The Priest Who Started #CelibacyMatters

Father Harrison Ayre is utilizing social media, to spread the good news about what priestly celibacy really communicates.

Father Harrison Ayre, pastor of Holy Family Notre Dame parish in Port Alberni, British Columbia.
Father Harrison Ayre, pastor of Holy Family Notre Dame parish in Port Alberni, British Columbia. (photo: Courtesy photo)

VICTORIA, Canada — The culture assumes celibacy is unhealthy, repressive, and gamophobic, but is it?

Canadian priest Father Harrison Ayre says no, which is why he started the trending Twitter hashtag #celibacymatters.

“The common misconceptions people have about celibacy: sexual repression, the confusion between celibacy and chastity, and that [priests] didn’t want or couldn’t handle marriage,” Father Ayre told CNA.

“No, this is a healthy lifestyle. It’s the way Jesus lived. If Jesus can live it then with his grace we can live it too.”

The hashtag began after the priest read a tweet from comedian Joe Rogan, a frequent critic of the Catholic Church. Rogan tweeted on March 6 the question: “At what point are we going to realize that forced celibacy is unnatural and unhealthy?”

Father Ayre, the pastor of Holy Family Notre Dame parish in Port Alberni, British Columbia, lamented that authentic human sexuality has been misrepresented in popular culture today, and that the importance of sexual love has been over exaggerated.

The culture has “this overemphasis on sex, like it’s the ‘end all, be all’ of life,” said Father Ayre. “When you see something like Joe Rogan’s tweet, they are trying to tear down the Church to its level.”

Society, he said, considers celibacy an impossibility, and views celibates as people sexually repressed or afraid of marriage. Rather than repressing their sexuality, he said priests “are actually sexually free in a good way… living our sexuality in a beautiful healthy way.”

Additionally, he said celibacy is an opportunity to sacrifice a good aspect of creation, not a window to escape from marriage. He said the sacrifice, though, doesn’t mean that sexuality is forgotten.

“Sexually, I’m a man, and I’m always living that out, but I’m just not acting on a particular aspect of what I’m created for. I’m giving that up for a greater good.”

He said celibacy points to Christ’s fulfilling promises, especially to heaven, where people will no longer be given in marriage.

“#CelibacyMatters because the world needs to know that there is more to live for, that Christ is the true substance of life,” Father Ayre tweeted.  

Since Father Ayre started the hashtag on March 6, #celibacymatters has gained popularity with religious men and women, lay people, and other priests.

Rather than an attack on Joe Rogan’s tweet, the priest said the hashtag has inspired a witness to something positive, beautiful, and life giving.

“It was great to see a lot of people take up that hashtag as a sign to say [celibacy] is something beautiful.”