The Movement for Married Clergy: Choice

Pray Tell reader Chris McDonnell reports that he is now secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy in the UK, and Dr Michael Winter is now chair. At its recent general meeting in London, the group approved the following statement.

The Movement for Married Clergy: Choice

  1. Historically, only since the mid 12th century has the church of the Roman Latin rite required the discipline of celibacy of those men wishing to take major orders. In 1139, the Second Lateran Council officially imposed mandatory celibacy on all priests, and it has remained a discipline within the Western Church ever since.
  2. The Movement for Married Clergy came into being in 1975, not to challenge the church on matters of faith and doctrine, but to question the continuing necessity of this discipline. Members of this Movement remain committed to the Roman Catholic Church as their home.
  3. We do not seek to say that all priests should be married but that the element of choice remain with the person who is offering himself for formation and eventual ordination.
  4. We do not see the Sacrament of Marriage conflicting in any way with the ministry of the priest. In fact, we believe that family life might enhance priesthood and ministry and offer a fine example to the Christian Community which he serves.
  5. We now have the experience of a number of individual Anglicans who were married in their Anglican ministry being received into the [Catholic] Church and later ordained, their ministry continuing as married priests. Their ministry has been welcomed by our people.
  6. More recently we have seen the establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which has once again highlighted in a very public manner the anomalies permitted in this discipline of the church.  It is most unwise for any organisation to have its rules applied inconsistently.
  7. Over the years, many good priests, highly valued by their congregations, have had to resign in order to marry. This has been a great loss to the church, which, it should be noted, teaches that marriage is an inalienable human right. It is fully acknowledged that in former centuries and in Eastern rites today, marriage was and is only permitted prior to receiving Holy Orders. However, we feel that in natural justice and in Christian charity, those men who have left to marry could be invited to return to active ministry.
  8. Now, with the age profile of those priests currently serving parish communities rising at an alarming rate, diocesan authorities are looking to the amalgamation of parishes to be served by one priest, adding greatly to his personal load, as a solution to the problem. We feel that the introduction of ordination for married men would provide a happier way forward.
  9. We therefore continue to ask that the Western church should consider the relaxation of the discipline of celibacy in order that we might meet the needs of the church in our time. The Eucharist is at the heart of the Christian mission, and we ask that those called to this sacred ministry should have the choice of living either a married or celibate life.  Vocation to priesthood, the answering of a call to ministry need not be associated with an altogether separate calling to the celibate life. The time has come to revoke a discipline that has become a hindrance to vocation and a service to the church rather than maintain it in radically changed circumstances.


  1. OK, I’ll be brave and say it. I realize I have a stake in this as a priest and perhaps I’m missing something and need to be stretched.

    But I don’t understand how you can have a vow of celibacy made freely, but then those who discern that they’re not called to be celibate (Note, I’m not simply saying “broke their vow”) can continue in the priesthood alongside those who remain celibate. What is the meaning of the vow for everyone then? Is everyone vowing “I’ll remain celibate in the priesthood until I marry”?

    I suppose it depends on the concrete proposal and I’m not sure what that is. Would there be a penitential period for vowed celibates who marry, a period of some years, before they’d return to priestly ministry? Or is that too punitive?

    It seems to me this concern would remain even if Mother Church allowed married men to be ordained priests – these men are in a very different situation than those who once made the vow and then discerned a call to marry.

    I hope my respect for those men who made difficult life decisions is apparent.

    I’m missing how this would work. I lookforward to enlightenment from others.


    1. Not sure what I think personally – this is very personal, intimate, and, at one time, gut wrenching question.

      Wonder if we are overthinking this and approaching from only one aspect – juridical, vow, etc.

      Some other factors:
      – catholic communities are eucharistic and have a right to the eucharist
      – celibacy is a charism (as such; needs to be optional and freely chosen – not a discipline or required regulation)
      – church closures, financial and attendance issues, lack of priests suggest that the *celibacy* (a Western discipline) winds up becoming a higher and more significant factor than community eucharist – the heart and soul of our faith
      – just consolidating to a reduced number of large parishes has proven to not be an adequate response to the *signs of the times*; just telling missionary dioceses around the world that missions will have eucharist only once or twice every three months because of a church discipline is not a graced response to the people of God

      Agree that whatever decision is made requires prudent and pastoral judgment. Unfortunately, it would mean decisions on a case by case basis (am separating this from a decision about celibacy for those currently in formation, married men now, or for those who are currently celibate but may want to marry in the future). Some other factors – start with the reality that some inactive priests were formally laicized (but they are still priests) – they worked with the church during this process and had to clarify the reasons for their transition. So, why penance now? If each bishop had to make the decision, would suggest criteria based upon each man’s status at his departure; his contribution as an active priest; his history/achievements/or not, etc. You would also have to measure/judge his current life, stability, marriage (if married). We have a number of priests in our diocese that are widowers – they have made good priests (obviously, older, some were grandfathers when ordained). Suggests that their priesthood ministry and life skills when married have now become gifts to the community – so, why only after the death of their wives?

