How Can Celibate Bishops and Priests Teach on Sexual Ethics?

The teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and on sexual ethics is sometimes dismissed by critics because the Church is led by celibate Bishops, including the Roman Pontiff. They ask: How can celibate men have sufficient understanding of marriage and sex so as to teach on this subject? The answer below is from Pope Saint John Paul II.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “There exists a view that only married people may speak about marriage, and that only persons who experience love between a man and a woman may speak about such love. This view demands personal and direct experience as the basis for speaking in a given field. Thus, priests, the religious, and celibate persons cannot have anything to say on matters of love and marriage. Nevertheless, they often speak and write on those topics. A lack of their own personal experience does not hinder them since they possess a very rich indirect experience proceeding from pastoral work. For in pastoral work they encounter precisely these problems so often and in such a variety of ways and situations that another experience is created, experience that is undoubtedly more indirect and ‘alien,’ but at the same time much more extensive. Indeed, the abundance of facts from this field prompts all the more a general reflection and a search for synthesis.”

[Love and Responsibility (Kindle Locations 201-209). Pauline Books and Media.]

Every priest has had experiences prior to becoming a priest. Some priests and Bishops, like Saint Augustine, led a sinful life, and later converted and became celibate. And most priests hear innumerable confessions, which may include sexual sins, and they give advice outside the confessional to both single persons and the married. Therefore, priests and Bishops do not need to be married or sexually active in order to be able to teach and guide the faithful on matters pertaining to sex and marriage.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to How Can Celibate Bishops and Priests Teach on Sexual Ethics?

  1. stefano says:

    Sexual ethics (and moral in general) has nothing to do with making sex. It pertains to the truth about man and woman, divinely inspired by God himself in His Revelation, and to human reason and its correct use in the investigation of God’s design.

    It is therefore evident that having been a porn-star can’t help a priest to explain the sexual ethics better than having always lived in chastity.

    However, if it were at the least meaningful, why so many lay people keep asking the question in title, at the same time claiming to teach the clergy about their celibacy? Did they ever experience this particular condition? Do they know that celibacy is not about abstinence, but closely pertains to sexual ethics?

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