"What Authority Does a Celibate Priest Have to Teach About Sex?"

My girlfriend found my newly-bought copy of Theology of the Body and asked what it was. I told her it was the late pope’s writings on the special roles and uniqueness of the sexes and how they ought to relate to one another.

She then asked the question in the title of this thread, “What authority does a celibate priest have to teach about sex? He doesn’t have any experience.”

I responded by saying that we can understand the right way of doing things without necessarily “having experience.” For example, I pointed out that neither of us had been in a situation where we might feel the urge to hurt or kill another human being. However, I said, we both know that killing is wrong but injuring another person to save your own life might be acceptable. We know this through logic and reason, or “common sense.” I said that all morals can be reasoned through in this way, but she didn’t seem convinced.

Then our conversation veered off onto natural law and moral relativism. I said that all people, regardless of where they’re from appeal to a certain “standard” of morality when they’ve been wronged–for example, if someone has stolen their property or breaks a promise. She replied that my explanation was “too logical” and that real life “doesn’t work that way.”

I think my example was weak and I did a poor job of explaining, so does anyone have any advice for explaining:

**(1) Why you don’t need experience to teach the truth about something

(2) Why natural law exists**

Links to other threads are appreciated, as well as new feedback. Thanks!

Hi, these links to pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church may help you to explain ‘why moral law exists’. I’ve included some excerpts.


1950 The moral law is the work of divine Wisdom. Its biblical meaning can be defined as fatherly instruction, God’s pedagogy. It prescribes for man the ways, the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude; it proscribes the ways of evil which turn him away from God and his love. It is at once firm in its precepts and, in its promises, worthy of love.

1951 Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good. The moral law presupposes the rational order, established among creatures for their good and to serve their final end, by the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator. All law finds its first and ultimate truth in the eternal law. Law is declared and established by reason as a participation in the providence of the living God, Creator and Redeemer of all. "Such an ordinance of reason is what one calls law."2



1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."47


1777 Moral conscience,48 present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.49 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:

God bless you

Thanks Trishie! I probably should have known to turn to the Catechism with a question like this. I’m gonna go ahead and read through your links.

The error is in thinking that morality comes from human experience. The Church’s teachings on sexuality come from God, not from man.

I suppose oncologists have no idea about cancer, either.

It’s possible for someone to become a foremost expert on a subject that s/he has no personal experience with.

I’d also point out that lots of priest had lives before they were ordained. Some may have been married. Some may have been in sexual relationships without marriage. They may have dated chastely as young men. To think that people in dog collars haven’t had life experience - good or bad - is to forget that our priests are humans too!

The premise is faulty. You do not need to do drugs to tell others not to do them. You do not need to be sick in order to be a Dr. You do not even need to “play the sport” in order to coach. It is just faulty thinking to justify someone’s excuse in saying they don’t have to listen to the Church. What the Church teaches about sexual morality transcends times and current standards. They are eternal and not based on someone’s so called experience. God’s moral laws are not based on having celebrate priests because they precede celebrate priests. God’s moral laws started with creation and is God’s design for our own good.

Absolutely. This is the most simple and probably best answer there is. If you believe in God, and believe that He has rules that we all should live by; how can you question the priest who delivers the message? Ye olde “don’t shoot the messenger” thingy…

Excellent example, Mr. Filmer.

Yes. I would wager that the vastly overwhelming majority of the Catholic members of this forum (and non-Catholic as well) have had some kind of sexual experience/encounter before they were married (IF they’re married!).

We all know we’re not supposed to, yet it happens. Luckily, God forgives; and Christ is a merciful Judge.

Ask your girlfriend - What authority does a priest have to teach about coveting thy neighbor’s goods; bearing false witness; and killing? I would be curious to know what her answer to that would be.

Since dating is a time to be discerning marriage, I would have to point out that dating a young lady who is hostile to the Church may not end well. As you get more and more attached to each other, you will likely feel that you need to compromise to get along. Please do not compromise your faith! Having a Catholic girl that shares your faith is a wonderful foundation to build a life and family with. God bless and guide you today.

I heard someone once say that you don’t have to be a giraffe to be a veterinarian. Sure, some priests have experience with sexuality, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily had good experience. I was addicted to pornography and masturbation for almost half my life, and I can tell you that it was not right, but it wasn’t until I read and learned about TOB (from Christopher West) that I became able to understand why and how to express the wrong, and right, expressions of the sexual instinct. So, if experience is any indication, my experience is that a celibate priest has a great deal of authority to teach about sex! After all, if he’s right, as St. JPII is, he SHOULD be teaching the truth!

The only time anyone is resistant to Church teaching, is when it requires the person to change something or other. Our sexually addicted culture is so afraid of being ‘wrong’ or ‘offending someone’ that it’ll gladly fall right into hell without a thought before recognizing the truth.

I have noted the following analogies regarding the OP question:

I suppose oncologists have no idea about cancer, either.

You do not need to do drugs to tell others not to do them. You do not need to be sick in order to be a Dr. You do not even need to “play the sport” in order to coach.

Who is in a better position to assess the effects of drug use?

