Priests and Celibacy: How Do They Do It?

In the mid 20th century, the sex revolution (predominantly in the United States) changed how we perceived sex. Frequent sexual activity has become standard in our society, with young men and women having casual sex from their school days. Before the sex revolution, sex was a family thing, as most people would enter marriage as virgins. Today, it’s more common (and less frowned upon) to have an alcohol-filled sex party with strangers than to reach your 20s undeflowered.

But, there’s a certain group of men who still don’t have sex and keep seeing it as more than just a physical act. Roman Catholic priests have taken on a vow of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. We’ll discuss why the Catholic Church imposes this mandatory celibacy rule, but there’s a more important topic hidden there. And that is: How do priests deal with celibacy? A celibate life can bring many difficulties, so how do priests deal with their vow of chastity? We’ll take a look, and those of you who are into chastity may learn a thing or two.

Chastity Is Different From Celibacy

Although chastity and celibacy are somewhat related terms, they do not mean the same thing. By definition, chastity is something you do voluntarily. Imposing chastity on yourself means you abstain from sex on your own prerogative, whether it’s because of your religious and cultural beliefs or because of your morals. It’s a praiseworthy quality that should be rewarded (obviously, in a society that appreciates chastity).

Nowadays, chastity usually refers to abstaining from sex until you marry or enter a committed relationship. Although it still exists, chastity is far less common than it used to be just a hundred years ago. And of course, chastity can be part of your sex routine if you’re into that sort of stuff, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

Then, there’s celibacy. Celibacy in Latin means “the state of being unmarried.” As opposed to chastity, there are no ifs and buts with celibacy. When you are celibate, you’re in it for the long haul. Imagine celibacy being premarital chastity, except that you never get to be married. Celibacy is (pretty much always) related to someone’s religious beliefs and views on sexual activity.

As you know, Catholic priests are celibate. But, how do priests stay chaste for so long? Before we get there, let’s see how it all started.

What Is Priestly Celibacy?

There’s a history of celibacy when it comes to Catholic priests and the Holy Order. In the early days of Christianity (we’re talking Early Medieval times), celibacy was not mandatory. In fact, the majority of people of God were married priests. Back then, people would become priests as already grown, adult men who had wives and children. Once they were ordained, they had to practice abstinence, which also meant not fulfilling their marital duties. However, as time went by, the Church became aware most of these priests were not following this rule.

There’s another theory that says that priests would actually abuse their mantle. You see, in the early days of the Church, priests were the rockstars of the society. They were the ones with the word of God, and the majority of people didn’t know any better. They would use their Latin-speaking skills and make it so that having sex with a priest was the will of God.

When the Catholic Church became more powerful as the Middle Ages progressed, they had the resources to impose mandatory celibacy on their priests, a tradition (or a rule, if you will) that still exists. Priestly celibacy is there to show a priest’s devotion to God. As a priest, he represents the Church, “The Bride of Christ”, who must remain chaste. 

How Do They Cope?

So, how do priests deal with sexual urges? Unfortunately, we’ve all heard terrifying news of sexual abuse by priests on multiple occasions. Sometimes, the physical desire you can no longer contain becomes more powerful than one’s belief in God. In 1962, after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) reinstated the law of celibacy, around 60,000 priests reportedly left the Church so that they could marry. They either gave up on their priesthood or joined more lenient forms of Christianity, such as Protestantism and Anglicanism.

Other priests keep their sex lives secret. In 2010, there was a huge scandal in Italy, as over 40 women came out and talked publicly about being secret wives of priests. As you can see, it’s obviously a struggle. But the majority still maintains to keep their vow and love God the way they were taught.

Many priests start having self-doubts whether they will be able to persist with their celibacy. They still have urges just like everyone else. However, it’s the way they interpret their urge that helps them. Instead of being inappropriate in a confessional, they treat the urge as a gift of God, which, if you are a person of faith, it is. That is, they acknowledge the urge, but they decide not to act on it. Once the urge goes away, they feel like their devotion to God is stronger than it used to be. Celibacy, in essence, is a mental thing just as much as it is a physical thing (if not more so).

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