Irish bishop suggests another look at celibacy

Bishop Edward Daly, retired head of the Diocese of Derry, Northern Ireland, spent about 300 words of his 100,000-word memoirs talking about celibacy, but his remarks generated buzz and, as he said, were getting “spinned.”

Bishop Daly, 77,  told Catholic News Service stringer Sarah MacDonald that his book, “A Troubled See,” “is about the journey from the mayhem and savagery of the Bogside to the peace and serenity of the hospice — that’s my journey over the last 40 years.”

He said he valued his vow of celibacy, which he believes “enhanced my life as a priest.”

“I am not saying that celibacy should be abolished — I am saying to look at other people who feel they would not be able to live up to a vow of celibacy or undertake it and to look at the possibilities of introducing them to the priesthood.”

He told MacDonald that Pope Benedict XVI has decided celibacy should continue, “but I feel that the church must look at this again. I am not the first Irish bishop to speak about this, and others have, around the world, and I am sure this discussion will go on.”

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13 Responses to Irish bishop suggests another look at celibacy

  1. Warm Southern Breeze says:

    He is obedient by maintaining celibacy. And, he is not teaching against celibacy. To me, it sounds more like he is acknowledging that there will be an ongoing discussion of the idea.

  2. Regina Tegeler says:

    Thank you- a good idea for all of us. Many wonderful candidates would come forward if they were allowed to be married. Marriage does not negate vocations, and could indeed enhance the priestly vocation. Many faithful, practicing Catholics feel this way. Thank you.

  3. Adam Birchenough says:

    The Church has always been aware of the very real threat of allowing half hearted commitment to the life of Christ. When you start to water down the vows you play on the human emotion to manipulate the situation. If you can be married and a priest there is a very real temptation to approach the priestly vocation as a job and allow for a world of selfless manipulations. Look at the state of the ‘protestant church’ and the reprecussions of the prosperity gospel. Jesus was pretty clear about what you had to give up to be a leader in his Church.

  4. sam says:

    Celibacy is not the issue. Why is it that whenever certain individuals seek to rectify problems in the Church such as need for more priestly vacations, abuse scandals, sex scandals, etc. they attempt to water down the priesthood rather than strength it by supporting its grandeur?

    Men who are NOT celibate in every profession and vocation including parenthood engage in similar scandals & activities – which are in fact nothing other than “sin”, a seemingly forgotten word in our modern day vocabulary. Those who advocate abandonment of celibacy should instead recommend abandonment of sinfulness by whomever becomes involved in such scandals/activities be they clergy or secular.

    Abandoning celibacy will not resolve or repair Ireland’s sex abuse scandals nor will it prevent them in the future. This is true for every nation throughout the world. Abandoning sin is the only answer and is clearly given by Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

  5. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh says:

    Mandatory celibacy is not required by the Roman Catholic Church for those ministers from other denominations who join the RCC. Celibacy became mandatory in the 12th Century, not for the good of the clergy, but to increase the power and control of the institutional Church.

    Mandatory celibacy has led to clericalism, to many psychosexually immature priests and bishops and even popes, and to the sexual abuse of innocent children worldwide, by so-called representatives of Jesus on earth.

    As a Catholic physician who has met many who have been sexually abused by clergy, I feel sorry for the victim/survivors. The leaders of the RCC have been covering up for the abuser priests and bishops for centuries, which is what can be the result from powerful and immature celibate men, who have not experienced the normal love of a wife and the responsibility of raising children of their own.

    The celibate men in the Vatican, in the hierarchy, in religious orders and in parishes have limited life experience and do not seem to realize what they do not know about living life in the world and in real family life. They have subjected themselves to an obedience to their superiors in the Church, which I believe lacks integrity.

    Where is the compassion of Jesus, by the leaders of the Church, towards the victims of priest sexual abuse, when bishops and cardinals re-victimize the victims through their lawyers, and try to deny that the abuse ever happened, and are not made accountable?

    According to, there have been 19 bishops credibly accused of actually being abusers in the States.

    It is sad to see an institution use its moral authority to exploit those who wish to give God their all. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church has done this throughout the world and is still doing it in poorer countries like in Africa, South America, and Asia.

    By this I mean that the Church continues its promotion of celibate religious life, instead of promoting marriage and healthy family life for the young idealistic people who want to give God their all.

    My experience as a Roman Catholic growing up has been the message that if one really loves God, one will become a celibate priest or nun for the rest of one’s life and become totally obedient to the demands of “Holy Mother Church”.

