Roman Collars and Celibacy

The Roman collar is a very powerful thing.  Where ever priests go, they have an opportunity to strike up a conversation about there faith.  People say things to a collared priest that they never tell other people.  Within minutes of meeting a priest for the first time, it is possible for someone to have confessed a lifetime of sins, asked for personal advice, or even offer complaints and criticisms which led to his departure from the Church.  I’ve known the people in my extended family for over 21 years, and I don’t even know the first thing about most of their personal lives; I’ll bet the large majority of American families operate in the same manner.  But for whatever reason, people say things to priests that they would not say to other people, at least not as readily.   

 Being a seminarian shares some of that same aura, even if I don’t wear a collar.  Whenever I strike up a conversation with strangers, and they find out that I am a seminarian, they often open up to me in a way that they probably wouldn’t do otherwise.  For example, on my flight home three weeks ago, there was a cute little girl sitting in the seat in front of me.  She was standing up and looking at me before the flight began.  I started making faces at her, which the girl sitting next to me found entertaining.  She asked if I liked kids, and I said I liked them very much, and said that I sometimes wished I could raise children.  Later in the conversation, after she learned that I am a seminarian, she looked shocked:  apparently she never realized that Catholic priests and seminarians aren’t necessarily kid-haters.  We then had an interesting conversation about celibacy and the priesthood, and she said some things that were somewhat personal, things I doubt she would have said to another stranger in different circumstances than I. 

What is it about the priesthood that people find so fascinating, awful or powerful?  My spiritual director commented recently that the collar is so powerful because it (and the person wearing it) represents such a vast tradition.  This is certainly true for practicing Catholics.  I know when I see a collared man–especially in places far from home–I feel more at home. 

For others, the Roman collar is like a bullseye:  it represents the symbol of much of their grief, and they don’t mind smacking around that symbol a little bit. 

But here’s one that’s a bit more disputable:  I think the Roman collar would lose much of its power if mandatory priestly celibacy were given up, especially in America.  After telling people that I am a seminarian, non-Catholics are immediately entranced because I represent something so foreign to them.  A male who not only has not had sex, but one that will swear off sex for the rest of his life, is like seeing an exotic animal at the zoo for many people.  I sometimes field questions that they would never dare ask another individual. In fact, they are often embarrassed for asking me such personal questions, but they are so fascinated that they can’t not ask them.  I have had more conversations about priestly celibacy with both Catholics and non-Catholic strangers alike than I have had about any other single topic. 

Especially in a country where almost no type of sex is taboo, the priest’s collar is something incredibily powerful.  If mandatory celibacy were abolished, I wonder if that same power would remain.  And that is one of the reasons why priestly celibacy should not be abolished.  From personal experience, ending the practice would destroy an invaluable means of entering quickly into deep level conversations with strangers, an opportunity for God to bestow His grace. 

Of course, this isn’t the be-all and end-all argument for mandatory celibacy, but it’s an argument that isn’t readily apparent to those who have never had the experience of fielding questions regarding celibacy on so many different occasions.  If we want to get rid of mandatory celibacy, we’d better be darned sure that that’s what we want.  Not only would there be no going back, but we may be destroyed the priests most useful tool for evangelization.   

Explore posts in the same categories: Religion, Uncategorized

8 Comments on “Roman Collars and Celibacy”

  1. Josh G. Says:

    I’ve never thought about priestly celibacy from that angle — thanks for the insight.

  2. James Says:


    I couldn’t agree with you more. This is not an argument for celibacy, so much as it is an observation of one of the great graces and fruits that come from priestly celibacy.

    I think the reason why priestly celibacy shocks folks has to do with the fact that it suggest an aspiration to heroic virtue. In these days of vice, this alone is enough to engender trust.

    I don’t think that the discipline of priestly celibacy will be abolished any time soon. I would very made if it were. It is a manifestation of the sacrifice of self necessary for the priesthood.

    I will get in touch with you soon. I’m sorry it’s taken a while.

  3. thebyronicman Says:

    I linked here from Liccione’s. I appreciate these thoughts and you’re hitting the thing on the head. A celibate and holy priest is a sign of contradiction to the world. A young man is drawn to the priesthood, in the best of circumstances, because he recognizes the highest human ideal represented in reality – either the priesthood is a lie, or it’s in the nature of the highest calling a man can receive. Celibacy, and all that the concept entails for the Catholic, is a sign of that calling. A young man who eagerly accepts it, who in fact runs towards it in joyful submission is a sign of the miracle of Christianity, for the priestly calling is not a retreat from the world but the most active engagement with it. That a man is willing and eager to throw his arms in embrace of the world as a celibate is a true miracle.

  4. phamilton Says:

    thebryonicman, thanks for the comments. I’m trying to find your blog, but I’m not having much luck. Would you mind providing a link?

  5. thebyronicman Says:

    Sorry, I haven’t visited here in a while, but thought I’d drop back in and noticed your comment to me. I haven’t a blog currently, but will have one up on wordpress pretty soon. I’ll stop by when it’s up and let you know about it.

  6. Fr. Joe Says:

    Just because a priest makes the promise of celibacy, it does not mean that he didn’t have sex before becoming a priest. It also is no guarentee that he is not having sex while a priest. There are more than a few priests who have women in their lives.

  7. phamilton Says:

    Fr. Joe,

    Are you suggesting that each particular priest must perfectly live celibacy for the symbol to mean anything?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: