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Does Commitment to Celibacy Lead to Burnout or Enhance Engagement? A Study among the Indian Catholic Clergy

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  • St Peter’s Pontifical Seminary

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Burnout and engagement in general are thought to be associated mostly with work related factors and sometimes with personal factors as well. Over the past three decades a number of studies among clergy have identified various causes for priests' susceptibility to burnout and have linked various independent variables in the study of burnout among clergy. However, a study on the association between commitment to celibacy, burnout and engagement among clergy has not been attempted. Is celibacy psychologically a possible way of life? In the Catholic Church (Latin Rite), the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to freely embrace and publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God's kingdom and the service of human beings. This study among Indian Catholic clergy contributes to the literature of burnout and engagement by studying the association of commitment towards priestly celibacy with clergy burnout and engagement - a new venture in the field of burnout and engagement. In addition, for the first time the construct of engagement has been used among clergy. Hierarchical regression analyses in the sample of 511 Catholic diocesan priests from South India confirmed that commitment to celibacy was negatively associated with burnout (that is it had a negative association with emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation and a positive association with personal accomplishment), and on the other hand, it was positively associated with engagement.
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European Journal of Mental Health 5 (2010) 2, 187–204
DOI: 10.1556/EJMH.5.2010.2.2
1788-4934 / $ 20.00 © 2010 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest
EUGENE JOSEPH, JOZEF CORVELEYN, PATRICK LUYTEN & HANS DE WITTE
DOES COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY LEAD
TO BURNOUT OR ENHANCE ENGAGEMENT?
A Study among the Indian Catholic Clergy
(Received: 16 December 2009; accepted: 17 February 2010)
Burnout and engagement in general are thought to be associated mostly with work related
factors and sometimes with personal factors as well. Over the past three decades a number of
studies among clergy have identified various causes for priests’ susceptibility to burnout and
have linked various independent variables in the study of burnout among clergy. However, a
study on the association between commitment to celibacy, burnout and engagement among
clergy has not been attempted. Is celibacy psychologically a possible way of life? In the Cath-
olic Church (Latin Rite), the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred
only on candidates who are ready to freely embrace and publicly manifest their intention of
staying celibate for the love of God’s kingdom and the service of human beings. This study
among Indian Catholic clergy contributes to the literature of burnout and engagement by study-
ing the association of commitment towards priestly celibacy with clergy burnout and engage-
ment – a new venture in the field of burnout and engagement. In addition, for the first time the
construct of engagement has been used among clergy. Hierarchical regression analyses in the
sample of 511 Catholic diocesan priests from South India confirmed that commitment to celi-
bacy was negatively associated with burnout (that is it had a negative association with emo-
tional exhaustion and depersonalisation and a positive association with personal accomplish-
ment), and on the other hand, it was positively associated with engagement.
Keywords: clergy burnout, clergy engagement, commitment to celibacy, diocesan priests,
Catholic Church
Führt das Zölibatsgebot zum Burn-out oder steigert es im Gegenteil das Engagement? Eine
Untersuchung beim katholischen Klerus in Indien: Burn-out und Engagement assoziiert man
gewöhnlich mit beruflichen Faktoren, manchmal aber auch mit Faktoren, die mit dem Privatle-
Corresponding author: Eugene Joseph, St. Peter’s Pontificial Seminary, 61, 8th Main, 18th Cross,
Malleswaram West Post, Bangalore 560 055, Karnataka, South India; uginjoe@hotmail.com.
188 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
ben zusammenhängen. Die in den vergangenen drei Jahrzehnten beim Klerus durchgeführten
Studien haben unterschiedliche Erklärungen dafür geliefert, warum bei Priestern ein Burn-out-
Risiko besteht; bei der Untersuchung von Burn-out-Syndromen beim Klerus wurden unter-
schiedliche unabhängige Variablen miteinander korreliert. Allerdings wurde noch nie versucht,
den Zusammenhang zwischen Zölibatsgebot und Burn-out bzw. Engagement bei Klerikern zu
untersuchen. Ist der Zölibat eine aus psychologischer Sicht akzeptable Lebensweise? In der
römisch-katholischen Kirche können traditionell nur diejenigen Kandidaten das Sakrament des
Priestertums erlangen, die bereit sind – geleitet von der Liebe zum Reich Gottes und dem
Dienst am Menschen – sich freiwillig dafür zu entscheiden, zölibatär zu leben, und diese Ab-
sicht öffentlich zu bekräftigen. Diese beim katholischen Klerus in Indien durchgeführte Unter-
suchung leistet einen Beitrag zur Fachliteratur über Burn-out und Engagement, indem sie den
Zusammenhang zwischen Zölibatsgebot und im Klerus auftretenden Burn-out und Engagement
untersucht – ein neuartiges Vorhaben im Bereich der Forschung zu Burn-out und Engagement.
Des Weiteren wird hier zum ersten Mal das Engagement-Modell beim Klerus angewandt. Die
für eine Stichprobe von 511 Priestern in der katholischen Diözese Südindien durchgeführten
hierarchischen Regressionsanalysen haben bestätigt, dass zwischen Zölibatsgebot und Burn-
out eine negative Korrelation besteht (negative Korrelation wurde gefunden für emotionale Er-
schöpfung und Depersonalisation, positive für individuelle Leistung), gleichzeitig wurde eine
positive Korrelation mit Engagement gezeigt.
Schlüsselbegriffe: Burn-out im Klerus, Engagement beim Klerus, Zölibatsgebot, Diözesanpries-
ter, katholische Kirche
1. Introduction
The Catholic Church does not wish to leave any doubts in the minds of anyone regard-
ing the Church’s firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely
chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin
Rite (JOHN PAUL II 1992). The obligation of celibacy has been perceived by the church
for several centuries as one of the main conditions for priestly ordination and its value
and importance have been articulated in the teachings of the Magisterium down to our
times (Presbyterorum ordinis 1965, 16; Sacerdotalis caelibatus 1967, 14; The Code
of Canon Law 1983, 277 §1; JOHN PAUL II 1992, 29; The Catechism of the Catholic
Church 2002, 1599). The mandatory celibacy of priests in the Latin rite has provoked
more discussion than any other single question since the Second Vatican Council.
