CE Forum: Should the Discipline of Celibacy for Priests be Dropped?

priestYes, the possibility seems to be growing. Father Michael Orsi did some speculation about this here at CE back in April, and, more recently, there is this article by John Thavis. 

What do all of you Catholic Exchange readers think? Should the discipline of celibacy for priests be dropped?

The rules for chiming in:

-keep it as short and streamlined as possible

-keep it on the subject

-no vulgarity

-be respectful of other people’s human dignity


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  • L Reese Cumming

    Either direction, celibacy or matrimony, are subject to the fallen inclinations of men and women. Temptations of pride can easily lead a celibate priest to horrible conclusions, and that same pride can lead a married couple to divorce. Which is the greater failing, and which is the easier road? Modern society appears to hold little condemnation for those who divorce, though I imagine the scars affect greatly those who experience it, along with their children, and thus separates them from God’s love.

    It just seems to me that celibacy is an effort to hold pure the example of Christ, and in the attempt to do so, it is thought that one mind, rather than two minds, may be a better path.

  • Terri

    I’ll never forget watching an episode of one of my favorite sitcoms—Seventh Heaven–and having the father (who was a preacher) say to his upset wife–“-tell me what’s wrong. Whatever it is, you come first–you and the kids.” While I loved the show, when I heard that line I remember thinking THAT is why we need celibate priests. A married person has a huge responsibility to a spouse and children. A priest is a spiritual father to many and “married” to our Mother Church. It’s hard enough to properly take care of one family much less two.

  • john

    No. Next question, please!

  • Dessy12

    Being and husband and parent will dilute a priest’s ability to focus on being a pastor to his parish. Protestant friends have commented that their minister’s lifes are chaotic with the demands of marriage and raising children. Our priests are married to Christ — the Church is the bride of Christ.

  • Voice

    First and foremost, marriage and orders together are as ancient as the Apostles. And they did not abandon their wives and families. They simply put God first. In fact, they spent most of their time in Capernaum and at Peter’s house. The Eastern Rites of the Church have had marriage and orders from the beginning. Second, It’s about much more than shortages. The priests we have are VERY dysfunctional. In my diocese 50% of priests are un-assignable for various reasons. My diocese is not unique, either. The ordained pool is so small that we end up with many who cannot effectively teach, preach, counsel, administrate, etc. The REAL scandal in the Church is how priests are wards of the Church yet many are not productive and cannot function well in the vocation. For many in the pews “celebrating Mass” is all they tend to see or care about. But behind the scenes, those who work in the Church and work with priests closely see it. The “big secret” in the Church hiding all of these dysfunctional priests. Not merely about sex abuse but about many other issues and challenges. What does this have to do with celibacy? The PRIMARY selection criteria for a man is his willingness to accept celibacy especially at the young age of 18-22. That’s not enough and it distorts the pool.

  • Whew2

    Celibacy, when chosen as God’s will, becomes a sacrifice of love for all. Matrimony can be that same journey, but by its very nature is a consolation of self through another.

  • catholicexchange

    Good morning–we’re glad you commented, but we have to object to 2 or 3 items here.

    First, much of this just feels like loose conjecture; e.g. how do you know the priests are “un-assignable”, what exactly does that mean, and what makes you think it’s a full 50% of them?

    Secondly, if celebrating Mass is “all they care about” then you may want to consider giving thanks to God! If only more priests made celebrating Mass a priority.

    Finally, assuming there are priests in your diocese who are, for instance, socially awkward or administratively inept, what does celibacy have to do with it? You claim it “distorts the pool”—why? As long as we’re using experiential evidence, we’ve encountered great numbers of priests who are celibate and also socially well-adjusted and professionally capable. How do you account for them?

  • Bev

    No, they are already married to Church and she is their bride

  • mparks12

    I just want to eliminate theatricality and narcissism, and one way to do that is to turn the priest back around.

  • David

    Orthodox tradition allows priests to marry, so its not a new concept. Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel on this, maybe we should take a look at how our Orthodox brothers and sisters deal with this.

  • rff

    NO it should not, for all of the reasons already mentioned by others.

