At Least One Year of Purity: Too Strict?

by Church Militant  •  •  August 11, 2018   

A priest responds to objections

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By Fr. Regis Scanlon

Since my last blog about clergy sex abuse, some have indicated that my recommendations for protecting the People of God from clergy sexual abuse were "too strict." They were objecting to my recommendation that no one should be accepted into the seminary or religious life unless they have been free from knowingly and deliberately entertaining impure thoughts (including pornography) and masturbation for at least one year. One year is not a magical arbitrary time period — it is a minimum, not a maximum.

One person asked what the criterion for accepting seminarians was in the past in this area of sexuality. Did they bar seminarians and religious from the seminary if they held impure thoughts and masturbated? In the past, you did not ask the seminarian about this. Only his confessor would ask and he could not discuss with anyone. The seminary system is based on honesty. If a person wants to lie to get by there is no stopping them. That is why family background was so important.

My concern here is: What are the seminary instructors teaching the seminarians? I think that many professors may be telling the seminarians, if they occasionally entertain impure thoughts and masturbate, they should not get too upset since everyone does this (which is not true). You can only dismiss a person if what they do becomes public and even here I suspect that many of the seminary professors are giving them a break. If they have a problem and come to realize this, they can always leave on their own accord.


Today the impact of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, along with immediate access in private to pornography through the internet and the public acceptance of X and R-rated movies, has made this problem of impure thoughts and masturbation acceptable to the public and increase exponentially. But just because many — if not most — people are doing these things, this should not cause us to lower our standard for accepting students into the seminary and religious life.
It was Jesus Christ who taught, "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). So Jesus teaches that this "lust" or entertaining impure thoughts is "adultery," which is a serious matter. This is not just a venial sin or something light. It is a mortal sin.
Let me clarify this point about "entertaining" impure thoughts. I am speaking about doing something knowingly and willingly. I am not talking about impure thoughts which come and go in our minds which we do not entertain or keep in our mind. These are merely temptations and we grow holier each time we reject them by trying to push them out of our mind. But we sin mortally if we deliberately give full consent to keeping them in our mind.
The priest and religious promise more to the Church and God because consecrated virginity and celibacy are greater than marriage.
So what do you Catholics think about this? Am I "too strict" by recommending that no one should enter the seminary or religious life unless they have been free from entertaining impure thoughts and masturbation for at least one year.
But first, listen to one of the reasons why I maintain this so-called "strict" position.
I do not believe that the promise of celibacy to the Church as a priest or the vow of chastity to God in religious life is valid unless a person is able to do what they are promising. They must intend or be able to keep this promise or vow throughout their entire life. In other words, if a person thinks that he will be breaking this vow in the future, he cannot validly take this promise or vow. How can you promise something that you are not able to do? How can you promise chastity for a lifetime when you do not have the ability to keep it for a lifetime? How can you promise not to sin against chastity when you are pretty sure — based on the previous year's performance — that you will be knowingly and willingly entertaining impure thoughts or masturbating at least one time in the future? You can't — it is absurd.
Let's use an example from the sacrament of matrimony. But we must keep in mind that there is a difference between what a married couple promises and what a priest or religious promise. The priest and religious promise more to the Church and God because consecrated virginity and celibacy are greater than marriage. Pius XII, pointed this out in no. 32 of his encyclical Sacra Virginitas when he taught:

This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as We have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

There are some differences in what a married couple promise compared to a priest or religious. The couple are promising something to each other in the presence of Jesus Christ, but the priest and religious are promising something directly to the Church and God, and they are promising more in the area of chastity.

But there is something that is similar in the vows by the married couple and those of the priest and religious in that they are both vows or promises. What if a man marrying a woman told his Catholic friends in the wedding party that he intended to be faithful to his wife and not commit adultery for at least a few months. The man would be roundly mocked. Would his wedding vows be valid? Absolutely not, the vow of chastity in matrimony is for a lifetime — until death do we part. You can't just take it for a day, week, month or year. If, on the wedding day, a man or women secretly did this kind of a thing (perhaps covertly planning one last night out after the wedding with an old girlfriend or boyfriend), the marriage would be invalid and the couple would be granted an annulment.

When a priest takes a promise to the Church or a religious takes a vow to God, he is not just promising not to get married or commit the physical act of adultery. John Paul II says that the person with a priestly or religious vocation is making himself a "total gift" to Jesus Christ and His Church. This is a promise not to commit mortal sin in any form but especially in the area of chastity.

So now you see that the promise of celibacy, and especially the vow of chastity, would be invalid if a person knew — based on their past year's performance — that they would not likely keep what they are promising. You can't honestly promise and intend what you think you cannot do. If you are a slave to sexual passion or have a sexual addiction, you are not free to give yourself to anyone. You must break free first from your passion or addiction and then you can give yourself to the Church in a promise of celibacy or to God in a vow of chastity. And the seminary is not a good place to solve this problem. It must be in the "real world." The seminarian should leave the seminary and resume dating good women —perhaps he is called to the married state.

If we can get a few good bishops, priests, deacons and religious, God will do the rest.

A final objection that has been said is that, if you require at least one year of purity today— without entertaining impure thoughts, using pornography, or masturbation, you will not have many priests in the seminary or religious life.

So, how many are we supposed to have? Jesus started with 12. We are after quality, not quantity.

Today, we all must recall the words of Judas Maccabeus to his Jewish soldiers when they realized they were vastly outnumbered and cried out to Judas: "How can we, few as we are, fight such a strong host as this?" Judas answered: "In the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven" (1 Mac. 3:17–19).

The same is true today in the Church's battle for the salvation souls. If we can get a few good bishops, priests, deacons and religious, God will do the rest.


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