Celibacy or Islamic teaching of Chastity: that is the question?

· Christianity, Law and Religion, Religion

The Holy Quran states:

“Then We caused Our Messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow them, and We gave him the Gospel. And We placed in the hearts of those who accepted him compassion and mercy. But monasticism which they invented for themselves — We did not prescribe it for them — for the seeking of Allah’s pleasure; but they did not observe it with due observance. Yet We gave those of them who believed their due reward, but many of them are rebellious.” (Al Quran 57:28)

The scandal related to child abuse of up to 200 deaf children by a priest and the cover up by the Catholic Church’s bureaucracy has brought the institution of celibacy into question in the first half of 2010. I felt that it is prudent to freeze some teachings about celibacy as they exist in the church today, to preserve a snapshot for the posterity.

My interest in this issue is not to defame the Pope or the Church but to examine the institution of celibacy and if it contributes to sexual abuse. Some recent news and opinions on this issue are collected in this knol.

Wherever the Islamic teachings differ from those of Christianity, we can demonstrate the superiority of the Islamic teachings and their greater utilitarian value. See my other knols, including those on alcohol, gambling and HIV infection. When the dust will settle we will be able to high light the elegance of Islamic teachings pertaining to chastity over man made teaching of monasticism.

“Mohamedism is reproached with copying its morality from the gospel;”  Sir Godfrey Higgins wrote in the defense of the Prophet, “a philosopher, perhaps, may suspect that when the prophet was availing himself of the excellent moral precepts of Christianism, he had sense, not only to take the good, but to leave the evil; to adopt the morality, but to avoid the hired priesthood which, in his day, had filled the world with bloodshed and misery, and was rapidly reducing it to a state of the most debasing ignorance.”[1] The Holy Quran forbade monasticism in clear terms.[2][3]  Fourteen hundred years later the Catholic Church is following suit in their negotiation with the Anglican Church.[4][5]  Every time we contrast the Holy Quran with the Bible, the Quran comes out ahead.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica as it describes celibacy:
“Celibacy is practiced in a variety of different contexts. One type of celibacy is sacerdotal, the celibacy of priests and priestesses. A priest may be defined as one who, as a mediator, performs the sacred function of communicating through rites the needs of the people to heaven and the sacred power and presence from heaven to the congregation. His function is objective. Its efficacy is assured if the priest conducts the proper rite and has the proper qualifications of ordination and, perhaps, of ritual purity, regardless of whether he is particularly moral or fervent. Celibacy serves as such an objective mark of special state and ritual purity. Celibacy probably is derived from taboos that regarded sexual power as a rival to religious power, and the sexuality of the opposite sex as a polluting factor, especially in sacred or crisis situations.
Another type of celibacy is that associated with monasticism. The main purpose of the monk’s celibacy is moral and spiritual advancement, not the ritual purity required for sacerdotal rites. To this end, celibacy helps the monk to achieve inner freedom and affords him the opportunity for asceticism and meditation. These experiences, possibly together with the “new family” of the religious community, contribute to a sense of separation from the ordinary that facilitates the monk’s spiritual growth. Types of monasticism include the solitary—the hermit in the woods or the desert, the anchorite living in isolation in a church or monastery—the cenobite living a stabilized monastic life in community, and the mendicant ascetic who wanders from place to place gathering alms. In any case, the celibate state is viewed as an inseparable part of the monk’s way of life.”[6]
Institutional celibacy for women is also typically conceived of as an aid to spiritual advancement. Virginity and celibacy are regarded as assets in the attainment of spiritual goals. Most institutional female celibates are nuns in residential cloisters—though there have been occasional solitary figures, such as the anchoress (female hermit).[7]
According to Catholic Encyclopedia:
Celibacy is the renunciation of marriage implicitly or explicitly made, for the more perfect observance of chastity, by all those who receive the Sacrament of Orders in any of the higher grades. The character of this renunciation, as we shall see, is differently understood in the Eastern and in the Western Church. Speaking, for the moment, only of Western Christendom, the candidates for orders are solemnly warned by the bishop at the beginning of the ceremony regarding the gravity of the obligation which they are incurring. He tells them:
You ought anxiously to consider again and again what sort of a burden this is which you are taking upon you of your own accord. Up to this you are free. You may still, if you choose, turn to the aims and desires of the world (licet vobis pro artitrio ad caecularia vota transire). But if you receive this order (of the subdiaconate) it will no longer be lawful to turn back from your purpose. You will be required to continue in the service of God, and with His assistance to observe chastity and to be bound for ever in the ministrations of the Altar, to serve who is to reign.
