Celibacy has not always been the norm in the Catholic Church. In its earliest days, clergymen were largely married. Pixabay

Priest stirs up Twitter with celibacy defence

  • March 17, 2018
There’s no doubt that Fr. Harrison Ayre believes in the beauty of priestly celibacy.

So when he was made aware of a March 6 tweet by American comedian Joe Rogan attacking celibacy, Ayre was quick to respond with a tweet of his own affirming that priests “are renouncing a true good for the sake of being totally available to give our life in service to our flock.” It has only grown from there, and soon the hashtag #celibacymatters was trending on Twitter.

It began when another priest re-posted Rogan’s comments about a burgeoning scandal at the Vatican where a male prostitute is said to have links to about 40 priests. Rogan, who often critiques the Catholic Church, asked in his tweet, “At what point are we going to realize that forced celibacy is unnatural and unhealthy?”

Ayre replied to the priest’s retweet of Rogan and that began the conversation. Within two days, his post had been liked by hundreds and retweeted several hundred times, as were other posts in the conversation.

“It kind of started snowballing from there,” said Ayre, pastor of Holy Family Notre Dame Parish in Port Alberni, B.C., on Vancouver Island. “Other priests and religious and laypeople started using the hashtag to talk about the beauty of celibacy and why it’s an important and valuable thing in the life of the Church.”

It certainly struck a chord within Catholic circles with some priests using it as a reflection on the nature of celibacy and how to live it better.

Though quite clearly not enthralled with Rogan’s comment, the conversation has been quite respectful, which is often not the case when social media is involved.

“My experience with Twitter is it can be a pretty poisonous atmosphere, even in Catholic circles,” said the 35-year-old Ayre, who has been a priest for just over three years.

“No one went out and attacked Joe Rogan. We just simply affirmed the beauty of celibacy and why it’s a good and beautiful thing and should be supported in the life of the Church.”

Celibacy has not always been the norm in the Catholic Church. In its earliest days, clergymen were largely married. But over the years it has developed into a celibate priesthood, which was mandated at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 and the tradition reaffirmed in 1563 at the Council of Trent. Theologically, the Church sees the priesthood as a ministry that conforms to Jesus, who remained chaste as He was “married” to the Church. 

Ayre said too many commentators like Rogan want to drag the Church down to “this pornified culture’s level” by saying celibacy is an unrealistic expectation for anyone and “not a healthy way to live.” 

“We’re not going to be drawn down (to that level). It is something beautiful, something good.”

There are no doubts many priests struggle with celibacy, especially young priests who have grown up in a culture that has increasingly accepted pornography and uber-sexuality as the norm. 

“When you’re accepting God’s call to celibate love it’s not an easy choice because you’re giving up (something) good, a natural good of marriage. A true call to celibacy sees the beauty and goodness of marriage and says that’s a good thing to desire…. There’s definitely struggles with that,” he said.

But Ayre is quite forthright when he says “honestly, the struggle pales in comparison to the good things of it all.”

“As you grow into embracing celibacy you live it and you see it’s a beautiful thing,” he said.

Ayre doesn’t believe #celibacymatters will be a long-term phenomenon since “things have a very short shelf life” on social media, but said he’s happy his tweet has stirred up a conversation.

(Conlon is a writer in Regina.)

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