To Be or Not To Be [Celibate] That is The Question!

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Why on earth am I writing about celibacy?


Excellent question! Because on Tues night I’ll be attending a huge public debate on “Celibacy within the Catholic Church”, in London, just days before the Pope’s visit. Sky News and the BBC are covering it; celebrities are involved, including Frank Skinner who is on the side of “pro Celibacy”. Also Boy George is rumoured to be bringing his boyfriend along for the evening so it is set to be an interesting event!


The debate will start by showing a feature length movie “Conspiracy of Silence” which raises excellent questions about negative effects of celibacy within the Catholic Priesthood. Although it doesn’t always do it eloquently, raising these issues for debate within our society is a very important thing to do.


Before I jump right in and tell you exactly what my views on celibacy are, I’d like to share with you a little bit about myself:

So, if you’re sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin …


In my younger years I had a life changing experience, my life was a mess, I’d dropped out of college, couldn’t find a job I liked, and I was miserable. My life changed when I got support to understand how I’d ended up in those situations, and started taking personal responsibility for re-creating my own life the way I wanted it to be. I decided that I would build a career, buy a house, and find someone to have a loving intimate, committed relationship with. By the time I was 27 I’d done all of those, as a result of my continued commitment to my own personal growth & taking positive action towards my goals.

One of the many things I did on my own personal journey was to be “Celibate” for 1 year, now I used the word “Celibate” meaning abstaining from sexual intercourse with others, although the true definition includes abstaining for life. I achieved this and it gave me time to understand more about myself as an individual, which helped immensely when I chose to be in a committed loving relationship. That particular relationship lasted only five years, despite my belief that it would be “till death us do part”, hey, as Forest Gump says, s**t happens…

Earlier this year I made a decision that I wanted to focus on my own personal growth and development and I made a decision to be “celibate” for 30 days, completely chaste- in act and thought. Now initially that was a challenge, imagine changing even your thoughts! No more wishing I would bump into Brad Pitt! But I had resolved to do this, and do this I would! At the end of 30 days I decided to do another 30 days, at the end of those 30 days I decided to do another 30 days and so on….


Right now, as I sit here and type I know that I would LOVE to remain celibate for the rest of my life.   I know many of you may be thinking “Why on earth would you want to do that?” and the answer is simple. Since letting go of the desire for sexual gratification I’ve been more focused, more emotionally connected, calmer, and ultimately I’ve felt a deep spiritual connection more than I’ve ever felt before. I feel GOOD! I’m thinking clearer, making better decisions, I'm more productive, I'm communicating more effectively to those I care about.


What have I lost as a result? Quite honestly I cannot think of one thing that being celibate has deprived me of!

So whilst I would quite easily say I’d be happy if I were to remain celibate for my entire life; I also hold open the possibility that maybe, I just might choose to start a family at some point.  However, what I am very clear about; having had periods of abstention, is that I would prefer not to have sex outside of a loving committed relationship until the day I die. Whether or not I achieve this or not is an entirely different discussion! 



So bearing in mind my own life experiences and choices around celibacy, it won’t be much of a surprise when I tell you that I whole heartedly support Celibacy as a requirement for the Catholic priesthood.

What I do not however, condone, is the lack of real tangible support available for the men that take these vows. What I do not support is avoiding and suppressing the sexual desires that human beings experience naturally. What I do not condone is sexual abuse within the priesthood.

What I do encourage is more transparency & open-ness within the Priesthood when men fail, when they err-so that these men can feel safe to go for help immediately, so that they can get the support they need to resume a healthy celibate lifestyle. I understand that there is a big difference between male and female celibacy, (different biology so I hear!) But again, I don’t see this as a reason against celibacy per se.

I recently spent a few hours with a Franciscan monk in East London, we chatted about various things; spirituality, celibacy, a personal relationship with God. He’s probably the most grounded, human, down to earth, warm, genuine person I’ve ever met. He took a vow of celibacy and it certainly hasn’t caused him any harm, in fact it is an act that supports him in his mission to serve those that need help, which he succeeds very well in doing- each day feeding and clothing 100’s of homeless people in one of the most deprived areas in London.

I believe it is when failures cannot be openly discussed that sexuality is driven underground. When sexuality is driven underground normal sexual desire can transmute into unhealthy activities which cause pain and suffering to all involved.  Actively freely choosing a life of celibacy is very different from suppressing natural sexual desires. 


To be, or Not To Be, [Celibate] that is the question!

I look forward to hearing from the panel on Tuesday night, and learning more about the subject of Celibacy within the Catholic Church.

