In an article published by L’Osservatore Romano, Stefan Heid, professor of Liturgy and Hagiography at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology, said that “in its substance and origin, celibacy is a spiritual decision” that “requires interior strength.”
In his article, Heid explains that “in every age of the Church there are priests who fail in their own sexuality. As with any life-long decision, which entails a long period of time, celibacy also requires an interior strength. It can be lived only by a healthy priest, who is capable of marriage, and even as such it is always a gift and a struggle. It’s about a decision ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven’.”
After noting that it is true that in the early Church there were some married priests, Heid asks how continence in the clerical life came about. “You cannot take continence out of the life of Jesus, just as you cannot take out the miracles or the exorcisms. When Jesus spoke of the eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, it was understood as perfect continence for all of the disciples, regardless of whether or not the Apostles were married.”
“The apostolic way of life of poverty, continence and mission was nothing more than the way of life of the Lord and produced great fascination in the Easter Church, and therefore it came to be the a vital charismatic principle,” Heid says.
This was at the same time the root of continence in the clergy which, at least at the beginning, was not a ‘discipline’ but rather reflected the high moral and religious demands of Christians. In such an atmosphere the priestly aspect also plays its role. It is the primitive religious experience of humanity that sexual continence is a demand of religious fear,” he continued.
Heid also says that “celibacy has an eminent spiritual dimension that greatly transcends the question of discipline. Thus according to the judgment of the early Church, ecclesiastical celibacy has dogmatic relevance.”
“When the Fathers of the Church implicitly or explicitly affirm apostolicity, in accordance with the Scriptures, and the irrenunciability of clerical continence, then in today’s terminology (held also for example by Karl Rahner), they consider continence to be of divine law,” he added.