A few years ago Desmond Zwar began researching a book into how priests dealt with the requirement that they be celibate. Hep laced an advertisement in The Swag - the journal of the National Council of Priests - seeking priests who would be willing to talk to me about their relationship with celibacy, whether they found it easy or difficult to maintain. About eight priests responded. He interviewed them by phone, taped the conversations and returned the edited version to each priest for review. This is an edited extract of his conversations with four of them, in The Age.
''We talked a lot about celibacy in the seminary. For me it means regular self-appraisal, and a bit of doubt as well. It was easier for me as I had 15 years teaching in the secondary system. As a single fellow, when you are teaching secondary students, you are teaching girls as well who are in many ways at their physical peak.
And I had to think to myself: 'Well, how do I relate to these girls?' I had to acknowledge to myself that they were attractive to me; I'd be a fool if I didn't think that.
But that doesn't mean taking the further step of trying to get a physical relationship.''
How did you suppress your sexual feelings?
''I think they are natural. If I tried to suppress them I'd be storing up trouble for myself in the future. So I acknowledge to myself: 'Yes, that is a beautiful girl'. The thing that stood by me was: 'God created it, but you are not allowed to play with it!'
It's a gift from God - this beautiful person - and I find that gift precious.
We discussed celibacy a lot in the seminary. We looked at it not as a giving up, but a giving for. Being celibate means you are always able to be open to one more relationship. If you are in a relationship with another person, to a degree that has to be exclusive; other people have to be kept out.
Being celibate means there is always another friend you can make. When I entered the seminary there wasn't a lot explained about celibacy, and I wasn't sure whether to raise the question. But in the first year we looked at the whole issue of sexuality. What is sexuality? What is your sexuality? What is healthy sexuality? Is it something to be suppressed?''
MARTIN (not his real name)
Have you had relationships with women?
''Yes, but they didn't become physical relationships. I felt that if I got married it would be a matter of respect to that person I married, that we explored sexuality together.
I'm 45 and I do have sexual longings. What do I do about it? I acknowledge them first of all. I don't pretend they're not there. I don't try and drive them away. I ask what my body is trying to tell me - my body is telling me I'm still a normal male. But there's a message from God as well. As a priest and a celibate some opportunities are cut off; but every path in life opens some road and closes others.
I don't have feelings of guilt about my sexual feelings. Sexuality is a gift from God; if we deny it we are denying something that God has given us. But to deny having them is to fool oneself, and that can be dangerous.
To be aware of these feelings doesn't mean to act on them. I would like celibacy to be an option. To be celibate is to be potentially available to all. It is a sign that we do not have to be obsessed with sex or sexual activity.
But to expect it of everybody - especially those who do not have the gift - is quite unfair.''
How much self-doubt have you had - or still have - regarding celibacy?
''Leading up to ordination I had no self-doubt. I undertook wanting to be a priest and being a member of a religious order; I accepted the fact that celibacy was a part and parcel of that. I did that - not without question - but with full acceptance. I was 26.
Two or three years after ordination I started to seriously question whether this would really be possible as a lifetime commitment.''
FULL STORY Priests, sex and celibacy (Age)