Assumptions relating celibacy with lack of commitment to priestly life and ministry
(LOUDEN & FRANCIS 2003; SCHOENHERR & VILARINO 1979) or to leaving priesthood
(SCHOENHERR & YOUNG 1993; VERDIECK et al. 1988) are not new to the Catholic
Church. However, the fact remains that there are hardly any empirical studies of a psy-
chological nature that have been undertaken with regard to celibacy and priesthood.
At the same time, it should be acknowledged that it is a very sensitive issue and to
assess practice of, or attitude toward, celibacy among catholic priests with a few
objective questions is clearly difficult. Hence, it is not surprising to find that there are
no empirical studies done among clergy to find the association of commitment to
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 189
EJMH 5, 2010
celibacy to burnout or engagement. Our study attempts to verify whether commitment
to celibacy can be a resource that would enhance engagement or, on the other hand, a
non-committed attitude towards celibacy could be associated with burnout.
1.1. Burnout and engagement
The most commonly used metaphor to describe a state of mental weariness is burnout
(SCHAUFELI & BAKKER 2004). MASLACH (1982), a prominent scholar in the field, de-
fined burnout as ‘a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced
personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do people work of
some kind’ (p. 3). In line with this definition, clergy burnout can be seen as: (1) A feel-
ing of being devoured from within, of being emotionally exhausted and of ministering
from a posture of nothing left to give; not that one does not want to give, but one just
cannot give. Drained, tapped out, a priest feels he has little energy to give service to
others (MASLACH & JACKSON 1986); 2) The constant outputting of compassion and
caring over time causes a decline in the ability to experience joy or to feel and care
for others, which leads to the development of depersonalisation – a loss of concern for
the people with whom one is working as a result of job-related stress (FREUDENBER-
GER & RICHELSON 1980); 3) It is a sense of reduced accomplishment, wherein the
priest feels he is giving out a great deal of energy and compassion to others over a
period of time, yet is not able to get enough back to reassure himself that the world is
a hopeful place (MASLACH 1993). At the end of the day he questions himself, ‘What
have I accomplished? Is it worth becoming a priest, or being a priest?’
Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a conscious shift from con-
centrating on the negatives to the positives. Thus, the appearance of work engagement
coincides with the rise of so-called positive psychology that focuses on human strengths
and optimal functioning (SELIGMAN & CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI 2000). The most promi-
nent definition of engagement is the one proposed by SCHAUFELI and colleagues
(2002) who define it as ‘a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is char-
acterised by vigor, dedication, and absorption’ (p. 74). That is, in engagement fulfill-
ment exists, in contrast to the voids of life that leave people feeling empty as in burn-
out. In line with this definition, clergy engagement could be defined as a constant
giving of oneself with vigor, dedication and absorption, in service to a noble cause,
without becoming exhausted or cynical. It can be characterised as: 1) A feeling of
possessing high levels of energy; a willingness to offer oneself wholeheartedly and to
invest effort in one’s ministry, even in the midst of difficulties and trying situations;
2) A spirit of enthusiastically dedicating oneself to challenging the situation in which
one is ministering by unconditionally showing love, compassion and care to the people
involved in the situation; 3) A sense of fulfilment and a state of being happily en-
grossed in one’s ministry and an experience of difficulty in detaching oneself from
the same.
190 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
1.2. Commitment to celibacy
Priestly celibacy can be defined as the abstinence from marriage, freely and willingly
accepted for the purpose of committing and dedicating one’s life wholeheartedly and
totally to serve God and the people. There is no evidence in the Bible that celibacy
and ministry are inseparably united (MANNATH 2003). It is true that in the apostolic
times, celibacy was not imposed as a necessary condition for discipleship, even upon
those who were to enter the sacred ministry. However, the example and the words of
Jesus Christ (Lk 18:28–30; Mat 19:27–30; Mk 10:20–21), as well as the fervent ex-
hortation of St. Paul, bring out the deep meaning and the spiritual and practical advan-
tages of celibacy (1Cor 7:32–34) in offering oneself undividedly to serve God and
humanity.
In the post-apostolic development of its life, the Church – for various significant
reasons – found it fitting that its ministers lead a celibate life. In the period between
100–450 dubbed as the Patristic period, the fathers of the Church constantly advocated
celibacy for ecclesial leaders, and, towards the end of the Patristic period, some even
considered sexual activity in marriage to be tainted, and even sinful, if not done for
reproductive goals. Hence, priests who were destined to perform sacred rites were
forbidden to be tainted by ‘suspect’ sexuality (SWENSON 1998). The central reason for
celibacy during this period was ritual purity. The Council of Elvira in Spain (306) was
the first that prohibited bishops, deacons and priests from marrying. However, at the
Council of Nicea (325), a proposal to require celibacy for all priests was defeated, and
in the Council of Trullo (692), the right of priests to marry was reasserted (RICE
1992). The end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th centuries witnessed not only
upheavals in society but also immense decline in clerical discipline and great lapses in
morality as well. Church wealth was also increasing, and priests were leaving church
property to their heirs. Hence, to check these abuses, in 1038 Pope Benedict VIII for-
bade descendents of priests to inherit property. Later in the 11th century Pope Gregory
VII went further, by proscribing married priests from saying mass and forbidding
people from attending masses said by them. Scholars are of the opinion that the first
law forbidding priests to marry was finally handed down in the Lateran Council II in
1139. However, it took another three centuries for the law to become the official doc-
trine at the Council of Trent in 1563. Since then the position of the Catholic Church
(Latin Rite) on the issue of celibacy has remained essentially unchanged (COCHINI
1990; FRAZEE 1972), though the present Pope and his immediate predecessor have
made exceptions for Lutheran and Anglican clergy coming into the church. The Se-
cond Vatican Council (1962–1965) reaffirmed the Roman Catholic position on the
importance of celibacy and the Synod of Bishops that met in Rome in 1971 noted that
celibacy results in undivided devotion to Christ and dedication to the apostolic task
(ministry) and is a sign of the world to come (ABBOT 1966; CORIDEN 1972).
Though the origin of the obligation of celibacy in the Catholic Church could be
ascribed to practical reasons, down through the centuries the various documents and
the teachings of the Church unearthed the rich theological and spiritual significance of
the obligation. Priestly celibacy came to be viewed as a grace, a gift, and a commitment.
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 191
EJMH 5, 2010
Theologically, three important dimensions of celibacy were identified: 1) Celibacy in-
volves freedom, which means that the celibacy of the priest is determined by the free
and conscious choice made by a psychically mature man; 2) It involves sacrifice –
through celibacy a priest becomes a man for others sacrificing his desire to establish
a family; 3) It requires the grace of God to be lived. The choice of celibacy made with
human and Christian prudence and responsibility is governed by grace, which – far
from destroying or doing violence to nature – elevates it and imparts to it supernatural
powers and vigor (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus 1967, 51). In short, celibacy is a sign of
freedom, empowered by God, that exists for the sake of service. The fact that one can
be celibate, if one so chooses, is an indication of the growth of freedom. In the Latin
Church, the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred only
on candidates who are ready to freely embrace and publicly manifest their intention of
staying celibates for the love of God’s kingdom and the service of human beings (The
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2002, 1599). The Code of Canon Law (1983) states
that:
Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the King-
dom of God and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God,
by which the sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart
and can more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and mankind. (277, §1)
Celibacy has been freely and laudably observed by many Christians down through
the centuries as well as in our time, and has always been highly esteemed in a special
way by the Church as a feature of priestly and religious life (Presbyterorum ordinis
1965, 16). Hence, a true knowledge of the real difficulties of the commitment to celi-
bacy is very useful and even necessary for the priest, so that he may be fully aware of
what his celibacy requires in order to be genuine and beneficial (Sacerdotalis Caeli-
batus 1967, 52).
Is celibacy psychologically a possible way of (healthy) life? Mahatma Gandhi
said only a love that can match or exceed what is possible with sexual love can
sustain celibacy (SIPE 1990, 64). MASLOW (1943, 1954) in his theory of the hierarchy
of needs says that we choose the higher need over the lower one if we have been
experiencing both. In this ‘needs’ progression, Maslow found that genital abstinence
or celibacy is not in any way psychologically harmful in the most integrated, most
self-actualised people, functioning at the highest levels of human expression (BROWN
1989). From a psychological point of view, celibacy is not only a renunciation; it is
always an affirmation – an affirmation of the priest’s love and commitment to God
and his people (MANALEL 2006). Living the ideal of celibacy is possible only if a priest
harmoniously integrates the value of celibacy with the wider personality structure. As
long as sexuality is considered as an instinct, it comes under the realm of a biological
fact and the attitude towards sexual problems focuses primarily on self-control and
renunciation. Such a concept does not realise that sexuality has a real influence on the
entire personality; but rather views it as a psychological, instinctive substratum, which
by intruding causes excitement. From this perspective, it is not enough to educate
priests to accept their own sexuality but they should be taught to integrate it into their
192 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
own personality (VERGOTE 1998). Thus, it can be presumed that accepting one’s sexu-
ality and integrating it with one’s personality, by a priest who appreciates the value of
celibacy, and who has an ongoing relationship with God, can be the only means of liv-
ing a healthy, priestly, celibate life.
1.3. Celibacy in the Indian context
Priests in India live in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society. Therefore, it would
be beneficial to situate the issue of celibacy in the Catholic priesthood by briefly dis-
cussing the notion of celibacy in the other religious groups in India. Hinduism con-
siders celibacy as an important virtue and an essential aspect of spiritual life. ‘Brahma-
charya’, a student of Brahman engaged in the study of the Vedas and Brahman was
exhorted to observe strict celibacy. Apart from students, Hindu seers and sages ob-
served strict celibacy most of their lives even though they were married (MECHERIL
1991; MOOKENTHOTTAM 2000). Buddhism extols (life long) celibacy as a virtue es-
sential for obtaining Nirvana (liberation from suffering). Celibacy is required of all
monks and nuns of Buddhism [with the exception of Theravada tradition and among
most of the schools of the Mahayana and Vajrayana orders in Tibet, Japan, and South
Korea, that allow monks to marry] (SACHS 2002). The basic intent of celibacy in Jain-
ism is to conquer passion and to prevent the waste of energy. It is the fourth of the
five minor vows, applicable to monks. Positively stated, the vow is meant to impart
the sense of serenity to the soul (MANI 1969). According to Sikhism, the true path to
achieving salvation and merging with God does not require renunciation of the world
or celibacy, but living the life of a householder, earning an honest living, and avoiding
worldly temptations and sins (EDWARDS 2001; SINGH 1979). Islam forbids intercourse
outside of marriage, but maintaining celibacy as an act of piety is strongly discour-
aged. However, even in Islam, there is a mystic movement called Sufism that advo-
cates abstinence, renunciation, and silence as ways of giving up of oneself to God
(EDWARD 1907). Thus from the above survey we can conclude that the major religious
traditions in India (except Islam and Sikhism) honour and respect celibates and expect
their monks and nuns to be faithful to their commitment of celibacy. Hence, for a
Catholic priest in India to accept the commitment of celibacy which he has freely and
voluntarily chosen is not something alien to his social environment, but an accepted
norm for those offering themselves to God in the Indian culture and tradition.
2. Empirical research on celibacy
Over the years much scholarly writing has been carried out on the subject of celibacy.
However, there are very few empirical studies attempted in this field and definitely not
one trying to establish the association between celibacy and burnout or engagement.
