Married Priests -- Objections Answered


Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere, you've probably heard the news. Pope Francis has decided to open up discussion about the possibility of allowing married men to be ordained as priests in the Western Rite of the Catholic Church, as they have been in the Eastern rites consistently for 2,000 years now. The Western (Roman) Rite made the change to mandated celibacy for all candidates to the priesthood roughly 1,000 years ago for various reasons. The decision only affected the Western (Roman) Rite of the Church in Western Europe. The Eastern rites were not affected by this.

The Western Rite has since grown to the largest Rite within the Catholic Church, mainly because of Western European colonisation around the world over the last 500 years. The Eastern rites of the Catholic Church have been largely unable to expand, due to lack of colonisation from Eastern Europe, a loss of many churches due to the Catholic/Orthodox schism in AD 1054, and constant persecution by Islam. Western Europe's rapid colonisation of Sub-Sarahin Africa, East Asia, Oceania and the Americas was largely made possible as a result of the West's successful repulsion of Islam in the Crusades, Reconquista and Battle of Lepanto.

Because the Western (Roman) Rite has so successfully expanded into the Western world (riding piggyback on the Western European colonisation of Sub-Sarahin Africa, East Asia, Oceania and the Americas) most Western people associate the Catholic priesthood strictly with celibacy. We are culturally conditioned to forget the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church which admit married men to the priesthood in fairly high numbers. Thus, we are prone to forget that a fairly large number of Catholic priests are, in fact, married and it has been this way since the dawn of Christianity some 2,000 years ago.

The debate about celibacy within the Western Church is liable to be a heated one. The tradition has been so longly entrenched in Western Catholicism that its roots run deep. It will not be changed easily. I think it's important here that we avoid the tendency to digress into apocalyptic predictions about the future of the Church, or disparaging comments about marriage or celibacy. It's important to understand that both matrimony and ordination are sacraments of the Catholic Church, and the Church has a long history of ordaining both married and celibate men. Any attack on the married priesthood is just as much an attack on the Church as an attack on the celibate priesthood. I think it's also important to avoid the false dichotomy of linking the married priesthood strictly to the East and the celibate priesthood strictly to the West. Both traditions exist in the East and the West. In the East, large numbers of celibate men are ordained to the priesthood alongside married men. While in the West, married priests do exist in spite of the celibacy mandate. This is particularly the case in the Ordinariates for former Anglicans and Methodists, wherein married men (who are converts) have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood after having served previously as Anglican or Methodist ministers. There are also a number of married priests from the Lutheran tradition serving in diocesan jurisdictions. All of this is within the Western (Roman) Rite alone.

Priestly celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine, which means that debate on this matter is perfectly permissible. Advocates for allowing married men into the priesthood cannot disparage those who want to maintain mandated celibacy, and the same is true vice versa. We are all Catholic here and we're discussing a prudential matter of discipline currently enshrined in the canon law of the West. We are allowed to hold good-faith opinions on both sides of the issue, and this does not threaten our Catholicity.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally in favour of congruency between the East and the West on this issue. I have always believed this since my conversion to the Catholic Church on Easter of 2000. I am a married man, but I have no interest in being ordained to the priesthood and never have. This is why the celibacy mandate in the Western (Roman) Rite of the Church was not a deal-breaker to my conversion. I personally have nothing invested in the issue. If I believed I was called to the priesthood, I'm sure I could have worked out some kind of arrangement with the Maronite Cathedral in St Louis (a nearby Eastern Catholic option) at the time of my conversion. So you can rest assured my vigorous support of congruency between East and West on this issue has nothing to do with a secret desire of mine, a married man, to be ordained. (I've been falsely accused of that before.) I assure you that my vigorous support of congruency is based entirely on my belief that it is just and in the long-term best interest of the Catholic Church in the West. So having said that, let's get into some objections to allowing married men into the priesthood...

Objection 1:
I don't think Catholic priests should be allowed to marry.

This objection is really a non-starter because nobody is talking about this. Pope Francis did not propose this either. So far, the only people who have talked about allowing Catholic priests to marry are some knuckleheads in the mainstream news media who don't understand what they're talking about. What Pope Francis is proposing for debate is the option to allow married men (men who are already married) into the priesthood. He did not propose for debate the prospect of allowing celibate priests the option to go out and get married. Nobody is talking about that. Nobody is discussing it. It's not even an issue. Celibate priests will remain celibate priests.