By stepping forward despite this warning, when invited to do so, and by co-operating in the rest of the ordination service, the candidate is understood to bind himself equivalently by a vow of chastity. He is henceforth unable to contract a valid marriage, and any serious transgression in the matter of this vow is not only a grievous sin in itself but incurs the additional guilt of sacrilege.
Before turning to the history of this observance it will be convenient to deal in the first place with certain general principles involved. The law of celibacy has repeatedly been made the object of attack, especially of recent years, and it is important at the outset to correct certain prejudices thus created. Although we do not find in the New Testament any indication of celibacy being made compulsory either upon the Apostles or those whom they ordained, we have ample warrant in the language of Our Saviour, and of St. Paul for looking upon virginity as the higher call, and by inference, as the condition befitting those who are set apart for the work of the ministry. In Matthew 19:12, Christ clearly commends those who, “for the sake of the kingdom of God”, have held aloof from the married state, though He adds: “he who can accept it, let him accept it”. St. Paul is even more explicit:
I would that all men were even as myself; but every one hath his proper gift from God …. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, it is good for them if they so continue, even as I.
And further on:
But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8 and 32-35)
Further, although we grant that the motive here appealed to is in some measure utilitarian, we shall probably be justified in saying that the principle which underlies the Church’s action in enforcing celibacy is not limited to this utilitarian aspect but goes even deeper. From the earliest period the Church was personified and conceived of by her disciples as the Virgin Bride and as the pure Body of Christ, or again as the Virgin Mother (parthenos meter), and it was plainly fitting that this virgin Church should be served by a virgin priesthood. Among Jews and pagans the priesthood was hereditary. Its functions and powers were transmitted by natural generation. But in the Church of Christ, as an antithesis to this, the priestly character was imparted by the Holy Ghost in the Divinely-instituted Sacrament of Orders. Virginity is consequently the special prerogative of the Christian priesthood. Virginity and marriage both holy, but in different ways. The conviction that virginity possesses a higher sanctity and clearer spiritual intuitions, seems to be an instinct planted deep in the heart of man. Even in the Jewish Dispensation where the priest begot children to whom his functions descended, it was nevertheless enjoined that he should observe continence during the period in which he served in the Temple. No doubt a mystical reason of this kind does not appeal to all, but such considerations have always held a prominent place in the thought of the Fathers of the Church; as is seen, for example, in the admonition very commonly addressed to subdeacons of the Middle Ages at the time of their ordination. “With regard to them it has pleased our fathers that they who handle the sacred mysteries should observe the law of continence, as it is written ‘be clean ye who handle the vessels of the Lord?’ “(Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia, II, 242).[8]

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Ordination to the Catholic priesthood (Latin rite). Devotional card, 1925.

The ministerial orders of the Catholic Church include the orders of bishops, deacons and presbyters, which in Latin is sacerdos.[1] The ordained priesthood and common priesthood (or priesthood of the all the baptized) are different in function and essence.[2]

A distinction is to be made between “priest” and “presbyter.” In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “The Latin words sacerdos and sacerdotium are used to refer in general to the ministerial priesthood shared by bishops and presbyters. The words presbyter, presbyterium and presbyteratus refer to priests [in the English use of the word] and presbyters”.[3]

The priesthood in the Catholic Church includes the priests of both the Latin Rite and the Eastern Rites. As of May 2007, the Vatican website stated that there were some 406,411 priests serving the Church worldwide. [4]

While the consecrated life is neither clerical or lay by definition,[5] clerics can be members of institutes of consecrated, or secular (diocesan), life.[6]




The Priesthood is understood to have begun with the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist. While the threefold ministry is recorded in the New Testament, it is believed that in many assemblies this complete articulation did not take place until the second century. [7] Until then, most small communities were led by an episkopos (overseer or bishop) or a presbyteros (elder or priest), hence in Catholic theology they are referred to as presbyter-bishops in this period. As communities grew in size and needed more ministers, the bishops became the highest level of minister in the Church with priests assisting them in presiding at the Eucharist in the multiple communities in each city. The diaconate (deacon means ‘servant’) evolved as administrators of Church funds and programmes for the poor.

