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- Main article: Sexual abstinence
Celibacy refers either to being unmarried or to sexual abstinence. A vow of celibacy is a promise not to enter into marriage or engage in sexual intercourse. Celibacy has long been a synonym for abstinence or chastity, with "celibacy" a weightier word implying a commitment or even a vow. Some modern commentators use "celibacy" in a limited and loose way, meaning only abstention from sex with a partner. They distinguish between "celibacy" (being partnerless) and "abstinence" (the real thing), and believe one can masturbate and still be called "celibate." They refer to this as "unchaste celibacy." But this is not the long held understanding of the word. Celibacy implies chastity and complete sexual abstinence (as above) and is probably the strongest English word for the sexless state.
The term involuntary celibacy has recently appeared to describe the partnerless state, even though many describing themselves thus do masturbate.
Clerical celibacy is a requirement for priests of some religions or denominations within a religion. These are church laws maintained by the Roman Catholic Church and also by the monastic orders of Hindu and Buddhist traditions in the East. In the Orthodox Church ordinary parish priests are expected to be married men with families before ordination, and they need their family's approval to become a priest. Clerical celibacy was an important point of disagreement during the Reformation.
Reformers argued that requiring a vow of celibacy from a priest was contrary to biblical teaching (see 1 Tim 4:1-5, Heb 13:4  and 1 Cor 9:5 ), a degradation of marriage and a reason for the widespread sexual misconduct within the clergy at the time of the Reformation (e.g., discussed by Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion IV,12,23-28 ).
The Church did not change its position claiming to be based on Matthew 19:12
. The arguments against the Reformer's interpretations were some of the following: the Church never condemned or forbade marriage but has only required celibacy of those who would enter the priesthood so they could devote themselves completely to the care of Christ's Flock (see Mathew 19:12) or who have otherwise taken vows to do so of their own free will (in response to 1 Tim 4:1-5); the Church has never dishonored marriage but has elevated its honor from its Old Testament and secular status while acknowledging Christ's elevation of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven to an even more honorable status (in response to Heb 13:4); and the Church has not required celibacy of all ecclesiastics at all times in history (it was not required of the majority of ecclesiastics in the early Church, and in modern times certain converts are permitted to be married when receiving Holy Orders), although Christ's counsel is normally followed (in response to 1 Cor. 9:5, which lists certain ecclesiastics who had the right at the time, but apparently chose not to exercise this right for the sake of the Gospel). The Church also found that the clerics who engaged in sexual misconduct were not sincere, unreserved followers of Christ, but those who had either become ecclesiastics with the wrong intentions or had lost their fidelity to Christ.
The Catholic Church's practice of clerical celibacy among priests and bishops of the Latin Rite and bishops of all rites, Eastern and Western, was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council and reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, June 24, 1967.
In Hinduism, there is a historical difference between monks and priests. Historically, monks take vows of poverty and celibacy and are exempt from most public ceremonies and focused instead on prayer and meditation, focusing on the contemplative side of the Hindu tradition. Priests on the other hand do not have to be celibate and are responsible for the public ceremonies in the Hindu faith. Over the last 100 years however, the public roles between monks and priests have started to change and now some monks function within the social structure in needy areas of society.
Recently, the issue of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests has again become a source of heated debate, partly in response to the decline in "vocations" (men applying to be priests), but also in the wake of discoveries of longstanding child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the USA and elsewhere. Although a married priesthood is advocated by some to be a solution to these problems, the Church continues to stand firm in its longstanding celibacy rule. Church representatives maintain that sexual crimes are not caused by celibacy, but by poor or incorrect catechesis, by improper or incorrect seminary teaching, by underhanded seminary activity, and by a loss of fidelity to Christ and the Church. They further claim that in the sectors of the Church where fidelity to the Church's teachings is valued, there are a higher number of new vocations and a lower incidence of sexual abuse cases.  Additionally, many point to the vast majority of priests not accused of sexual misconduct.
Others, still, point to research indicating no direct connection between celibacy and clerical abuse, citing, among other things, the fact that rates of abuse are significantly higher among non-celibate people of all professions than they are among celibate priests. Prof. Philip Jenkins, Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University, published the book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis in 1996. In it, he stated that between 0.2 and 1.7 percent of Catholic priests are pedophiles or child molesters. His 2002 article "The myth of the 'pedophile priest'" expresses his views. In contrast to Louise Haggett's statement, Professor Jenkins states:
"My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination -- or indeed, than nonclergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported."
Reasons for celibacy
- Health reasons, to eliminate the risks of venereal disease.
- Desire to focus energies on other matters, like social issues.
- Religious reasons: Catholics understand celibacy to be a reflection of life in Heaven, and a source of detachment from the material world, which aids in one's relationship with God. Catholic priests are called to be espoused to the Church itself, and espoused to God, without overwhelming commitments interfering with the relationship. Catholics understand celibacy as the calling of some, but not of all. The Church has clear teachings on sexuality and family life, and the intrinsic supernatural goods of both. Many public aberrations of celibacy, then, can be explained by a misunderstanding of celibacy itself.
- The Greater good: A refusal to reproduce, because it may be detrimental to society by contributing to over-population. Celibacy could also be a means of preventing a hereditary condition or contagion from spreading.
- It could make a relationship less complex and even more democratic. It can be argued that the historical Christian ideal was celibacy partially for this reason.
- An inability to obtain a willing sexual partner, due to social awkwardness or anxiety, physical or mental handicap, or lack of physical attractiveness and/or financial resources (involuntary celibacy).
- It could even be a case of no interest in sex or simply disliking sex (asexuality).
- Among Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), homosexuals are expected to remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. A Catholic organization promoting chaste celibacy for homosexuals is Courage International. Those who identify as homosexual can not become Catholic priests, however, even if they maintain celibacy. The LDS Church encourages its members not to feed any such tempted desire. In early times homosexuals would also be celibate to avoid punishment under sodomy laws.
- In Buddhism, the main goal of living according to the celibate, is to eliminate (or at least decrease) desire. Desire is seen as one of the main causes of suffering, both in the world as in the mind or heart. A commonly-used metaphor sees desire, especially sexual desire, to be like drinking salty water: the more one consumes, the greater the desire - and the worse one's (mental) state of health becomes.
- In Hindu culture, celibacy is observed when the young child leads a student life. A Hindu renunciate may take the vow of celibacy at any age when they have understood that living for material/sensual pleasures will never bring the perfect happiness that their soul desires. Thus their life becomes centered on surrender to Guru and God with the firm hope of God realization and the perfect Divine Happiness.
One religious argument for celibacy is given by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:7-8;32-35: "But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment."
- Swami Narayanananda
- Clerical celibacy
- Compendium of celibacy quotes and reference material
- Abstinence and Celibacy
- Celibate FAQ
- The Biblical foundation of priestly celibacy
- The Reformation view of Celibacy
- Toward a Protestant Theology of Celibacy - a PhD Dessertaion by Russell Joseph Hobbs
- HBO documentary film "Celibacy"
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