Concern about married Catholic Priests?

Priest with family (the picture is from OrthoCath and it is not quite clear whether it shows an Orthodox priest or a Catholic priest of the Eastern Rite)

Recently in The New York Times, an article appeared, titled A Cohort of Married Roman Catholic Priests, and More Are on the Way. In the article, it is said that some of the clergy are concerned that the newly founded Ordinariate with its married clergy will bring confusion into the understanding of Celibacy. Is their concern justified according to your opinion? The article itself, as expectable from a paper like The New York Times, is critical to celibacy, and tries to locate the cause of priest shortage in celibacy. The question is now, is there really a priest shortage? And if so, the second question is, is the abolishment of celibacy really a solution? We know that Protestant confessions are not actually overrun by pastor candidates, though they allow marriage for their pastors. Please do share your opinion with us on the comment thread! The following is the said article (H/T: The Deacon’s Bench. For more background information please also see a quite well researched article on the regulation concerning married clergy of the Eastern Rite in the Catholic Church . It can be found at :

by Mark Oppenheimer

On New Year’s Day, the Vatican announced the formation of a nationwide ordinariate — kind of a diocese without borders — for Episcopal priests and their congregations who want to move together into Roman Catholicism. The big news is not that some Episcopalians will have a zippier express lane into Catholicism, but that there will soon be even more married Catholic priests in America.

And married priests raise provocative questions for the Catholic Church, whose shortage of clergymen is worsening by the day.

Most Americans, perhaps most American Catholics, do not know that the church allows married priests. But there have always been married priests in the non-Latin rites, like Ukrainian Catholicism or Maronite Catholicism. These churches are fully Catholic, obedient to the pope, but they ordain married men, although they do not allow unmarried priests to get married.

There were always some married priests in Roman Catholicism, too, until the First Lateran Council, in 1123, banned the practice. And there have been married Roman Catholic priests again since 1980, when the church said that Protestant clergymen who became Catholic priests could stay married to their wives.

There are about 80 such Catholic priests in America, says the Rev. D. Paul Sullins, a sociologist at Catholic University in Washington. Once an Episcopal priest himself, now a married Catholic priest, Father Sullins has interviewed over 70 married priests, and many of their wives, for a book he is writing. A vast majority are former Episcopalians, he says, though some came from other Protestant denominations.

The small cohort of married priests raises several questions. First, are they doing as good a job as other priests? If the church has decided that celibacy confers certain gifts on priests, does it follow that married priests are worse at serving their congregations? Second, wouldn’t celibate priests be a little resentful of colleagues who get to serve the church and have sex too? And third, if the married priests are doing a good job and not provoking envy, why keep the celibacy rule for priests in general?

To answer the first question, it is important to understand the rationale for the celibacy rule. (“Celibacy” refers to a life without marriage; “continence” is the term for living without sexual activity. In principle, celibate priests are also continent.) The church has never taught that celibacy is necessary to the priesthood. Rather, the tradition holds that that a priest performing the sacraments represents Jesus Christ, who was single. This idea of the priest in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, is also a prime rationale for why women cannot be Catholic priests.

Furthermore, Father Sullins says, there is the practical belief that “if a man’s not married, he’s able to devote himself more fully and exclusively to his parish.” But he has found that married priests are usually aided, not hindered, by their wives, who are very committed to the parish. And he adds that celibate priests can be less accessible than married priests.

“The truth is that celibate priests often have ways of walling themselves off,” Father Sullins says. “If you call a celibate priest’s rectory in the middle of the night, you’ll likely get an answering machine. But if you call a married priest in the middle of the night, and he is disinclined to go out, he will get an elbow from his life partner, saying, ‘Hey, you committed yourself to this work.’

“I don’t want to say the difference is great, but if there is a difference, it’s in favor of the married priest.”

Since 1980, the Roman Catholic Church has shown a preference for celibate clergymen by preventing married priests from being pastors of parishes, unless circumstances dictated it. The priests entering the church as part of the new ordinariate for former Episcopalians will be exceptions to that rule. And because of a shortage of priests in the United States, circumstances have already put married priests in charge of parishes.