Theology of the priesthood

Passover and Christ

The theology of the Catholic priesthood is rooted in the priesthood of Christ and to some degree shares elements of the ancient Hebraic priesthood as well.[8] A priest is one who presides over a sacrifice and offers that sacrifice and prayers to God on behalf of believers. The ancient Jewish priesthood which functioned at the temple in Jerusalem offered animal sacrifices at various times throughout the year for a variety of reasons.

In Christian theology, Jesus is the Lamb provided by God himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Before his death on the cross, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and offered blessings over the bread (matzoh) and wine respectively, saying: “Take and eat. This is my body” and “Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26b-28 Jerusalem Bible). The next day Christ’s body and blood became visible in his sacrifice on the cross. Catholics believe that it is this same body, sacrificed on the cross and risen on the third day which is made present in the offering of each Eucharistic sacrifice which is called the Eucharist. However, Catholicism does not believe that the essence of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist entails that the accidental features also change. For example, scientific analysis of the Eucharistic elements would indicate the physical properties of wine and unleavened bread (or leavened bread in the case of Eastern Rite Catholics).

Thus priests (and bishops who are “high priests”) in presiding at the Eucharist join each offering of the Eucharistic elements in union with the sacrifice of Christ.[9] Catholic ordained ministers are known as priests because by their celebration of the Eucharist, they offer in a new moment in time the one eternal sacrifice of Christ.

Catholicism does not teach that Christ is sacrificed again and again, but that “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.”[10]. Instead, the Catholic Church holds the Jewish concept of memorial in which “..the memorial is not merely a recollection of past events….these events become in a certain way present and real.” and thus “…the sacrifice Christ offered once and for all on the cross remains ever present.”[11] Properly speaking, in Catholic theology, expressed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.”[12] Thus, Catholic clergy share in the one, unique, Priesthood of Christ.[13]


The Canon law of the Catholic Church holds that the priesthood is a sacred and perpetual vocational state, not just a profession, and regulates the formation and studies of clerics. In the Latin rite, this legislation is found in canons 232–264. As a general rule, education is extensive and lasts at least five or six years, depending on the national Programme of Priestly Formation.[14]

  • Most frequently in the United States, priests must have a four-year university degree (which is usually in philosophy) plus an additional four to five years of graduate-level seminary formation in theology.
  • In Scotland, there is a mandatory year of preparation before entering seminary for a year dedicated to spiritual formation, followed by several years of study.
  • In Europe, Australasia and North America, seminarians usually graduate with a Master of Divinity or a Master of Theology degree, which is a four-year professional degree (as opposed to a Master of Arts which is an academic degree). At least four years are to be in theological studies at the major seminary.[15]
  • In Africa, Asia and South America, programmes are more flexible, being developed according to the age and academic abilities of those preparing for ordination.

Regardless of where a person prepares for ordination, it includes not only academics but also human, social, spiritual and pastoral formation. The purpose of seminary education is ultimately to prepare men to be pastors of souls.[16] In the end, however, each individual bishop is responsible for the official call to priesthood, and only they may ordain. Any ordinations done before the normally scheduled time (before study completion) must have the explicit approval of the bishop; any such ordinations done more than a year in advance must have the approval of the Holy See.

Rite of ordination

The Rite of Ordination is what “makes” one a priest, with the minister of Holy Orders being a validly ordained bishop.[17]

The Rite of Ordination occurs within the context of Holy Mass. After being called forward and presented to the assembly, the candidates are questioned. Each promises to diligently perform the duties of the Priesthood and to respect and obey his ordinary (bishop or religious superior). Then the candidates lie prostrate before the altar, while the assembled faithful kneel and pray for the help of all the saints in the singing of the Litany of the Saints.