      Concerns about approaching this with some type of *penitential period*…..that seems to define things again solely juridically or ontologically. Why set up marriage and priesthood in competition?

      Why can’t the approach be that priesthood is a sacrament of ministry – the issue of celibacy or married status is ancillary to this foundation. Starting with a focus on *celibacy* puts the cart before the horse. (same may also apply to episcopal choices/regulations – why does a bishop have to be celibate?)

      In terms of a case by case decision:
      – think about Martin Hegarty – (IMO, he would have been a perfect model for a returning married priest)
      – OTOH, can think of any number of inactive priests who really should not be welcomed back in any type of active role (trying to be charitable here)

      Lots to think about but what is best for the catholic community of faith – to do nothing seems to be a form of *denial*

      1. I agree. The link between the priesthood and the Eucharist is primary. Focusing on that simplifies things in a principled way that is good for asking the right questions and for leading to the right answers.

    2. Is a vow made under coercion valid? Knowing the power of the call to the priesthood, demanding the vow of celibacy from a man is a form of coercion.
      Also, one may compare this to the use of annulment when it is clear that one or both parties did not understand the depth of or cost of the commitment being made.
      Finally, if a man is called both to love another person and to serve as priest, who are we to say no?

      1. Come on. Coercion? Really? A guy spends 6 to 8 years in seminary (maybe more for an order) discerning the priesthood, then FREELY takes the vow. No one holds a gun to his head. I find it very difficult to compare this to the “discernment” for a vocation to marriage, which may take as little time as six months, amidst a ton of cultural and familial influences and pressures. The trend line is heading upward for vocations to the western (celibate) priesthood.

      2. I’m not buying the coercion argument either.

        I don’t think it even had validity back in the bad old days when career opportunities for young men were much more limited – but perhaps reasonable minds might differ on that. It certainly has none now. With screening requirements tightened up, and a seven year formation program, it’s really hard to believe any young man entering the priesthood can really claim to have been coerced.

      3. Let me add to the chorus of skepticism about coercion. (That argument had more purchase in earlier eras, but not in our own.)

    3. What is the meaning of the vow for everyone then? Is everyone vowing “I’ll remain celibate in the priesthood until I marry”?

      That’s an excellent point. Fr. Ruff. And it’s always been part of the reasoning behind the constant and unbroken tradition of the Church, East and West, to be open to the possibility of ordaining married men, but to never permit ordained men to marry.

      The Movement needs to be realistic in any event about this. There’s at least a *slim* chance that the Holy See might consider loosening the celibacy discipline in admissions to priestly formation in the Roman Rite – as, indeed, it already has (slightly) with the Pastoral Provision and the Ordinariates – but there’s simply no chance that it will ever consider allowing ordained men to marry. There’s no precedent; there are profound theological problems with it; and it would more or less scuttle whatever thin hopes there are of any rapprochement with the Orthodox down the road.

      All that said, I will say what I have said before here: A relaxation of the celibacy disciple is possible, but it is no magic bullet for the vocations shortage. It has pluses and minuses. Any married priest you talk to in the ordinariates or the Eastern rite churches will tell you as much.

      1. Have no desire to get in an argument about “coercion” but allow me to propose that for men who were “lifers” starting at age 14 and spend 12-13 years preparing for the priesthood, that you can get to the last one or two years and want to minister and be ordained so much that a person can psychologically suppress and override doubts, etc; basically sell yourself on celibacy, and move forward. They so want to be priests that they do not consciously understand celibacy, its cost, impact, etc. In that sense, celibacy is not seen as a charism but rather as a negative discipline.

        There used to be an expression in some religious communities that required men to be permanently vowed to the respective community before they could be advanced to orders (diaconate, priesthood)…..guys would literally wait until the last moment before diaconate ordination and then take final vows – it was called “shotgun vows”.

        So, on the surface the idea of coercion seems laughable but, in fact, psychologically you can see many things happening on a case by case basis.

        Donald Cozzens has written and spoken on celibacy for many years – you might want to skim through his books – Freeing Celibacy; The Changing Face of the Priesthood.

        Sorry, but a lifetime decision (just as in marriage) is not as simple, black and white as we would like it to be. 50% of catholic marriages do not last – does this say something about maturity, emotional growth, handling relationships more than whether marriage is good or bad.

      2. Hello Bill,

        Your point about “lifers” seems to me, again, to be addressing a situation which may – may – have existed in certain circumstances in the pre-conciliar days. But it’s virtually unheard of now for ordinands to enter into formation at so young an age. There is a vast deal to disapprove about seminary formation in the years after the Council; but it must be said that the older models had issues with this (and no doubt explains some of the defections we saw beginning in the late 60’s). Virtually all seminarians are coming in well into their 20’s and older. The Church was achingly slow to address the question of sexual and psychological maturity in seminarians, but it has to be admitted that there’s been a sea change in virtually all North American seminaries (I am not claiming it is perfect, just that it is taken far more seriously). The costs of not doing so are simply too high to bear any longer, and the investment of time and resources too high to refuse to do so. I just can’t accept that coercion is a plausible concern at this point, at least not in America.