In fact, the Rev. James Parker, the very first married priest admitted under the Pastoral Provision, as the church’s 1980 rule is known, led a parish in Charleston, S.C. And apparently he did a good job.

“He was just a brother among brothers,” says the Rev. Jay Scott Newman, who pastors a church in Greenville, S.C. Father Parker’s marriage “was never an issue, not for a second.” And he was able to do his job well, just like married men in other demanding professions.

“Doctors who work 80 hours a week manage to have children,” Father Newman says. “It can be done. And these priests did it as Anglicans” — the broader church of which Episcopalians are part.

Father Newman’s hearty praise for his married colleague helps answer our second question, that of envy. I found no evidence that celibate priests resent their married colleagues. Although a small number of theologians and canon lawyers have been critical of the 1980 Pastoral Provision, it seems that working priests are not troubled.

Even Father Newman, for example, who believes celibacy is an important countercultural statement — a celibate priest “has staked his life on the premise that this life is not all there is, and he is putting his flesh on the line” — says the church can accommodate exceptions. Referring to another married priest he knew in South Carolina, Father Newman said, “there was an intuitive grasp among everybody that this was an exception to the norm, and there was no injustice being done to lifelong Catholics who became priests knowing celibacy was part of that.”

The church’s general position on priestly celibacy, that it is ideal but not necessary, is weakened if some married priests seem pretty close to ideal. And as the priest shortage worsens, celibacy will be debated again.

At least 25,000 Americans have left the priesthood since 1970, Father Sullins says. Many of them expected the church to lift the celibacy rule, but when they realized the rule was staying, they left and got married. Twenty-five thousand former priests — in a country with fewer than 40,000 priests today. Celibate or not, all Catholics can do the math.

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5 Responses to Concern about married Catholic Priests?

  1. Srdc says:

    This article has a secular spin to it, and leaves out a few things.

    Only married men are ordained.
    They don’t re-marry if their wives die, as found in the Orthodox church, because Clerical marriage is not part of the Orthodox church.

    Bishops would still be celibate, the same with monks and nuns.

    “Priesthood, in all three of its degrees, according to the canonical tradition in force (canon 3 of the Council in Trullo), constitutes an impediment to marriage.”


  2. teresa says:

    Srdc, the point you mentioned is already written in the article, in the second paragraph, where the reporter wrote: “These churches are fully Catholic, obedient to the pope, but they ordain married men, although they do not allow unmarried priests to get married.”.

    I think the problem with the article is that the reporter, though he did a quite good research as a non-Catholic, didn’t understand the spiritual value of celibacy. He is just taking about the practical aspect of celibacy that is presumably, a celibate priest is doing a better job than a married one because a celibate priest has more time for the faithful. He tries to argue that if a married man is doing a job as well as a celibate one, what is the point of celibacy.

    What he didn’t see is that celibacy has a root in the patristic tradition and is generally valued higher from a spiritual point of view (not from a practical point of view), this is explained very well in the excellent article at Orthodox Research Institute you linked to above.


  3. JabbaPapa says:

    I’m not sure about “secular spin”, I think it’s more educational in purpose.

    I’m fairly certain that in the relatively near future we will see married Catholic deacons ordained into the priesthood.


  4. pablo says:

    Truth is not our making, but God’s. And hence the Church in her history, due reparation made, has always welcomed the heretic back into the treasury of her souls, but never his heresy into the treasury of her wisdom.

    A married man is not a heretic, but the Holy Father should have required the two to live a chaste life, as brother and sister, that a continuum may occur and not cause scandal or confusion among Catholics.

    This would also send a message to those Bishops that have Nuns or laywomen as concubines; celibacy and avoidance of mortal sin are part of a Bishop’s duties and responsibilities.

    For your consideration; how to be a Priest


    Pray for the Holy Father, and all his Priests, Nuns, and Religious.



  5. JabbaPapa says:

    A married man is not a heretic, but the Holy Father should have required the two to live a chaste life, as brother and sister, that a continuum may occur and not cause scandal or confusion among Catholics.

    Marriage is, in fact, a holy sacrament of the Church.

    Those priests that are united in holy matrimony with their wives cause no scandal at all and no confusion whatsoever.


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