If you're interested in the debate, why not come along on Tuesday evening? Tickets are selling fast because of the high profile nature of the panellists so I’d advise getting yours as soon as you can. If you’re going please do let me know and say hi to me on the night, it would be great to discuss the debate afterwards over coffee/drinks/herbal tea. :)


Regardless of whether you're going to the debate or not, I look forward to reading your comments & hearing your views on celibacy.


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Comments: 21
  • #1

    Hazel Katherine Larkin (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:11)

    Thanks for having the courage to write this, Claire. I have to say that I agree with much of what you say - except that I think making celibate a prerequisite for being part of the clergy makes things difficult. I would suggest it as a choice, perhaps. I know many people resent being preached at about sex and relationships by someone who is not in a sexual/romantic relationship.

    Finally, I agree with you regarding not having sex outside of a loving relationship. I have not been in a relationship for 7 years. Unlike you, I *do* miss sex - not every hour of every day, but often enough ;) - but what I miss more is intimacy.

    I firmly believe that it is impossible to have great sex with someone you're not intimate with. And intimacy is the product of an investment of time. So, for me, like you, sex is a special gift that comes when a relationship is established, intimate and - yes - sacred.

    And I don't care how twee that sounds!


  • #2

    Blaithin (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:11)

    Profound, and thought provoking.

    I myself feel that Priests should have the option whether or not to be celibate.

  • #3

    Jason Pavlou (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:13)

    Very interesting. I have much admiration for you, for writing this and being totally honest and open, to me that takes great courage.
    I personally would not become celibate, but each to their own, we are not here to judge others, we should all respect each others ways, and support each others ways.

  • #4

    Karen Pine (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:15)

    Great post and a fascinating topic.
    There is one comment, however, with which I am slightly uncomfortable. You say:
    " When sexuality is driven underground normal sexual desire can transmute into unhealthy activities.."
    Are you suggesting that the abuse of children is the consequence of enforced celibacy? You describe celibacy as a liberation not a distortion. If so, how can it be that the suppression becomes expressed in such debased behaviour? Is it possible that the church attracts individuals who know they have a propensity towards unhealthy sexual activities and hope to be cleansed or cured in some way?

  • #5

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:27)

    Wow thanks for the great comments, so quickly too!

    @Hazel I think so often "free sex" is promoted as the norm in our culture, whereas there are real benefits from keeping an intimate practice within a committed relationship.

    @Blaithin & Hazel, you both raise the issue of choice, I just wonder how practical that would be to enforce- some priests allowed to engage in sexual activity and some not. It may result in even greater confusion. Although I get that it's hard for people to trust someone who hasn't had sexual experiences advising them.


  • #6

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:30)

    @Jason Thank you, it took me much deliberation before deciding to publish this, and this wasn't the first draft!!

    I suspect that there will be more males than females leaning towards non celibacy!

    You're so right, it is about acceptance and non judgement and I feel in the current climate in our society that choices like having a celibate life style are marginalised- as if THEY are wrong!

    I think different strokes for different folks personally :)

  • #7

    Andrew (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:33)

    I take my hat off to you for blogging about this topic, your personal experience and insight. As previously mentioned very thought provoking.

  • #8

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Monday, 13 September 2010 04:51)

    @ Karen thanks for commenting, the point I was making was that celibacy is a free choice to abstain and a healthy one, which is different from a suppression of normal, healthy sexual desires.

    I do believe that suppressing things can result in unhealthy behaviours, and that extends to sexual activities.
    I'm also very much aware that there are many contributing factors that create unhealthy sexual activities.

    You ask "Is it possible that the church attracts individuals who know they have a propensity towards unhealthy sexual activities and hope to be cleansed or cured in some way?"
    My answer: I'm sure it is possible; I'm not an expert on the matter, just sharing my personal views. If that is the case, I'm sure many of them find salvation from these activities within the church and through finding a faith and spiritual connection. Just as we also know that many priests within the Catholic Church have been involved in unhealthy sexual activities.

    Does this answer your questions?

    I'm loving that this post has sparked the discussion :)

  • #9

    Karen Pine (Monday, 13 September 2010 05:38)

    thanks, Claire, good points - and great discussion here.

