vocation and celibacy? It is not a matter concerning the greater or lesser ‘functionality’ of a ‘status’ (i.e., married or single), but rather of the intrinsic congruity thanks to which the total gift particularly required by any vocation which truly is one, becomes absolute.


We should emphasize that a dilemma of conscience is one thing (a position from which the individual’s conscience cannot escape by recourse to a spiritual guide, by whom, moreover, the conscience is thrown back on the confirming of its own will of free acceptance); and to theorise that the dilemma of conscience, whatever it may be, may become an occasion for reformulating the law is another. Faced with the superficial spread of approval for this latter theory, faced with a reformulation of thought, richer in presumption than in charity, that an individual choice (not yet freedom, which is always and only freedom for goodness and truth, that is to say, freedom from evil) may obtain and forthwith codify in priestly obedience, it only remains for us to come to a conclusion, not yet about the priesthood but about the — undeniable and now never mentioned — frailty of an individual who, even when consecrated, might think to make the total gift of himself to God even greater and more effective by sharing that love with another creature.


Nothing concerning life’s contingencies can affect the exceptional nature of the priestly character: the priesthood remains intact in its exalted dignity, beyond human reach since established by Christ himself through the link with his Body and Blood, entrusted to the priest and only the priest to administer: «This dignity, which the angels do not have, I have given to man and especially to those whom I have chosen to be my ministers, considering them to be like angels... Of every soul I ask purity and charity, with love for me and for his neighbour... But I ask greater purity of my ministers and more love for me and for their neighbour, since they administer the Body and Blood of my only-begotten Son with ardour of charity and thirst for the salvation of souls, to the glory and praise of my name.» Thus spake Truth to Catherine of Siena, a woman of immeasurable holiness and a Doctor of the Church. The gift of the priest’s love to God is intrinsically weighted with a greater privilege, relating not to the priest’s own degree of holiness but to the constituent character of the priesthood and its supreme, unrivalled dignity. Indeed, the greater number of interventions at the 1990 Synod of Bishops hinged on the priestly dignity as that which stems from divine election.


Undeniably, then, the Christian conscience, even in a priest, can experience situations of inner conflict. But existential situations do not make law, whereas the law, to be just, should foresee ways for solving the problematic situations which may arise. In this sense, not even merely human law, with the large measure of the conventional and the feasible that it inevitably contains, ought to contravene the principles of higher justice which confer legal substance on it: for the ‘justification’ of human law is its tendency and its capacity to satisfy the notion of justice that human beings hold in civil society and which, therefore, civil society cannot disappoint except at the cost of denying the very root of justice. This becomes a thousand times clearer when a law comes about and is imposed in the Church, not as a matter of human prudence but because inspired by the truth which is Christ, in whom justice and love are the same; since in the Church every law pays homage to the law of Truth, Justice and Love, of which it is intended to be both expression and witness.


If therefore human law-codes can invoke — as frequently they do — the criterion of the ‘lesser evil’ in order to mete out the ‘least imperfect justice possible’, the Church is by no means inspired by this criterion, but rather by the principle of ‘the greatest good’. In this case, the perfect chastity and purity of the total gift of self correspond to the principle of ‘the greatest good’, the only one capable of reassembling within itself the multiple riches of human relationships and raising them to the forms required by the lofty dignity of the priesthood. And this certainly does not exclude friendship, esteem and the attitude of trust that a priest may also encourage to the benefit of the female members of his flock. The priest is a father to all, precisely because he has no wife and is, therefore, free of those primary duties which would bind him to the woman who became his wife and to those who would be his children according to the flesh. He is wedded to the Church of Christ, in whose mystical life every creature has its place beyond all generic differences; all creatures are truly equal in his sight, identical objects of his physical, spiritual and intellectual, loving care.


The ‘Christian’ woman and the priest


A preamble on love and women seems fitting here. Anyone who denied that love were the most rigorous and arduous of ties would evidently not be talking about love but would be putting themselves exclusively in the position of someone who expects (egoism) and not of someone who gives ‘charity’, and thus attributing to love the characteristics of the world’s inclinations and emotions. Love is always an image of the Crucifixion, which is the loftiest expression thereof; it asks without ever setting limits to its most rigorous demands, grants no respite, does not admit indolence, rejects inertia. Just because it is so rigorous and demanding, love becomes the sweetest of ties, savoury nourishment of spirits, supreme solace of souls in the hardships of life.


The strong, very loving rigour of charity, since such it is, demands that the Christian conscience not frustrate its own spiritual energies by taking something precious away from them in the very ‘time of trial’. Because of this, love submits its own dilemmas to sustained analysis by the strict yet also enlightened will, protected by prayer and by that providential trust which is the radical spirit of obedience. Much will be stripped away of what distresses us in the way of subjective perturbation, and only a little while spent in patience will be enough to make us realize how much of the inessential can be concealed in the most ‘natural’ of demands, that is to say, in that ‘apparently’ most ‘justified’.


