It is a grave personal sin, which also harms the Church, when any priest breaks his vow of chastity directly, that is, by having sexual relations outside of marriage. (Recall that some Catholic priests are validly married under Church law.) But this post is about the ways that a priest can “break” or we might say “sin gravely against” his vow of chastity indirectly — without committing any sexual acts.
A priest breaks his vow (or promise) of chastity indirectly, if he approves, promotes, or justifies:
* direct abortion
* abortifacient contraception
* same-sex marriage
* homosexual acts
* premarital sex
* unnatural sexual acts in marriage
Abortion and contraception are not sexual acts. But both of these types of sins are closely related to sexual acts. Adultery includes a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic who has relations with their civil spouse. Approval of same-sex marriage is implicitly an approval of the sexual acts of the same-sex couple, since marriage generally implies an approved sexual relationship. To “justify” a sinful act is to claim that the act is moral, when it is objectively sinful.
Perhaps a Canon lawyer will tell you that a priest does not break his vows, from the perspective of Church law, even if he does sin gravely, when teaching or promoting gravely immoral sexual acts. Canon law is useful to the Church, and the perspective of the law is relevant. But, as Dr. Ed Peters has said: “The frame of reference for the mission of the Catholic Church has never, ever been the Code of Canon Law” [Source]. The Faith is more than Church law, and the Faith is not primarily based on Church law. Our Faith is based on the virtues of love, faith, and hope, on the love of God and neighbor, and on the teachings of Christ found in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.
From the perspective of the love of God and neighbor, a priest who claims that gravely immoral sexual acts are actually moral acts thereby commits a grave offense against the love of God and neighbor. But he also contradicts the moral truths upon which chastity is based, and he harms the chastity of others by approving and promoting gravely immoral sexual acts. It would be absurd and hypocritical for anyone to claim that a priest does not break or sin gravely against his vow of chastity if he convinces others to commit acts gravely contrary to chastity, or if he approves or promotes such acts.
Priests who sin gravely against their vow of chastity are not worthy to receive holy Communion, until they repent.
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