    This has led to an unhealthy arrogance, where the Pope and Vatican refuse to open all records in the Vatican in regard to cases of worldwide priest sexual abuse to investigation.

    There needs to be a more horizontal and more democratic structure to the Church, where all of the faithful have a voice. We can desire to give God our all in every walk of life, whether we are married or single. To me, this is the message that needs to be given by the Church to the world so that the message of Jesus can be allowed to flourish worldwide.

    Looking at the issue from a physician’s perspective, mandatory celibacy has nothing to do with being a good priest. Mandatory celibacy is a Church rule from the 12th Century. It has led to an unhealthy Church and needs to end.

    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, USA

  6. Bro. Ringo says:

    Wow,Dr.McHugh!Are you sure you’re an actual catholic?What you said is so spot on,historically accurate,and completely logical and just plain common sense,I’m left speechless by your obvious grasp of what,among other things,is plaguing the church.But alas,as you and I both know,logic and common sense is in very short supply nowadays in the catholic heirarchy.Still…thanks,Doc.Your voice was heard by someone,somewhere.Again,thank you.

  7. Charlie ORourke says:

    Thank you, Doctor for your wonderful words on celibacy. Now I will continue to pray that the hierarchy will have the courage to listen and speak out to their fellow bishops on this issue. They are the elephants in the mixture.

  8. Sabrina Schmidt says:

    Isn’t it interesting that when the Church has a problem with anything, someone wants to change our view. Celibacy is living a faithful, chaste life in union with God. That means there is to be no sex. And the Church is right about the fact that those who want to be priests, nuns, consecrated virgins, etc should live this way. They are totally focused on the nuptual relationship with God. Doing anything different would be infidelity. It’s like a married man and woman. If either “looks differently” at their marriage, they will have an affair. Anything outside the celibate life is an affair against God. What’s to change? I’m a consecrated virgin. So I know this path well. I wouldn’t have chosen this path without the celibate teachings. Let’s get real! Fix the problems with how we see things now and stop living like the rest of the world. These vocations are counter-cultural. God didn’t call us to be like everyone else!

  9. +Anthony Farr says:

    It would seem to me that the Bishop would have been a better son of Church had he kept his thoughts to himself. Of course, the rule of celibacy can be changed, but the answer to the problems in the priesthood or the “lack” of vocations is not changing the rule, but in challenging society as a whole to understand the idea of committment and that what Christ is calling a priest to is a complete giving of himself, mine, body and soul, to Christ and His Church. It is the same call for those entering Consecrated Life. The problem is that our culture today is so secularized and teaches all too many of us that our goal should be self gratification of our every want and need. For those who truly want to follow Jesus in the Priesthood or in Consecrated Life, it is a dying to oneself, a picking up of one’s cross and a complete giving of mind, body and soul to the Beloved and His Church.

  10. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh says:

    “WE ARE ROMAN CATHOLIC. Nonetheless, we do not want anyone to think that we are in some way a part of the Roman Church. We pray and hope that one day we may be reunited to the Traditional Roman Catholic Community in fullness of unity, but that day can not be accomplished until the fruits caused by the evils of modernism and relativism have been vanished completely from within its walls. Until such time, we will remain in respectful disunion with the See of Peter.”

    If the above is a quote by Bishop Anthony Farr, I respect his opinion and would wish that Christians could be more accepting of one another.

    Unity does not have to mean uniformity. I believe that there can be unity in diversity, where different views are respected in our individual walks with Jesus.

    It is much more life-giving to everyone involved, when there is a search for areas of agreement than in the search for areas of disagreement.

    Some want to return to the Latin Mass, others find their own language helps them to pray more deeply.

    Jesus never spoke Latin, but for those who want a Latin Mass, there is room for that option. However, there needs to be equal respect for those who want the availability of Mass in English or German or Spanish or whatever the native tongue is.

    None of us has the whole truth, except God! Why do we create such divisions, rather than finding ways in which we can agree and come together?

    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, USA

  11. Dr. Joseph Pulcini says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Bishop Daly. There is a place in the church for celibacy and always will be, but I also believe that there can and should be room in the church for married clergymen. Successful married priests exist within the CC in the Eastern Rites, as well as in the Orthodox churches. And as noted above, celibacy can be waived for Latin Rite priests who are converts.

