The first thing the so-called reformers did on breaking with the Roman Catholic Church was to remove celibacy. It is also the same unwillingness in our day that is mainly responsible for the massive exodus of priests from their priestly ministry. Before and during the Second Vatican Council, there was extreme agitation, some in high quarters, to have celibacy for priests in the Western Church made, as they said, optional. But as has happened more than once in previous centuries, the Council held firm.
If anyone asks me, and I have been asked more than once, what positive good has come from the Second Council of the Vatican, I could give a dozen answers. But somewhere near the top is its unmistakable support for priestly celibacy. As the following statement of the Council makes clear:
Based on the mystery of Christ and its mission, celibacy, which at first was recommended to priests, was afterwards on the Latin Church imposed by law on all who were to be promoted to Holy Orders. This Sacred Council approves and confirms this legislation. (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16).
When this decree was issued on December 7, 1965, there was much adverse criticism and a storm of protests which has not yet died down. Also, in the meantime, the Holy See has dispensed many priests who are, as we say, laicized, also from their celibacy, but with the absolute prohibition ever again to exercise their priesthood. So they had optional celibacy, but the option was either wife or the priesthood, meaning, always, that once a man is ordained, he is never unordained. In other words, the Church has once again stood strong on what is surely one of the glories of the Catholic priesthood and one of its principal means of drawing down God’s blessings on those ordained to the altar.
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