Our Diocesan newspaper has the topic of allowing priests to marry as the front page article in this month’s edition. I cannot help but wonder if those who propose this idea to our Bishops have really thought it out.
Let me begin by saying that just because the idea of married priests keeps coming up does not mean it is prompted by the Holy Ghost (as some may claim) but rather that we have turned our ear to the voices of a secular and over-sexualised society and stopped listening to the spiritual wisdom of the Church through the ages; a wisdom which is not to be dismissed as of little or no value. Indeed, the witness of celibacy in an age such as ours has even greater significance than ever before. While priestly celibacy may not be doctrinal, it is certainly deeply spiritual -it is perhaps the core way the priest conforms himself to Christ the Good Shepherd who gave up His life for His sheep.
The celibate priesthood calls for self-sacrifice, without doubt; not to ask for the highest ideals in those applying for priesthood is intrinsically to ask for less than the most complete commitment. Is asking for less than the best really what we want?
We also have to consider that both vocations, priesthood and marriage, are under attack today, do we really want to add the stresses of one embattled vocation to another? Does not this encourage the likelihood of failure in one or both of these vocations?
Continuing to consider the spiritual import of a married priesthood, one has to say that to attach priesthood to marriage (or marriage to priesthood) is in fact to devalue each vocation as a path to holiness in its own right; it is to imply that there is room in both vocations for adding further opportunities for self-sacrifice. In short, both vocations are inevitably diminished as complete and sure paths to sublime holiness of life.
We should also consider that both the priesthood and marriage are vocations in crisis today, and to add one crisis to another makes no sense at all. Having a married priesthood will not alleviate the crisis in priestly vocations, witnessed to by the fact that there is a fall-off in vocations in all Christian communities, not just the Catholic Church. We are fooling ourselves if we think having married priests will see a return to the levels of priests we had even 20 years ago.
I cannot help but think too that attaching marriage to priesthood is the last thing to be introduced if Pope Francis wants to eliminate careerism. A married priesthood would only encourage careerism. After all, it is altogether possible that those who seek the office of Bishop will remain celibate for career prospects -and a celibate episcopacy would need to be retained since it is rooted in the Church’s Apostolic Tradition, the witness to which is that even in the Orthodox world where priests can marry, only priests who have not married are chosen to be Bishops.
Practically speaking, we have to consider how we could support a married priest and his family. Congregations are dwindling and costs of living rising; are we really expecting smaller congregations to pay for the up-keep of the priest and his family when they are struggling themselves? Are we going to diminish the role of wife and mother in the Christian home by requiring she go out to work and leave the up-bringing of their children to someone else? As one of my parishioners said, “How could we support a priest with six kids? And if he only has two, can we assume he’s using contraception? What a great example that would be”. And what if there is a divorce? Who pays the alimony? These are not unimportant considerations.
I suspect that behind supporting the call for married priests is the assumption that the world will accept the Church more easily if she has a married clergy, and that it will lessen the risk of child abuse. This would be wrong on both counts. Child abuse, loathsome and reprehensible as it is, is not a ‘Catholic priest’ problem (see here and here). No; the underlying reality is that the secular spirit always has and will always hate Christ’s Catholic Church (Jn.15v18-20), primarily because of her pro-life stand and doctrinal objection to fornication, contraception, abortion, serial marriage, homosexual activity etc. Is not ultimately the devil who is at the root of the call for a married priesthood? Very likely yes, in the hope that the stresses and strains of marriage will bring the clergy to cry out for a renunciation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, by which renunciation the devil and his secular spirit will obtain a limited victory over the Church and the Gospel of Christ.
This type of speculation is just another example of the degree to which secularist ideas are seeping into the Church, into the minds of the laity and clergy, since I presume there must be some clerical input or vetting of this paper.ReplyDelete
It has become a major problem.
What is needed now, is an acceptance of, a facing up to, the mess we have got ourselves and Christ’s Mystical Body on Earth, the Catholic Church, into over the past 50 years. But more and more I see only further retreat and compromise.
We need, particularly in our priests, commitment, more so, even heroism, and that is not possible if you have to close confessions early to rush and collect the children from school because the wife’s away on a business trip.
Thank you Jacobi.Delete
Unfortunately continuing speculation is used as a means of saying "the Spirit is asking for this", and as I say, this is not provable and more likely to be a failure to listen to the Spirit who appears to have changed His mind on what is good for the Church...
I have to say I agree that retreat and compromise seem to be the order of the day these last few decades. I think it is a sign of faith being lost in the desire to have the world accept the Church.
God Bless you and yours.
Bravo Father GaryReplyDelete
Some of us were talking after Mass on Sunday & the question arose as to who a married priest would put first. A scenario was suggested where a married priest was told by police that his 16 year old daughter was in difficulty. At the same time he was advised of a parishioner's 16 year old daughter was in the same difficulty. The difficulty was one where the two girls both needed a priest. To which girl would the priest respond? If he was a good father he would/should respond to his daughter, if a celibate priest the daughter scenario would not exist.
