The Catholic University of America

 Gary Selin Defense

Final Examination of Rev. Gary B. Selin

For the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology

April 11, 2011 at 11:00 a.m., Caldwell Room 125



Rev. Msgr.  Paul  G. McPartlan


On the Christological, Ecclesiological, and Eschatological Dimensions of Priestly Celibacy in Presbyterorum Ordinis, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus and Subsequent Magisterial Documents

Magisterial teaching on priestly celibacy prior to the Second Vatican Council was somewhat restricted in scope because of its reliance on two fundamental arguments: the superiority of celibacy over marriage and the need for the priest to maintain ritual purity. This view of priestly celibacy, as useful as it was, did not utilize the full substance of the Catholic theological tradition in this area.

The document, Presbyterorum Ordinis (1965), of Vatican II presented a richer and more ample teaching on priestly celibacy that was largely organized around a threefold scheme, highlighting the christological, ecclesiological, and eschatological dimensions of celibacy, respectively.  Pope Paul VI, in Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (1967), contributed to the further development of the scheme by using it as an organizing principle in his presentation of the Catholic understanding of priestly celibacy. 

This study aims to evaluate magisterial teaching on the threefold dimension of priestly celibacy as introduced in Presbyterorum Ordinis and Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, to explore its origins, and to analyze its influence on subsequent magisterial teachings. The study begins with a review of the historical development of the discipline of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church through a study of scriptural texts, writings of the Church Fathers, and documents of Church councils and popes, up to and including Sacra Virginitas of Pope Pius XII.  It then proceeds to analyze the Acta Synodalia of Vatican II and contemporary theological reflection in order to discover the background to the conciliar presentation of the threefold dimension.  Building upon this original research, the study then looks closely at Paul VI’s use of the threefold scheme, which had a significant effect on subsequent magisterial teaching on celibacy, particularly in Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992) of Pope John Paul II.  This study finally presents a thorough evaluation of the development of the threefold dimension of priestly celibacy. It examines the latter’s internal consistency, magisterial authority, and theological value for the Church as a whole, as a way of understanding more deeply the place of priestly celibacy in the life and mission of the Church, and concludes with some suggestions for further integration of the threefold scheme.