Objection 2:
I don't think that would be fair to the celibate men who are already priests.

How so? Are we worried they might get jealous? Men who are ordained to the priesthood have already made their decision in life. Married men who seek ordination chose to be married. Celibate men chose to be celibate. To suggest that a celibate priest might change his mind, or have second thoughts, just because he knows a priest who is married, is really disparaging to him. It's making light of his commitment to his vocation. Celibate priests made this choice before they entered the priesthood. Nobody forced them to make it. They made it on their own, as mature adult men, who actively sought the higher goal of serving the Kingdom of God above that of having a family. We should never make light of that decision. The fact of the matter is that married priests already exist in the Catholic Church, as described above. If jealousy was ever an issue, it should have already begun a long time ago -- like about 1,000 years ago when the celibacy mandate was first enacted in the West. Currently, there are over 100 married Catholic priests serving in North America. If jealousy were an issue at all, it would be rampant in the United States and Canada. Try asking your local celibate Catholic priest if he's jealous of married Catholic priests. I'm sure you'll get a resounding "no."

However, when we say "fair" what we're really appealing to is justice. We're asking "is it just?" So is it just to ask men to consider celibacy before entering the priesthood? Yes. It is perfectly just to ask and even encourage it! However, is it just to deny qualified married men, who are called to ministry, any possibility of being ordained a priest? I don't think so. I don't think that's just at all. So it's certainly not "fair." We know for a fact that God does call married men into ministry. Jesus Christ called married men to be apostles. The Apostle Paul acknowledges that married men were called to become bishops in the early Church. That is not the practice of the Church now, neither in the West nor the East, but it was then. The Western Church acknowledged that God called married men into the priesthood for the first 1,000 years of its existence. The Eastern Church still acknowledges this. Even in the Western (Roman) Rite, the Catholic Church acknowledges God's calling to the priesthood of married men who converted from Protestant traditions. In fact, the Western (Roman) Rite ordains them. So is this just and "fair" to married men baptised in the Western (Roman) Rite? Currently, the celibacy mandate in the Catholic Church goes like this. Any man who is called to the priesthood may be ordained unless he was baptised in the Western (Roman) Rite of the Catholic Church. So in other words "cradle Catholic" men cannot become priests if they are married, but just about anyone else can. How is that just? Is Rome saying that God would never call a man to priestly ministry in a particular jurisdiction where Rome has made his ordination impossible? Does Rome tell God who he can, and cannot, call to ministry? Does Rome tell God where he can and cannot call upon married men? I'm not questioning Rome's authority to set its own rules in the Roman Rite. Rome certainly had the authority to mandate celibacy of all priests in the Roman Rite, but the question for me is not an issue of "can" but rather an issue of "should." Just because Rome can do something doesn't mean Rome should do it. I personally think Rome went too far by mandating priestly celibacy in all cases. Yes, the problems were real, but the solution was overkill.

Objection 3:
We cannot change the teachings of the Church?

I most certainly agree. The teachings of the Church cannot be changed -- ever. Yet priestly celibacy is not a Church teaching. It's not a doctrine at all. It's a discipline of the Church. Disciplines have always been subject to change. That's how we got to mandated celibacy for the priesthood, to begin with. If it changed to mandated celibacy 1,000 years ago, it can change back to allow married men at any time.

Objection 4:
It's Modernism!

Actually, Modernism is a heresy in the Church which was clearly defined by Pope Pius X. Married priests wasn't included in that definition. In fact, he would never include such a thing because priests were already married in the Eastern part of the Catholic Church. If Pius X condemned married priest, he would have been condemning the Catholic Church herself. Modernism has nothing to do with this. Married priests are an ancient practice. Mandated celibacy is a more modern thing than optional celibacy, but neither is "Modernism."

Objection 5:
It's not traditional.

To which I must ask; traditional to whom? It may not be traditional to those who strictly attend the 1962 Latin Mass, and want to go back to the way things were before Vatican II. It may not even be traditional to those who strictly attend the regular vernacular mass all around us. Yet it is very traditional to all Eastern Catholics today. It's was also very traditional to anyone who lived in the West 1,000 years ago. If we really want to play the "traditional card" it kind of backfires. Because you see, history is history and nobody can deny it. Allowing for married priests is a much older, and more time-honoured, tradition than mandating celibate priests.

Objection 6:
It's an innovation.

