Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Economic Origin of Celibacy

The May 5 publication of a photo of a Catholic priest frolicking on the beach with an attractive woman raised the issue of the origins of the rules that prohibit clergymen from engaging in sex. It is another example of how economic concerns influence religious doctrine, especially within the Roman Catholic Church. (See also "The Economic Origin of Eating Fish on Fridays.") One can argue the motive was purely theological - priests should devote themselves fully to God. The more practical reason was that supporting a family is a much larger financial commitment than providing for just the priest. And as M.J. Stephey points out in the May 25, 2009 issue of TIME magazine,
"celibacy meant no offspring vying to inherit church property."

Glenn Weisner published a more detained history of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. It begins:
"As it turns out, the wealth and power of Rome had more to do with the practice than spirituality. Clerics often married until the Middle Ages, until concern, mostly over the loss of Church lands to heirs of priests, led to the imposition of the celibacy rule."

The Future Church also published a brief history of celibacy in the church. It begins:
"First Century
Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men."

Actor Gabriel Byrne (HBO´s In Treatment) mentions the celibacy issues in his April 30, 2009 interview with Terry Gross on NPR´s Fresh Air.

Update (May 28, 2009): Sex Scandal Miami Priest Quits Catholic Church:
A popular U.S. Roman Catholic priest photographed frolicking with a woman on a Florida beach announced on Thursday he had joined the Episcopal Church to pursue the priesthood in a faith that allows married clergy.

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