    Dr. McHugh, on the other hand, has made statements that are somewhat inflammatory, and nsubstantiable. “Celibacy = sexually immature = sex scandal” is not based on science, does not serve the victims, and does not serve the truth, which belongs to God. There is no evidence-based literature supporting the premise that a disproportionate number of celibate clergy are “sexually immature” (not a medical term by the way, have to wonder how this is defined), or that celibacy of the priesthood in any way can be tied to the sexual abuse scandals Quite to the contrary, when actually studied, the rate of sexual abuse of minors has been shown to be as high or higher in other male groups studied, to include married protestant clergy and public schoolteachers. The analogy is attractive and popular in the lay press, but it just doesn’t hold water.

    Having said that, I do believe that there may be an indirect connection. Catholics who are gay and do not want to abandon their faith may sometimes drawn to priesthood with the reasoning that they can’t marry anyway, and perhaps can best work out their salvation as clergymen. This in and of itself is not problematic, just as gayness in and of itself problematic for a clergyman if is accepted within context of church teaching. However, with a relaxation of sexual mores in the 50’s and 60’s, there was more open discussion about and tolerance of homosexuality. The indirect result of the convergence of these two issues was that many US seminaries became infused with a disproportionate number of gay seminarians, creating in some locales gay seminarian subculture. This subculture has been well-described by veterans of seminary training in the 60’s and 70’s, a number of which I know personally. One ex-seminarian I know related to me that he was subjected to more tempation in the seminary than when entering gay bars. Note: for those who would suggest that “gay does not equal pedophile”, please bear in mind that over 90% of cases of sex abuse were grown men abusing sexually mature but emotionally immature adolescent boys. This is lechary, but not, from a medical perspective, pedophilia.
    Unfortunately, making celibacy optional does not address that particular issue. Adhering to church teaching and having a better finger on the pulse of the student body is what’s needed there.

    Overall, the idea that the sexual abuse scandal and other Catholic issues could or should be addressed via making the church essentially “less Catholic” ultimately will fail. The sexual abuse scandal was the result of corners of the being “not Catholic enough”. The Church needs to be “more Catholic”.

    Suggesting that you would be less qualified to counsel families or understand family issues if you haven’t been married, had sex, and raised your own children makes no more sense than suggesting that oncologists can’t understand cancer if they don’t have the disease themselves. Being married doesn’t make you an expert on marriage (not even your own let alone anyone else’s). Counselors and spiritual advisors, just like all healers, achieve expertise and excellence through study of the accumulated experience of others before them, by studying evidence-based literature, and through years of experience.

    I do agree with Dr. McHugh that divisions come from below and not from above. We should also bear in mind that the Latin Bible was called the “Vulgate” for a reason: the common folk spoke Latin, while the New Testament books were written in Greek. The original purpose of the Latin Mass was to bring the mass to the people in their own language. Over the years, as Christendom spread, the Latin mass became a standard in the Western church for a second reason; the idea that it would always be the same, so everyone would know what was going on. But that presumes much regarding the sophistication of common people (sort of like computer geeks who design software that they think is “user friendly”…). I like a Latin Mass once in awhile because it’s otherworldly and ethereal in a spiritual way. I likewise enjoy the Aramaic chanting of the Maronite liturgy and the majesty of the tDivine Liturgy of St. John Chrisostom. But I’d never advocate for it for any reason other than as a pleasant slice of tradition.

    With Love,
    Dr. Joseph Pulcinit

  12. I am a happy Catholic seminarian and look forward to serving the people of God as a priest. Celibacy is a freeing lifestyle. I do believe, however, that we should take another look at celibacy. We must establish that a non-celibate priesthood can never be considered as “unthinkable.” Celibacy is not instrinsic to the priesthood. We understand, too, that celibacy does not automatically engender a total gift of self on the part of the priest. A witness such as this seems to be determined ultimately by a man’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

    I grew up a Protestant tradition – and to this day, my most beloved pastors have been those married clergypeople who ministered to the people of God AND delt with the everyday challenges of family life. It didn’t look easy (and I know it wasn’t) but they did it with fervor and love. Although I am a Catholic seminarian, these very ministers remain my role models when it comes preaching, presence, and leadership.

  13. D. Daly says:

    TThe Church is the bride of Christ. It seems to me that to follow Christ completely a priest should have only one bride. A husband and father of children should have time and commitment to them and a priest has
    to put his parishioners and their needs first. Also, there is the matter of educating children and most priests do not get paid enough to raise a family. What about divorce? It certainly would be a possibility. TThen the priest would be back where started but with more people innvolved.

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