As pointed out above, the celibacy mandate is a thousand years newer than the tradition of antiquity, which was to allow ordination for both married and celibate men. You cannot call "innovation" what is, in fact, an older practice than mandated celibacy. The discipline of mandated celibacy is more of an innovation than the older discipline of allowing both married and celibate priests.

Objection 7:
God intended to mandate celibacy all along, and Rome just finally placed it into Church law a thousand years later.

Do we really want to tell God what he intended to do? If God intended to mandate celibacy on all priests, I think he would have said so while he walked on earth among us. But this isn't what Jesus said at all. While on the one hand, he praised celibacy for the Kingdom of God, on the other hand, he didn't require it. "Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." (Matthew 19:11-12) Then, of course, the Apostle Paul clearly spelt out what is meant by this. "So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better." (1 Corinthians 7:38).  Neither Jesus nor Paul attached celibacy to the priesthood as a requirement. In fact, St Paul plainly states in more than one case that married men were the common choice for ordination during the Apostolic Era. (Titus 1:5-9 & 1 Tim. 3:1-7) Both Jesus and Paul stated that celibacy was (and remains) a preferred option, not only for priests but for anyone really. Yet it is, of course, reasonable to assume this would especially be the case for priests. If we want to talk about the intent of God, maybe we should go by what God actually said in his inspired written word -- the Scriptures.

Objection 8:
If allowing married men into the priesthood is permitted, celibate priests will almost completely disappear.

Okay, I completely understand this objection. It's based on a fear or worry, and considering the state of the modern world, it seems plausible. However, let's stop and consider this for a moment. Look at all the men who are celibate priests right now. Are we saying that none of these men would be celibate priests today if married men were allowed into the priesthood? That seems a little far-fetched to me. I suppose some of them might have gotten married first, but all of them? Or even most of them? I don't think so.

If allowing married men into the priesthood would cause the celibate priesthood to evaporate, why are we not seeing droves of married men entering the Catholic diaconate? The diaconate is open to both married and celibate men, yet how many of them do we see in comparison to celibate priests? In the United States alone, there are approximately 37,000 celibate Catholic priests. In comparison, there are only 19,000 deacons, at least a thousand of which are celibate. If the prospect of married men in the ministry was so attractive, why aren't there more married deacons than celibate priests? If allowing married men into the diaconate would cause a wave of men to enter Catholic ministry, then every single Catholic parish should have a minimum of three deacons by now. In case you haven't noticed, that hasn't happened. A parish is lucky to get one deacon. Most parishes have none. So much for that objection.

Speaking as a married man who has ministry interests (this blog is a big part of that), an honest assessment of my life back in the year 2000 revealed that I didn't want to do the full-time ministerial job of a priest. I didn't really want to do all that, and my wife certainly didn't want me to go in that direction. We both agreed that the kind of ministry God seems to be calling me to, indeed what he seems to have made me for, is a teaching ministry. That's something that can easily be done on a lay level. What is required is education, study and talent -- not ordination. Indeed, it helps if ordained priests have this calling to. In fact, we hope that most would, but that doesn't mean that every man called to teach is also called to be a priest. That's a mistake often made by Protestants. They may feel called to teach, so they assume (wrongly) that means they're called to pastoral ministry. This is one reason why there are so many different Protestant churches with Protestant ministers who have no business in pastoral roles. Indeed, many Anglican and Lutheran ministers who converted to Catholicism over the last several decades, many of whom were eminently qualified to become Catholic priests, have not sought ordination in the Catholic Church. Most of them remained laymen after conversion. Some of them went on to pursue secular teaching careers at universities and schools instead. Others became teachers at religious schools and colleges. Some of them became Internet bloggers and authors like me. (I was an Evangelical associate pastor before I converted to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.) In fact, there are scores of Catholic apostolates run entirely by laypeople called to teach and proclaim the gospel.

There are many factors that a man must consider before entering the priesthood, and celibacy is just one of them. All men must honestly ask themselves if they're really called to presbyterial work. It's more than just preaching the gospel you know. Hours must be spent in the confessional listening to other people's problems. Then there is the liturgical aspect. I love going to mass. I even like helping out as an altar server from time to time. But the last thing I would want to do is spend my life at the altar and never in the pews. I just don't feel it's my place, at least not at this stage in the game. Every man must assess that. What is his liturgical desire?

