PopeWatch: Married Priests





I thought that Pope Saint John Paul II had resolved the issue of married priests?  Apparently not, judging from a remark the Pope made on February 10:




One of the attractions of Roman Catholicism has in the past been its solidity, rooted in dogmas and 2000 years of tradition.  In the current pontificate the only thing solid is that Vatican spokescritters will eventually explain what Pope Francis meant.  Whether their explanations will have a very long shelf life, that is another matter.

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  1. The celibacy rule for priests is not dogma. Unlike the male only priesthood, it is a rule of discipline only, and as such can be changed. For this reason I do not know what it means to say that Pope Saint John Paul II resolved the matter.

  2. The Pope said;”….my agenda!”

    That speaks volumes!

    Isn’t two thousand years of the Churches agenda good enough?

  3. How gracious of the “humble” Pope to take a day of celebration for men who are celebrating 50 years of faithfulness to their vows and turn into a PR event for “his agenda.”

  4. “For this reason I do not know what it means to say that Pope Saint John Paul II resolved the matter.”

    John Paul II repeatedly reaffirmed celibacy for the priesthood Mike and stated that it logically belonged to the priesthood. Although celibacy is often treated as only a discipline, it is a discipline that has very early roots in the Church beginning with Saint Paul and enforced, with imperfect success, from the time of Saint Augustine, and with almost complete success from about one thousand years ago. Contemporary popes, at least until the current pontificate, would I think be even stronger on the point but for their futile hope for reunion with the Orthodox churches. Pope Francis opening this door now is merely another example of an ill-thought out comment or part of an underlying detestation for traditional Catholicism as opposed to the Catholic Lite that sometimes seems to be what he is aiming for.

  5. It’s my understanding that in the Orthodox Church, married men may be
    ordained to the priesthood, but once ordained, a man may not marry. In
    other words, if a priest’s wife dies, he cannot remarry. Furthermore, in the
    Orthodox Church, only celibate men may be ordained to the episcopacy.
    Advocates for the abandonment of the discipline of celibacy for Catholic
    priests often point towards the Orthodox Churches and their married priests,
    as though their differing discipline somehow means that celibacy is just
    an arbitrary, dispensable thing. However, it is my understanding that for
    the Eastern Orthodox, priestly ordination creates an ontological change in
    a man’s soul such that he can no longer contract a valid marriage. It is a gross
    oversimplification to state “well, the Orthodox have married priests, why
    can’t we?”, when in fact their discipline, and the underlying theology, are
    more complex.

  6. Mike’s right that it is a discipline, not a dogma, and thus technically could be changed; however, such a change would be ill-advised and would be detrimental to the priesthood.

  7. Thanks PZ, and agree. The disordered understanding of sexuality in the West renders a normalized married priesthood imprudent. Not as certain about other cultures or the future. My pastor and his assistant are both married, ordained with the blessing of St. JP II. Both wonderful priests.

  8. Married priests of the Latin rite most certainly can celebrate, if they were already married at the time of their ordination, as is sometimes the case when a protestant clergyman converts and a dispensation is granted. This article is referring to priests who were dismissed from the clerical state or who just went over the wall.

    Orthodox bishops are drawn from monastic orders and are celibates.

    That’s what gets you about this Pope: his determination to put his greasy fingerprints on everything.

  9. Re: married priests.

    Why should they be happy?

    They may as well be miserable like the rest of us. Then, they will be capable authoritatively to preach about Hell.

    Seriously, I’ve been married, with children and grandchildren, a long time. A married man cannot be 100%, 24/7 for God and God’s people. It is impossible. A celibrate priest can.

  10. Thank you all who have commented. I am edified. In my opinion, the ordained priesthood is a vocation from Jesus Christ to “follow Me.” Following Jesus Christ is an act of the free will, an act of sacrifice in freedom from all. A men who refuses to surrender his option to marriage is not acting in a free will sacrifice but clings to his own way. This refusal to act in full freedom from material things is an indictment against the imposition of Holy Orders. Ananias comes to mind. You know the guy who lied to St. Peter and was struck dead.

  11. The rule of celibacy for the priesthood is indeed a discipline, and has, as Don says, been imperfectly applied over the centuries. Right through the middle ages though, priests observed celibacy, but did not observe chastity, and fathered children to their “housekeepers”, and this was one of the objections that Luther had – there was corruption in the Church and lax bishops did nothing about it – this included some popes.
    There is an argument though, in favour of men, having married and raised their children, and with the agreement of his wife – the first vows – and being self sufficient and ready for retirement could not obtain permission to become an ordained priest provided he observed clerical continence. There is a large pool of men who look for something else after their successful life in the secular world and who have much to contribute to the Church as well as society, which is why I became a deacon. I understand there are a couple of cases of married men seeking ordination to the priesthood being considered presently in our neck of the woods.

  12. The Roman Pontiff, if he is interested in pursuing a married priesthood, certainly is NOT doing it because he seeks warmer relations with the Eastern Orthodox. He would be doing it to serve his own overinflated ego.

    I have spoken here about my support for the Eastern Catholic tradition of married priesthood, and I stand by that. Celibacy has served the Church of the West very well and I have NO interest in changing the current discipline, nor will I support any change in that discipline. Particular Churches can make their own rules. Recognizing that there have been exceptions for allowing certain married Protestant (Anglican, Episcopal and Lutheran) clergy to be ordained Catholic priests, there should be no further exceptions to the current discipline.

    Eastern Catholic (those of the Byzantine tradition) and Eastern Orthodox bishops are either widowers, celibate parish priests or former monastics.

  13. Father John Hunwicke has a couple of pertinent posts on his blog, the key takeaway of both being this:

    “The Holy Spirit was not promised to Peter’s successors so that they should, by His revelation, disclose new teaching, but so that, with His assistance, they should devoutly guard and faithfully set forth the revelation handed down through the apostles, the Deposit of Faith.”

  14. The Catholic Church is the only major source left that systematically demonstrates celibacy as a life option in our times. The systematic clerical practice of celibacy in the Catholic Church is critical. It shows that not only is celibacy viable, but it is commonplace. And our times desperately need to know that practicing celibacy is a viable option today. Celibacy is a very difficult life to live, and those who choose it – either permanently or for a time – need to be socially supported and to see living examples. The entire Christian community has basically given a pass to non-marital sex, thereby teaching young people to not take God’s word seriously. Even worse, It doesn’t teach people to even think about what it means to receive God’s most awesome gifts that are the reserved for obedience. Jesus was obedient UNTO DEATH. The modern church isn’t seriously committed to teaching people to be obedient even unto the next sexual temptation that comes around. With rampant promiscuity, hedonism and gender ambiguity going on, now is a terrible time for the Catholic clergy and religious orders to turn away from this discipline. How long did it take the Protestant church to completely abandon celibacy in its clergy? Now they pretty much have no examples to show the world. A determined choice of celibacy, driven by love of Christ and a vision of the spiritual blessings associated with obedience is the answer for so many of our troubles. The Catholic example of systematic celibacy is needed now more than ever. It’s all the world has.

  15. Philip: “The Pope said;”….my agenda!””
    As Vicar of Christ, the Pope’s agenda must include the Saints in heaven, on earth and in purgatory. St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, patron saint of priests was celibate.
    All virgins are celibate. This cannot escape the Pope’s “agenda”.

  16. I must admit to being a bit cornfused, here, Kiwi. Are you saying that every priest who ever existed on earth right through the middle ages fathered children to their “housekeepers”? I don’t think you are, but the way it is written, it implies just that. Look, if Francis decides to use his cellphone and pen and poof, allow, nay, require married priests in the Latin Rite, that’s his business. Many Protestant denoms. allow married clergy, yet their sexual mis-conduct rate is many times higher than in the Catholic priesthood. I’ll bet that most of the people on this blog personally know of or have read of some married Protestant clergymen who have fathered children outside of their wives. And there have been many M.P.C.s who have had affairs, but no child resulted (perhaps that Lambeth contraception thing in action). And I’ll also bet that just about everyone on this blog personally knows of married men who have been unfaithful. Yes, there were some Catholic priests who had sex with women and a child resulted. But allowing or requiring married priests is not going to guarantee an end to children out of wedlock by priests. I would hope we are all sharp enough to realize that. The unmarried priest is free to give so much more to God and to his flock than the married priest, who would have to give serious attention to his wife and children, thus depriving his flock of that much pastoring.

