PopeWatch: Celibacy




From the latest La Repubblica interview:


Asked whether priests might one day be allowed to marry, Francis pointed out celibacy was instituted ‘900 years after Our Lord’s death’ and that clerics can marry in some Eastern Churches under Vatican tutelage.’There definitely is a problem but it is not a major one. This needs time but there are solutions and I will find them,’ Francis said, without giving further details.

It is hard to determine what to make of this brief remark other than its tone sounds as if the Pope views celibacy as a late addition to the Faith that could be dispensed with.  There is no mention in the remark of the long struggle in the West over celibacy dating at least from the fourth century, with celibacy being raised up as an ideal for the clergy centuries before it was imposed as a requirement.  Of course taking in mind Father Lombardi’s admonition, read it here, that we are not to take any of the interview as precisely what the Pope said, it is hard to comment on something he might not have said.  Assuming that Father Lombardi’s statement is correct as to the reliability of the interview, one is left wondering why the Pope has given three interviews to this journalist and why the Pope does not insist upon reading the text of the report of the interview before it is published.  PopeWatch longs for the days, and how distant they seem, when if a Pope was misquoted, the Vatican would note precisely what the Pope did say.

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  1. Celibacy was a bone of contention both at Nicea in 325 and at the Quinisext Council (the Council In Trullo) in 692.

    The upshot was (1) East and West both regarded holy orders as an impediment to marriage (2) Bishops were required to be celibate and (3) no one regarded marriage as an irregularity that would invalidate ordination. Even in the West, when clerical celibacy was made a mandatory requirement, a married man might be ordained, if his wife consented and took a vow of perfect and perpetual chastity or entered religion.

    Until the 1983 Code of Canon Law, both East and West regarded dygamy (a man who had been twice married, or who had married a widow) as irregular, based on St Paul in 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:6.

    In the Eastern Churches, bishops are reluctant to ordain a single man, who is not a monk and, for the parish clergy, they show a preference for a mature married man with a grown-up family. Such men are always ordained to serve a particular cure, where they expect, and are expected, to remain for the rest of their lives. In Greece, the monastery of Patmos is widely regarded as a sort of staff college for the episcopate. Ring up the chancellery, and you will invariably find yourself talking to Archimandrite this or Hieromonk that (monks who serve as Flag Officers to the bishop), or to a lay person.

  2. All hail “humble” Pope Francis!

    Thank the Lord, it’s taken many, many centuries to now be blessed with a Pope who can see that celibacy is a “problem”. We’ve finally been blessed with a Pope who will solve such “problem”.

    Someone needs to send this man a memo that the Anglican religion has a spot for him. Good grief, I pray for a new Pope, and quick.

  3. I’m far from an expert but my understanding is East or West priests were never allowed to marry, but that married men were allowed to be ordained.

    I’ve been in a couple parishes with married permanent deacons, all middle aged with children grown or almost. I wonder if these men might not be suitable candidates for the priesthood?
    Needless to say, ordaining married twenty-somethings would be a mistake as it would raise the spectre of divorced (and remarried?) priests.

    Of course not one has asked my opinion which is just as well.

  4. I have been musing over the idea of the ordination of widowers who are retired as priests on fast track programs after say two years of training. (This assumes they already have at least a BA or BS.) They would be restricted to service in their home parish, although they could agree to serve in other parishes if they were so requested by their Bishop. They would be under the supervision of more regularly ordained priests and would draw no salary other than a mass stipend, assuming they are already receiving pensions and/or social security. They could retire at any time from the priesthood or go on as priests if they wish for as long as their Bishop agrees. Widowed deacons of course would be perfect for such a program, which would alleviate the work load of regular priests, allow smaller churches to have a priest in residence and hopefully inspire young male relatives to consider the priesthood as a career. This takes advantage of longer life spans, and a laity where quite a few retired men have college degrees and would be able to handle the academic portion of becoming a priest quicker than a young man just out of the teen years.

  5. Don, that is an interesting comment. What reasons do you have for favoring a two-tier priesthood? What advantages do you think it would bring the Church? Were you inspired by any Orthodox practices?

  6. Thomas Collins: “Needless to say, ordaining married twenty-somethings would be a mistake as it would raise the spectre of divorced (and remarried?) priests.”
    Married priests create more problems that they solve. Does the priest’s wife who has become one with her husband share in his ordination? Celibacy is a vow of love to Jesus Christ for the love of Jesus Christ. One thing celibacy is not is penance or punishment or severity. Celibacy is a joy and God is never outdone in generosity.
    Pope Francis will have to struggle under the burden of his lack of affection for Jesus Christ until the Pope gets up to speed.

  7. Practicality. We have a lot of retired men who have a life span of around 15-20 years after retirement and who are often bored in retirement. The Church has traditionally had gradations of priests and I view this as the return to “simple priests” whose duty was almost solely to say Mass. I think this would help eliminate the shortage of priests and also alleviate the isolation that some priests feel when they have large parishes to run without the assistance of other priests. In regard to Orthodox practices I have not been thinking of them when mulling over the idea.

    I think a lot of the academic program could be done online with hands on instruction given in regard to saying the Mass. All priests ordained in this manner should serve under the close supervision of a regularly ordained priest for at least one year after they are ordained.

  8. Donald R McClarey wrote, “and would draw no salary other than a mass stipend.”

    It has always been possible for a priest to be ordained “ad titulum patrimonii sui,” that is, that he will be self-supporting, out of his own resources.

    Of course he is entitled to any mass stipends and stole fees that may accrue to him.

    At one time, the Catholic chaplains at Oxford and Cambridge were invariably so ordained, Mgr Ronald Knox at Oxford and Mgr A N Gilbey (of Gilbey’s Gin) at Cambridge.

    Examples abound in the 18th and 19th centuries in the Gaelic-speaking West Highlands, where many of the priest came from land-owning families, or, rather, from various branches of one family. Bishop Hugh Macdonald of Morar, the Apostolic Visitor was succeeded by his nephew, Alexander, who was succeeded by his cousin, Ranald MacDonald of Clanranald. The priests included Alexander MacDonald of the Scotus family living in Knoydart; Austen MacDonald of Glenaladale in Moidart; Allan MacDonald of Morar living in the Morar area; James MacDonald, son of John MacDonald of Guidall in the Rough Bounds, James Allan MacDonald on Barra, Alex MacDonald on Uist and so on. The mother of Rev Angus Gilles of Lochaber, like Bishop Ranald MacDonald was a MacDonald of Clanranald. None of them took a penny from their parishioners.

  9. Just a few but important notes

    Celibacy/Virginity has been with/in the Church from the time of Christ and the Apostles-it did not come along at some later date. An important aspect here is that the celibate/virgin/widow(er) was expected to get adequate affective (and at times economic etc) support from the wider Christian community. Take a look at Christ’s own directives in this matter. Another important note is that in the 2000 year history of the Church when celibacy/virginity was ‘threatened’ or under attack, Christian marriage was soon to follow, and vice versa. As funny as it sounds, Christian marriage and celibacy/virginity are within the Church like a ‘couple’ and cannot be separated from one another without the other also losing ‘itself’

    While all are called to discipleship those who were/are celibate/virgins can be completely devoted to the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 7) while obviously married people have to love/care for their husband or wife. In this sense (although it sometimes was overemphasized within Church history) the celibate/virginal/religious life was seen to be a ‘higher calling’ [It is important to note that this was never intended as relegating married laity to second class citizenship (as sometimes happened). Instead. it simply was speaking in terms of the ability to be completely focused on and devoted to the Lord]

    Apostolic Tradition has it that Holy Orders is confers such a significant transformation of the man being ordained that ‘what one is when ordained, one cannot change in the future’. This has everything to do with the mystery/essence’substance of Holy Orders. On the existential level this means that priests cannot and will not be getting married-however married men might indeed become more ‘numerous’ among the ordained.

    While there were indeed bishops apparently in the very early Church, it should be presumed that bishops will be chosen only from among the celibate priests

  10. The use of the term “clerics” with regards to the Eastern Catholic clergy is inappropriate. The Eastern Catholic Churches do ordain married men to the priesthood. It is usually done with the consent of the wife. It is important to know what she is getting into and what will be expected of her as the wife of a priest.

    It has been the tradition of the Eastern Churches (especially the Byzantine Churches, notably Ukrainian and Rusyn) that married men are ordained to the parish priesthood and celibate priests become monks. Bishops are former monks or widowed parish priests.

    In the 1920s, the Latin Catholic bishops of the United States pushed the Holy See to ban married Eastern Catholic priests from the USA. The Holy See agreed to the request. This caused terrible divisions within parishes and within families. The American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Diocese came into existence as a result of this specious desire of the US Latin bishops.

    Some Eastern Catholic argue that the 1995 encyclical Orientale Lumen invalidated the Holy See order prohibiting married Eastern Catholic priests in the USA. A neighboring Ukrainian Catholic Parish, St. George in Carnegie, has a married priest (ordained in Ukraine). The Romanian Catholic Church (whose Archbishop resides in Canton, Ohio) ordained married men to the priesthood. Recently, with Vatican approval, the Maronite Catholic church ordained a married man to the priesthood.

    The Eastern Churches should and must embrace their histories and traditions. The Latin Church has been well served by the celibate priesthood and the Anglican Ordinariate notwithstanding, the celibate priesthood should be embraced, honored and defended.

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