The study by the National Organization for Research Centre (NORC) in the United
States showed that resignations from priesthood were more frequent among young
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 193
EJMH 5, 2010
priests who found loneliness a personal problem and who expressed desire to marry if
celibacy was declared optional (SCHOENHERR & GREELEY 1974). A similar country-
wide survey sponsored by the Spanish hierarchy reported that lack of commitment to
the priestly role was associated with the negative impact of celibacy (SCHOENHERR &
VILARINO 1979). VERDIECK and colleagues (1988) replicated relevant parts of the
1970 NORC Survey in another national sample of American priests and reported that
the cost of celibacy as measured by a desire to marry, although weaker in 1985 than
in 1970, remained the principal consideration in determining whether a priest would
withdraw or continue in active ministerial priesthood. A study by LOUDEN & FRANCIS
(2003) among 1482 Catholic Priests in England and Wales demonstrated that nearly
three quarters of the priests (73%) agreed that chastity is essential for a Catholic
priest. 72% were of the view that most priests remain faithful to their commitment to
celibacy, but the proportion dropped to less than half (46%) to the question whether
they felt that celibacy should remain the norm for entry to priesthood. The study also
revealed that 58% of the priests were clear that given an option they would not enter-
tain thoughts of marriage while remaining in priestly ministry. GREELEY in his book
Priests: A Calling in Crisis (2002) reports the results of the replicated 1993 Times
Survey in 2002 with some additional questions on the sexual orientation and practice
of Catholic priests. The results showed that 72% of the American priests were hetero-
sexual celibates, 10% homosexual celibates and 18% were not celibates.
From the findings of the empirical research the following emerges: All the studies
that have attempted to study priestly celibacy have been done in the United States and
in Europe. There are no studies which have been undertaken among priests in the
Indian context, where celibacy is generally considered as a strong virtue among most
other religious groups. In addition, the strict moral culture with moral codes, and even
moral policing, of the parents and elders in the society in which an Indian grows up,
could also have a significant effect on how priests in India view celibacy. Most of the
studies mentioned above have focused on the behavioural outcomes of living a celi-
bate life and have concentrated on the negative behavioural consequences like turn-
over intention, etc. With a few priests being non-committed to the obligation of celi-
bacy, these minorities can and have been magnified and blown out of proportion to
suit a particular interpretation. Therefore, studies and reports of this nature need to be
cautiously analysed before jumping into conclusions. For many in the Western world
almost all the problems of catholic priesthood seem to trickle down to the problem of
celibacy, even though there can be other valid reasons for crisis in priestly life and
ministry. Until now there have been no studies that have associated priestly celibacy
with burnout or engagement.
3. Aims of the study
The primary aim of this study was to investigate if commitment to celibacy has an im-
pact on burnout and engagement among Indian clergy. The study of burnout and en-
gagement has concentrated mostly on work-related antecedents. This study adds to
194 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
the literature of burnout and engagement in three ways: 1) as the first study attempted
to associate commitment to celibacy with burnout and engagement; 2) as the first
study that has been undertaken to analyse the concept of engagement among priests;
3) as the first empirical study to be made among Indian priests relating celibacy with
burnout and engagement. Taking into consideration the uniqueness of Indian society,
we assumed that commitment to priestly celibacy, instead of being an encumbrance,
would rather be a resource that could enhance engagement and reduce the risk of being
burned out. In line with the tradition and teachings of the Catholic Church, the litera-
ture on priestly celibacy, and taking into consideration the Indian context, we assumed
that commitment to celibacy would be associated negatively with burnout and posi-
tively with engagement. To investigate this notion the following hypotheses were for-
mulated:
Hypothesis 1: We expect commitment to celibacy to be negatively associated with
burnout. That is
1a: We expect commitment to celibacy to be negatively associated with
emotional exhaustion.
1b: We expect commitment to celibacy to be negatively associated with
depersonalisation.
1c: We expect commitment to celibacy to be positively associated with
personal accomplishment.
Hypothesis 2: We expect commitment to celibacy to be positively associated with
engagement.
4. Method
4.1. Participants
The study population consists of Indian diocesan Catholic clergy ministering in 16
Catholic dioceses of South India (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, Kerala and
Pondicherry). The age of the participants in our sample varied between 27 and 88
years with a mean age of 43.2 years (SD = 11.8). The participants’ ministerial experi-
ence varied from 1 to 58 years with a mean of 14.9 years (SD = 11.9). With respect to
participants’ level of education in our study, 43.2% (N = 221) had bachelor’s degrees,
44.4% (N = 227) obtained a masters degree and 11.5% (N = 59) had acquired a PhD.
Four participants did not indicate their educational qualification. In our study, 28.2%
(N = 144) of the participants lived alone without a companion priest; 26.4% (N = 135)
had one priest companion, 16.8% (N = 86) had two; 8.4% (N = 43) had three, and the
remaining 20.2% (N = 103) live with four and up to thirty-eight companion priests.
The majority of the participants in our study are situated in the town/semi-urban and
rural areas: 33.5% (N = 171) of the priests minister in rural areas, 49.7% (N = 254)
work in town areas and 16.8% (N = 86) in metropolitan cities. In our study, 74.4%
(N = 380) of the priests are engaged in parish ministry, 21.9% (N = 112) work in
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 195
EJMH 5, 2010
institutions (seminaries, colleges, schools and commissions at the national, regional
and diocesan levels) and 3.7% (N = 19) in the diocesan curia.
4.2. Measures
We adapted a few well known and internationally validated measures to analyse the
association between burnout, engagement and personality traits.
