Time to end priestly celibacy

Celibacy, especially in its institutionalised mode, is unnatural. It turns out to be a breeding ground for sexual perversion

Published: 03rd April 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd April 2018 02:08 AM   |  A+A-

amit bandre

Pope Francis is one for whom I entertain utmost respect. And I write this as an appeal to his sanctified common sense, of which he seems to have an ample supply. Pope Francis has apologised for the sexual aberrations and atrocities perpetrated by the Catholic clergy on victims, including innocent, helpless children. It is good of him to do so, but not good enough. He has to take a hard look at the unnatural institution of priestly celibacy. It is a queer pretence that celibacy and chastity imply each other. The truth, on the ground, is that they are separate and, often, incompatible categories. If celibacy did accommodate chastity, there would have been no problem. Instance after instance screams against the hypocrisy that deems them to be congruent with each other. Celibacy, especially in its institutionalised mode, is unnatural. It turns out to be a breeding ground for sexual perversion. It institutionalises hypocrisy and serves, not infrequently, as a cauldron of guilt and crime. Involuntary celibacy is a crime against human nature. 

Sex is a natural and necessary expression of love. Love is the noblest aspect of our humanity. It is only in love that a human being experiences the fullness of who one is and, at the same time, intuits one’s connectedness to the primeval and the eternal in the human. A life that falls short of the full and responsible expression of love is sub-human. This cannot but breed perversions. We must not expect normality from an abnormal mode of existence. “There never was,” wrote Upton Sinclair a century ago, “a celibate religious order, no matter how noble its origin and how strict its discipline, which has not sooner or later become a breeding place of loathsome unnatural vices ... we read in history about Popes who had sons, and we see priests who have ‘nieces’ and attractive servant girls”.

The root of this eminently avoidable aberration is that it equates love with lust. Love is the expression and celebration of the fullness of a person. Love is at once emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. The incompatibility between love and lust is best illustrated by rape, which displaces the bliss of love with the horror of the ‘lover’ as a predatory animal. This animal knows ‘the other’ only as a thing, or worse. Chastity involves mastering this animal, which is essential for becoming capable, and worthy, of love. Every religion recognises love as an attribute of God. Yet, it is religion that is over-eager to suspect man-woman love as no more than lust; whereas the bridling of lust is a necessary condition for experiencing love.

The more commonplace arrangement that degrades love is its commercialisation through mercenary marriage. Thinkers in their hundreds have testified that inherited, parasitical affluence is inimical to love. All through history, affluence and pleasure-greedy perversions have co-existed. You only have to look through any of Marquis de Sade’s works to know the horrors of perversion and cruelty this combination of easy money and procurable pleasure breeds. The best we can say about priestly celibacy and matrimony is that they are meant to serve as bulwarks against moral anarchy of this kind. But they rarely succeed. Instead, the history of celibacy is riddled with instances of secret crimes and sexual perversions. As for the state of matrimony, it suffices to ask why divorces and palpably unhappy marriages are a contemporary epidemic.

While celibacy is an institutionalised disenfranchisement of human love, chastity is a preparation for love and the discipline necessary to maintain its wholeness and attain its heights. In love-inspired sexual union, the love of man and woman becomes one with love Divine. The sexual and the spiritual become one, and incarnate the mystery of life. The pathos of the human predicament is that a vast majority of individuals fall far short of this mark. The more promiscuous a society, the more love-starved its members tend to be. 

Marriage is to the common man nearly what celibacy is to the religious. Almost from its inception, marriage has had a mercenary underbelly. Love was only incidental to it. Historically, property inheritance and marriage have walked hand-in-hand. “Arranged” marriages have been, for the better part of history, the norm. Arranged in respect of what? Love? Yes, love of money and social distinction, Jane Austen would say. She had always been a sub-text in man’s bargains and barterings. ‘Given away’ in marriage, she became assimilated into someone else’s scheme of things. She played her role; gave birth to children and kept the line of inheritance going. She ran the house. And, if the rich and resourceful like Anna Karenina, played her own game within the games others played. We agreed this was ‘holy matrimony’. 

At its hidden core, it is money that drives celibacy too. The economic benefits it affords to the church are huge. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. But what is regrettable is the distortion it inflicts on those under its unnatural yoke by robbing them of the right to lead a normal life: to love and to be loved and to know what it means to live life in all its fullness, which is, after all, the core of biblical spirituality. 
Ideology is a comparative late-comer into this theatre of sabre-rattling against love. Orchestrated efforts are being made to dethrone love and to install hate in its place. With that, the pathology of organised lovelessness is poised to reach apocalyptic proportions of inhumanity and perversion. In such a context, it becomes the  sacred duty of every sensible human being to resist doggedly every idea, every agenda, and every arrangement that suppresses love and valourises hate. Hate is lust practised by other means. Why else would rape erupt in riots?

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