Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary


By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 08, 2004

Now at age eighty-three, after fifty-nine years of a happy and exciting priesthood, my early questioning of celibacy has been confirmed. Rather than an enhancement, celibacy has been more of a distraction.

The current Commonweal has a reflection by Msgr. Harry Byrne on priestly celibacy. As with nearly everything he writes, there's an oddly off-center feel to it, like a bench vise whose jaws don't meet squarely. On first reading his remark that celibacy was a "distraction," I imagined it was a slip for another word, perhaps "vexation." After finishing the essay I concluded that he meant what he said: he views priestly asceticism as a sporadic and pesky interruption of more important business.

What is that business? In briefest terms, the business of demonstrating to the world the seamlessly enlightened urbanity of Harry J. Byrne.

I seriously considered a particular prospect of marriage, but stayed, because of an underlying commitment to ministry as packaged in man-made policies of our church and to the network of family, friends -- Catholic and non-Catholic -- and colleagues.

Note how the business school jargon neutralizes the undertone of resentment but also fails to make contact with a recognizably Catholic notion of priesthood. He sounds like a man at the 25th reunion of his posh prep school, surrounded by neurosurgeons, apologetically explaining to his classmates why he decided to go into orthodonty ("and in '98 the Association flew me Business Class to Singapore...").

In many respects Byrne is quintessentially a man of his time; certainly he exemplifies the 1960s cleric still besottedly in love with the mystique of Camelot. His enthusiasms are for important people, for important places, for the surfaces of things. It seems never to have occurred to him that a priest might conscientiously elect celibacy in imitation of Christ. Small wonder, then, that he regards celibacy as a distraction, but we may hope it is a distraction he succumbed to very, very often.

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