The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) (MASLACH & JACKSON 1986): The MBI
is a self-report questionnaire with 22 items developed to assess the three aspects of
the burnout syndrome: Emotional exhaustion (9 items) measures feelings of being
emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work (e.g., ‘I feel emotionally
drained from my ministry’; α = 0.91). Depersonalisation (5 items) measures an unfeel-
ing and impersonal response towards recipients of one’s care (e.g., ‘I feel I treat some
parishioners/people in the institution as if they are impersonal objects’; α = 0.83). Per-
sonal accomplishment (8 items) measures feelings of competence and successful
achievement in one’s work with people (e.g., ‘I can easily understand how my parish-
ioners/people in the institution feel about things’; α = 0.81). The MBI Scale uses a
seven-point Likert scale (0 = never, 6 = everyday) indicating the frequency of a feeling
or perception. Higher scores in the first two subscales and lower scores in the third
subscale indicate greater levels of burnout.
Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) (SCHAUFELI & BAKKER 2003): The
UWES is a self-report questionnaire with 17 items assessing three aspects of work en-
gagement: Vigor (6 items) refers to high levels of energy and resilience, to the willing-
ness to invest effort, to not being easily fatigued, and to persistence in the face
of difficulties (e.g., ‘At my work, I feel bursting with energy’; α = 0.87). Dedication
(5 items) refers to deriving a sense of significance from one’s work, to feeling enthu-
siastic and proud about one’s job, and to feeling inspired and challenged by it (e.g.,
‘I find the ministry that I do is full of meaning and purpose’; α = 0.92). Absorption
(6 items) refers to being totally and happily immersed in one’s work and having diffi-
culty detaching oneself from it, so that time passes quickly and one forgets everything
else (e.g., ‘When I am ministering, I forget everything else around me’; α = 0.88).
Participants have to indicate their answers on a seven-point scale (0 = never, 6 = al-
ways). Higher scores in the three subscales indicate greater levels of engagement.
Celibacy Scale: The questionnaire on commitment to celibacy was self-developed
(which comprises of the authors of this article). It is a 7-item scale employed to assess
the attitude of priests to the commitment of celibacy. Issues with regard to celibacy
are charted out by asking participants whether they felt celibacy helped them to do
their ministry effectively, and how they coped with the problems of celibacy (e.g.,
‘Celibacy is great and fulfilling’; 7 items α = 0.85). Participants have to indicate their
answers on a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). The higher
the score, the more positive the attitude of the priests towards celibacy, a lower score
indicates a negative attitude toward celibacy.
196 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
4.3. Results
Factor analysis for the MBI scale revealed that emotional exhaustion and depersonal-
isation scales were merged as one factor and personal accomplishment as another fac-
tor, and all items had a minimal factor loading of 0.56. The results of our data among
the Indian clergy demonstrating that emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation group
into a single factor were in line with a few studies (GREEN et al. 1991; SCHAUFELI &
VAN DIERENDONCK 1993). Some researchers feel that a two-factor model will also fit
the data well (TARIS et al. 1999), since there is a broad consensus that the ‘Core of
Burnout Scale’ is a composite score of exhaustion and depersonalisation (GREEN et al.
1991). However, the MBI manual (MASLACH & JACKSON 1986) states that a three-
factor model for the relations among items will fit the data better than a twofactor
model in which the exhaustion and cynicism scales are merged. Taking into consid-
eration the norms of the MBI Manual for our further statistical analysis we will use
the three-factor model. With regard to the engagement measure a clear three-factor
structure was absent. However, all items had a minimal factor loading of 0.55. This is
the first time that UWES inventory has been used in a sample of clergy. The assump-
tion that the fit of the one-factor solution (that all three aspects of work engagement
load on one underlying dimension), as well as the fit of the three-factor solution that
assumes that the three aspects of work engagement (vigor, dedication and absorption)
are independent, yet correlated factors, was assessed in various studies (SCHAUFELI &
BAKKER 2003) and it was concluded that the fit of the three-factor solution is superior
to that of the one-factor solution. However, SONNENTAG’s (2003) study, which used
explorative factor analyses, failed to find a clear three-factor structure, and settled for
the total composite score of the UWES as a measure for work engagement and thus,
the fit of one-factor model also became acceptable. Since the three-factor structure in
our data was absent, the proposal of SONNENTAG (2003), the one-factor solution, will
be adopted in our study, which is in line with the manual (SCHAUFELI & BAKKER
2003). Factor analysis for commitment to celibacy showed that all the items loaded on
one factor and had a minimal factor loading of 0.71 (cf. Table 1).
Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients of burnout, engagement, ministerial
demands and ministerial resources for the Indian Catholic diocesan priests are reported
in Table 2.
Table 3 reports the results of the correlational analysis between the subscales of
burnout, engagement and commitment to celibacy.
In line with our assumptions, commitment to celibacy was correlated negatively
to emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation and positively to personal accomplish-
ment and engagement. In order to examine the predictive impact of commitment to
celibacy on burnout and engagement a hierarchical multiple regression analysis was
performed for each of the dependent variables (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisa-
tion, personal accomplishment and engagement). Table 4 demonstrates the results of
the hierarchical regression analyses. Several relevant demographic variables were
controlled, namely: age (years), education, companions, place and residence. Education
wasnrecodednintontwo dummy variables with those who have completed a Masters as
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 197
EJMH 5, 2010
Table 1
PCA factor structure of commitment to celibacy scale
in the Indian Catholic diocesan clergy sample (N = 511)
Nos Commitment to celibacy items 1
1 Priestly celibacy is great and fulfilling. 0.832
3 Celibacy helps to minister to the people more effectively. 0.820
5 Celibacy is an unnecessary burden imposed on the Catholic priests. 0.785
7 If offered an option, I would choose to be a celibate priest again. 0.758
4 I am able to tackle the problem of loneliness in celibate life. 0.751
2 Formation in the seminary helped me to a great extent to integrate
celibacy in my life and pastoral ministry.
0.748
6 Celibacy in no way helps to relate better to issues concerning
the problems of the family.
