The Melbourne archbishop says it is not impractical to expect all priests to be celibate.
Archbishop Denis Hart says celibacy is a wonderful vocation, a high ideal and part of the discipline of the priesthood.
“Celibacy rightly lived and prepared for with proper formation, I do believe, has a valid function,” he told the child abuse royal commission on Tuesday.
Archbishop Hart said it was not unachievable to expect all priests to be celibate, but living a balanced life was important.
“I am a celibate,” he said.
“I need to have a balance in my life. I need to have proper relationships with people.
“If any of those things fall aside, then you have a situation where a wrong attitude, a minimisation, can develop.”
Archbishop Hart said a danger arose when priests did not enjoy balanced relationships and became isolated, causing them to “seek out situations which are plain wrong, and they minimise the consequences of that”.
Archbishop Hart did not accept that adults would be less likely to interfere with children if they led non-celibate lives.
“It’s a premise based on a principle that I don’t accept, that everyone has to have a sexual outlet, and I don’t accept that principle.”
The modern priesthood had a much better chance of knowing whether student priests were suitable to be ordained, he said.
Archbishop Hart said some priests struggled with the burden of celibacy and he had asked the Pope to dispense them from the priesthood.
“It’s good if help can be given to them if they realise it’s not for them.”
But he also had wide experience of priests enjoying fulfilling, celibate lives.
“I do believe wholeheartedly in the value of celibacy for the priesthood because it is a being available for people, a broader kind of love. It’s a very high ideal. Not everyone attains to it. But it’s very, very worthwhile.”