Then there is the whole issue of authority. As Catholics, we are all under the authority of our bishop, but when a man is ordained, he comes under that authority all the more so. As a layman, I must obey my bishop on basic things relating to the Catholic faith and practice. The most authority my bishop has over my life, outside of that, relates to marriage. I would be required to let him know if I was marrying outside of the Church. That's pretty much it, as far as a layman is concerned. I don't need his permission to move. I don't need his permission to travel. I don't need to ask if its okay to do certain types of work. I don't need to ask him permission for vacation. However, if I am ordained, I will need to ask him for permission on all of these things, and he will have nearly full control of my life.

If I am a married man discerning the priesthood, there are even bigger things to consider. First, is my wife up to the task? Is she prepared to become a presbytera (priest's wife)? Did she ask for it? Does she want it? Is she called to it? Did God prepare her with the coping skills she would need to live under a proverbial "microscope?" Because you see, that is exactly what it will be like for her. Second, is the married couple prepared to live frugally and depend on the Church for everything? Are they prepared to live as an example of a Christian family to the world? Are they prepared for the mountain of spiritual attack from the devil, who hates family, and would revel in nothing more than to destroy a priest's family and rock the faith of an entire parish and diocese? The level of spiritual protection and discipline a priest's family would need is significantly higher than the average family. Granted, as a priest, he has authority over the spiritual world. So if he exercises it, he can do much to protect his family. At the same time, however, he may have to implement some more strict discipline in the home than most husbands and fathers. I know some married priests who maintain very strict control of Internet devices and television time in the home. It may seem extreme to most of us, but when we consider the level of spiritual assault that family is under, it may be necessary. Third, is the man willing to live a celibate life if (God forbid) he loses his wife? The historic tradition of the Church, in both the East and the West, is that priests are allowed to BE married, but they are not allowed to GET married. See the difference? So if a priest loses his wife, for whatever reason (death or divorce), he cannot remarry. His vocation changes from marriage to celibacy. How many married men would be able to say "yes" to that? At this stage in my life, I'm not one of them. If God forbid, my wife was to unexpectedly die, it would be very hard to marry another woman right away. My first inclination is to become celibate. I would try to remain so at least until my children are grown. However, as the years go by, and loneliness starts to set in, I cannot say (one way or another) what I would do. Keeping the option of remarriage open is something that I, as a man, would believe to be the prudent course of action, even if I never use it. I think most men are like me on that. Only a very small percentage would embrace celibacy in the wake of such tragedy.

So when you take all this into consideration, I think it's a little presumptuous to say that allowing married men into the priesthood would cause celibate priests to almost completely disappear. On the contrary, I think the number of married priests will never exceed the number of celibate priests. Besides, Rome doesn't have to allow it if Rome doesn't want to. By the same authority Rome mandated celibacy for all Western priests a millennium ago, it could likewise regulate the number of married priests allowed in the Western (Roman) Rite. Rome could just as easily reset the mandate to 10%, 25% or as much as 50% in some extreme cases, allowing a quota for each diocese and jurisdiction. They may have up to a certain percent of married priests but no more. This might vary from diocese to diocese, and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on the circumstances. Even then, it's up to the local bishop to decide whether to meet the quota or keep the actual number well below it. Some bishops may decide not to admit any married priests in their jurisdictions. In the end, the local bishop will have the final say as to how its implemented, but Rome can put some limitations on it. I suspect if married priests return to the Western (Roman) Rite, that is exactly what will happen.

Objection 9:
Who will pay for his wife and children?

Seriously? If this is really a serious concern then I guess there is nothing to talk about. It seems odd, really, that Eastern Catholics seem to have figured this out and Western Catholics haven't. It seems extremely odd that not only have Eastern Catholics figured this out but so have Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and even Western Catholics prior to the 11th century. How is it that modern Western Catholics have such a hard time understanding this?

For those really interested in an answer, I'll tell you how it's done. Instead of putting $5 in the collection plate on Sunday, try putting in $10. If it's already your custom to put in $10, try $20, and so on. That's how it's done. When we started a missionary Ordinariate parish in the Ozarks, I had a conversation with the fellow who was helping me. Once we knew our priest would be married with children, we both agreed we're going to have to "step up to the plate" when it comes to giving, and we did. It would be inappropriate for me to say how much we donate to our missionary parish in a month, but I think it would be respectable to say its in the area of 3 figures. That's what it means to "step up to the plate." If Protestants can do it, why can't Catholics? Or would you have me believe that Protestants are better stewards of their resources than Catholics are? If money is your main concern, I suggest you reassess your priorities.

Objection 10:
It would be incredibly hard to be both a good husband and father and a good priest.