You know, Father, I can accept that we may have homosexual priests but providing they are celibate what is the difference to a priest who is heterosexual? Surely the celibacy is the important point.
The question raised by your parishioner regarding the upkeep of a priest & his family is very valid & should be taken into account.
Sorry Father rather than just give reasons why no married priests I should have suggested a (possible) solution to the shortage. We need to pray, pray, pray to God & Our Blessed Lady to give us more vocations. There is a great Northern saying "Shy bairns get nowt", let us be 'shy bairns' to God & the Blessed VirginReplyDelete
Thank you, David,Delete
You speak of the kind of scenario many folk have discussed and which does indeed highlight a thorny issue,
PS. I suspect you mean ‘let us not be shy bairns’ –and I fully agree. There is so much to beg and plead for today...
We already have married priests and there haven't been any complaints. We also already have a celibate priesthood and it hasn't stopped careerism.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Fr John.Delete
Where I live the married priests are former Protestant clergy and they are appointed as chaplains to prisons, schools, and hospitals etc where the institution pays their wage; it prevents them becoming another financial burden on the parish. Those in charge of parishes usually have a working wife. I have worked with such men and found them good and sound, but that exceptions prove the rule and don't alleviate the difficulty of a married priesthood.
Careerism can’t ever be fully be fully excluded, but it won’t help to provide a route to the presbyterate and a route to the episcopate.
Fantastic! Fr. you give such a good comprehensive defence of the celibate priesthood. I always thought that marriage and priesthood were two definite and separate vocations.ReplyDelete
Thank you. For your comments and for your generous response to Our Lords call to the holy priesthood.
Thank you Paul.Delete
I have to say I wish I were more generous in my response to God; I think I was always too selfish to have been a good husband and father, though it was something I always wanted (I was particularly desirous to see a 'little Gary' running around!)
Marriage is a core vocation; the building block of the Church and the world; I would not want to see it compromised as a something which could be tagged onto ministry or have ministry tagged on to it...
God bless you and yours.
Other issues to consider are matters of inculturation.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this Sonia.Delete
The Vatican Link you give wisely notes that problems with inculturation. I quote the final paragraph for the benefit of readers:
"Priestly celibacy will continue to pose problems with regard to any efforts of inculturation. However, many of these problems are due either to a lack of appreciation for the profound religious meaning of celibacy or due to a misunderstanding of the true meaning of inculturation. When human cultural values take the upper hand, theology and faith become distorted. Instead of human culture being converted to the Christian faith, it attempts to convert the faith itself. In this question of priestly celibacy, it is imperative for everyone concerned to be aware of the profound religious meaning of the institution."
Don't you think that married priests will have a better understanding of marital and family life is they are married? It makes sense to me.
Thank you Ellis.Delete
With all due respect, this question always makes me chuckle because it presumes priests have no experience of family life: I grew up in a family; I have family with all the highs and lows of family life; i watched my parents marriage and watch those of my family and friends. In fact, I get 'inside' many, many marriages, so I don't think I need to be married to learn about marriage and family life. Remember, all priests miss out on is the physical intimacy of marriage. can we put it this way: midwives do not need to be mothers to be expert in their work; psychiatrists don't need to have a psychiatric illness to understand their patients. To be honest, it is a fallacy that priests need to be married to understand and help marriages.
You refer to the Greek Orthodox Church allowing priests to marry, but this is not true. Married men may be ordained but once ordained, a priest who is not married may not choose to marry after ordination.ReplyDelete
If the Catholic Church allowed married men to be ordained, I am puzzled as to what their wives and possibly their children would do during the six or seven years of priestly formation, usually in a seminary. Do you know how the Greek Orthodox handle that problem?
Thank you, Misericordia.Delete
You are right; one can be married before ordination but not after. I suspect a widowed priest will not be able to remarry since he will be already ordained. This is further witness to the Church's tradition of celibacy being the norm for priesthood.
I have no idea how the family of an orthodox seminarian survives during his period of formation.
They don't usually marry until just before ordination to the diaconate.Delete
Thank you Motuproprio, for this information.Delete
If a Catholic priest told his confessor that his vow of celibacy was not a source of holiness or a source of growth for him, his confessor would ask, “Is it helping you to live your baptism better to remain celibate?” If a homosexual Catholic man told a priest in confession that unconsecrated celibacy was not a source of holiness or a source of growth for him, the issue of whether the celibate state helped him to live his baptism, or whether it did not help, would not even be considered.ReplyDelete
Be it so then.
Surely when a priest becomes a priest his bride is Holy Mother ChurchReplyDelete
Thank you, SallyAnne.Delete
You are spot on !
God Bless you and yours.
