Priestly celibacy is a Catholic tradition which dates back to St. Paul, and which is mirrored in the similar practice of persons both lay and religious who consecrate themselves to God. Celibacy, by which a person voluntarily foregoes marriage, is a sign of commitment—of living exclusively for the Other in the service of His people.The most succinct statement on celibacy we have comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where ecclesiastical celibacy is briefly described. The celibacy entry in our Catholic dictionary gives further background.The sexual revolution of the 1960's and beyond undermined the value of celibacy in the minds of many, and led to considerable misunderstanding and discontent, even among priests. For this reason, Pope Paul VI addressed the subject at length in his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.In early 2007, on the fortieth anniversary of Paul VI's encyclical, Claudio Cardinal Hummes offered a briefer contemporary reflection on the importance of the traditional practice of celibacy today.
If you only have time to look at three things, LOOK AT THESE.
- The Catechism on Celibacy
- Cardinal Hummes: Christ's Precious Gift to His Church
- Paul VI: Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (The Celibacy Of The Priest)
And if you've got more time...
See the Dictionary entry on Celibacy for a definition and the general background of this practice pertaining to both laymen and ecclesiastics.
The comments of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan priest and a psychologist, are also particularly apt on this subject: Priestly and Religious Celibacy: Is it Dead or Should it Be?