11 Sep 2023


In our highly sexualised culture, celibacy is often despised or belittled. It’s said no normal man would commit to it. Yet here in the Archdiocese of Sydney we will have four ordinations to the priesthood this year, we had five last year, six in COVID time, and six in the year before. A steady stream has meant the average age of the Sydney clergy has been declining for the past decade and a half. These younger priests are not just a happy statistic: they are men of intelligence, holiness and generosity, of evangelical zeal and pastoral solicitude. This year alone, we welcomed 17 new admissions to the seminary, the largest intake in nearly four decades. So much for the impossibility of attracting young men to the celibate priesthood today!

Some people don’t like things Catholic, and readily demonise anything different about our teachings and traditions. They tag celibacy ‘involuntary’ though no one is born or forced into it. They even blame it for child abuse. To our great shame, some priests did indeed breach their vows and trust, doing terrible harm to victims, families and the Church. But most priests by far live lives of chaste devotion to God and tireless sacrifice for their people, and abuse is an issue not just for our Church but for families, churches and organisations without celibacy. By the time they are ordained, today’s candidates are generally a decade maturer and more experienced than were their predecessors, have been thoroughly screened psychologically, and have received far more human and spiritual formation. They strike me as very ‘normal’ psychologically, if rather counter-cultural in their idealism.

It’s been suggested that particular ethnic groups, such as Indigenous Amazonians or Australians, are incapable of celibacy. Yet the Gospel is for “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Mk 16:25; Mt 28:19; Acts 1:8; Rev 5:9-10) and must gradually convert culture. It took some parts of the West ten centuries to settle fully to priestly celibacy: why would we give up on indigenous Australians after only two? And why should we acquiesce in the demands of a secular culture that we give up everything distinctive about Catholic Christianity?

Though our two candidates already promised celibacy at their diaconate, it hangs in the air today also. They will promise to act ceaselessly for their people, conform themselves ever more closely to Christ the priest, and offer themselves as a sacrifice to the Father—promising more than just being good Christians. As a dramatic sign of that ‘more’, they will prostrate themselves before the altar in radical abandonment to God’s will.

What is the ‘more’ a priest offers to God? Not just his sexuality, of course, but his time and energy, fidelity and obedience, creativity and spirituality. : But in the Western tradition, for much of the past two millennia, celibacy has been at the heart of this gift.[1] The Lord praised those who were “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” (Mt 19:12) and promised rewards a hundredfold to those who renounced marriage and family for Him (Mt 19:29). Like Jesus, Paul never married: he thought only single people could devote themselves entirely to the Lord’s affairs (1Cor 7:8,32). Advocates of ‘Reform’ in the 16th and 21st centuries claimed celibacy is without warrant in Scripture, but it’s there in the New Testament and the lives of the first Christians.

Whether clergy should marry was hotly debated in the post-apostolic era. Saints, popes and synods increasingly mandated clerical celibacy, required sexual abstinence for married priests, and forbade remarriage of widowed ones.[2] By the Middle Ages celibacy was the rule throughout the West.[3] However imperfectly some lived it, its value was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent,[4] and Vatican II called it “a sign and incentive of pastoral charity” and “a source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world”.[5] Celibacy allows priests to share with Christ the very condition of His living,[6] to cling to Him “with undivided hearts and [to] dedicate themselves more freely… to the service of God and humanity”.[7] As the Eucharist is a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the world to come (Rev 19:7-9), so its ministers are a premonition of “the children of the resurrection” whom the Lord said “shall neither be married nor take spouses” (Lk 20:35-36).[8]

Of course, the Roman Church allows exceptions to this, for example, for already-married Anglican clergy who become Catholic and are ordained for the Ordinariate. Our sister churches of the East, both Catholic and Orthodox, mostly have married priests and we fully respect their priesthood. Still, those churches insist that while some married men may be ordained priest, no priest can marry, and that those with the fullness of the priesthood, the bishops, are always celibates. Even married priests and laity value the sacrifice of their celibate brothers.

It’s possible that one day celibacy will no longer be the rule for Western clergy. There are serious arguments for change. But it may bring little gain and considerable loss. Protestant denominations have found it is no guarantee of vocational numbers, longevity, or fruitfulness. Consecrated religious and celibate priestly vocations have largely vanished in those churches as virginity and continence were devalued. Any change of discipline amongst Latin Catholics would also require a radical resetting of expectations as to priestly availability and funding.