        Catholic marriages may fail more often than they used to. But in the great majority of cases I would question just how Catholic the formation of those couples really was. It was not, obviously, always so. There is a tremendous danger here today in lowering the bar, of rating the virtues (especially of temperance) as unattainable. Making a lifetime commitment, whether to the priesthood or the married life, is not always easy; but Christ does not give us any burden we can’t bear, with the help of grace.

      3. Your seminary education points – agree except your historical timeline.

        I was *lifer* and did not start seminary until the end of Vatican II. Minor seminaries began to be phased out in the late 1970’s at the earliest. In fact, it was the 80’s or even 90’s for many large archdioceses (examples – Chicago, St. Louis each had two minor seminaries -lack of recruits and financial issues created some of the closure as much as any enlightened changes in formational approaches. There were still minor sems up until the 21st century for some religious groups – LC, Opus Dei, etc.

        You appear to contrast pre and post seminary formation programs and that post VII seminary training had issues – compared to pre-Vatican II. They both had issues but at least post VII many tried to address the issue vs. the locked in training prior to VII.

        Marriages fail because they lack solid or adequate Catholic formation. Well, we will just have to agree to disagree on that point.

        Coercion – tried to suggest an expanded view; reasons;etc. Again, not going to get into scoring points with you. Your starting point on all of this is at the opposite extreme from my starting point – in terms of sacraments, scriptural basis (not Patristics), church history and tradition, etc.

        Will stick to my initial points – reinforced by Jack Feehily’s comments. A black and white approach will never get us anywhere in a discussion nor will limiting a discussion by what we think Rome may or may not do.

        Fr. Ruff – understand your thoughts around the vow or promise of celibacy but, again, this starts the discussion from a negative and possibly tangential starting point.

      4. Hello Bill,

        I’ve dominated this thread too much already – I am sorry for that – but I will just add one more comment.

        It’s clear that we live on “different theological planets,” as Ratzinger once said of Rahner. But I suspect there’s a little more agreement on some of this than might be apparent. I’m under no illusions about some of the deficiencies of the pre-conciliar seminaries (or most of them, at any rate). I also agree with you that priests are usually better off with a little more life experience before entering formation, and minor seminaries obviously didn’t allow for that. Of course, that being said, if a young man (say, 18) clearly has discerned a vocation, and passes the screening, I don’t think he ought to wait.

    4. It is not unknown for priests who have been ordained as members of religious communities and taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, to leave the community behind, gain a release from the vows, and join a diocese.

      Would Fr Ruff’s arguments against men being released from their promise mean that he thinks that this should not happen? After all the member of a religious community has made solemn vows to God; diocesan priests do not make vows, but make a promise to their bishop that they will remain celibate.

    5. Fr. Ruff, I thought religious priests “vow” to remain celibate but diocesan priests “promise” to remain celibate?
      I also understand (probably mistaken) you cannot break a vow but can break a promise if the discipline is changed?

      1. The vows we Benedictines take (I believe this is different for the later orders) are obedience, stability, and conversatio morum. We don’t vow poverty or chastity.

      2. AWR – did you answer the question? Secular priests (at diaconal ordination, I think) promise, not vow, celibacy.

        And since by the time of his diaconal ordination a monk has already professed vows until death, it seems to me his promise (of celibacy) to the bishop is redundant.

      3. My point was that I as a monk don’t vow celibacy any more than a diocesan priest does (so I’m told), so the distinction between vows-for-monks / promises-for-diocesan-priests doesn’t hold up.

  2. Well, there’s larger issue of culture here that’s not exactly being engaged forthrightly. And it’s a cultural issue with two sides:

    1. The congregational side: Catholic expect to have priests who are free to minister to them without the constraints of obligations to families of their own. This is a cultural expectation of centuries in depth. It will not be changed top down by a change in canon law. Anyone who marries a priest is going to have to deal with that cultural reality. And it is a different cultural reality than obtains in other denominations. It’s all-pervasive in ways that we don’t even discuss because it’s just built-in.

    2. The institutional side: because diocesan/secular priests don’t have families of their own to support, bishops can move them around much more freely. That can be for good, not just ill.

    This is just for starters. As a practical matter (that is, cultural and institutional, entirely putting aside the theological dimension for the sake of contrasting illustration), admitting celibate women to Orders would probably be much easier to digest than married priests.

    1. Full-time ministry presents challenges to married life, though these are not insurmountable. As a full-time lay pastoral associate, I am expected to be available 7 days a week, including some very early mornings and late evenings. (I do get a day off during the week, but that day can vary from week to week.) A typical week during the school year includes 50-60 hours of work. Around Christmas and Holy Week, I occupy the guest room in rectory and I hardly see my family for days on end.

      Yet, I, my wife, and my young children have a strong family life. The parish ministry schedule is challenging, but no more so than my previous secular positions which also required long hours, travel, etc.

      I have a clear calling to married life and to pastoral ministry, and have made these work together quite well. I have married friends who work for the church where both the husband and wife are involved in ministry in the same parish, that is another viable model.

    2. I think the priest on duty 24/7 is a myth based on a misunderstanding of the Anointing of the Sick. I believe this is more typically done on a scheduled basis rather than as a last minute emergency run to keep a soul out of Hell basis. Even at that, most hospitals are covered by chaplains ( many of whom are women not allowed to offer the sacrament, but let’s set that one aside for the moment!)
      On the other hand, maybe your pastoral council meets at 3AM on the first Tuesday of every month……

      Seriously – who are the priests meeting with after business hours on parish business if not with members of the parish who are likely to be married?

    3. I am a married Protestant pastor with a young child (and one on the way!). My church has only about 30 families. Compare that to the Catholic Church in the area that has 1700 families and only 1 priest.

      I know every parishioner by name on a Sunday morning and have been in nearly every member’s home. I personally conducted our RCIA for 2 young adults along with a lay-leader this year.

      I would say that family life has not be a hinderance to my availability in pastoral ministry.

      1. Thanks – this also touches upon an earlier post about *cultic* vs. *servant-leader* directions.

        Serving alone a 1700 family parish almost automatically pushes a priest to a cultic model given time, energy, etc. It also skews the ministry of priesthood because that pastor will have to spend lots of his time “dispensing” sacraments (a cultic approach) vs. the type of relationships, small community building/interactions that you enjoy.

      2. Hello Joel,

        Thanks for offering your experience here. I can think of at least a few Protestant ministers who have said more or less the same thing – while conceding that it’s a balancing act.

        There are, of course limits to how the Protestant (low church) model can be compared with the Catholic, just as there are similarities. Bill is plainly uncomfortable with the “cultic” model, but to some degree the Catholic (and Orthodox) priesthood is *necessarily* cultic. We have the sacraments, and most of them can only be provided by the priest. It has always been so. If we abandon that, we would be something, but it would not be Catholic. And priests must, above all, be available to provide those sacraments. That doesn’t mean the priest is *only* cultic. But it is a necessary aspect of his job, whether he has a thousand families to serve or ten.

        I think some commenters here have rightly pointed out the limits of this argument about the demands on priest time. I do think it’s a very valid concern (as is the financial support issue), but I don’t think it was ever the primary argument that the Fathers (or St. Paul) made in favor of celibacy.

      3. Richard,

        I locate myself in the Reformed strand of the United Church of Christ, and thus a bit more “high church” than some other Protestant traditions. As the ordained clergy in my community I am also the only one who can preside at Holy Communion and baptism. While a lay persons are permitted to preach, it is primarily my responsibility.

        So, we have a bit of the cultic sense within the mystery of worship and the church but it is almost always paired with the personal relationship we are able to enjoy in such a small community.

  3. I agree with almost all of this well-worded and reasonable proposal. I have no difficulty with a married priesthood so long as a seminarian is wed before the diaconate. Still, I am unsure if men who left the priesthood to wed should be readmitted to full time ministry. I am sympathetic to the Movement’s call for charity. Even so, an economical decision to re-admit priests who left active ministry to wed would set a difficult precedent for the Church. The contrast between charity towards priests who have left to wed and apostolic tradition is sharp and perhaps irreconcilable.

    My hesitation to break with the eastern rule that marriage always precedes ordination stems from a concern for the preservation of apostolic succession. I strongly suspect that if a married presbyterate were permitted for the Roman rite, Roman rite bishops would be chosen from celibate priests as per the eastern tradition. If men who have left active ministry to wed are readmitted, then the eastern apostolic discipline of celibacy after ordination for unwed men and celibacy for all bishops would also be challenged. If one man who has left active ministry to wed is readmitted to active ministry unconditionally, then any member of the presbyterate or episcopate would technically be permitted to marry at any time since marriage no longer absolutely precedes ordination.

    Another pitfall of a married priesthood is the reality that only celibate Roman rite priests would have the opportunity to advance to episcopal consecration. This might create two de facto classes of secular priests: a married secular priesthood which never advances beyond parish work, and “career” celibate priests, some of whom might advance relatively quickly to episcopal positions. Eastern Christians wisely choose their bishops from monastic orders. Perhaps the Roman rite might consider a similar system.

    1. This might create two de facto classes of secular priests: a married secular priesthood which never advances beyond parish work, and “career” celibate priests, some of whom might advance relatively quickly to episcopal positions. Eastern Christians wisely choose their bishops from monastic orders. Perhaps the Roman rite might consider a similar system.

      The first system is de facto what the Orthodox Churches mostly have. There’s not really any such thing as “monastic orders” in the Orthodox Churches. Priests who are monastics often serve in parishes… some monasteries are urban… there’s a Greek Orthodox monastery in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, NY and a Russian Orthodox Monastery on East 117th St. in Manhattan. Some unmarried eastern priests only take higher levels of monastic vows immediately before being ordained to the episcopacy.

      1. re: Samuel J. Howard on June 21, 2012 – 10:05 am

        Thanks Sam for the clarification. The Orthodox example suggests that there should be no change to the Roman discipline of calling bishops from both the secular and religious clergy.

        It’s quite possible that some celibate priests might remain interested in pastoral care. It’s not helpful to either stereotype or draw overly stark dichotomies. Still, I suspect that relatively few clergy and laity would relish the idea of priestly celibacy assuming even more esteem in the eyes of the hierarchy especially when a good number of the faithful hope that a married priesthood might create a more egalitarian secular clergy.

    2. Having been in a Ruthenian Greek Catholic parish for over 10 years, I saw several instances of GC priests leaving and marrying and being accepted as a priest in one or another of the various Orthodox jurisdictions here in the USA. Granted, this is not the same as a RC priest leaving to marry and then being accepted back as a married RC priest, but it shows that things are more fluid in other churches than we think.

      1. re: John Kohanski on June 22, 2012 – 7:20 am

        I suspect that the situation you have described derives from the fact that the diverse Orthodox jurisdictions regard Catholic sacraments differently. Some Orthodox jurisdictions reciprocate Rome’s position on Orthodox sacraments and declare Catholic sacraments (including Holy Orders) as valid. For those jurisdictions, Catholic converts are chrismated without baptism, and convert Catholic priests are not re-ordained but merely “vested” as Orthodox priests. Other Orthodox jurisdictions consider all Catholic sacraments invalid and, by extension, Catholicism to be non-apostolic. In this case all converts are rebaptized, and I suspect that a former Catholic priest would have to redo the ordination process.

  4. I would like to respond to the first point that Karl Liam has made above. How do you know, that congregations expect their priests to be available without the constraints of family? That might be your impression, but I doubt that it is the case with the majority of congregations (this, of course, is also just my impression). There are many other jobs, where people are expected to be available 24/7 (my wife is a doctor, so I experience that every day)
    Here in Germany a couple of dioceses have, for a couple of years, begun to let lay ministers (men and women) preside at funerals (because of the shortage of priests). Those people also visit the mourning families, they wear liturgical vestments during the service and at the grave…I have never heard anybody complain about this.

    1. Yes, but an important distinction: To be a priest is not a job. It’s a vocation. It’s wrongful to think of it in terms of merely being a job. It’s an ontological change.

      That said, I’ve been surprised that the Germans haven’t taken advantage of the permanent diaconate with the same vigor as Americans have.

      1. Subjectively, it is a vocation. Objectively, it is a job – at least if we are talking about priests who serve as the head of a parish (Or why do they earn as much money as a third level teacher over here?). That’s how people see it. But thats probably the core of the problem. It is claimed that celibacy is a vital part of being a priest – but is it a vital part of leading a parish, too?

  5. I worked with a parochial vicar in my previous parish for almost 13 years and he was a married priest, pastoral privilege, a former Episcopalian. He is deceased now, but had several married children and one single child and his wife was a member of the parish and often lectored at the Masses he celebrated.
    He did everything in a kosher way to leave the Episcopal Church and become a Catholic priest. He never denigrated the celibate priesthood. In fact he stated that an exclusively married clergy domesticates the priesthood, although I’m not entirely clear by what he meant by that. My parish was/is comprised of traditional/conservative Catholics who accepted him very well and didn’t blink an eye. They understood this was the exception and not the rule for the Latin Rite. From the time he was ordained a Catholic priests (keep in mind he had to be reconfirmed too) in 1983 and served as parochial vicar there until he died in 2006, that parish produced about 10 vocations to the priesthood, two of whom became Jesuits, one a Dominican and the others diocesan. So it didn’t impact vocations whatsoever, but may have inspired some.
    I think exceptional situations need to be explored for older married Catholic men, i.e.deacons perhaps, as a potential further exception to the norm in the Latin Rite. Just thinking out loud.

    1. I think exceptional situations need to be explored for older married Catholic men, i.e.deacons perhaps, as a potential further exception to the norm in the Latin Rite. Just thinking out loud.

      I’d like to highlight this idea as worth exploring. It’s probably the most realistic and creative – yet theologically sound – response I’ve heard to the question of how Rome might loosen the celibacy discipline in the Roman Rite.

      Taking up Todd’s note about the need for viri probati, I wonder what such requirements would look like. A minimum age (at least 40, perhaps even older), and a minimum number of years of service (three years? five years?) as permanent deacons, a careful examination of the candidate’s family life, and of course some years of additional seminary formation. This would not be an easy or quick path to the priesthood, so the numbers you would get would be limited. But it is the sort of thing that I could perhaps see the Holy See and the bishops in most conferences being open to considering at some point in the future.

  6. What is needed is a very clear distinction between the call to celibacy and the call to serve as ordained minister.
    Why should marriage disqualify a person from Holy Orders?
    I would suggest that having exclusively celibate ministers, especially bishops, has impoverished the church and has in one way or another led to the dysfunction we now see at all levels of governance in the church.
    Perhaps the call to celibacy could be answered by some religious orders or societies having celibacy as a charism and requirement to join; but being married or single would have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not one could be admitted to Holy Orders.
    In my opinion to do otherwise is to dishonour Marriage.
    Arguments that celibate priests are more free to serve are easily refuted by the outstanding examples of so many married people who give equally, and better, service in so many fields. As for bishops being able to move priests about more freely, time that was seen for what it is, an exercise of power and control!

