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'Celibate Priest Reminds Us of a Sort of Universal Virginity'

So Says Father Amedeo Cencini, Consultor to the Holy See

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain, SEPT. 21, 2004 (Zenit) - A priest through his celibacy should give testimony of nostalgia of God, says a theologian who advises the Holy See on the formation of seminarians.

Father Amedeo Cencini, of the Canossian Sons of Charity, is a professor at the Salesian University and at the Institute of Psychology of the Gregorian University in Rome. Since 1995 he has been a consultor to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Father Cencini granted this interview to us in the context of the 33rd Meeting of Seminary Rectors and Formators, held in Santiago de Compostela, organized by the Spanish bishops' commission on seminaries and universities. The theme of the meeting was "Education in Affectivity for Ministerial Celibacy."

Q: You spoke at the meeting about a new perspective in the emotional formation of candidates to the priesthood. What do you mean?

Father Cencini: There is no intention to propose some extravagant novelty. It is simply an attempt to put the accent on the anthropological dimension within an ecclesial context in which charisms are shared.

In speaking of a "new perspective" in formation for celibacy, I wish to refer to a conception of priestly celibacy, not only as an exclusive characteristic of the priest of Catholic rite, and much less so of an imposition of the Church, but as a gift received "for the edification of the community," to remind everyone that "in the heart of every man and woman there is a place reserved for God, and that only the Eternal can dwell in it."

It is an exigency of love in the creature that only the Creator can fully satisfy.

It might seem exceptional, but with his choice, the celibate priest reminds us that it is a sort of "universal virginity" that all can and must live, within the vocation in which they find themselves.

I know that it is not an obvious truth, but precisely because of this, a radical testimony of individuals who take this truth to extreme consequences, and who give strong and consistent witness of it, is necessary.

Q: Why must a priest be celibate?

Father Cencini: It is known that there is no essential nexus between the priesthood and celibacy. But for reasons of congruence, our Catholic Church, after a historical discernment that was not at all simple and very resisted, has established as decisive the choice of priestly celibacy.

To this I must add that the Church does not impose celibacy on anyone; it simply chooses priests among those who have received this charism.

The "classical" motivation of priestly celibacy is of an eschatological, as the sign of a future state; Christological, because Christ chose to be celibate; and ecclesiological, as a sign of the Church Bride of Christ or as a gesture that calls for total or spousal dedication to the Church, nature.

Obviously, what is most important is that the celibate make these reasons his own and live his celibacy as a choice of love, with a grateful heart free of egoisms, and with a profoundly spiritual attitude. If the priest is not profoundly spiritual, he is a poor celibate.

Q: What contribution does this condition make to the community of faithful?

Father Cencini: For the community of faithful, a convinced and content celibate priest is a testimony of the primacy of the love of God, and a reminder that every human affection is born from divine love and that, if one wishes to remain faithful and profound, one must acknowledge and respect that place of which we spoke of earlier.

Human and divine loves do not compete with one another. In sum, the charisms are found among them, so that they will recognize themselves in that greater one, the charism of love.

Q: Sometimes one hears it said that celibacy, as the life of virginity, is not good for a person's development, which implies the cause of problems related to homosexuality and pederastic practice. What is your opinion?

Father Cencini: This is one of the most foolish and tendentious things that can be said.

The recent scandals of certain Churches must not lead to deception, because there is no scientific proof which demonstrates that in the ambit of ecclesiastical celibacy this type of problems -- homosexuality and, much less so, pedophilia -- is more frequent than in other ambits.

It does not mean that these incidents are not about grave matters, which need our maximum attention.

The fundamental problem is that of formation. In the initial formation, in which careful discernment is necessary, specific attention is given to the area of affectivity and sexuality, and care in permanent formation must not be limited to constant ...

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