The most fascinating thing about Christianity when you exclude its dogma and the often illogical fervor of its fundamentalists is its clergy. Christianity has more denominations than any other religion and as such many different ways to become ‘called’ (as it were) into stewardship. But one thing is constant in every denomination, the older a branch of Christianity gets, the more complex and calcified its ritual ascension into clergydom. The oldest Christian denomination is Catholicism and after nearly 180o years of Catholicism, there is so much artifice and Catholic clergydom, Catholicism literally has it’s own sovereign country.
The calvary of this country are catholic priests, sent into the darkest hearts of the continents, sent with a mission to teach and nurture congregations into the worship of God, Jesus and the saints. A centrifugal part of Catholic priesthood is celibacy, often take in late childhood/early adolescence and publicly adhered to for the rest of their lives. It is a very visible way to separate the priest from the clergy, a denial of the desires that seems to define everyone else. But what is the cost of celibacy to those who take it voluntarily?
I stumbled on this Vox article about a psychotherapist who has thirty years of experience working with and counselling Catholic priests. He asserts that celibacy, the complete denial of sex and sexuality comes to define the lives of many priests, in the same way it does the flock they nurture. Celibacy apparently comes with a great cost to mental health and while the most public examples we have of Catholic priests abandoning their vows are the very public cases of child molestation, there are less distasteful but no less damaging examples of infidelity, illicit affairs and consuming guilt. In more forward thinking countries where mental health is not hidden, these priests have access to mental healthcare to help make sense of their personal struggles with celibacy.
Is there any support for Nigerian Catholic priests, especially here where wide spread misogyny and hypermasculinity forces even lay people to hide their personal struggles with identity and mental health. Are we quietly breeding our own epidemic of priests in denial, driven to depravity by their loneliness and isolation? Who cares for the men whose job it is to absolve everyone else of the guilt of sin?