  7. Karl’s point on some Catholic expectations are well-taken. Ultimately, people are not well-served by a pastor available to them 24/7. Bad for the priest. Sets up unreasonable, if not childish expectations for the community. But if we’ve grown accustomed to helicopter parents in society, I’m not surprised some might demand the same in turn.

    While I’m aware of the Eastern tradition of an ordained person being settled in life, I’m not sure the Church wouldn’t be better served for a bishop to be responsible for a person wishing to set aside a vow of celibacy.

    That said, I don’t think the ordained priesthood should be opened to anyone but viri probati. Age forty, minimum. Exceptions, very carefully discerned by the bishop.

    I don’t see the value in mandatory celibacy for bishops.

    1. Todd, I agree with your assessment of the 24/7 model. I was being descriptive; I know other commenters have questioned the validity or scope of my description, but the basic issue is that it needs to be actively engaged and addressed beforehand. When change comes, from below as well as above, it works best when all salient issues are integrated.

      Apropos your point about bishops: let’s start by reducing serial monogamy among bishops transferring too readily from see to see….

  8. I think juxtaposing celibacy to being more available to do more active ministry is quite common for people to think but really misrepresents what it truly is. I think this is more a part of the “Protestant Work Ethic” imposed upon celibate Catholic priests in this overwhelmingly Protestant country. Celibacy freely chosen, and I hope and pray to God that by the time a man is at least 25 or 26 years old, he knows what he is getting into, whether it is marriage or priesthood, that celibacy is not seen as accomplishing more work or active ministry but allowing for more time for prayer and spirituality. Maybe the pre-Vatican II monastic model even for secular priests is something to reconsider for the post-Vatican II model has made many priests and laity think that the celibate priesthood is about more availability to the the laity when in reality it is more availability to the one’s prayer and sacramental life. I know of many married Protestant ministers who are quite capable of juggling both marriage and ministry and very well but can also be workaholics too. I think there is a higher divorce rate amongst married minsters if I am not mistaken. Celibacy shouldn’t lead to workaholism although it can and does, but to a specific form of priestly spirituality and a balanced life.

    1. Never say never. C. S. Lewis was in his late fifties when he found himself in love with a divorced woman. It’s not age that counts, but whether we encounter a lifetime partner.

    2. On this side of the salvation mystery, all kinds of imperfect things happen some of which get redeemed. “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior.” Sorry, that’s the old translation, I don’t remember the new version.

  9. We are having this discussion because it has become obvious that the number of men who perceive a call to celibacy and priestly ministry are woefully inadequate to staff our existing viable parish communities. In many dioceses the demographics also call for the addition of new parishes but there are not enough priests to allow for that expansion. So the context for any need for change in church discipline is the right of God’s priestly people to have their faith nourished and sustained in a community centered around the Eucharistic sacrifice. Those who insist that preserving the Christ-like witness of celibacy is the top priority, argue eagerly for parish closings and consolidations. They seem unconcerned that ever larger parishes or requiring people in rural areas to drive further distances to attend Mass in communities they are otherwise not part of is not a problem. They also seem indifferent to the situation in which men who are in their seventies are expected to serve until they drop. They seem convinced that if we all just pray harder that God will supply the needed celibate vocations.
    It should be obvious that the leaders of the church should have long ago consulted with priests and laity to seek their wisdom and insight as to a solution for this problem. I am convinced that most of the latter (plus many bishops as well) would be happy to welcome the ordination of mature married men alongside those who perceive a calling to celibacy. They have already done so in terms of the burgeoning number of married deacons. Many of those men, by the way, would be more than qualified to discern and respond to an additional calling to priestly ministry. This would require a re-imagining of how that ministry is done. Why would every priest have to serve full time? For centuries we have had priest academics and administrators whose actual priestly duties have been on a part time basis. Don’t you think it borders on scandalous that we aren’t doing this already?

  10. The lifting of the celibacy requirement and/or the ordination of women are not cure-alls for what ails the Church. We really need a different model for priesthood and for hierarchy as well.

  11. I think married priests should be allowed, that celibacy should be a free choice, that priests should be allowed to marry at any time during their careers, that married priests should be allowed to be bishops too.

    About unmarried priests being more available – that doesn’t seem to be an issue with Anglican/Episcopalian priests. And really, there are plenty of secular jobs that requaire incredible devotion/time investment, from physicians to the military to firfighters, and no one asks if these people should be allowed to marry. If the original apostles could travel all over, and in dangerous conditions, while married, why not contemporary priests?

  12. Over the years, many good priests, highly valued by their congregations, have had to resign in order to marry. . . . However, we feel that in natural justice and in Christian charity, those men who have left to marry could be invited to return to active ministry.