0.708
Table 2
Means, standard deviation, Cronbach alpha, skewness and kurtosis
Variables No. of items N M SD α Skewness Kurtosis
1 Emotional exhaustion 19 511 2.00 1.35 0.91 0.86 0.32
2 Depersonalisation 15 510 1.84 1.40 0.83 0.87 0.23
3 Personal accomplishment 18 508 3.61 1.18 0.81 0.11 –0.66
4 Engagement 17 509 4.02 1.42 0.96 –0.73 –0.28
5 Commitment to celibacy 17 511 3.66 0.73 0.85 –0.60 –0.28
Table 3
Correlations, means and standard deviation
for the scales of burnout, engagement and commitment to celibacy
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 M SD
1 Emotional exhaustion 1.00** 2.00 1.35
2 Depersonalisation 0.85** 1.00** 1.84 1.40
3 Personal accomplishment –0.22** –0.22** 1.00** 3.61 1.18
4 Engagement –0.63** –0.62** 0.56** 1.00** 4.02 1.42
5 Commitment to celibacy –0.48** –0.46** 0.27** 0.52** 1 3.66 0.73
**p < 0.01
198 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
Table 4
Results of regression analysis with emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation,
lack of personal accomplishment and engagement as dependent variables and
demographic characteristics and commitment to celibacy as predictors (N = 511)
Predictors EE DP PA EN
Step 1 Step2 Step 1 Step 2 Step 1 Step 2 Step 1 Step 2
Age –0.10*** 2–0.04*** –0.13*** 2–0.07*** 0.01 n.s –0.02*** 0.07*** 2–0.00***
Ed. Bach 0.04*** 2–0.08*** 0.04*** 2–0.08*** –0.02 n.s –0.05*** –0.02*** 2–0.07***
Ed. Phd 0.07*** 2–0.04*** 0.06*** 2–0.03*** 0.05 n.s 0.07*** –0.01*** 2–0.03***
Companions –0.10*** 2–0.04*** –0.10*** 2–0.06*** –0.03 n.s –0.06*** 0.08*** 2–0.04***
Place Rural –0.02*** 2–0.06*** –0.08*** 2–0.10*** –0.04 n.s –0.02*** –0.04*** 2–0.01***
Place Metro –0.02*** 2–0.03*** –0.08*** 2–0.07*** –0.02 n.s –0.03*** 0.03*** 2–0.02***
Residence –0.13*** 2–0.08*** –0.13*** 2–0.09*** 0.03 n.s 0.00*** 0.10*** 2–0.06***
Celibacy 2–0.47*** 2–0.44*** 0.27*** 2–0.51***
R 0.22*** –20.50*** 0.27*** 20.51*** 0.08 n.s 0.28*** 0.22*** 20.54***
0.05*** –20.25*** 0.07*** 20.26*** 0.01 n.s 0.08*** 0.05*** 20.29***
F Value 3.48*** 20.99*** 5.59*** 21.29*** 0.44 n.s 5.16*** 3.61*** 25.15***
df (7,499) (8,498) (7,498) (8,497) (7,496) (8,495) (7,497) (8,496)
Change in R2 0.05*** –20.21*** 0.07*** 20.18*** 0.01 n.s 0.07*** 0.05*** 20.24***
Note: * p 0.05; ** p 0.01; *** p 0.001; EE = Emotional Exhaustion; DP = Depersonalisation;
PA = Personal accomplishment; EN = Engagement; Ed. Bach = Education Bachelors.
the reference group. Place was recoded into two dummy variables with town as refer-
ence group and residence was recoded into one dummy variable with institution as
reference group with parish. In each of these regressions, demographic variables (age,
education, companions, place of ministry, residence) were entered in the model in the
first step to control for their influence on the outcomes. In the second step, commit-
ment to celibacy was introduced (cf. Table 4). Foremost we wanted to test the predict-
ive impact of commitment to celibacy on burnout after controlling for demographic
variables.
Hypothesis 1 stated that commitment to celibacy would be negatively associated
with burnout. That is, commitment to celibacy would be negatively associated with emo-
tional exhaustion (Hypothesis 1a). The results in Table 4 show that as expected com-
mitment to celibacy was negatively associated with emotional exhaustion (β = –0.47;
p < 0.001) and with the introduction of commitment to celibacy in step 2 there was
a significant increase in the explained variance (R2 = 0.25; p < 0.001; R2 Change = 0.21;
p < 0.001). Hypothesis 1b stated that commitment to celibacy would be negatively
associated with depersonalisation. As per our expectations commitment to celibacy
was negatively associated with depersonalisation (β = –0.44; p < 0.001) and there was
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 199
EJMH 5, 2010
a significant increase in the explained variance (R2 = 0.26; p < 0.001; R2 Change = 0.18;
p < 0.001). Hypothesis 1c stated that commitment to celibacy would be positively as-
sociated with personal accomplishment. In line with our expectations the results in
Table 4 show that commitment to celibacy was positively associated with personal
accomplishment (β = 0.27; p < 0.001) but the explained variance was rather small
(R2 = 0.08; p < 0.001; R2 Change = 0.07; p < 0.001) since step 1 was not significant.
Thus the results of our findings corroborate Hypothesis 1. Hypothesis 2 stated that
commitment to celibacy would be positively associated with engagement. The results
in Table 4 demonstrate that commitment to celibacy is positively related to engage-
ment (β = 0.51; p < 0.001). With the introduction of commitment to celibacy in step 2
there was a significant increase in the explained variance (R2 = 0.29; p < 0.001; R2
Change = 0.24; p < 0.001). Thus the results corroborate Hypothesis 2. From the results
we can derive that commitment to celibacy seems to be a significant antecedent in the
prediction of both burnout and engagement. The findings revealed significantly that
lower scores on commitment to celibacy lead to burnout while on the other hand,
higher scores on celibacy enhance engagement.
5. Discussion
Sexuality is one of the central, pervasive and powerful dimensions of human nature
and it affects the way in which the priest thinks, feels, makes choices, views social
roles and even prays. Priests in the Catholic Church (Latin Rite) have affirmed that
they have freely embraced and have publicly manifested their intention of staying celi-
bates for the love of God’s kingdom and the service of human beings (The Catechism
of the Catholic Church 2002, 1599) in perfect and perpetual continence (The Code of
Canon Law 1983, 277, §1). The results of our study have shown that such a celibate
commitment is associated negatively with burnout and positively with engagement.
