Father Amaro Saumell is the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in Crestline, California. He began his religious education at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, later attending St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California for his graduate work. Father Amaro was ordained to the priesthood in July of 1992.
IT always amazes me that the press and the current populace cannot really understand what celibacy is all about. Actually, it is quite simple. A vow of celibacy means simply that one vows not to marry. Period. So, what are the implications?
WELL, if one is in an unmarried state, his or her responsibility is to abstain from the biological and emotional function of genital expression of sexuality. Genital expression in its fullest human integrity is to express a unitive desire or expression and for the procreation of life... a life that deserves to be born into a stable, committed relationship with a mother and father. That is called the "chaste" relationship of matrimony. Since the celibate person is not married, he or she would refrain from such activity. This is called the "chastity" of the unmarried state. Unless one is called to a married state, the "chastity" in one’s life is abstinence. While the married person finds the freedom to commit to spouse and family life, the celibate finds freedom in the single life to serve and be available to many. In religious life or priesthood, this freedom is used to make oneself available to bring the gospel and the sacraments to all... to be available. The true celibate priest does not strive to be a "professional." He strives to be "available."
CHASTITY does not mean that one denies his or her gender or sexuality. For one who makes the promise of celibacy, it is imperative to have the self knowledge that one owns a gender. Genders have certain integrity.
SEMINARY training is not what it used to be. In years past, sexuality and discussions thereof were avoided. This is probably a result of the Jansenist heresy that crept into the Church for many years. Anything having to do with sexuality was "dirty" or "sinful." We finally came to terms with the fact that sexuality is good. It is the way sexuality is expressed, which can be appropriate or inappropriate, virtuous or sinful.
AS a seminarian, I was required to go through what was called "Celibacy Modules." These were unheard of years ago, but were very helpful for today’s seminarian. After all, we’re celibate, not dead. But the celibate life does not mean that impulses magically disappear. Celibacy calls one to adult sexuality as opposed to the adolescent sexuality of impulse, objectivity, and exploitation. These modules went even further. I remember very clearly that there might come a time when I realized emotionally that I would never have children. Of course I knew this intellectually, but I was being prepared for the inevitable. Reproduction is part of sexuality.
I remember one day when I was presiding over a preliminary rite for the children who would be receiving First Communion. In this rite, I was to pray over each child. Imagine looking down at the ever so clear eyes of so many children one at a time. It hit me! I had to pause for a moment as the tears welled up in my eyes. My memory flashed to the Celibacy Module. I had been warned. This was a normal part of my being a man. I could handle it. It was the perfect time to remind parents of the gift they had in their children. It was perfect time for me to recognize in those parents that remarkable gift of their Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and that this was their love walking around on two feet.
SEXUALITY is expressed in gender relationships. We are raised (hopefully, by two parents, one male and one female). We have same sex gender relationships and opposite sex gender relationships. We have a mother and a father. We might even have a brother and a sister. We absorb certain traits from each parent, and possibly, our siblings. How we deal with these relationships will affect us the rest of our lives. As we grow, we deal with the different genders accordingly- with respect for the person and the gender.
FOR many years in the Catholic Church, seminarians started their training very early in life, completely separated from the other gender. It is no wonder to me that many found themselves with an arrested sexual development. They went from high school seminary to college seminary to their graduate work in Theology... study, study, study! There was no gender interaction.Thus, we have the scandals of today. But things have changed. When one attempts to enter the seminary, psychological testing is a must. Adolescence is a time of desiring control of one’s environment, even if it means controlling another person. Adolescent sexuality is also controlling. Psychological testing weeds out those with control issues before they can move on to the seminary or worse, to parish ministry. Upon examination of the John Jay report given this year, one cannot help to notice the sharp decline in the sexual abuse of priests around the time psychological testing was introduced. Of course, this introduction wasn’t uniformly introduced throughout the country, so it is not immediate on a large scale. But the graphs are very telling.