The essential part of the rite is when the bishop silently lays his hands upon the each candidate (followed by all priests present), before offering the consecratory prayer, addressed to God the Father, invoking the power of the Holy Spirit upon those being ordained.

After the consecratory prayer, the newly ordained is vested with the stole and chasuble of those belonging to the Ministerial Priesthood and then the bishop anoints his hands with chrism before presenting him with the holy chalice and paten which he will use when presiding at the Eucharist. Following this, the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward by the people and given to the new priest; then all the priests present, concelebrate the Eucharist with the newly ordained taking the place of honour at the right of the bishop. If there are several newly ordained, it is they who gather closest to the bishop during the Eucharistic Prayer.

The laying of hands of the priesthood is found in 1 Timothy 4:14:

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.”

Note that the word for presbyter or elder is not from the same Greek word as priest. Imposition of hands or filling of hands, or semicha, in Hebrew, was necessary for the installation of Joshua, and rabbis

Clerical celibacy

Before A.D. 1054

The First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, which took place at Nicaea in A.D. 325, included in its legislation a discipline of the Priesthood known as clerical continence. This was the requirement of all priests and bishops to refrain from sexual contact with their wives and with all other women; for a married man to become a priest, his wife had to agree to abstain from sexual relations with him. This discipline was reinforced in the legislation of various local councils, such as the Council of Elvira in Spain; the date of this council cannot be determined with exactness, but is believed to be in the first quarter of the fourth century. While priests were required to refrain from all sexual contact by virtue of their presiding at the Eucharist, this was an exceedingly difficult discipline to maintain. As the priests of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem were required to abstain from sexual contact (in order to achieve ritual purity) briefly before the periodic performance of the sacrifices of the temple, so several Early Church priests of several areas were required, by ecclesiastical law, to abstain from sexual contact. However, because they presided at the sacrifice of the Eucharist on every Sunday and the annual feasts of the various martyrs, the Christian calendar did not afford them periods in which they could be sexually active with their wives.

In February 385, Pope Siricius wrote the Directa decretal, which was a long letter to Spanish bishop Himerius of Tarragona, replying to the bishop’s requests on various subjects, which had been sent several months earlier to Pope Damasus I.[18] It was the first of a series of documents published by the Church’s magisterium that claimed apostolic origin for clerical celibacy and reminded ministers of the altar of the perpetual continence required.

After the Great Schism

Within a century of the schism of 1054, the Churches of the East and West arrived at different disciplines as alternatives to the very difficult practice of abstaining from sexual contact during marriage. In the East, candidates for the Priesthood could be married with permission to have a regular sexual relations with their wives, but were required to abstain before celebrating the Eucharist. An unmarried person, once ordained, could not marry. Additionally, the Christian East required that, before becoming a bishop, a priest separate from his wife (she was permitted to object), she typically becoming a nun. In the East, more normally, bishops are chosen from those priests who are monks and are thus unmarried.

In the West, the law of celibacy was universally required by the 11th century. This law mandated that, in order to become a candidate for ordination, a man could not be married. The law remains in effect in the West, although not for those who are Eastern Rite Catholic clergy, who remain under the ancient Eastern discipline of sexual abstinence before celebration of the Liturgy, as do Eastern Orthodox priests. The issue of mandatory celibacy continues to be debated, though successive popes have declared that the discipline will not change.

Duties of a Catholic priest

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia published at the beginning of the 20th century, there are two main aspects to the Priesthood: offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and forgiving sins.[19]. Whilst continuing to hold the importance of these two aspects of Priesthood, today the Church has a significantly broader understanding.

Among the duties of a Catholic priest are the celebration of Holy Mass, during which he acts as a vessel for Christ, (in persona Christi) or as a concelebrant. Indeed, the priest is called to make Christ present during every moment of his life. [20] The role of the Catholic priest is primarily to be seen in terms of service to all people, and the priest’s actions must ultimately be measured against those of Christ Himself.[21]. When he leads worship, or performs a sacramental act such as blessing, the priest acts in the name of the whole Church,[22] for “they are consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament.”[23] They are to preach God’s word in-and-out of season, are to be people of deep and regular prayer, be steeped in sacred Scripture, educators in the faith and work tirelessly for the glory of God through service to His People.[24] In order to fulfil these roles, a priest must be familiar with the lives of those to whom he ministers[25] and be ever-more-closely united to Christ.

Priests are also responsible for daily recitation of the principal and minor offices of the Liturgy of the Hours.[26] Catholic priests are the only ministers of the Sacrament of Penance[27] and Anointing of the Sick[28]. They are the only ones who can celebrate the Eucharist in the Catholic Church [29] (not to be confused with distribution of Communion by deacons or extraordinary ministers). They, together with deacons, are the ordinary ministers of Baptism and witnesses to Holy Matrimony.[30]

Catholic priest: East and West

Although the Catholic Church is frequently referred to as the “Roman Catholic Church” this is a misnomer as it encompasses not only the (Latin/Roman) branch (i.e. the Western Church) but also twenty-two Eastern Churches (sui iuris). Thus, the disciplines, liturgical practices and ordering of the Catholic Priesthood inevitably vary to some extent among the particular Churches which make up the Universal Church.


  1. ^ Catechism 1547
  2. ^ Lumen Gentium 10
  3. ^ Woesteman, Wm. The Sacrament of Orders and the Clerical State St Paul’s University Press: Ottawa, 2006, pg 8, see also De Ordinatione
  4. ^ Holy See
  5. ^ can. 588, CIC 1983
  6. ^ can. 266, CIC 1983
  7. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 Edition
  8. ^ 1913 Encyclopedia
  9. ^ Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of the Catholic Christianity, Saint John Press, 2009 ISBN 9780578038346 page 91-2
  10. ^ Catechism paragraph 1367
  11. ^ Catechism paragraphs 1363 & 1364
  12. ^ Catechism para 1545
  13. ^ Vatican II Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests para.22
  14. ^ can. 242.1 CIC 1983
  15. ^ can. 235.1, CIC 1983
  16. ^ Presbyterorum ordinis 4
  17. ^ canon 1012 of the Code of Canon Law
  18. ^ apostolic origins ex – Christianbook.com
  19. ^  “Priesthood”. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Priesthood.
  20. ^ Catechism para.1548,1549
  21. ^ Catechism para.1551
  22. ^ Catechism para.1552,1553
  23. ^ Catechism para.1564
  24. ^ Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests paras.4,5,6
  25. ^ Vatican II Declaration on the Ministry and Life of Priests para.3
  26. ^ Congregation for Divine Worship, Institutio generalis de Liturgia horarum Feb. 2, 1971
  27. ^ Canon 965
  28. ^ Canon 1003.1
  29. ^ Canon 901.1
  30. ^ Canons 861.1; 1072

External links

  • VISION Vocation Guide information about Roman Catholic priesthood and religious life with directory of men’s religious communities and diocesan links.
Spanish priest arrested over ‘21,000 child porn images’

A Catholic priest in Spain has been arrested over the alleged possession of thousands of images of child sex abuse.

Police said they found 21,000 images on computers inside the 52-year-old’s church in Vilafames, in the east of the country.

The priest, who has not been named, has been bailed and will appear before a judge in a fortnight, media say.

The Segorbe-Castellon diocese said it had suspended the priest and was ready to clarify the facts in court.

“If the accusation is true, this is something that hurts us deeply, that we sincerely regret and that we reject unreservedly,” the El Pais newspaper quoted a statement from the diocese as saying.

It said it would also offer the priest “the necessary means for a fair defence”.

Spain has arrested hundreds of people for distributing child pornography in recent years.

In May, police carried out almost 100 raids across the country after uncovering a network sharing abuse images.



  1. Sir Godfrey Higgins Esq, An apology for the life and character of the prophet Mohamed or the illustrious. Year of publication 1829. Pages 30. Printed by G. Smallfield, Hackney.
  2. Al Quran 57:28.
  3. Al Quran 58:23.
  4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2009/11/091121_anglicans_nh_kv.shtml
  5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8405437.stm
  6. “celibacy.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Apr. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/101371/celibacy>.
  7. “institutional celibacy.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Apr. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/289309/institutional-celibacy>.
  8. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03481a.htm
  9. Al Quran 58:23.
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