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A plea for caution in the celibacy debate

SIR – It was only after centuries of discussion, debate and deepening understanding of the nature of New Testament priesthood that celibacy became the norm for the Church in the West and partly for those in the East (Letter, December 15). Like everything else that is deeply rooted in Catholic discipline, devotion and practice, it is the fruit of a progressive universal adoption, continued like a stream of conscious enlargement of comprehension and perception of significance.

The modern contention that it – or anything else that does not fit with the contemporary zeitgeist of dismantling Catholic heritage and culture – can be abolished now with the stroke of a pen is unsupportable in reference to custom, theology and doctrinal development.

In his characteristically profound and philosophically well-argued essay on the development of Christian doctrine, Blessed John Henry Newman is clear that development is only valid and legitimate when it enlarges and extends understanding. If it narrows and diminishes what has previously been held sacrosanct and theologically admissible, it is a corruption.

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