So how are we to deal, within the rigorous demand of all divine love which rejects indifference, with the question of the Church’s ‘misogyny’, which is claimed to be one reason for the discipline of priestly celibacy? Put thus, we would have to say what we have here is a false problem and grossly formulated at that. Its grossness is so absolutely obvious: to accept even a partial formulation of it would be equivalent to maintaining that any request for one thing must always be motivated by the rejection of something else. In the vocation oriented towards Being, no choice occurs ‘by exclusion’ or, which is the same thing, no choice of whatever is true or whatever is good is made according to the criterion of the ‘lesser evil’. Not every decision as such is denial; not at least within a Christian view of existence. Because this is so, a man does not take a wife and a woman does not take a husband because, among the possible choices, that woman or that man represents the ‘lesser evil’: but rather by positive ‘election’ of an indispensable personal relationship. And precisely because it consists in this positive election of the ‘indispensable’ person, the tie (the marital one) can be raised to the dignity of a sacrament, when it might otherwise appear only ‘too human’ and hence be exposed, among other things, to the risk of a pernicious insecurity: for it would rest on an entirely subjective base which would ‘void’ the marriage tie of content.


This somewhat general reflection will serve to introduce a few thoughts more to the point. If marriage is, as by its nature it is, a tie which comes into being on the basis of ‘election’ of the person with whom to grow together in Being, this stands in evident harmony with the disciplinary dictates of the Church, whether in relation to the sacrament of marriage or in relation to the sacrament of Order, or as regards what is of mutual concern to them. For, (1) it suppresses the plausibility of the theory of the presumed misogyny with which the Church is sometimes reproached on the basis of a selective use of certain passages in St Paul; (2) it furnishes a valuable criterion by which women can sort out their proper position in the ecclesial community and, in the light of Christian history, assess the degree of dignity with which the Church has crowned them; (3) it calls on the Church — particularly today — to make sure that the necessary and sufficient conditions of marriages be safeguarded when celebrated in a Catholic environment; (4) it contains the clearest indication of the fittingness of the union between the priestly and celibate states. A few brief words on these topics may not come amiss.


a. The presumed misogyny of the Church is the ultimate form taken by prejudices bearing on the celibacy of the clergy and which we have done our best to unmask in their assumptions. Per se, this is not an ‘argument’ worthy of serious consideration except within vulgarizations, as frequent as superficial, of things inherent not only in the priesthood but also in the spiritual life as such. Considering the history of European culture, we are aware of the influence that the first Enlightenment, manufacturer of vulgar libels against Catholicism — forerunners of the media and a degenerate, scandal-mongering press, mean and underhand instruments destructive of the Christian spirit —has had in propagating the most underhand and uncouth forms of anti-clericalism. Were we to consider the course of our recent ‘magnificent and progressive destiny’, we should know better than to leave the highroad and hence to regress historically. We could also put up a better defence each time the same stale opinions are trotted out, not seldom rekindled by some zealous spirit prone — even if sub specie democratiae and making poor use of the democratic criterion — to the ultimate prejudices of ‘the age.


b. One cannot, in fact, avoid observing a certain chronological parallelism between two undeniable historical phenomena: the historical assertion of women’s civil rights, and a kind of ‘emancipation’ of women from situations of ‘subjection’ for which the Church is mainly held to blame on the grounds that Christian doctrine, with the love and protection of the husband for the wife, demands obedience and respect from the wife for the husband. Now, the question we have to ask is, how can a woman go on respecting and honouring in her husband or in her sons, those ‘macho’ persons who themselves today too often contribute to the growth of indifference or hostility to religion in their determination to succeed, in their most fatuous and inconsistent worldly curiosity? This is not a woman’s job: she is undoubtedly called to ‘fulfil herself as the fashionable formula will have it, but no truly satisfying reality corresponds to this exparte mundi.


The Church has offered women the model of Mary, auxiliatrix of the human race since Mother of the unique High Priest who is Christ. With this, the Church has not completely ‘undergone’ the evolutionary process over the exercise of women’s civil rights. It has, however, laid down the first condition for them, by recognizing women’s supernatural destiny as well as their dignity as persons. Thus, Christianity alone has freed women from all possible forms of enslavement, those of a paganism in the past, those of a paganism now returning. The Church, by the words of the popes, has constantly insisted on the positive value it sets on the achievements of women, while exhorting them at the same time not to turn these achievements against their true selves, so as to deny the substance of their femininity. And it has done this with the best of reasons: since the logic of the ‘claims’ has for the most part been directed by hostility to a ‘male-dominated’ society — the enemy to be taken on as political, economic, even ecclesial ‘power-boss’ — rather than by criteria of integration and satisfying growth which would then turn the ‘victories’ into so many instruments for raising the human race. According to the constant and consistent attitude of the Church, the human race should derive great profit from the rise of the feminine presence in history: not as an ‘angel-figure’ more or less removed from the harsh realities of the world, as is superficially and commonly objected, but as a forceful character, a decisive and indispensable presence in the destiny of the human race. As to Eve, as to Mary, to women has always fallen an immensely important role in the designs of Providence.