  • JohnE

    From a practical standpoint, I think the demands of being married and raising children AND being a priest would be too much. Either the wife, children, or the parish is likely to be shortchanged in some way. I think it may also increase the chances for discomfort in confession if you are friends with the wife or one of the children.

    The bible also mentions celibacy for the sake of the kingdom in Matthew, and Paul seems to favor celibacy in his letters (ex. 1 Cor 7).

  • Elizabeth Schmeidler

    Many Protestant and non-denominational churches tweak their ways and doctrine to accommodate the flesh. I believe that the decision for celibacy could have only originally been decided through the Holy Spirit, otherwise, what man/woman would ever choose this for himself? It was a selfless decision–A true laying down of one’s life. A true buffeting of the flesh. I am also concerned that a change would bring about a message that would say, “God isn’t enough to satisfy me”.
    You know, whenever I talk about homosexual sin, I always remind people that those who are feeling the temptation need only ask for the grace to believe that God IS ENOUGH. That His grace is sufficient. That celibacy IS A REAL, ATTAINABLE OPTION. To believe that we can only be happy and fulfilled in this world if we are being sexual, then we must not truly believe that Jesus is Lord of all things, and that loving Him and His love is not sufficient or satisfying.

    Though many times I have pondered the great sacrifice of celibacy, I cannot deny the Truth that fills my being when I read :1 Corinthians, Paul says: “I would like you to be free from concern. The unmarried man is anxious about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about worldly affairs—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

    So often the devil tempts each one of us to take the easier route, which is not what our Lord said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14

  • SalvageProject


  • Eugene

    Christ, though also God The Father, was human, and was obviously celibate. Can any duly ordained priest aspire higher than to try to emulate Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ !

  • lily

    I Think that priests shouldn’t get marry, Jesus was not marry, Johnn neither , The apostles that were marry they left their wifes to follow Jesus.Celibacy is something sobrenatural that priest should know so they can apreciate it. If priest get marry we will have divorce priests, the first option would be his wife and children and not God. If the priest is in a city and they send him to other city maybe his wife doesen’t want to go there. I don’t like to going to confession with a marry priest. If his wife wants an expensive car, or expensive things, and also their children, where would he take the money.

  • Pamela

    I agree with most of the commenters, for the various reasons mentioned, that celibacy should by no means be dropped. The only comment I would add is that if the vow of celibacy is removed or repealed, just imagine the Pandora’s box that would be opened. Would our parish priests start hitting on available women parishioners? Would we start seeing priests struggling with marital issues and even applying for annulments when things don’t work out? They are, after all and as we’ve seen all too often, human like us.

  • I’m With HIM

    If one seeks living their faith through the rightly ordered
    life always putting GOD first and foremost, married or unmarried, what is this

    Prohibiting marriage creates a division. It is not GOD’s Law. Man and woman HE created them. GOD is the giver of gifts, and celibacy is a
    gift from GOD.

    Paul said what he said ministering to those whom were not
    married as to guide them to the rightly ordered life.

    In addition, Billy Graham handled, with GOD’s help, being
    married, having children, and preaching the Good News. As do the many successful marriages of doctors,
    firefighters, anthropologists, etc., including the married priests being
    brought into our church. The undivided
    attention thing does not cohere. GOD
    told us the two most important Commandments.
    Not mother, father, sister, brother, wife, children are above GOD. An example of this may be when one of our
    loved ones is on the edge of this life, who is it we go to? That is how we are to operate on a daily
    basis – GOD first and foremost. All the
    rest follows and falls into place, as it is the rightly ordered life.

    GOD made us human and gave us life on this Earth. No human being can marry an institution. Humanity was born into this dysfunctional
    world and none of us is sinless.

    I cannot ignore that the desire for a child is a desire of
    the heart, not the flesh. The Priest is
    a man first, and GOD does the calling. GOD
    is the only one that can read hearts.

    Again, where is the faith in preventing procreation among
    some of the most faithful men on Earth? This is where it is, pass it on, be fruitful,
    and multiply. Cooperate with GOD. Participate in the Divine life here on Earth. HE is the one building HIS Kingdom.