More importantly, while good priests can struggle with aspects of their vocation, or differ over Church discipline, I suspect few would actually forego their own celibacy. Others, seeking revolution in the Church, want to see priests married. But as great a good as marriage is, Latin priests know that God requires something different from them. To act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) means giving themselves totally to the Church as their bride (cf. Eph 5:25-27), becoming spiritual fathers through the nuptial mystery of this undivided self-gift.[9] Like the Blessed Virgin who gave her flesh totally to Christ’s coming in earthly flesh, so the priest gives his own for Christ’s coming in His Eucharistic Flesh.

Of course, some priests live a cold, lonely or frustrated continence. It requires, as Pope Francis has emphasised, a certain grace to live celibacy wholly and joyfully—as indeed it takes to live consecrated, married or single life well. But celibacy can also be “a means of sanctification” through healthy relationships “of true esteem and goodness deeply rooted in Christ”.[10] Which is why, for all the talk at the Amazon Synod of dropping clerical celibacy for certain ethnic groups, Pope Francis chose to reaffirm the Latin Church’s commitment to it.[11] He recently told reporters it was naive to think vocations shortages would be solved by allowing married priests: rather, the Church must address cultural resistance to chastity and self-sacrifice.[12] Whatever future popes and councils might decide, he declared he’d rather die than be the one who undermined this noble tradition.[13]

Today two men, our sons and brothers, are called to conform themselves to Christ as priests and so offer themselves totally to the Father as He did. Matthew is from a Polish-Australian background and as a babe-in-arms was blessed by St John Paul II. Perhaps that doomed him to be a priest! But growing up he was more interested in being a professional tennis player and airline pilot. He was well on the way to both when the power of the Rosary turned him around. He got more involved in his faith through daily Mass, spiritual reading and Catholic events. He studied philosophy in Rome and Cracow and the desire to give himself completely to God and His Church only intensified…

Alongside our Polish-Aussie priestling is an Anglo-Greek one, born and raised in South-West Sydney. He attended a Greek Orthodox school but his Mum, now deceased, raised the children Catholic. A priest kick-started the idea of priesthood in him, but like Matthew he pursued engineering first. In both families, dedicating oneself to God is not so unthinkable: Richard has a priest brother and Matthew’s sister is a sister. Concerned especially for those abandoning the faith, Richard finally took a leap of faith into the seminaries of Homebush and Rome. Yesterday he turned 33, so he is the prefect age for being conformed to Christ the Priest.

Richard and Matthew, my dear sons, the world wonders why men like yourselves would embrace celibate priesthood in the Catholic Church today? The reason you give is simple: you want to give God and His people your all—your minds and hearts, souls and bodies. As our epistle today teaches (Eph 4:1-13), by living a life worthy of your vocation you will build up the Church in unity and individual souls in faith. And so, echoing our first reading (Isa 61:1-3), we will anoint you to bring good news, healing, liberation and favour. But it is our Gospel (Jn 15:9-17) that best explains your commitment and ours: as priestly celibates you must be great lovers. You must abide in Christ’s love, keeping His commandments of love, laying down your life for love of His people. Those people will be praying for and supporting you, not just as you lie prostrate before the altar but always, for they greatly appreciate what you are giving them and God. So may you grow in the knowledge, communion and service of the Lord, until in Paul’s words you become “perfect men, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.”

Word of Thanks after the Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood

Thank you, Father Richard, and let me echo your words of thanks to those who raised you and Father Matthew in the faith, those who formed you for service as a priest, and those who made today’s such a special celebration.

The Church of Sydney rings out with joy that it has two new priests today and expects two more later this year. Four is great—fourteen would be better! Grateful as I am for each one, we know the harvest is rich and the labourers too few. So, again I charge the people of Sydney with praying to the Lord of the harvest to send more priests and religious into His harvest. And to the young men of Sydney I say: people are crying out for words of life, for sacraments of grace and for deeds of love from the likes of you. Come discern with us and be assured of a first-rate formation. May the two men who have offered themselves so generously today inspire you to give yourself over to God’s plan for you. And to today’s two I say: congratulations fathers! Thanks be to God!

[1] See John Cavadini (ed.), The Charism of Priestly Celibacy: Biblical, Theological and Pastoral Reflections (Ave Maria, 2012); Christian Cochini, The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (Ignatius Press, 1990); Carter Griffin, Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest (Emmaus Road, 2019); Stefan Heid, Celibacy in the Early Church (Ignatius Press, 2001); Marc Ouellet, Friends of the Bridegroom: For A Renewed Vision of Priestly Celibacy (EWTN, 2019); Gary Selin, Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations (Catholic University of America Press, 2016).

