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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Why are Catholic priests not permitted to marry?

When an effort is made to explain why Catholic priests do not marry, it is often simply asserted that celibacy is a traditional discipline in the Western Church.  Quickly it is added that married priests are permitted in the Eastern rites as long as they get married prior to ordination.  The bishops of the East and West do not marry. 

Many questioners as well as disgruntled clergy question the discipline or contend that it is both arbitrary and unnecessary or that it sours the ministry of clergy and inadvertently it attracts large numbers of homosexuals into the ranks so as to disguise their disorientation.  Despite such bias or qualifying criticism, it would be a serious mistake to minimize or to forsake the positive value of priestly celibacy. 

Lest anyone fall for the sob-stories, celibacy is not inflicted or demanded of anyone.  No man is forced into the priesthood.  Indeed, most practicing Catholics will likely pursue marriage and families as lay persons.  The demand of celibacy should not be seen as a capricious add-on to priesthood but rather as a distinctive and important element of the sacerdotal calling.  God will not give a calling to the one without the gift and grace of the other.  The exception in favor of marriage for a few (as with the Episcopalian clergy into the Anglican Ordinariate) should not be evaluated as preferable for the entire priesthood.  While celibacy is indeed a discipline associated with priesthood, it needs to be interpreted as something more— integral to the life and work of priests.  The early Church discerned this fact and soon after the institution of the Church there was a move away from married to celibate clergy.  Indeed, many married priests upon ordination were urged to live lives of perpetual continence. 

A man contemplating a vocation to priesthood must discern whether he has the accompanying charism of celibacy.  Experience has shown us that God does not magically prevent men unworthy of Holy Orders from being ordained.  That is why there is the tragedy of men having to be laicized or attempting marriage and being excommunicated by the Church.  The scandal with active homosexual and pederast clergy is even more scandalous.  Throughout the process of formation there should be a deep and abiding respect for the truth and diligent avoidance of manipulation or compulsion.  Assessments for worthiness must be taken seriously no matter how severe the vocational shortage.  Deception or a lack of transparency should be avoided at all costs.

The Roman Catholic Church does not require celibacy of anyone. However, if a person desires to enter religious life or priesthood, then he is asked to discern first if he has received the gift of celibacy. This is because celibacy frees that person to fully live his vocation.  If a man chooses one then he must also freely choose the other.  The discipline is not imposed as an inflicting ailment; rather celibacy is a promise for a special single-hearted manner of selfless loving.  It should not be judged as negative or as repressive but rather as positive and liberating.  One truly becomes an eschatological sign of Christ’s kingdom breaking into the world.  It is the polar opposite of the rich man going away sad because his possessions are many.  It is an apostle embracing poverty so as to be rich in the kingdom and free to follow Christ in serving the People of God. 

Secondary to the question would be matters of overall availability and the expenses that would accompany a shift or metamorphosis to married clergy. More perilously a change in the discipline in favor of optional celibacy or a prejudice in favor of married clergy would signify a transition in the priestly character and identity.  No one is saying that a married clergy could not serve well; but it would not be the same.  It is sufficient that deacons and Church volunteers might be married.  The counsel and guidance of a priest is informed and quantified by his association with others and with his listening as an instrument for the forgiveness of sins.  He may not be married but he knows well the good and the bad that challenges his couples and their children.  Indeed, his celibacy gives him a valuable distance and discretion in his counsel and determinations on the behalf of his flock.  The priest as “another Christ” should be a spiritual father to his people and a spouse only to the Church, herself.   

Does celibacy deny certain important joys to priests?  Most admittedly so, but there is also happiness and satisfaction to be found in celibate love— a priest may not have his own family but he is, in a sense, an important member of his many parish families. A good priest is not miserable about what he is missing.  Every vocation has its consolations and challenges.  No one will escape the Cross and the priest is ideally one who does not try.  He hears and immediately answers the summons from Christ to take up his cross and to follow the Lord.

Matthew 19:9-12 – “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Matthew 19:29 – And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.

Mark 10:29-30 – Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.

1 Corinthians 7:1,7 – Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: “It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman,” . . . Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

1 Corinthians 7:32-34 – I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.

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