  • #10

    Patricia Duffy (Monday, 13 September 2010 06:33)

    Just purchased the DVD from the site. I have always thought that priests should be allowed have partners. I commend you Claire for highlighting this event unfortunately can't attend as I'm in Dublin.
    If Priest were allowed have partners I don't think the numbers would be dewindling. thanks claire

  • #11

    peter kinkead (Monday, 13 September 2010 07:11)

    As one of the Producers of the film I may be partial, but as a Northern ireland protestant I dont have a particular view about the Catholic Church's current state of integrity. However when I first read John Deery's script, there was something about the power and passion in his writing which as a Producer I responded too. You implied a criticism when you said in your blog that the film not always eloquently delivered its message, but that in my view is why it is powerful.
    I often asked myself how as a northern Irish Protestant, by upbringing, I found myself as one of the Producer's of Conpsiracy of Silence? I realised it was to do with the perceived hypocrisy of the Church authorities around the issue of celibacy. I was wrongly accused at boarding school of breaking the rules and punished unjustly with a beating. I had to take my complaint all the way to the Principals office to be heard and I resolved the matter but was leaft with a feeling that injustice in the world has to be challenged. I did that later in my working life as a trade unionist and shop steward within the television and filmn industry. A sense of injustice which is the event that sets Daniel on a collision course with his Bishop in Ireland and ulimately with Rome is what appealed to me much later in John's film.
    Anglican married priests who convert to Catholicism dont have to be celibate. It suits the Catholic Church to admit married priests when so many young men are no longer choosing the priesthood as a worthwhile vocation. It suits the Catholic Church that single priests remain celibate because the Church retains the property and the value of the assets as unmarried priests have no known(sic) offspring to leave their money to.
    But thererin lies lies a hypocrisy of two seperate standards of behaviour. There is a lack of fairness, justice and consistency in the Catholic Church's position on Celibacy.
    I personally have no objection to priests choosing to be celibate or not. I also have no objection to priests having sexual relation ships with a consenting adult ( male or female). I believe this grounds them in the reality ofmany of their parishoners' lives as much, if not more than, being single.
    However since many priests are not in fact celibate, since many priests leave and marry, since many priests lead covert sexual lives, celibacy now longer works in the interests of the Church or its followers. It would be controversial to say that sexual repression also leads to a potential for paedophile behaviour and the reasons for this are much more complex,but as we have seen in the recent reports from Belgium, Ireland, Austria, and Germany the environment of public schools and places of education for young boys to be abused by their mentors and teachers certainly facilitates the opportunity for such events to take place.
    On balance the film raises the moral question of whether the celibacy vow is tenable in the 21st century. For almost eleven hundred years priests could marry.For more than nine hundred years they were not allowed. On the basis that history always repeats itself lets turn the clock back, call time on celibacy and let priests freeely and powerfully choose their sexual behaviour and orientation without the need for subtefuge, hypocrisy and repression. That will benefit all Catholics and society in general. The Catholic Church, can I suspect, cope with that!

  • #12

    Ken Armstrong (Monday, 13 September 2010 07:31)

    Skirting the Celibacy debate, I wanted to say you have written here with great openness and great integrity and I literally applaud you for that.

    No, really, 'literally', my workmate is wondering what I am doing. :)

  • #13

    John Deery (Monday, 13 September 2010 08:12)

    Thanks for that interesting and personal piece about celibacy, Claire, and I am delighted that you can join me and over 500 other people to watch the movie on the BIG screen at the Odeon West End cinema in the heart of London's cinema-land in Leicester Square. We are going to have a great night!

    There is a media storm at the moment on the contentious and topical issue of celibacy with 50% of Catholics surveyed for a BBC poll yesterday saying that the church needs to drop celibacy as a pre-requisite for young men joining the priesthood. My view is simple: let them have a choice just as you and I and others reading this, do.

    My film, Conspiracy of Silence, which we will screen at 6.30pm before the debate, is based on real stories from real priests that I interviewed in the UK, Ireland and Italy and deals head-on with the celibacy issue.

    There are still a few tickets left, so if any of your friends or other people reading this blog - especially people who have already bought the film on DVD or downloaded it - want to come, I will give you a special discount. The 'normal' priced tickets are £30, with students and senior tickets £20. Mention 'Claire Boyles' on the door at the night and my team will give you tickets for £15.


    John Deery
    Conspiracy of Silence

  • #14

    John Deery (Monday, 13 September 2010 08:17)

    I forgot to mention that the film and debate are taking place tomorrow evening, Tuesday 14th September. The film starts at 6.30pm to 8pm. There's a 30 min break from 8pm and the debate will start at 8.30pm until approx. 10pm. John Deery.

  • #15

    Sharon (Monday, 13 September 2010 08:41)

    Having been brought up a Catholic (however no longer allowed to accept the holy sacrament) as well as a child protection social worker AND someone who chose celibacy for over three years, I wanted to comment that I admire the courage and debate this post has provoked.
    My ramblings of the hypocracy of the Catholic Church I will not allow to take up this post but rather I wanted to congratulate you on a well written and thought provoking post. Thanks Claire and well done!!