That may be true for most men, which is why most men are not priests. However, it's a bit insulting to say this of men who are already married priests. Does that mean if they're good priests they are bad husbands and fathers? Or does it mean if they're good husbands and fathers they are bad priests? It seems to me that such an objection can only be made by people who have never known a married priest. I know many, and to be quite honest with you, they are both great priests and great family men. Admittedly, such a quality is rare, but it's foolish to say no such men exist. If God has truly called them to the priesthood, we can safely assume God has also given them the skills and talents to juggle the roles. Don't forget, every good married presbyter is backed by an amazing presbytera (priest's wife). The two are a team. Married priests do face challenges that nobody else does. This is true. But if God has called them, he will prepare them. Where God guides, he provides.

Objection 11:
How can a married priest be available 24 hours, 7 days a week, if he has a family?

Do celibate priests keep those hours? I don't think so. I haven't met one yet. Even celibate priests get one day a week off, and they get vacations, and good luck finding one that will drive to your home for a family crisis at 2 o'clock in the morning! You'll be lucky to find one who will even drive to the hospital at that hour. I know, I work at a hospital. We have a horrible time finding priests who can respond to emergencies. It almost never happens. If you know a priest who keeps those hours, bravo for him! May his tribe increase! But based on practical experience, dealing with celibate priests for years, I know they value their personal time too. In fact, I know celibate priests who take more personal time than married ones! I don't fault them for it. I know it's a tough job sometimes. I'm just saying that I don't think this is a legitimate concern. We're placing unrealistic expectations on any priest by saying they should be available 24/7, married or celibate. Nobody does that.

Besides, the same could be said of doctors, healthcare workers, police and firefighters. All of us in public service keep strange hours, and yes, it is a strain on our families, but its a strain they understand and accept, because they know its for the common good of everyone. You know, my kids really hate it when I have to work at the hospital on weekends and holidays. My wife really hated it when I worked the night shift. But they all accepted it because they understand the nature of my job, and why it's important. I think my kids have a little sense of pride when they tell their friends; "Yeah, my dad couldn't be with us for Christmas this year because he's busy saving lives at the hospital." A priest's family is actually a lot better off than mine in this regard. At least they get to see their husband/father on all weekends and holy days.

Objection 12:
Ownership of some parish property might be a problem, especially if the priest uses a parish rectory. Suppose the priest dies. Where will the family live?

This is actually the reason why mandated celibacy for the priesthood was enacted in the first place nearly 1,000 years ago. Back then property laws were not as well defined as they are now. Thus, when a priest died, his widow and children would sometimes inherit all the parish property. Of course, this is a moral dilemma and was most certainly a legitimate problem at the dawn of the last millennium. However, at the dawn of this millennium, it's not so much an issue anymore. Property laws are very well defined in the West, and we can be assured that the Medieval problem of parish property inheritance is no longer an issue. The Eastern churches have had this figured out for centuries. In the West, the Ordinariate parishes have had no problem in this regard. Parish property is owned by the bishop. That's how it works. In such cases, when a priest dies unexpectedly, it is the responsibility of the parish and diocese to help his family find a place to live and take care of their needs for a while. In addition to this, there is this little thing called "life insurance" that they didn't have in the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the priest's wife is always free to remarry if she so chooses. Children grow up and eventually can take care of themselves. These things are no longer issues like they used to be.

Objection 13:
The last time we had married priests, nepotism flourished. We don't need to add any more problems to the already suffering Church's reputation.

Again, like the difference between modern and medieval times, laws and rules are very well established these days. A priest cannot hire his son to do a job for the parish, over some other more-qualified parishioner, unless his son is willing to work for free. In which case, there is no gain from nepotism. Bishops can easily set up rules to enforce this, and there is nothing stopping a celibate priest from nepotism either when you really stop and think about it. Who's to say he won't hire his bother, sister, mother or father to do a job that a more-qualified parishioner could do. Again, he can't give preferential treatment unless his family member is willing to work for free. In which case, nepotism has no financial gain.

Objection 14:
Why bother with married priests since the Church has historically required them to remain celibate even if they are married?

Actually, we have no historical record of the Church having ever required this on a universal level as a matter of law. We have some archaeological records of priests and their wives voluntarily consenting to this, of their own accord, but nothing of the Church universally mandating celibacy of married priests. At various times in history, it was expected, but not mandated universally. Eastern Catholic churches have had married priests for two millennia now. If celibacy is mandated of married priests, where did all those children of married priests come from? Let's keep this in mind. Eastern Catholic priests are CATHOLIC, and they are also validly ordained priests. Many of them are married and have children. Rome is fine with this. Rome has always been fine with this. So if we say married priests MUST be celibate, we're going against another tradition of the Church that has been historically recognised too. It seems the Church has been having this internal debate about the role of sex within the priesthood for quite a long time. Mandating celibacy in the West didn't stop it. The debate still raging today just as vigorously as it did in the early centuries of Christianity. Allowing married men into the priesthood of the Western Rite of the Catholic Church again is not going to change the debate. It will just extend back into the West what has been going on in the East for centuries.

Objection 15: 
Because of all the problems in the Western Church today, we shouldn't allow married men to become priests, for fear that this may lead to something unorthodox or unhealthy for the Church later on.

This is sort of like saying because some parishioners are alcoholics, we should no longer serve communion wine, but rather grape juice instead. While a Protestant, I've attended many Protestant churches that do just that. For fear of abuse, or something unhealthy, these denominations have banned communion wine entirely. It's the exact same logic. We are banning what God has allowed for fear that something bad might happen. Remember, the celibacy mandate for priests is NOT divine law. It is merely a canon law of discipline. It's not even doctrine. So to say we shouldn't change it, for fear that something bad might happen, is a lot like saying we should ban communion wine for fear that it might drive alcoholics to drink.

Objection 16:
That priestly celibacy makes its most vocal opponents unhappy, seems sufficient justification for its continuation.

So we should deny ordination to married men, whom God has called to ministry just so we can make liberals mad?

Objection 17:
Ordination of married men ignores the root cause of the vocation crises: failure to teach lifetime obedience to vows by example.

Okay, I agree with that, but is that sufficient reason to deny ordination to married men whom God has called to ministry? The reason why the Western Church is in crisis has nothing to do with the mandated celibacy requirement. I don't think anybody is arguing that celibacy is the cause of the crisis, except maybe some loony liberals who want to ordain women too. The root cause of the vocation crisis in the Catholic Church is twofold. First, traditional liturgy and orthodox teaching are what inspires men to become priests. Both have been lacking in the modern Church these days. Second, many seminarians are run by Modernists and homosexualists who only admit their own kind. This has been going on for decades, to the point where many seminarians are forced to hide their traditional inclinations. None of this is a reason to deny ordination to married men who are called by God. It is noteworthy to point out that Eastern Catholics don't have a priest shortage. Part of this is because married men do "fill in the gaps" where needed. However, the Eastern churches haven't flushed their traditional liturgy and teaching either. Hence they inspire more men (per capita) to give up marriage and family for the Kingdom of God.

Objection 18:
If we allow married men to become priests, they'll start ordaining women next!

The ordination of women is an entirely different matter. You see, the Church has never condemned the ordination of married men, and has continued the practice in the East. But the ordination of women has been squarely condemned over and over again, enforced by the excommunication of clerics who attempt to do it or even advocate it, and infallibly defined as impossible by Pope St. John Paul II (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4). It cannot be done. We're talking about apples and oranges here. Ordaining married men is confirmed in Scripture, has never been condemned, is still practised widely in the East and occasionally in the West. Ordaining women has been forbidden by Scripture, infallibly condemned by a papal Saint, has resulted in the excommunication of every cleric who as tried and many who have dared to advocate it. There is just no comparison here folks. To say that the ordination of married men will lead to the ordination of women is like saying that cultivating apple trees will result in a harvest of oranges the following year.

Objection 19:
It's mostly the wrong people in the Church that really really want it.

I want it, not for myself, but I do want to see it. Am I the wrong kind of person? Look, I understand that goofy liberals want married priests. But you know that when they say that, what they really mean is they want a priest who is already ordained to go out and get married, which is something nobody is discussing here. Haters gotta hate. Losers gotta lose. Liberals gotta be liberals. They're either goofy ignoramuses who don't understand the faith or else they are faithless atheists who no longer believe it. The word "modernist" is just code for "atheist" don't you know? A modernist is just an atheist who's afraid to admit it. Yes, those people want married clergy. They also want unmarried laity sleeping together. Who cares what they want? I don't and neither should you. Eight out of ten modernists have left the Church anyway, and the other two are slowly on their way out. Forget about these people. This is not a reason to deny married men ordination if indeed God has called them to ministry. Who are we to deny God those whom he has called?