    Most reverently with Christ’s love,
    I’m With HIM

  • Elisa

    A previous poster mentioned the tradition of married priests in Eastern-rite Catholicism. The priest must be married PRIOR to his ordination; not the other way around.
    It would be great if we could hear from our Eastern-rite Catholic readers weigh in with their thoughts.

    I regularly read a wonderful blog called “Fear Not Little Flock” which is written by a Byzantine-rite Catholic priest’s wife. It’s helped me better understand the treasures of our Eastern-rite churches. She has periodically addressed this topic on her blog.

  • Deacon John

    I am a Deacon and do not agree that the church should allow priests to marry. As a deacon we are allowed to be married PRIOR to ordination. Also, a deacon can not remarry if his wife should pass away, he must honor the vow of celibacy from that moment on. As a deacon I can see how difficult it would be for a married priests to effectively and totally give himself to God and the Church. In the beginning of our formation, we were told that God is always number 1, family is number 2, secular jobs is number three and then church ministry is last. There are many times when a deacon has to be reminded of this by his wife and family and be brought back to that reality. So a married priests would also have to place his wife before his ministry. People feel that married clergy would help alleviate the shortage of priests, but the only way to truly help the number of priests is to educate and catechize the young men in school to the priesthood and foremost to pray unceasingly for an increase in this vocation.

  • Gail Finke

    No. It seems to work for the Eastern folks but their groups are (relatively) small, already understand how it works, and have centuries of tradition behind them. If we did it, it would be a disaster. Not only would it be a slap in the face to all the men that have been ordained, but also it would be perceived as a concession to secularism and an imitation of Protestantism, just as widely granted anullments have been seen as “Catholic divorces.” People would then want to relax the rules further, as happened with divorce.

  • Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum!

    Of course they should be able to marry, to a woman who believes in contraception, abortion, divorce, etc….. Or maybe to another man?

  • Lee

    We should be grateful for our young men who have said,”Yes”, to following God’s Will for them. When they have chosen to be celibate as priest of the Catholic Church why would we second guess them, questioning if they should rather be something else. We will not have more,better priest just because they would be given the opportunity to be married. Our priest heard their calling and they went through years of work to become the person God has chosen them to be.

  • Deacon Ed

    We already have married priests that came over from the Episcopal Church. One of my best friends who is now a Greek Orthodox priest was an Old Catholic priest for many years and is married. While I would prefer to remain single, I would have no problem with married clergy.

  • Guest

    I am at a parish in the United States that has a married priest and it works out just fine. Clearly, though, a celibate priest can devote more attention to his parish family than a married priest. For those of you who are opposed to married priests, though, put yourself in the position of a Catholic in Central or South America where there may only be one priest for every tens of thousands of Catholics and you can only receive the sacraments once a month and otherwise not be ministered to. Would you rather have a celibate priest you see once a month or a married priest you can see every day or at least every week? I think that is an easy decision. From speaking to people who have spent time in Central or South America, young men there have a big problem with considering the priesthood because of celibacy. It is difficult culturally. If you don’t have enough ministers to administer the sacraments, the evangelical efforts of the church are greatly hindered and the Protestants pick off the flock. Therefore, it seems to me that the bishops should have local control over the issue to meet the needs of their people.

  • Ben Nasca

    “If Christ had wanted to make women priests, he would have made His own mother
    one”…….Fulton J. Sheen

  • I’m With HIM

    sarcasm is not discussion

  • Subvet

    My current pastor came over the Tiber with his family from the Episcopal Church. He’s top notch, always available for consultation, we have a very strong prolife ministry under him (unlike his celibate predecessor), since he’s taken over the membership has exploded and no he doesn’t preach “touchy feely” homilies, plus Confession/Reconciliation is heard every day. His only shortcoming (IMHO) is a reluctance to engage in political discussions and a lot of people would count that as one more plus for the man.
    By contrast, the worst priests I’ve evern encountered were all celibate and had absolutely no clue on how to address a parishoner’s marital problems.
    So if the rule regarding celibacy goes away I’ll certainly not cry over it.

