From Mr Alan Ashfield SIR – Elizabeth Price (Letters, August 6) cites mandatory celibacy for the priesthood as an example of an accretion which springs from “incomplete and possibly erroneous understanding in Church teaching”. How ironic then, that her arguments against mandatory celibacy should be so full of error.
First, she says that Jesus ordained married men. True, but Peter’s exchange with Our Lord about having left everything to follow Him makes it clear that the Apostles were called to leave wives and families. They were called to a life of celibacy.
Second, Mrs Price claims that a ban on married clergy was introduced in the 12th century by Innocent III and then only in order to stop Church property passing into the hands of clerical families. No, Church councils from as early as the fourth century have confirmed the practice of clerical celibacy as handed down from the Apostles. Next, she claims that the Eastern Rite “has always had a married clergy”. This is yet another error. Married clergy in the Eastern Rite was a seventh century innovation and even today a bishop in that rite must be unmarried.
Finally, Mrs Price argues that, because the number of ordinations to the married priesthood of the Church of England far exceed those to the Catholic priesthood, we should abandon mandatory celibacy. Well, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right. The Church in this country has a long history of standing by unpopular truths.
All these arguments show an incomplete and erroneous understanding of the nature of priestly celibacy. Our priests act in persona Christi and Christ has a bride: the Church. No, we should learn to appreciate clerical celibacy for what it really is: a wonderful gift and a precious jewel in the Church’s crown. May God bless our priests who embrace this gift with faith and fidelity to apostolic teaching.
Yours faithfully, ALAN ASHFIELD Maidstone, Kent