Objection 20:
Married priests will be lax and liberal.

And celibate priests are not? Let us not forget the entire crisis we now see in the Western Church was caused exclusively by lax and liberal celibate priests! Thankfully, it seems more conservative priests are coming up through the ranks now. Now I'm not saying a married priest can't be lax and liberal. Anything is possible. I'm just saying I probably know a lot more married priests than most of my readers, and I have yet to meet one I would describe as lax and liberal. If anything, the opposite usually tends to be true. They're usually quite conservative, very orthodox, solidly traditional and somewhat disciplinarian.

Objection 21:
Most Western (Roman) Rite priests object to letting married men become priests.

If this is true, I think this goes back to cultural conditioning of nearly 1,000 years of mandated priestly celibacy. I wonder if they object to Eastern-Rite married men becoming priests. I kind of doubt it. If they object at all, I would say they object to letting it happen in the Western (Roman) Rite, which means they object to it based on discipline, not doctrine. But when you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense why a celibate priest would object to married priests. He's celibate! He can't imagine what it would be like to have two vocations (marriage and priesthood) because God has called him to celibacy. Still, that's no reason to deny ordination to married men whom God has called to the priesthood. In the East, it is common to separate married priests from celibate priests for this very reason. They often have difficulty understanding each other. Still, that doesn't stop married and celibate priests from becoming friends. In time they often grow an appreciation for each other and their very different callings.

Objection 22:
Celibacy is the last defence to sexual relativism. All protestants will eventually fold to homosexual issues because their pastors are not willing to give up wife and kids if God wills it. Celibate priests are the only ones that can say to homosexuals, be celibate like me, it's not a death sentence.

This is a fairly good objection because it calls attention to the spiritual reason for celibacy. Yes, on a practical side, celibate priests can devote more attention to the Church because they don't have to deal with a wife and children. That is true. But there is a spiritual component as well. Celibacy is a witness to the next life. Jesus told us that in the next life there will be no marriage. (Matthew 22:30) So living celibate in this life is an "eschatological sign" of the world to come, and a powerful witness to that reality. All of this is very true. However, there is a flaw in this argument. It neglects the witness of the Eastern rites, which allow for married priests alongside celibate priests. We don't see the Eastern rites caving into homosexual issues like many of the Protestant sects. We also see a number of celibate clergy in the Western Church advocating for the homosexualist agenda too. So I think that's a bit of a strawman argument. The part about celibate priests being a witness to homosexuals is true because it's an eschatological sign that proves all things are possible in Christ. If a priest can live without sex, any of us can with God's help. It is possible not only to live but to flourish as well.

The fear, of course, goes back to Objection 8: If allowing married men into the priesthood is permitted, celibate priests will almost completely disappear. As I pointed out above, this fear is unwarranted, because Rome can simply mandate that it won't disappear by applying quotas of allowance for married priests in a diocese that cannot be breached. Rome can do this by the same authority it abolished the married priesthood in the West in the first place. So there will always be plenty of celibate priests. Likewise, it is the custom in both the East and West to only consecrate bishops from among celibate priests. So they'll always be around too. We have the witness of religious brothers and sisters too, as well as monks and nuns. There is no way the eschatological sign of celibacy will ever disappear from the Western (Roman) Rite of the Catholic Church.

Objection 23:
Being Alter Christus, priests are, in a way, already married to the Church, the Bride of Christ. They share in His sacrifice as He lays down His life for His Bride. 

This isn't really an objection when you stop and think about it. Priests are married to the Church, but then so are Eastern-Rite Catholic priests. Is their witness any less Alter Christus or in persona Christi? I would say that celibacy simply adds to their identification with Christ, much in the same way the stigmata has helped some priests further identify with Christ. However, most priests don't receive the stigmata and that in no way diminishes the Alter Christus they already possess. The same is true of celibacy. Many priests have it, but some do not. For those who do it adds to their identification with Christ, but for those who don't it in no way diminishes the Alter Christus they already possess. Remember, ordination is what makes a man Alter Christus, not celibacy. Celibacy is an added witness which enhances a priest's vocation. However, the same is true of any person who gives up marriage and family for the Kingdom of God, regardless of his/her station in life. Is a celibate priest better than a celibate nun? By that I mean, does the celibate priest somehow provide a greater witness to the Kingdom of God than the celibate nun? No. I don't think so. The priest occupies an office that she cannot because of her gender, but that in no way diminishes her powerful eschatological sign of celibacy. 

Objection 24:
It would be very hard on the children of married Catholic priests.

While Eastern Catholic priests have long learned how to deal with a ministry and young children, this is not what is being contemplated in the West. What is being contemplated in the West is the ordination of the viri probati, that is to say, "proven men." These are men who have already been married for a long time and have already raised most, or all, of their children to be godly adults.

Objection 25:
Ordaining married men will not stop clerical sexual abuse.

Nobody ever said it would. The causes of clerical sexual abuse have nothing to do with either celibacy or marriage. They are rather rooted in sexual predators seeking positions of power that put them in close proximity to children. This is why the incidence of sexual abuse of children is higher in public schools than in any religious institution -- including the Catholic Church. Priests don't become sexual predators. Rather, sexual predators become priests. They do it for the same reason they become coaches and school teachers. Ordaining married men to the priesthood won't stop sexual predators from being ordained. However, married Catholic priests and their wives might be able to spot a sexual predator a little quicker, simply because they themselves are parents seeking to protect their own children, as well as the children of their congregation. Parents can sometimes have a "sense" or "instinct" about these things. But all of this is highly speculative. No reasonable person would suggest that married priests are a panacea to clerical sexual abuse.

Objection 26:
If Pope Francis is for it, I'm against it.

That's a really unfortunate methodology. Pope Francis sometimes supports things I'm not fond of either, but he is still our Pope. When it comes to this issue it really has nothing to do with Pope Francis. As I've pointed out all along, the East as admitted married men to the priesthood for centuries, long before Pope Francis came along, and the subject has come up many times below the surface. Pope Francis is simply pointing out the proverbial "elephant in the living room."

Objection 27:
If married men are allowed to become priests, get ready for an explosion of priestly divorce and priestly annulments.

This is highly unlikely and unrealistic. One of the main reasons for rampant divorce and annulments in Western culture is the lack of a Christian understanding and approach to marriage. Priests and their wives are far more likely to have a Christian understanding of marriage and family. Granted, nobody's perfect. Anything can happen. However, we have to look at likelihood and odds. Of all people in the Church, it would seem most likely that priests and their wives would have the highest odds of understanding the Christian concept of matrimony. That being the case, it is likely they would have the highest odds of a successful marriage. As I said, nobody's perfect, and things happen, but if I were a gambling man I would place my bets on the priest's marriage to be a more likely success than most lay marriages these days.

To be fair, however, we need to look at the incidents of divorce and annulments among Eastern Catholic married priests, as well as priests within the Ordinariates for former Anglicans. In both cases, the incidents of this kind of tragedy are extremely low, much lower than the general population.

Besides, the type of married men Rome is considering for the priesthood are men who have already been married for a very long time. They're called viri probati, which means "proven men." These are older men who have been married for decades, and all (or most) of their children are grown. St Paul actually recommended selecting married men from this group first and foremost. (Titus 1:5-9 & 1 Tim. 3:1-7) These men are the least likely to have marital problems in the ministry. So I don't think this is a fair objection.

Objection 28:
We have Saints who prophecied that evil men would attack priestly celibacy.


Am I evil? Am I evil for pointing out that the Eastern rites of the Church have always had the practice of ordaining both married and celibate men? More importantly, have I attacked celibacy? The answer to these questions is "no." The last thing I would ever want to do is attack priestly celibacy. I have said before, and I'll say it again, that it is the PREFERRED status of the priesthood, acting as an eschatological sign of great witness to a sex-obsessed world. I have also said that celibate priests should always get preferential treatment in the Church, opening up more pastoral positions for them then for married priests.

I think what the Saints were pointing out here was the evil of those who would want to ABOLISH priestly celibacy. I don't know anyone who's talking about that, other than looney liberals, and I myself would never dream of such a thing. Allowing married men into the priesthood, in small quotas, is not an attack on priestly celibacy. What is an attack on celibacy is when people suggest that all priests should get married, or that priests should be "allowed to marry" after they've already taken their vows. I'm not suggesting that, and neither is Pope Francis.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Comments

As a married Permanent Deacon (53 yrs), 30 years ordained, my experience has been that most pastors (priests) don't understand what has been taught to us in formation: Family, job, ministry, and when we can't be at church for Father's special Mass cause of family or job priorities, he has a fit! Seriously, It's hard to find a celebrate priest who understands us. Maybe with a married priesthood, we could serve our people in a united and sharing way. I have no problem with a married priesthood!