Priestly celibacy must be seen as "a freely accepted commitment and a gift of grace," not simply a functional discipline that frees a man for ministry, said the preacher to the papal household.
At a Feb. 15-17 symposium at the University of Notre Dame, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa called for a deeper understanding of celibacy based on biblical and theological roots.
Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist who has studied the priesthood, said a solid majority of priests embrace celibacy as a benefit to their priesthood, especially those with a good understanding of the theological and scriptural basis for celibacy.
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit said the people of God need to be educated about the worth of priestly celibacy.
The fact that Jesus lived in a state of virginity is "a sure point of reference" to understand the tradition of celibacy in the Church, he said.
Jesus gave his virginal self to the Church and to no one else, he added.