    One might wonder how “good” a priest is who abandons his vows to God. I don’t doubt that some were “highly valued” by their parishioners, and may have had real gifts. But at the end of they day, they broke their solemnly given word. To my mind – and to the mind of the Church – that disqualifies them from any consideration for readmission to the priesthood. They might be forgiven; but they cannot be trusted.

    But more to the point, the Movement seriously weakens its case by appearing to favor not only ordaining married men, but even allowing ordained men to marry. While all concede that celibacy in the Roman Rite is a discipline and not dogma, and that the patristic period afford ample evidence of both approaches, there’s no precedent in East or West for the idea of allowing ordained men to marry. To this day, the Eastern Rites – those out of communion with Rome as well as those who are in communion – allow married men to be ordained as priests (but never as bishops), but do not now, and never have, allowed priests to marry. And for very good reason.

    Had the Movement stuck with the patristic – and Eastern – practice, they would have, in some real way, Tradition to stand on. Instead, they seem excessively influenced by Protestant conceptions of ministry.

    1. “One might wonder how “good” a priest is who abandons his vows to God…..But at the end of they day, they broke their solemnly given word. To my mind – and to the mind of the Church – that disqualifies them from any consideration for readmission to the priesthood. They might be forgiven; but they cannot be trusted.”

      How sad that this type of mentality and attitude continues in the church. It ignores the church’s own faith in sacraments – i.e. forgiveness; metanoia, kenosis. It rejects *incarnational theology* and approaches faith as if it is mechanical, score keeping, check list to being saved. It diminishes faith, sacraments, and belief that grace builds on nature. It starts from a juridical mindset that leaves little room for the gospel truths.

      Really – “they might be forgiven; but they can never be trusted”…..who are you to judge; who set you up as Lord and Master? Church history and tradition is replete with examples of men/women who have failed; broken promises, etc. and yet have not given up but changed and moved forward to become saints, examples of hope, beacons of justice.

      Your statement is a betrayal of any understanding of human nature; relationships (and that is what ordination is); service; hope, charity,and love.

      (Technically, you skip over the fact that ontologically these men are still priests; the question/status is whether the church grants them facilities to be active again? Even canon law enshrines these categories of understanding; allows that even a laicized priest can act as a priest in an emergency, etc.)

      Would suggest that what we need (as Yves Congar said well years ago) is *Pauline boldness”.

    2. Hello Bill,

      I have two millennia of Catholic teaching to stand on for what I say, and I’m not willing to set that aside. If nothing else is clear in reading through the patristic texts, it is that – even if they accepted ordaining married men as priests as acceptable – they took these questions of chastity and sexual probity with deadly earnest. Human nature has not changed a whit since then.

      It is not a question of forgiveness. Mercy is always there, if it is asked for. And if there is contrition. Christ forgave the woman caught in adultery, but he also told her to “sin no more.” How many times is the final commandment by Christ left out when people mention that passage? Overlooking that command puts us at risk for cheap grace (and antinomianism), to say nothing of the risk of what kind of message is being sent to fellow priests and the laity. So I would ask: Would these men be willing and able to set aside their wives to return to the priesthood? No one seems to be suggesting that, however. There is no “right” to ordination, or to exercise the faculties thereof.

      1. Hi Richard. Patritistic sources are not scripture.

        However, I Cor 9:5 is scripture …

        Do we not have a right to take along a wife as do the other apostles, James the brother of Jesus and Cephas…

        The “fathers” can be helpful but they were men of their times, even Tertullian promoted some early Christian heresies and Ireneus I believe stated is was fine to kill non believers.
        Later, some ofwhat Augustine of Hippo preached was condemned by the Church (predestination) etc.
        During the 12th century, priests were told to be celibate and their wives sent to convents. Then when that didn’t work the same order repeated. When that didn’t work the final order became, wives and children sold into slavery.
        Some of that two millennia is sinful.
        They were holy men but human men sometimes w/ unholy ideas, especially when concerned w/ sex.

      2. Hello Dr. Rodriguez,

        Yes, I agree, of course: A patristic source is not a guarantee of orthodoxy or wisdom. Even Augustine got wrong from time to time, as you rightly note. It’s just that when we have something close to unanimity on a point, I think we should tremble not to defer to it. And priestly celibacy notwithstanding, there’s striking agreement in broad strokes on sexual morality. And I am simply not persuaded that modern social (or biological) science has greater wisdom on these matters.

        I do still think, at any rate, that my concerns about cheap grace and antinomianism are still valid. Too many evangelicals have fallen into that trap. I would hate to see us do the same. And even Mr. deHaas could readily generate examples of ordained men removed from ministry whom he could forgive, but not be willing to return to active ministry. What we’re arguing about, I think, is not whether a line should be drawn, but where.

      3. Whoa- chastity can be taken very seriously indeed by married people. A married man or woman who is faithful is by definition ‘chaste.’ And you do not have 2 millennia of Catholic teaching to back up a claim for priestly celibacy- you have less than one, and the one you have doesn’t include the apostles. . Please remember that Peter himself was married, and although his chastity is not addresed in scripture I think we can give him the benefit of a doubt in that respect and assume that he was faithful to his wife.