  17. I think is proper to clarify that the celbacy for the priesthood was not defined as mandatory in the Catholic Church until the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

  18. I just wish he’d quit throwing firecrackers into the bonfire right now.
    He has enough stuff he Has to deal with, without turning over rocks that are not priorities. Make a mess.
    This subject can wait-there are other issues he has vaulted to the top of his “agenda” – things we used to think were simple, like: you are s’posed to believe what the Church teaches about communion to be able to receive it, etc.

  19. Stefan Heid, in his book “Celibacy in the Early Church” (Ignatius Press: 2000), has this paragraph that makes one ponder more carefully the concept and practice of “celibacy” in the Church: “The present study attempts to demonstrate that there was in fact in the early Church an obligation of all higher clerics to practice complete sexual continence. If this proves to be correct, then one would have to view the present celibacy requirement as being in a historical continuity with the original discipline of clerical continence: without the general requirement of continence in the early Church, there would e today no obligation that Latin-rite priests be unmarried. Western celibacy would be, accordingly, the vestigial form of an originally more comprehensive practice of continence. In order ot give a terminological expression to this, one could accordingly distinguish between a celibacy OF CONTINENCE in the early Church (of married, widowed, and virginal higher clerics) and a later UNMARRIED celibacy (of widowed and virginal clerics.) [emphasis in original]

  20. James.
    No, of course I am not saying that ALL priests fathered children, but certainly some did. The surname Priestly has its origins in that those persons originally had a priest as the “original” father. The apostles Peter and Phillip were married men, however, the majority of the apostles were celibate males, as was Jesus, and the Church recognises that the best way to follow Christ in the priesthood is to be like Him – celibate (and therefore chaste) and Paul states this quite specifically. The Council of Elvira in the late 3rd century called for clerical celibacy. Despite that, one or two popes in the late middle ages fathered children as well as a number of priests – and arguably bishops – and perhaps that can be laid down to “human failing” ?? 😉
    But it is certainly an ideal that the priest, who is called and ordained to be “in persona Christi” should fact be like Christ, and sacrifice one good – marriage – for a greater good – being father/shepherd to the flock of the Church, both for his own edification and sanctification, and that of the Church as a whole.

  21. Virgin priests in perpetuity follow the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Immaculate Conception teaches us that the human person is sovereign, innocent and virgin from the very first moment of existence. Duns Scotus and Fransisco Suarez tell us that human existence is the criterion for the objective ordering of human rights.
    Eradicating celibacy from the requirements for the priesthood would erase any vision of the innocent, newly conceived, human being, body and soul and for the need for the Church and the faithful to remember them in prayers before God.
    “Priest” means “the one who comes and stands in petition before God”. In the ordained priesthood, men come before God. In the priesthood of the laity, all persons created come before “their Creator” to acknowledge their creation and accept their human rights….The Declaration of Independence

  22. Ernst S: your observation, re Fr. Hunwicke’s quote, of course from Pastor Aeternus, Ch. IV, Pius IX (July 18th, 1870), was never more profoundly important and critical than for what is going on in “the Church” today: (Pius IX:) “The Holy Spirit was not promised to Peter’s successors so that they should, by His revelation, disclose new teaching,..” I truly doubt this unread, undisciplined-thinking pontiff has ever read this dogmatic constitution from Vat I, as he enforces his personal, myopic vision of, not Vat II, but his silly-putty-like ideas of the “Spirit of Vat II”.

    I don’t know what we are going to do if he continues to push “his agenda”. At least he (unwittingly—he is disturbingly unwitting) made it clear: it isn’t necessarily Christ’s, but “his own deal.”

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