  • tg

    thank you for having a discussion on this. i have read every ones comments with interest, and there are a lot of good points. i do believe that the discipline of celibacy for priestly ordination is being, should be, and can respectfully and faithfully be relaxed, though celibacy should be encouraged first. there are already married priests in the latin rite, most with very faithful ministries. most of the disturbing outcomes mentioned have occurred, and the Church has grown strongly on. many of the objections are, well i am tired to come up with a better word, but many of the objections are weak, circumstantial, semantic. the one strong objection is St Paul’s warning as was repeatedly mentioned already. it should be noted, however, that in the wider context, st paul’s letter referred to EVERYONE, not just priests, and of course there were married priests before during and after his God-given ministry, so it certainly was by no means an absolute prohibition. still it is a serious consideration, and along those lines a thought was given to me: if married persons primary ministry is to their spouses and children, and priests primary role is (sacramental) ministry to a parish, then should they always necessarily be seen as competing/distracting/contradicting roles? i mean, couldn’t they be quite complimentary and supportive as well? couldn’t being married also frequently assist some men as priests? aren’t both roles about serving God first? cant we serve God in multiple ways at the same time and each way be strengthened by the other ways in which we are serving him? just consider
    on a lesser note, a very common objection to church teaching is the (false) accusation that celibate persons cannot minister to the modern demands of married persons. (of course that totally ignores the grace of the spirit in the celibate persons, [but then so does the objection to married men becoming priests…]). anyhow, despite the falseness of this claim it is widespread, and it would be countered by the presence of married clergy as well as celibate (not that that would be a sufficient reason for the change).

  • Annamarie

    This is a “straw man” argument. We need to pray for more priests, not decide to allow married priests. I don’t agree with the dispensation for the ones who are married, but then, the Holy Father knows a LOT (like times a zillion) than I do. But I haven’t noticed him changing the rule for Catholic priests who took a vow of celibacy. Why not women? Dogs? Clowns? Our Lord set up the Church a certain way for a reason. We have lasted over 2,000 years being as we are. I agree with all the other people and their reasoning for NOT having married priests! For one thing, I converted from the Baptist Church and they not only have married pastors, but every time they have a tiff, they go off and make a whole new church! Why do you think there are over 30,000 different denominations now? Everybody is an expert!

  • James H, London

    I think it’s unfair, especially for a parish in a poor rural part of a third-world country, to have to house a missionary’s family, as well as the missionary. Not only that, but what happens if the local Islamists come around to do some forced conversions?

    It’s a pretty basic principle, and one that’s worked for centuries.

  • Guest

    A “straw man” is something that does not exist. The situation I raise is real so your argument is incorrect. Of course we should pray for more priests, but perhaps the answer to the prayer in some areas is allowing married priests. You say “why not women” As if that is the next step, but it is not Because we can’t do that because it changes one of the fundamentals of the sacrament. That cannot happen. The all male priesthood is dogma. The all celibate priesthood is not. My preference is for celibate priests, but I would rather have a married one who can regularly minister to a flock than an infrequent celibate one. The people should not be denied the regular reception of the sacraments. That is happening around the world.

  • Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum!

    Then discuss my sarcasm…. wise guy…. what stops the wife of a priest to get an abortion or use contraceptive or getting a divorce….all protected by law? Allowing priests to marry is a house of cards….take a look at the protestant ministers….do they get divorced? do their wives use and believe in contraception? do they get abortions? Where is the data on this?

  • John

    I hope the discipline of clerical celibacy is not changed. There are many reasons, but most importantly is the quality of vocations. If married men can become priests, there will be a temptation to see the priesthood as a job or a career. Our priests now give themselves totally to God. We get men who sacrifice their desires for a family because they know being a priest is a vocation, an identity, not a job.

  • ykcpeggy

    In a word – NO. We do not need married priests. I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls at the museum a few years ago. There were groups of men living together in a community as early as the 1st century.

  • Eliz33

    No, especially in this time. We are experiencing a culture of total disconnect from the transcendent nature of our sexuality – how it is a sign pointing to the Holy Trinity and union with God. Priestly celibacy is one remaining bastion of that truth – its witness cannot be dismissed at this time when it is most needed.

