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Question 58.
Dear Fr Christopher, your blessing.
Some people claim that celibate priests are not capable of giving advice on issues regarding family and relationships since they do not have relavant personal experience. Could that be true?

Thank you for your assistance,


Answer to Question 58.

Dear Eleftheria,

As a rule most celibate priests are monks and live in a monastic community, although there are few who have opted for the celibate life, but live as parish priests in town. On the matter of spiritual fathers, we cannot say that all monastics are incapable of giving spiritual advice to married persons just because they do not have the relevant personal experience and neither can we say the all married priests (who have this experience) are therefore proficient on issues regarding family and relationships. There are good and not so good spiritual fathers from both walks of life. What makes a good spiritual father is his spiritual understanding and love. What often makes a bad spiritual father is inexperience and a fanatical and often narrow minded understanding of life and spiritual matters.
We use the name Spiritual father rather liberally, but not every priest who has the blessing to hear confessions is also a spiritual father. The Church is a hospital for sick souls, Christ is the Head Physician and the Priests are his many doctors specialized in many fields of spiritual ailments. But just as there are good knowledgeable and experienced doctor and others not so experienced, so too are there good experienced priests and others inexperienced. A spiritual doctor like a physician must have many years of studying, training and experience, not necessarily a university graduate, but a graduate of the spiritual university, knowledgeable through his own spiritual struggles in how to subdue the passions and overcome temptations. One doctor might prescribe one medicine for an ailment and another might give you something else or another might rely only on homeopathic medicines. It doesn’t matter what each gives as long as the end result is the same. This is true of priests. Not every priest gives the same advice, one will tell you to fast another to read, another to make prostrations, and another will keep silent. Each person is an individual with different needs so there cannot be a fixed rule or general medicine suitable for everyone. The experienced Priest will know which medicine (spiritual advice) will best help to lead the person to salvation, which is the only important thing in life.
Ideally monks/priest serve the needs of their monastery and married priests serve the needs of their parish. In recent years we have seen more and more people turning to monasteries for their confession because they feel that monks are more spiritual and that they would be given better advice. Another reason is that they are embarrassed to go to their local Priest because he knows them and feel that he will judge or lose his good opinion of them. From personal experience I have known wonderful and knowledgeable spiritual fathers from the monastic life, but have also experienced fanatical and narrow minded spiritual fathers (monks) who have no idea about marital life and the problems people face. Such experience has made me cautious and hesitant in advising people to go to monasteries for their spiritual welfare. There are so many good spiritual fathers among the married clergy that indeed understand far better the problems of marital life and society in general that I feel there is no need for people to travel to monasteries for Confession/spiritual advice.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher