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"Easy-to-read book on celibacy: Patrick McCarthy commends Thomas McGovern's comprehensive overview"

Earlier this year, the former government minister, Mr Justin Keating, excited quite a controversy with his remark: 'I would not allow celibates near disadvantaged institutionalised children, not because they are all bad, but because the risk is too high'.

(The Irish Catholic, 22 July, 1999) The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, called on Mr Keating to withdraw the remark and apologise. Mr Donnacha O'Connell. Director of the ICCL, made the comment: 'If, in any other context, one were to castigate a class of people because of the actions of a few in that class, it would be called hate speech'.

Comments such as those made by Mr Keating also suggest a need exists for a better understanding of the charism of priestly celibacy today. Priestly Celibacy Today is a worthy response to this need.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, much scholarly research has taken place on the historical, scriptural and theological foundations of priestly celibacy by people such as Christian Cochini, Alfons Stickler and others.

At the level of official Church teaching, the last 30 years has also been very fruitful, in particular, with the 1967 encyclical letter of Pope Paul VI, Sacerdotalis caelibatus, and the teaching of Pope John Paul II. Fr McGovern's book is an excellent synthesis of all of these developments.

The introduction presents critical factors - in particular the subjectivisation and relativisation of the concept of truth -which have reduced the terms in which many moral issues are debated in our times. Understanding of priestly celibacy, the author affirms, is one area harmed by those reduced terms.

In this regard, the author follows the analysis of modem moral debate associated in particular with the name of Alasdair Maclntyre. The purpose of his book is to make a contribution in a process of recovery (p. 28) of a broader understanding of priestly celibacy.

The author sets about his aim on a number of fronts. The author first of aIl presents the most up-to-date historical scholarship on priestly celibacy, which has shown that an unwritten legal custom of continence for married men, who were ordained, and celibacy for single men being ordained preceded any written church legislation and goes back to earliest times.

The author next examines the scriptural foundations and theology of celibacy before treating of the contribution of Pope John Paul II to the understanding of priestly celibacy, which is located within the context of his wider development of the theology of the human person. The author also includes chapters on formation for priestly celibacy; celibacy and holiness; objections to celibacy and various witnesses and testimonies to celibacy.

The various chapters of this work are helpfully broken down into specific parts, which makes the book easy to read and the various arguments clear. Sources are clearly but unobtrusively given and the author provides a valuable bibliographv and Index.

President George Bush once said he believed what hindered his bid for re-election as president was that he had difficulty articulating what he called the "vision thing". Much credit is due to the Fr McGovern for his well-researched, comprehensive and clear presentation of the Church's vision of priestly celibacy.

This review first appeared in the October 1999 issue of Intercom (Dublin)