FR. LIONEL KEANE (March 6) concludes his cogent and well argued contribution to the celibacy debate with the remark: "Celibacy, which clearly for some is a noble way of life, is not in itself being attacked as it was at the Reformation". This point ought to be read and read again, because it is crucial.
Celibacy is a gift of the Spirit, and like any other gift such as prophecy or tongues it is gratuitously given to some and not to others "For the sake of the K ingdom of God". Where it is inextricably bound up with ministry its function as "sign" for those who embrace it and are not in Holy Orders becomes obscured.
This is why it can be argued that celibacy should not be mandatory for priests but should be voluntarily embraced by all who after prayerful consideration feel called to it.
Recently comparisons have been made between priests who abandon celibacy and husbands and wives who break their marriage vows. This comparison is misleading, uncharitable and pernicious.
The binding character of matrimony lies in its sacratnentality (wherever that may lie) but there is nothing sacramental in the character of a promise of celibacy (even freely made) when that promise is the response to an imposed discipline without which ordination to the priesthood is not permitted in the Latin Church. Under no circumstances then can this promise be invested with a quasi-sacramental significance so that the present state of the law can be enhanced.
Finally, there is creeping into this debate at a high level a note which can only bear comparison with the ideological disputes being fought out between Pravda and "progressive" Russian writers.
About two months ago the English edition of the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romuqo published a long article in which it suggested that generally speaking, those priests who questioned the traditional teaching on celibacy were on further examination found to be seriously in error on other points of doctrine as well.
In other words, a priest's position on celibacy is becommg the test of his orthodoxy. The parallel is obvious, so let us take warning. Seen in this light the comments of the hierarchy in this country are not really surprising.
Denis Geraghty Prestwich, Manchester.