The reasons why commitment to celibacy is negatively associated with burnout and
positively associated with engagement could be derived from reviewing the item
scores of the celibacy scale used in our study among the Indian priests. Putting to rest
some of the speculation that commitment to celibacy is a yoke too heavy to handle or
even an unnecessary burden to Catholic priests, our results confirm, in line with the
tradition and teachings of the Catholic Church, that rather than being a burden, it is a
resource, helping the majority of the priests in our survey to be happily engaged in
priestly life and ministry. The item scores of the celibacy measure reveal that 70.9%
percent of the Indian priests viewed commitment to celibacy to be great and fulfilling,
while 13.2% denied this view and 15.9% were neutral. This view of the Indian priests
is in line with the study of LOUDEN & FRANCIS (2003) among 1482 Catholic priests
in England and Wales that reported that 73% of the priests considered celibacy to be
essential for a Catholic priest.
Interestingly, there is always speculation, without any grounded reason, that the
obligation of celibacy is the reason for fewer vocations in the Catholic Church. How-
ever, there is no empirical evidence or statistical data to substantiate that the law of
200 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
celibacy in the Latin Rite has been the cause for decline in vocations. In fact many
ordained priests have expressed that celibacy was a blessing which allowed them to
focus more on their vocation to selfless service to others and the church. This notion
has been reiterated from the findings of our study wherein 78.1% of the Indian priests
in our sample have stated that it is commitment to celibacy that helps them to minister
to the people more effectively (10.9% disagreed and 11% were neutral). The study
also revealed that 67.7% of the priests were clear that given an option they would
choose to be a celibate priest again while 15.5% disagreed and 16.8% had no opinion.
Therefore, rather than speculating that the obligation of celibacy is the prime cause for
lack of vocations, we could speculate that secularism, materialism and individualism
are viable causes for lack of vocations in the West.
A few studies have found that the primary reason for Catholic priests to leave
ministry was the desire to marry, which was partly due to loneliness (SCHOENHERR &
GREELEY 1974; VERDIECK et al. 1988). However, 60% of the participants in our study
were confident that they were able to tackle the problem of loneliness in celibate life,
in contrast to 22.2% who experienced difficulties and 17.8% who h ad no opinion. In a
similar vein, 58.9% felt that commitment to celibacy helped them to relate better to
issues concerning the problems of the family in contrast to 24.7% who disagreed and
16.4% who had no opinion. Without overruling the negative impact of loneliness and
solitude in priestly life, in line with GODIN (1983) it could be argued that the decision
to quit priesthood can arise from different complex crises. Hence, caution is essential
to avoid making a simplistic interpretation of statistics. Since many studies on celibacy
have been made among men who left the priesthood, in evaluating those results it is
important to be aware that the stated reason in petitioning for laicisation is usually
problems with celibacy. The problem is interconnected and more complex than can
easily be perceived externally. For example, what is the connection between feeling
commitment to celibacy as a burden and the feeling of isolation and solitude, and what
is the connection of that feeling with dissatisfaction with priestly life and ministry and
from the conflict and tension between personal expectations and the reality one con-
fronts? (First, it arises with the problem of solitude and isolation, which comes from
dissatisfaction with priestly life and ministry and from the conflict and tension between
personal expectations and the reality one confronts.) From these observations we can
say that the difficulty of remaining faithful to the commitment of celibacy in the
priestly life is a manifestation of a rather complex crisis and the desire to marry is a
consequence rather than a determining factor. Therefore, to emphatically conclude
(from the findings of a few empirical studies that gathered data by self reported ques-
tionnaires) that celibacy is the principal cause for crisis in priesthood would be a grave
error, for the results of our study have demonstrated that commitment to celibacy is
an important foundation for a majority of the priests in our study from which to be en-
gaged and to minister with vigor, dedication, and absorption.
62% of the Indian priests in our sample strongly disagreed with a ‘no’ to the fact
that commitment to celibacy is an unnecessary burden imposed on the Catholic priests.
Catholic priests in India have always been praised and respected by people, even of
other faiths, for living a celibate life. However, living a celibate life by a Catholic
COMMITMENT TO CELIBACY 201
EJMH 5, 2010
priest (Latin Rite) involves more than mere respect or honour. It is also part and parcel
of the spirituality of a diocesan priest and an integral part of the imbibed priestly iden-
tity. Therefore it is no surprise that our results confirm that those who score low on
commitment to celibacy are emotionally exhausted, depersonalised, and lack a sense
of personal accomplishment. On the contrary, those who live their commitment to
celibacy amidst the daily struggles of life are engaged.
6. Limitations
First of all it should be acknowledged that all indicators in the present study – commit-
ment to celibacy, burnout and engagement relied exclusively on self report measures.
The response rate, though satisfactory, is similar to what is common to all mail sur-
veys – a relatively low response rate. It is possible that those who did not respond
could be those with higher scores on burnout and who therefore perceived responding
to the questionnaire as an unnecessary burden. Secondly, since the attitude towards
commitment to celibacy is a sensitive issue, it was very difficult to examine all the ele-
ments of the subject of celibacy in a quantitative study with few questions. A qualita-
tive study, especially in the mode of an in-depth interview, would be more beneficial.
Taking these limitations into account could probably help the analysis of data in fu-
ture studies to be undertaken.