  • Suzanne Graf Slupesky Beck

    I grew up the daughter of a protestant preacher, so I feel that gives me a bit of ‘authority’ on this subject. I agree with other commenters here that either the church OR the family comes first to a minister–it depends on the minister. However, in either case, the other entity suffers, so it doesn’t matter which comes first. I vote for celibacy from this perspective.

    Secondly, I don’t think that those who advocate for married priests really think their position through. Let’s assume for a second that a parish employs four priests, all married, presumably with children. That would mean that the parish would need to supply four separate residences for those families, as well as ‘living wages’ for each priest and his family. THAT alone should make one stop and think! Here in CA, four residences, even modest ones, would cost the parish at least 2 million dollars (my own house is 50 years old, in a low-end to modest suburb, 1400 sq feet, and is valued at over $500K). Having ONE rectory that houses 3-4 priests is a HUGE savings for the church,,,,duh!!

  • cadelaw41

    Do not do away with it for single men coming into the priesthood. However, if married men can study for the deaconiate, it is not a far stretch to the priesthood – but powers need to be limited. No faculty for confessioni.

  • I’m With HIM

    You say, ‘Also, a deacon can not remarry if his wife should pass away,’

    I say, what about the voice in the desert, til death do you part, after death there will be no marriage.

    The point you make of your wife and family providing simple reminders to you does reveal the unity of the family, and is witness to see how they love each other. However, the example used does not place God first within this family unit.

    If ministry is last, how can God be first? Most respectfully, and in all of God’s love, please explain what i am not seeing.

  • I’m With HIM

    ‘but, by it’s very nature’ ? Most respectfully, I think you’re talking sex? If so, then yes, a sacramental marriage does provide for the proliferation of a people of GOD. Christianity, His building of His Kingdom here on Earth. A people of God putting God first and foremost. Before mother, father, wife, children, etc..

    Is the life of a Priest more pleasing to God? It IS about the other. Growing together within and by that sharing and exchange of growth in holiness.

    Celibacy is certainly a most blessed gift. And i believe God does provide that gift at any time in one’s life for His own purpose. Look at St. Paul. Does anybody know if he was celibate prior to his conversion? There are indeed married couples who choose to live celibate lives even after their marriage. Sex is not Love.

  • Jeff

    Your comment is incorrect David. The Orthodox tradition allows married men to be ordained. Once ordained, they are not allowed to marry (like our Deacons).

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Before we start making radical changes in the priesthood, let’s make full use of the clergy the Church now has. And there is a married, ordained clergy in the Catholic Church. We are known as deacons and can do , as official ordained representatives of Christ and His Church 90% of what priests can do. But some surveys show that well-trained and well-educated deacons are not used to their full potential.

  • Ronald

    We already have priest that are married serving the Church, some who are pastors of their parishes. Also they cannot rise above the rank of priest. They cannot become bishops, cardinals or even become pope. This is church teaching not set forth by Our Lord. Simon, (Peter) was married and he was the first pope. Tradition through the Church has set forth these rules and it is not my place to question the Church. It is my place to follow the rules. I do have a question about priest getting married though and that is how many married men do you know that would like to become priest? My guess is maybe less than 1%. This is just a guess based on the fact that I know 0%. As for our younger generation married or not married, I do not see any of them interested in priestly vocations.

  • jenny

    …yes , it should be dropped.

  • dthyl

    The celibate priesthood is a great blessing for the Church. On the spiritual level, it’s the closest imitation of Christ Himself, who gave Himself totally for us, an imitation not to be taken lightly, since the priest acts in persona Christi at the Consecration and in the confessional. On the practical level, it wouldn’t be fair to expect the wife, and especially the children of a priest to live a life of poverty. And if they just did away with the poverty vow, it wouldn’t be fair to parishioners to have to support the families of one, or perhaps two or more parish priests with all the material baggage that other families enjoy. Each would need a nice home, children would need an education, etc., etc. Today’s world, as much or more than ever, needs this example of selfless love for Christ and humanity.