Jesuit Klaus Mertes has argued for a new way of thinking about the theological meaning of celibacy. Celibacy means more than just a renunciation, but is itself a “theological sign”.
It is too short-sighted to understand the celibacy of Catholic priests and religious only as a price to be paid in order to be able to “concentrate on the kingdom of heaven,” writes Mertes in an article for the Freiburg-based magazine “Stimmen der Zeit” (November). “The aching void has rather a theological sense of its own. God is not only present, he is absent.”
“Sphere of the Sacred”
Thus, celibacy itself is a “theological sign, an existential representation of the paradoxical nature of God's presence in the world”. At the same time, Mertes emphasizes that married women and men can also place themselves completely “at the service of the kingdom of heaven”. It is also wrong to derive from celibacy the idea that sexuality is “impure”.
Conversely, Mertes describes priestly celibacy as a sign of the “sphere of the sacred” practiced over centuries, as a “mark of alterity” of the priest. If there is now talk about an end to priestly celibacy, according to Mertes, there is also a need to think about how this “alterity,” the otherness of the priest, could be shaped in the future. “For this much is clear: To reduce the priest merely to a servant of the cult, without this service spilling over into his existential self-understanding, would be wrong.”