LETTER: Catholic priests living two lives

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: Lynne Edward's letter (3 September) overstates the case for changing the Catholic Church's law of celibacy for the clergy. She claims that "it has no foundation in scripture or theology" and says a priest will not generally talk to his bishop about a serious relationship with a woman.

Clerical celibacy is founded on Scripture. Christ praised men who "have made themselves that way (eunuchs) for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19: 11- 12). St Paul invited them to follow his celibate example, "I should like everyone to be like me, but everyone has his own particular gifts" (1 Cor 7: 7).

The long theology of celibacy was carefully considered and summarised by all the bishops of the world at the 1962-65 II Vatican Council. They noted that it has been highly regarded from earliest times because, for believers, a celibate priest is a particularly powerful sign of the great mysteries of the Church, redemption and the invisible life of grace, and also points to eternal life. They also discussed the Church's present law and then re-affirmed it.

The experience of other bishops, and my own, is that priests who run into difficulty with celibacy often discuss such situations with us openly and honestly; sadly, many of them freely chose to leave us.

Lynne Edwards claims to speak for a small group of priests who seem to be trying to live two lives. Like the rest of us, they made a mature and free promise to embrace life-long celibacy; they now seem to be trying to function publicly as Catholic priests, whilst ignoring that solemn promise, and privately enjoying a secret relationship with a woman. That seems an insecure base from which to challenge the Church's law.


Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

The writer was Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle 1974-1992