Spiritual Dryness and Celibacy in Catholic Priests – Discernment of Ongoing Spiritual Journeys from Relational and Psychosexual Immaturities
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The celibacy of Roman Catholic priests, in contrast to a single lifestyle, implies an existential choice for spiritual reasons as a conscious motivation. Nevertheless, several of them struggle with celibacy life style and some experience phases of spiritual dryness. So far it is unclear which role priestly celibacy may play in this context. We therefore intended to investigate whether and how celibacy on the one hand and supportive relations to other persons and feelings of loneliness on the other hand are connected to the experience of spiritual dryness among priests. As part of the German Pastoral Ministry Study, we analyzed data sets of 2531 priests. The results at first hand confirmed a correlation of spiritual dryness with a low commitment to celibacy and loneliness. Regression analyses revealed problems with sexuality and loneliness as an inability to be alone are relevant indicators of spiritual dryness. Our results point to two important concomitant mental conditions in a considerable number of cases: to continuous psychosexual problems and immaturities on one hand and to a basic incapacity to be alone, pointing to a serious structural deficit in the psychic life of some of our participants. Our study finally is a call to address these problems adequately, first of all for the mental health and spiritual truth of these persons, secondly also in the interest of all of those who priests are called to minister.
KeywordsCatholic priests Celibacy Spiritual dryness Psychosexual maturity Loneliness
Compliance with ethical standards
This study was an investigator-initiated trial without any influence by church authorities. All authors are faculty members of universities; three of the authors are Catholic priests (EF, KB, CJ) working at universities as researchers. The authors do not have any financial or other competing interests to disclose.
All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All individuals who participated in this anonymously conducted cross-sectional study were informed about the purpose of the study, assured of confidentiality and their right to withdraw their participation at any time, and asked to provide informed consent by signing a form included with but separate from the provided questionnaires. None of the participants received any form of incentive.
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