Except for the “coach” analogy, I would advise against using these as they are all “negative” analogies. That is to say, cancer is a natural evil, and drug use may be a moral/natural evil (depending on the drug). You wouldn’t want to give the impression through analogical implication that Catholics think sex is evil.

Moreover, a very reasonable response to all of these analogies, including the “coach” analogy, is that, sure you don’t need personal experience to give advice or have knowledge, or even expertise, but having personal experience gives you a unique perspective that will make your advice more relevant. For example, a coach that played basketball for twenty years can be a much better coach than one who’s never played. A “recovered” addict can provide more relevant advice because they know what the addict is going through, and can advise how they got through it. An oncologist who survived cancer may be more impassioned for their work, as well as more empathetic to their patients than one who has no personal experience with it.

It’s a common human understanding that practical experience has a very different worth than theoretical knowledge.

There are a couple of problem with your girlfriend’s question. One is that it assumes a disconnect between sexual intercourse and genuine human love. Two is that it assumes living celibately somehow means th priest becomes non-sexual. Neither of these are true.

First, sexual intercouse is a particular expression of genuine human love. And since this is true, one need only to understand what genuine human love is, and to have experience with it, in order to have a correct understanding of proper expressions of it, including the proper expression of it between sexual lovers. Genuine human love involves a lover, a beloved, and love (the desire for the objective good of the other). Priests certainly experience this, and thus this experience may be drawn upon to talk about the unique form of love between spouses.

Secondly, priests are sexual. I don’t mean “sexually active,” as you might think. Rather, I mean that they have a sex. They are male. They are men. A priest is a “he,” and everything he does is done as a man does it. Thus, if a priest has a proper understanding of his maleness, what it means to be a man, then he has particularly relevant experience to offer other men, even if the men he’s giving advice to aren’t priests themselves. That a priest is celibate doesn’t mean they don’t have the same basic human desires as other men.

Furthermore, as a member of the Church, the Body of Christ, every priest, like every other Christian, is “Bride” to Christ. This isn’t mere analogy. The Eucharist is the “bedroom” of the Church, so to speak. Just as a husband “goes into his wife” in sexual intercourse, and they become “one flesh,” so too Christ “goes into us, His bride” in Communion to become “one” with us, and through this union the life of the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. By learning to be a loving spouse to Christ, a priest gains some insight that can be very relevant to a woman’s relationship to her husband. And this in turn strengthens his understanding of his own manhood, enabling him to be a better priest to his congregation.

What we as married people need to understand is that the unique expression of love that we are able to share with our spouse is an image of the eternal relationship that we will have with God in heaven. It is an act of total self-giving. That is what genuine love is. And though a celibate priest does not experience this particular expression of it, he may certainly have experience with total self-giving in other loving relationships in his life, particularly in his relationship to God.

It is not true that “having sex” makes you more qualified to talk about love. Actually, having love makes you more qualified to talk about sex. That’s the great value of the Theology of the Body. Sex is an expression of love, therefore anyone who has genuine love can have a proper view of sex. Love comes first. Unfortunately, our culture says sex comes before love. But that’s like saying opera comes before music. Well, it’s just backwards. Anyone who has sound grounding in the basic principles of music is better qualified to talk about the various expressions (genres) of it, than some who grew up exposed only to operatic music. Such a person would find other expressions of music strange and distasteful, and their view of, say, country music would be skewed as they tried to apply certain principles of opera to country. They would just not get it, and would probably dislike it.

Well the same is true about love and its various expressions. If I have a good understanding and experience of genuine love, then I would be qualified to talk about its various expressions, such as parental love, brotherly love, spousal love, neighborly love, patriotic love, etc. But if my starting point is sex, and I don’t have experience of genuine love, then my view of all these other forms of love will be skewed and colored by it. I wouldn’t be able to have proper loving intimacy with another man without thinking it was somehow homosexual. I wouldn’t be able to have proper loving intimacy with my mother, or my daughter, without thinking it was somehow incestual, I wouldn’t be able to have a friendship with another woman without thinking she was flirting, etc.

Love first. When you know this, then you can speak about its various expressions.

Experience makes you bias. Objectivity allows you to understand a subject without being influenced by your feelings. If you’ve ever watched jurors being picked you’ll notice the prosecution and defense will try to pick people with little experience with the crime. For instance: the prosecution will eliminate jurors who have also had trouble with drinking and drive so there wont be jurors sympathetic to the defendant, while the defense will eliminate jurors who have been hurt by someone who was drinking and driving so there wont be jurors who are vengeful.

Another mistake your girlfriend makes is assuming all priests have been celibate their entire lives. I don’t think Pope John Paul II was wild in his youth, but as the pope I’m sure he knew plenty of clergy who were wild in their youth, then turned to God to become priest.

Often times the best outcomes in a ball game don’t come as a result of the superb athletic performances of the athletes themselves, but from the man who doesn’t play the game at all: the coach. :wink:

Theology of the Body is not a sex manual; for that you might try the Kama Sutra.

Since the pope was teaching about the theological meaning of sexuality, he doesn’t have to have sex regularly to know what God’s purpose for creating us male and female is and what is revealed about God’s relationship with us through sex.

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