[2] Amongst the doctors who advocated clerical continence were Origen (d. 253), Ephraem (d. 373), Ambrose (d. 387), Epiphanius (d. 403), Jerome (d. 420) and Gregory the Great (d. 604). Several popes decreed celibacy for clergy:  Damasus I (384), Siricius (385), Innocent I (404) and Leo I (458). The matter was unresolved at the First Council of Nicaea (325) but local synods issued edicts requiring clerical celibacy:  in Africa, Carthage (390, 401-19); in Spain, Elvira (306); in France, Orange (441) and Tours (461); and in Italy, Turin (398). In the Eastern Church, the Council of Trullo (691) settled that bishops must be unmarried and other clergy could only marry before ordination. See Cochini, Apostolic Origins; Heid, Celibacy in the Early Church; Ouellet, Friends of the Bridegroom, ch.2.

[3] Abuses of clerical celibacy provoked stronger legislation in celibacy from the Synods of Augsburg (952), Anse (994) and Poitiers (1000).  Pope Gregory VII in 1075 forbade married priests or those who had concubines from saying Mass or performing other ecclesiastical functions. The First (1123) and Second Lateran Councils (1139) made marriage an impediment to Holy and made Holy Orders an impediment to Marriage in the West.

[4] Council of Trent, Session 24, canons 9-10. The obligatory character of celibacy for the Latin clergy was repeated in the first Code of Canon Law of 1917 (can. 132, §1).

[5] Vatican Council II, Presbyterorum Ordinis: Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (1965) 16.

[6] St Paul VI, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (1967) 23; Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis (2005) 24.

[7] Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 16. See also CIC 277; Congregation for Catholic Education, Formation in Celibacy (1974); Congregation for Clergy, Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests (2013).

[8] Paul VI, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus 33; Ouellet, Friends of the Bridegroom, chs 2-4.

[9] Pius XII, Menti Nostrae (1950) 20, citing Sts Ambrose, John of Avila, Alphonsus Ligouri and John Bosco; John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (1981) 16; Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis 24.

[10] Christopher White, “Pope Francis opens Vatican priesthood conference by upholding celibacy as a ‘gift’,” National Catholic Reporter 17 February 2022.

[11] “Pope Francis upholds celibacy by refusing to allow married men to become priests,” ABC News 12 February 2020. 8

[12] “Pope Francis rejects optional celibacy to increase vocations: ‘We must not be naïve’,” Rome Reports 13 March 2023; cf. Griffin, Why Celibacy? pp. 90-96.

[13] Christopher Altieri, “Pope Francis on priestly celibacy,” The Catholic Thing 6 February 2019.


Rev. Richard Sofatzis and Matthew Lukaszewicz

Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney for the priestly ordination of Rev. Richard Sofatzis and Matthew Lukaszewicz.

I acknowledge the presence of Bishops Danny Meagher and Terry Brady; Vicar-General Fr Gerry Gleeson; Vicar for Clergy Fr Michael McLean; and other vicars and deans. From the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, I salute the Rector, Fr Michael de Stoop, with his staff; and teachers from the Catholic Institute of Sydney.

I extend a warm welcome to the families and friends of our ordinands, who have been instrumental in nurturing their faith and vocations from birth. From the Sofatzis family, Richard’s father Bill, grandmother Georgina, siblings Fr Thomas FSSP, and Elizabeth, Lucy, Harry, David and Peter, with their families; aunties Effie and Rosie, uncles John and Dom, cousins and other relatives. Joining us by livestream today are Richard’s Roman classmates in the USA and from heaven Richard’s very proud mother Gillian.

From the Lukaszewicz clan I greet Matthew’s parents Maria and Stan, as well as his sister Olivia, a novice at Schoenstatt Germany. Joining us via livestream are Matthew’s uncle Christopher and aunty Bridget in Adelaide, and relatives in Poland.

I also acknowledge the priests of Sydney and beyond, who joyfully welcome these new brothers into their ranks, and seminarians of our archdiocese and beyond who today see light at the end of their tunnels. I also welcome the deacons, religious and lay faithful, including those from the parishes from which our ordinands hail or in which they have served. To our two ordinands especially, and to everyone present in this cathedral, the crypt or by live stream, a very warm welcome to you all.