- (Photo: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini)
A former Roman Catholic priest who left the church and got married has described the celibacy requirement for priests as "self-destructive," an argument which Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called "pure rubbish."
"Why Thomas Groome would enter the priesthood counting on the Catholic Church to change its teaching on celibacy suggests bad judgment: no one would join a vegetarian association hoping it would soon allow for the consumption of hot dogs," Donohue told The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"In any event, I am delighted he found happiness when he married, but his notions about celibacy causing self-destructive behavior are pure rubbish. Indeed, self-destructive behavior is what marks Hollywood, not exactly a bastion of celibacy."
Groome, who was ordained a priest in 1968, shared with NPR in an interview that he believed the Catholic church was going to go through significant changes in the late 60s and early 70s, but the rules that require priests to remain unmarried and celibate did not change. As the years passed, the former priest began feeling that celibacy is a burden.
"In fact, it probably was becoming destructive of me. And I think that's one of the dangers of obligatory celibacy, that it can lead to self-destructive and outer-destructive behavior. It's a hazardous lifestyle," Groome said.
After 17 years in the priesthood, including a lot of self-reflection, he fell in love with a woman, applied for dispensation from Rome, and eventually got married.
"I've often said I'd love to go back and re-preach some of the sermons I gave on marriage. Now that I know a little bit more about it, I wouldn't be nearly as self-righteous and as advising, either, because I know the challenges of it," the former priest continued, and added that he would consider returning to the priesthood if the rules do indeed change.
Celibacy has been a topic of contention among various Christian denominations, but Donohue shared with CP a number of Catholic theologians who have shown that Catholic priests are actually among the happiest people in society.
Catholic priest and author Monsignor Stephen Rossetti explored the topic in his book Why Priests Are Happy.
"Those priests who felt called by God to live a celibate life and who experienced celibacy as a personal grace, despite its challenges, were much more likely to be happy men," Rossetti said in a 2011 interview with Zenit.org.
"The good news here is that over 75% of priests have found celibacy to be a positive part of their lives. This percentage is likely to rise even higher in the future. It is the youngest priests who most strongly support mandatory celibacy," he added.
In September, the Vatican's Secretary of State suggested that there is a possibility that celibate requirements for priests could be reviewed in the future, but clarified that the practice will remain a strongly-held virtue.
"Celibacy is not an institution but look, it is also true that you can discuss [it] because as you say this is not a dogma, a dogma of the church," Archbishop Pietro Parolin told Venezuelan newspaper El Universal.
"It is a great challenge for the pope, because he is the one with the ministry of unity and all of those decisions must be made thinking about the unity of the church and not about its division. Therefore we can talk, reflect on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think about some modifications, but always with the consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God. It is not about what I would like but what God wants for His church," the archbishop added.