I recently read that Bishop Erwin Kräutler’s argument for wanting to ordain married men to the priesthood in the amazon is that “indigenous people don’t understand celibacy.”
Granted this was a press conference answer and not a theological treatise, but it begs the question: “Which culture (indigenous or not) has ever imediately understood celibacy?” I think it would be helpful to remember that what we preach is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23)
Yes, we may not be understood, but we continue to preach. We don’t pander half-truths to avoid difficult teachings (like saying “her” in reference to one’s mom when the audience will clearly think one is speaking of his wife, so as not to have to explain why one is celibate). We preach the whole Gospel, in season and out.
Part of that Gospel is the example of our holy men and women “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:12) When I was a single man, I was singly for God, but awaiting my vocation. As a married man, I am for my wife, for God. And one day death will separate my wife and me, and we will again be singly for God–and (God willing) foreverso in Heaven. Our holy celibates have sacrificed marital relations (not because marital relations are evil but because of how large of a sacrifice it is to offer to God) to skip directly to be forever singly for God now. This allows them a unique ability to point the rest of mankind toward Heaven (and confirm their lives to be even closer to the way Jesus lived). This gives a great example to the world of caring for Heaven above all else… so much so that Jesus followed up the above quote with “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (ibid.)
To dismiss this all out of hand simply because it is not culturally understood seems quite rash. I can only assume that most if not all Catholic missionaries to every new culture throughout history have had challenges explaining celibacy (among other things) to those who were new to the Gospel. This is not a unique situation.
Yes, people are without the Sacraments in remote areas, but isn’t that how it has always been with missions? The Church slowly expands through the culture and as more and more people convert, the men are taught to pray/discern whether God is calling them to the priesthood (and with it celibacy) and as more men listen to God’s call, more priests are available to bring the Sacraments to remote areas. If the people are not understanding celibacy, perhaps the fault is more on the end of those proclaiming the message rather than the hearers…
Granted, mandatory clerical celibacy is merely a discipline of the Western Church (and Eastern Bishops), and as such, may be changed, but if it were to be changed, I think the reasoning needs to be more sound than simply “these people don’t get it.”