Some deep wrinkles have scarred the face of historical Christianity, since European culture ceased to draw its oxygen from the Christian spirit: evil has been denied, and straightway judgement which recognizes it and distinguishes it from good has been inverted. The true has been denied, and the sceptical face of religious indifference has assumed the mask of a more acquiescent tolerance, an easy and beguiling surrogate for true and demanding love, ‘tolerance’ artfully preached by intolerance of the truth.


In this climate, which is social, cultural and spiritual all at once, the affirmation of ‘feminism’ does not include assent — will it do so, or not? that is the crucial question —that the acquisition of the fruitful and Christian exercise of civil rights become what it might have been, that is to say, the affirmation of the positive presence and leading function — the ‘constructive’ function, that is to say — of the feminine element in the world. For women have never, in such grave mode and measure as today, been the slaves of the less noble powers, that of money and that of the emotions, in the management of which, however, they often demand to share, and indeed do share, whether they know it or not, in the dual role of exploiters and exploited.


It does not seem unfair to say that the other side of this coin of shoddy mintage is paradoxically concealed in the demand for a female priesthood (with husband and children, of course), as though the priesthood as such can be interpreted by the same standard as a civil function, the exercise of which is available ‘by right’. It is no accident that the pressure is greatest where the theory of the civil function of the priesthood is widespread. And this precisely is the state of affairs in a large part of Christendom, and one that is a great worry to the Pastors of the Church.


c. We must, however, be ready to share this worry with them: and make a start with the women. The very acquisition of broader social opportunities and fuller civil rights ought to sharpen a woman’s awareness of her incomparable influence in the moulding and guiding of the human race: an influence which is harshly tested when the feminine presence elects, by egotistical self-assertion, to negate rather than to build up. In this sense, the influence of woman in the home, the schools, the hospitals, «when negative is humanly irreparable» precisely in proportion to the power of her femininity in the surroundings where she happens to be living and working.


So, to play the part in making the world a better place, all a woman has to do is recognize, within her own family and social surroundings, the equivalent of a priestly vocation (how many ‘Christian’ mothers are saddened and alienated by the prospect of a priestly vocation en famille!) and devote herself lovingly to encouraging this and not put obstacles in the way: let us pray that this basic call not go unheard.


Could this task possibly unfold, attracting and arrogating to itself the affective interest of the priest with all the responsibilities that flow from this? Vis-à-vis the person called to the priesthood, woman discharges a ‘maternal’ function, co-begetter of vocation itself, with tact and total care, with inner zeal and deep respect. In this sense, in relation to the priest, woman is ‘mother’ in imitation of Mary: the lives of countless priests are strengthened by feminine presences radiant with devotion and generosity. The pastoral function itself uses catecheses entrusted to sensitive, generous minds nourished by charitable, feminine insight: provident, discreet and valuable help for a genuinely charismatic mission. In this way, woman raised by Christianity to be the free and strong ‘consort’ of an existence destined for immortality, gives the man called to priestly consecration the highest pledge of self by disposing herself towards the fullest and most perfect of spiritual relationships. That one, precisely, which the priest can accept without inner disturbance and also with greatest profit, since it is consonant with the twofold charism linking celibacy to priesthood; not for the ‘congruity’ of the celibate state (though of course this congruity cannot be denied) but in homage to radical, fruitful, spiritual chastity, which is a seamless gift of love, like Christ’s garment, prophetic witness to the future life.


d. Likewise, for the priest, in his dealings with the creature to whom he is not bound by the special ties of man to woman (marital ties), other and differing kinds of relationship are possible which are in harmony with the logic of his vocation: these various kinds do not rule out but rather involve the loftiest function of femininity, that of spiritual motherhood: that which, where denied, would also take away natural motherhood’s authentic charisma.

There is a supernatural logic which human beings alone can understand — and which is therefore easy to accept —thanks to which the dilemma concealed in the question which has served us as our topic appears in all its spuriousness and inconsistency. The Church is not misogynistic, for the simple and radical reason that celibacy does not, in the last resort, depend on its historical enactments but on that very special congruity to be found at the Christological-ecclesiological level. The higher, total consecration to God does not exclude that love for the female sex which should and must subsist in the priest consecrated to God in ways different from those willed by the sacrament of marriage. But to be with Christ with the maximum generosity and charity requires total participation in his mystery of Blood and glory: not indeed by the renunciation of something but by a more inclusive because more universal gift of love, an ascesis fruitful in good for all creatures, all to be loved because seen in the fiery crucible of an absolute love.





1. The Church has certainly not missed its chance of a reasoned reply to a question which, among others, has been canvassed with a good deal of fuss: the one about the ‘rule’ of priestly celibacy. This was clearly and unambiguously confirmed at the eighth ordinary assembly of the 1990 Synod of Bishops and above all by the explicit statement in para. 29 (Prop. Xl) of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis: «The Synod does not wish to leave any doubts in the mind of anyone regarding the Church’s firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin Rite. The Synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the kingdom which is not of this world, a sign of God’s love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God’s people, with the result that celibacy is seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood.» For a truly Christian conscience these words require no comment.