MY own experience of priests I’ve known who have had this dysfunction has been through personal conversation and observation. For the most part, they did not have any training in sexuality or celibacy. Celibacy, when mentioned, was some sort of lofty existence through which grace was magically supposed to have been bestowed. There was no psychological testing for control problems. To me, that explains the rigid personality that sought to control anything it could, resulting in the most innocent children. Or, I have seen what could possibly be the opposite. That would be the priest who was so far off base theologically into the liberal realm that he could rationalize that his behavior was acceptable because "sin" didn’t exist. Either way, it was a control issue. The thing that needed control itself the most through maturity was never addressed- and that was self.
IN order to gain self-control, one must be willing to face the truth about oneself. Many times, we were encouraged to abandon the idea of entering into ministry if we could not be humble enough to examine ourselves in truth. We were exposed to the fact that we all carry some kind of dysfunction, and some of that dysfunction could be in the sexual sphere, often as a symptom of another serious problem. We were informed of how those problems could affect our ministry. There was continual examination of self. And if one is really healthy, one never abandons this examination.
SEMINARIANS are encouraged to have a social life before entering the seminary. They are encouraged to learn abut themselves and how they respond to genders in society. Relationship is just that- the ability to relate... appropriately.
BUT nothing is fool-proof. Every seminarian today is educated concerning those who would want to "save" them from a life of celibacy- as if celibacy was a curse! This is more likely to be a common occurrence rather than a remote one. Although our training cannot prevent this from happening, it surely does make us aware of the possibility. The seminarian who thinks he knows all about it from the beginning needs to think again. I was a professional entertainer before I entered the seminary. I thought I pretty much had a handle on it. Even with the education, it can be a real difficulty. Priests are "sitting ducks" today for anything that can be an imagined reality, resulting in accusations. And all accusations are investigated diligently.
IF one truly believes that Jesus is the "truth" the way and the life, one will embrace the complete truth concerning his possible weaknesses. Celibacy modules open the door to humility, which is the embrace of truth. "You are male! You will be attracted to females and they will be attracted to you. It’s life."
THEN there is the homosexual candidate, who may even come in earnest to the seminary. He feels that since he has no attraction to females, he can spend his energies chastely by offering his life for ministry. And then comes the surprise. He finds himself in a closed environment with over a hundred men! If he is not emotionally mature, chastity will be a real issue, especially since there will be others with the same motivation... and weakness. The Celibacy modules even address this phenomenon, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to hear.
WHILE celibacy modules assisted in keeping us in touch with out weaknesses and strengths, it could only be illustrated in theory. The test is only known through the integrity or lack thereof of the seminarian. And there are challenges. We become in touch with our gentler side and use it in ministry. For example, I had to learn that I could not speak only to one half of the congregation. I spoke as a man. I had to learn to speak to the women as well as the men. That would mean that I had to express that feminine side of myself in order to get the message across of the good news. While I’ve been successful in the message, I’ve found that there’s nothing more attractive to a certain element of women and men than compassion and gentleness. Here we go again. I can be a target to be "saved." Still, I cannot stop using communication skills because of the misinterpretation of a few. Celibacy calls a man to be strong. However, if a man chooses to be the sign of strength all the time, he find himself only communicating with the male element that thrives on the cosmetic appearance of strength.
THE answer is awareness when one is called to a life of celibacy, just as it is when one is called to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Celibacy Modules give great attention to awareness. No, they don’t make life fool proof. But they greatly enhance the openness to what human nature is all about at many different levels and in many different dimensions. Those who are open to this awareness will find that they can live a commitment, even with its temptations as long as they are willing to be aware. We know, just as married men who wear a band on their finger (often seen as a health certificate) that we can live a commitment of chastity and discipline in our celibate life.
MOST important to the celibate is the call to spirituality, his relationship with God. That means practicing a discipline, being a disciple. Discipline is a way of living an ordered life. An ordered life avoids chaos. An ordered life brings some sense of peace into one’s life. That order must come from the One who calls another into priesthood. When one makes the decision to pick and choose in his faith, a red flag is raised because he will rationalize any behavior that suits him for the moment. We priests take a vow of obedience. If we compromise the integrity of obedience in one area of our lives, it will be that much easier to do it in another and merely call it "human." Isn’t that where sin is found? Isn’t that why Jesus came to show us a better way? If one rationalizes sin, surely he should not be in ministry until he understands what reconciliation is. There is a reason why we say during the mass, "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity."