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August 11, 1997


Farzana Versey

The Lord and The Lady

Pramod's illustration America obviously does things to people, including the Pope. A while before his trip to the US, Pope John Paul II announced that celibacy was not essential to priesthood. And a good thing too. For between the missionary position and being a missionary, there is no room for discord.

One of the reasons for the Pope's sudden change of heart is that no one's joining the priesthood because of its insistence on keeping one's libido in check. Due to this, many of the ordained men are leaving the church.

Those who don't have the courage to leave stay on and continue to have their liaisons stealthily. Scandals about their involvement in adultery, child abuse and homosexuality are constantly reported.

In the early days of the church, priests did marry because Christianity did not lay down celibacy as a rule. In fact, even the Pope acknowledges it when he says, "Jesus didn't make a law, but proposed an ideal of celibacy for a new priesthood that he was establishing. This ideal is affirmed ever more in the church." He even went to the extent of admitting that celibacy did not belong to the essence of priesthood.

It shouldn't. But the whole problem lies in the concept of sin. Because sin was seen as a bugbear, there had to be adequate reasons for some things to qualify. Sex has always had a 'dirty' tag attached to it for various socio-psychological reasons. Most religions never talk about the togetherness of man and woman and, in this, they nullify the sublimity of the act.

Of course, they call it a union but it is not the same thing. Two wrestlers in the ring are also a union.

The important question is, does celibacy truly elevate you, when it is a fact that men think of sex every few seconds? And if, in the minds of the priests, sex is replaced by thoughts of the Lord, then it is not very complimentary to God. Why can't both co-exist?

There is one theory that may have some validity. It is believed that sex has the ability to completely overpower the mind and debase it to such an extent that it is incapable of thinking of anything else. But it can be argued that whose who lead satisfied lives would not have to dwell on their satiation, whereas those who do not get the necessary release they seek are bound to be frustrated or turn to fantasising as an escape.

When potent imagination goes haywire, it absolutely must look for an outlet. At that time, they do not think of who or what will have to bear the brunt of their action. Let it be said on their behalf that, while their mind is playing dirty tricks, it is not in the least bit infringing on their separate life at the church.

I had once discussed the issue with a priest who works with drug addicts and he said that, many a time, this problem arises because the priests have a single-minded agenda: to work for the Lord. If they worked among people, specially the disadvantaged, their energies would be channeled.

He himself was a practitioner of yoga and is extremely fit to look at. Women at his own parish are attracted to him, particularly when they see him doing the asanas in a pair of shorts. How does he cope? He was quite sure of himself. He could be a friend giving them advice, nothing more. Unlike many others, he wears the cassock only to church: outside it he is like any regular male. Because he is confident of his calling in life.

Priests of other religions are allowed to marry, that does not make them superior in any way, Nor does it mean that they do not fall prey to outside interests but, at least, that element of compulsion is not there.

Celibacy may be highly desirable for some people and completely destructive to others. Each individual is made differently. They may be bound by their love for the Lord, but are there no differences among the priests? Isn't one more short-tempered than the other? Isn't one more accomplished in counselling than the other who chooses to go visit the slums to donate clothes?

Is it not possible that one, despite his commitment to the religion, has not been able to control his natural urges and does not think it necessary? The Pope is addressing this segment and, as the figures show, it is an increasingly large number. Yet, those who want to be at the exalted Vatican will continue to practice celibacy. That, I think, is fair enough.

But, now, the rest have a choice. Perhaps now there will be more priests than the populace can handle. After all, there's nothing quite like working for both the Lord and the lady!

Illustration: Pramod

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Farzana Versey