7. Practical implications
Nearly half of the respondents (47.8%) answered with a ‘no’ to the question ‘Does
formation in the seminary help you to a great extent to integrate celibacy in your life
and pastoral ministry?’ No doubt, theoretically and academically the seminary satisfies
all the guidelines covering the presentation concerning the obligation, however, there
must also be a forum for open dialogue that provides opportunities for discussion
which would help men deal with their sexual urges (SIPE 1990). An environment
of trust and confidence must be created in the seminaries, so that candidates for the
priesthood can share specific problems, feelings or realistic ways of approaching a
life of celibacy without fear. As part of the theology program, a special course that
integrates psychology, theology and philosophy to deal with the practical difficulties
of living the commitment to celibacy and of integrating it into one’s priestly personal-
ity should be offered. Training a seminarian to understand his celibacy is as important
as anything else being taught to candidates for priesthood. However, in the last analy-
sis, after all the assistance provided, one should also not fail to realise that the choice
of celibacy, made with human and Christian prudence and responsibility, is governed
by grace which elevates it and imparts to it supernatural powers and vigor (Sacerdota-
lis Caelibatus 1967, 51).
202 E. JOSEPH, J. CORVELEYN, P. LUYTEN & H. DE WITTE
EJMH 5, 2010
8. Conclusion
Celibacy is an obligation that is freely and voluntarily chosen by the priest of the
Catholic Church (Latin Rite). In line with the teachings and exhortations of the Cath-
olic Church, the results of our data confirmed that commitment to celibacy is associated
negatively to burnout and positively to engagement.
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... Commitment to celibacy We used Joseph's 7-item Commitment to Celibacy Scale (CCS), which addressed whether priests see celibacy as something helpful for their life and ministry and how they deal with the problems of celibacy. The primary scale has good internal consistency (Cronbach's α = 0.85; Joseph et al. 2010). Drawing on Rossetti's study (Rossetti 2011), we also asked priests to comment on the statement that "Despite the challenges, for me celibacy is a matter of grace." ...
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Drawing on the classic model of balanced affect, the Francis Burnout Inventory (FBI) conceptualised good work-related psychological health among clergy in terms of negative affect being balanced by positive affect. In the FBI negative affect is assessed by the Scale of Emotional Exhaustion in Ministry (SEEM) and positive affect is assessed by the Satisfaction in Ministry Scale (SIMS). In support of the idea of balanced affect, previous work had shown a significant interaction between the effects of SEEM and SIMS scores, showing that the mitigating effects of positive affect on burnout increased with increasing levels of negative affect. In this paper a convenience sample of 155 priests serving with the Roman Catholic Church in Italy have been assessed on the Purpose in Life Scale (PILS) as an independent measure of well-being and concurrently on the two scales, SEEM and SIMS. Crucially for confirming the idea of balanced affect, there was a significant interaction between the effects of SEEM and SIMS scores on scores recorded on the PILS, confirming that the mitigating effects of satisfaction in ministry on purpose increased with increasing levels of emotional exhaustion.
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It has been almost twenty years since the term "burnout" first appeared in the psychological literature. The phenomenon that was portrayed in those early articles had not been entirely unknown, but had been rarely acknowledged or even openly discussed. In some occupations, it was almost a taboo topic, because it was considered tantamount to admitting that at times professionals can (and do) act "unprofessionally." The reaction of many people was to deny that such a phenomenon existed, or, if it did exist, to attribute it to a very small (but clearly mentally disturbed) minority. This response made it difficult, at first, for any work on burnout to be taken seriously. However, after the initial articles were published, there was a major shift in opinion. Professionals in the human services gave substantial support to both the validity of the phenomenon and its significance as an occupational hazard. Once burnout was acknowledged as a legitimate issue, it began to attract the attention of various researchers. Our knowledge and understanding of burnout have grown dramatically since that shaky beginning. Burnout is now recognized as an important social problem. There has been much discussion and debate about the phenomenon, its causes and consequences. As these ideas about burnout have proliferated, so have the number of empirical research studies to test these ideas. We can now begin to speak of a "body of work" about burnout, much of which is reviewed and cited within the current volume. This work is now viewed as a legitimate and worthy enterprise that has the potential to yield both scholarly gains and practical solutions. What I would like to do in this chapter is give a personal perspective on the concept of burnout. Having been one of the early "pioneers" in this field, I have the advantage of a long-term viewpoint that covers the twenty years from the birth of burnout to its present proliferation. Furthermore, because my research was among the earliest, it has had an impact on the development of the field. In particular, my definition of burnout, and my measure to assess it (Maslach Burnout Inventory; MBI) have been adopted by many researchers and have thus influenced subsequent theorizing and research. My work has also been the point of departure for various critiques. Thus, for better or for worse, my perspective on burnout has played a part in framing the field, and so it seemed appropriate to articulate that viewpoint within this volume. In presenting this perspective, however, I do not intend to simply give a summary statement of ideas that I have discussed elsewhere. Rather, I want to provide a retrospective review and analysis of why those ideas developed in the ways that they did. Looking back on my work, with the hindsight of twenty years, I can see more clearly how my research path was shaped by both choice and chance. The shape of that path has had some impact on what questions have been asked about burnout (and what have not), as well as on the manner in which 2 answers have been sought. A better understanding of the characteristics of that path will, I think, provide some insights into our current state of knowledge and debate about burnout. In some sense, this retrospective review marks a return to my research roots. The reexamination of my initial thinking about burnout, and an analysis of how that has developed and changed over the years, has led me to renew my focus on the core concept of social relationships. I find it appropriately symbolic that this return to my research roots occurred within the context of a return to my ancestral roots. The 1990 burnout conference that inspired this rethinking took place in southern Poland, from which each of my paternal grandparents, Michael Maslach and Anna Pszczolkowska, emigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Thus, my travel to Krakow had great significance for me, at both personal and professional levels.
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There has been a long tradition of clerical celibacy within Roman Catholicism. It is argued, using several biblical texts and traditional statements, that celibacy is the better choice for the clergy because it frees the person from concerns of marriage and children and enables a person to be more devoted to God and to have a more mature spiritual life. However, this argument has never been tested empirically. A data base consisting of 1294 evangelical ministers (most of whom are married) and 80 Roman Catholic priests in Canada was utilized to test this argument. It was theorized and verified that being a celibate did not make a significant difference to one's spiritual life. A discussion ensues and a pastoral recommendation follows.