Thank you Father Gary - at least you and a few others are thinking straight! Is it not also true that the priestly vocation is strengthened by a chaste married life and vice versa. The renunciation of physical intimacy for the sake of the Kingdom by the celibate priest is mirrored by married couples living according to God's plan for their fertility. Each draws strength from the other. Couples value priesthood and priesthood values marriage.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Pat.Delete
The mutual respect for and value the vocation of the other is more common than we think, as is couples who renounce intimacy for a period so as to strengthen their marriage and build up the strength their souls.
Dear Fr Gary,ReplyDelete
I remember when there were 5 priests living in my childhood parish church rectory, now there is one priest looking after 2 parishes. I remember how few priests were ordained with yourself and how even fewer were at Ushaw, training for their future lives.
Whilst I hear your reasoned and persuasive argument above, something has to be done..before our churches are empty, not due to dwindling parishioners but due to no priest to put there.
Not so many years ago, women who got married weren't allowed to continue as nurses...even having to stop their training if they thought to get married during this period...the establishment citing marriage as evidence of a lack of commitment and ability to do this work ....which time and a change in attitude has proven to have been unfounded.
I do not believe that marriage would detract from a priestly vocation, any more than marriage and children detracted from my ability to be a fine nurse....The church has so much money - this money should be used to support single priests and priests with families alike. I have watched a friend who is a priest walk around with holes in his shoes as he was in a Parish that wasn't quite rich enough to give much money to support him..wrong in so many ways. let the church use it's money to properly care for it's priests...with 6 children or otherwise.
God bless you old friend
Dear friend, thanks for commenting.Delete
‘Old’ is the operative word in your description of me, I’m afraid! I may only be young in chronology (well, not so ‘young’!) but my body is that of a man well advanced in years due to lack of health-care (what a sad admission from a nurse).
I hear what you say, and can appreciate how the idea of married priests appears to fit into our common nursing history. I think the idea of nurses not marrying came from the days when most nurses were religious sisters (from where the title Ward Sister originated), and hung on in the profession with Nightingale who saw nursing as a vocation. It religious celibacy gradually waned because it moved from the religious sphere into the secular sphere of life, particularly with Fenwick, who first sought to establish a resister of trained nurses. From these two ladies onward it was an ever-increasingly secular profession, though as you say, old attitudes die hard.
Just to clarify a couple of things, while the Church is rich in her assets she does not always have bank accounts that are in the black; often Diocese run in the red (as does Rome, now and again); so funds are not as easy to come by as we would like. Financing a married priest and his family is not quite as easy as it sounds, added to which the clerical life is a 24 hour life; we can’t clock off at the end of a shift, and that can indeed put strain on the marriage. One of the commonest complaints from wives of Anglican clergy is the expectations the parishes that she be a kind of ‘Mrs Vicar’, and she has married a man not his vocation.
I do see where you are coming from, but I don’t think its as easy to support married priests as it seems. We also have to add that the priesthood has a sacramental character the married state does not; we are conformed to Christ and are to image Him in the world, and that includes His celibacy as total dedication to the community for the common good of all.
I hope you are well –wish I knew your name though! Why not email me sometime?
God bless you and yours.
PS. I too had a time when my shoes were more holy than I –and boy did they let in the rain and the snow...
I remember those shoes well! Indeed, these are the shoes I speak of above..Delete
As always your clarity and intellect shine through. You have always had the ability to kindly direct a light to highlight to me where my argument may be flawed...through the long night duties, meals at home, helping me throughout the hard times in my life, visits to the seminary, in the north east and in London, even where my driving was wrong on trips away!
I will email you ..as soon as I can find your email address! I hope but worry about if I will be welcomed.
I do hope your health concerns are not your asthma rearing it's ugly head!
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Never worry about not being welcomed; a warm, warm welcome awaits you!
I have never met anyone with whom I did not want to stay friends for life; people are valuable and make our lives richer (I truly believe that, even if I sometimes say or do the wrong thing, which I do).
Looking forward to hearing from you...truly.
Don’t leave it too long :-)
God Bless you and yours.
The Orthodox and Eastern Rite Churches do not 'allow priests to marry' and never have. They allow married men to become priests. Once ordained there is no 'marriage option'. Pope Francis recently allowed an Eastern Rite man ordained to the Diaconate to marry and this was very significant since it was the first such dispensation. (More to follow?)ReplyDelete
PS St. Bridget, the wonderful mystic religious, quotes Christ as saying:ReplyDelete
"If the priests of the Old Testament were permitted to have intercourse when they were not offering [sacrifice], it is not to be wondered at, for they carried the shell but not the kernel. Now, however, once truth has come and figures have passed away, one should apply himself to supreme purity, the more so as the kernel is sweeter than the shell (4.58).
St. Bridget also said that any Pope who allowed priests to marry would go to hell.
Thank you, Lepanto.Delete
You are right in saying that in the Eastern Churches married men can be ordained but ordained men cannot marry. Thanks for clarifying that (I may alter the post at some date).
Priests of the Old Testament were, according to some, required to abstain from sex during the time of their service at the altar.