  • #16

    Joerg Steegmueller (Monday, 13 September 2010 10:37)

    Hi Claire,
    I am wholeheartedly against the celibacy vow! That doesn't mean, though, that I am against celibacy, but in my opinion it should be not a topic at all.

    Claire your vow is private vow and had you not written this blog post, nobody would know or would have to know. If a priest or non-priest decides to abstain and/or to be celibate, they should be able to do that, but if they decide not to, they should not be forced.

    While you are experiencing advantages and new insights through your celibacy, many other people wouldn't or wouldn't even be open for these experiences and enforcing celibacy will not change their spiritual force, but will instead create a pressure cooker effect.

    Priests in the past were sent on this path when they were 15 or 16 with not much of a chance of breaking out. You made your decision when you were 27 or older. In addition they were sentenced to a life of celibacy, while you can decide any day to change your private and personal vow again.

    So, if someone suggested that only men (odd limitation anyway, but let's not enter THAT discussion!) who wanted to be celibate were allowed to enter the priesthood and that they could leave without negative repercussions at any time, I would have no problem with it. But then the entry age has to be raised a LOT maybe to around 30 or so and having had sex before should be an entry requirement. So that they know what they are giving up and why. In addition the leaving would have to be relatively easy in case they decide their 30 days (as an example based on your personal story) are up.

    So, either celibacy should NOT be a topic at all OR men should only allowed to become priests in full knowledge of the consequences.

    I could write lots more about why I think that 30-60% of the abuse that did happen was caused by celibacy, but I will leave that for another time.

  • #17

    Dawn Baird (Monday, 13 September 2010 14:25)

    WOW! Claire, thank-you for such an honest, and thought-provoking post. What a breath of fresh air, in our European society that is full of sexuality at every turn. It's in the advertising for almost any product I can think of, papers and magazines, TV, bus-stops, alot of how people dress (even in the workplace). Our teens are pressurised into sex almost from they become teens, and our women are sexualised and made to feel inadequate should they not closely resemble the latest celebrity with enhanced body and orange skin.

    I admire your openness.

  • #18

    Neil (Monday, 13 September 2010 15:38)

    Hi Claire and thank you for your open and honest writing and this piece triggered and provoked some different thoughts in my mind about my own sexual habits. You talked about not even having sexual thoughts for your periods of celibacy, I am sure I would find that difficult but when you talked about what celibacy has done for you it made me feel like it was something that love to test but immediately behind that thought came a fear of loss of that connection with another human being (a woman in my case). Which then triggered another thought what if my fear was what was driving me in and out failed relationships mmmmm... something to think about. Oh and I too believe that celibacy in the priesthood should be a choice that is wholly supported.

  • #19

    Paul Allen (Tuesday, 14 September 2010 03:35)

    Thanks Claire for sharing this.

    The area of sexuality in Catholic priesthood does need to be discussed, as it does amongst the laity. It is a mistake to think that by just taking a "vow of celibacy" makes a person a less sexual being. I agree with you that what is required is the support and open discussion of being a male or female living a celibate lifestyle. Not focusing on the physical act of sex but on the positive benefits, the possible tensions and negative attributes of the celibate lifestyle.

    Having a forum where there can be open and transparent discussion will be helpful.

    The denial and suppression of the topic has been, and sadly continues to be dangerous and the effects of that denial and suppression have been evident through the abuse cases that keep coming to light.

    I believe some people are "called" to a celibate life, others are not. (In my history, I was training to be a Catholic priest but I am now married.) Recognizing that calling correctly is essential to living a successful celibate life.

    Thank you again Claire for your honest and open article.


  • #20

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Tuesday, 14 September 2010 04:18)

    So many awesome comments, the debate has already begun!!!

    Haven't had chance to reply to everyone yet, but thank you all so much for joining in. It is so brilliant that this discussion is happening, and it's been sparked by "Conspiracy of Silence", a movie- movies are such powerful agents of change within our culture & society!

    I am SO looking forward to tonight, remember John Deery's great offer to my readers of this blog- tickets only £15 at he door when you quote "Claire Boyles" that should be easy enough to remember! There's already 500 people coming! See you tonight, and if not I'll do a follow up blog post to let those that can't make it know the low down!

  • #21

    Jen Waller (Tuesday, 14 September 2010 10:02)

    Such a thoughtful, open and honest post. Thank you for sharing and have a fantastic debate this evening :)