    3. To my mind […] that disqualifies them from any consideration for readmission […] They might be forgiven; but they cannot be trusted.

      Just like Peter after his betrayal…

      Or like someone who cheated on their spouse…

      1. Hi Claire,

        I was obscure in my last answer, but I think I need to be more direct to address this point.

        What of a priest who has sexually abused minors?

        If he asked for forgiveness, sincerely, we would have to forgive, just as Christ would give mercy. But we wouldn’t keep him in active ministry ever again. He could remain in the Church, but never in the same role as before. His sin is forgiven, but it has consequences for him, temporally (possibly including jail).

        Now, the obvious objection: No, I am not equating leaving the priesthood to marry with sexual abuse. Obviously the latter is a graver sin, and entailed with a severely disordered nature which we have no ready ability to rectify with any confidence. But my point is that we all have a line we would draw in responding to sin in the priesthood (or elsewhere). The sin can be forgiven, but sometimes it has lasting consequences in this world.

        And the Church says that the renunciation of such a sacred vow has consequences. With good cause, I think.

      2. Richard,

        I find it hard to believe that you offered this rather obvious analogy. I thought about mentioning it, but decided it as too problematic.

        It comes down to this. Everyone who breaks a promise made to his bishop is untrustworthy, while many who abandoned their basic humanity and violated some of the most defenseless among us were trusted enough to be returned to ministry. This changed, supposedly, with the bishop’s adoption of the Charter in 2002, but that does not correct the deep imbalance here. The promise to the bishop is nowhere near as sacred as the responsibility we have to protect children, and the misplaced trust and distrust are simply horrible, undercutting your arguments in favor of excluding priests who broke their promises.

    4. What utter nonsense to say that priests who have resigned from the ministry cannot be trusted.

      There is a least one currently serving R.C. bishop in the US who made perpetual profession of the evangelical counsels in a religious order and who subsequently transferred to a diocese years before he was appointed a bishop. Clearly the Vatican does not think he cannot be trusted.

      “To this day, the Eastern Rites – those out of communion with Rome as well as those who are in communion – allow married men to be ordained as priests (but never as bishops), but do not now, and never have, allowed priests to marry. ”

      I’m happy to inform you that in the Romanian Orthodox Church in Dublin, there is a highly regarded priest who was married subsequent to ordination.

      It is incorrect to refer to Orthodox Churches as ‘Eastern Rites.’

      1. I’m happy to inform you that in the Romanian Orthodox Church in Dublin, there is a highly regarded priest who was married subsequent to ordination.

        You are presumably referring to Fr. Godfrey O’Donnell? How many ex-Catholic married Romanian Orthodox priests can there be in Dublin?

        News articles (and a blog comment) indicate that he was ordained by the Romanian bishop and not merely received by vesting.

  13. Patristic practice allowed married men to be ordained as bishops, as is shown by this comment from Socrates:
    It seemed fit to the bishops to introduce a new law into the Church, that those who were in holy orders, I speak of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, should have no conjugal intercourse with the wives whom they had married while still laymen. Now when discussion on this matter was impending, Paphnutius having arisen in the midst of the assembly of bishops, earnestly entreated them not to impose so heavy a yoke on the ministers of religion: asserting that ‘marriage itself is honorable, and the bed undefiled… (HE 1.11)

    The Eastern Church later adopted the practice of ordaining only celibates as bishops, as the West chose the same limitation for priests. But it seems unlikely that anyone would have considered asking bishops to abstain from relations with their wives, as above, if bishops had not had wives.

    1. This example calls for us to examine the roots of clerical celibacy. Regardless of any other reason, there appears to be a distrust of sexual relations and/or women at the heart of the practice. One might also ask if this is a Christian root, or something brought in from the Greco-Roman culture?

    2. It should be noted that there’s serious scholarly disagreement about whether Paphnutius even attended the council, let alone made the speech in question.

      But it’s undeniable that there is scriptural and historical evidence that , at least early in the patristic period, some married men were consecrated as bishops.

      Either way, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves. Proposing married bishops has as little chance of flying in the West as it does in the Orthodox East. A limited relaxation of the rule for priestly candidates, perhaps along the lines suggested by Fr. McDonald, is the most that can be hoped for in the foreseeable future. The movement is not helping their cause by suggesting such a radical departure from tradition.

      1. Who is to say what the most that may be hoped for is?

        “The movement is not helping their cause by suggesting such a radical departure from tradition.”

        There is some evidence to suggest that Leo the Great was married and that he had at least one ‘beloved’ son.

  14. Another practical consideration is how much parishes would need to pay a clergyman who is supporting his family. While our current parish priests receive the benefits of free housing, food, lifelong pension, and health care, their salary is usually tiny. Many protestant and evangelical ministers of large churches earn six-figure salaries.

    I have a pet theory that a parish should pay their pastoral staff based on the median income for the parish. In my current parish, that would allow me to live in a gated community, belong to the country club, drive a Cadillac Escalade, send my kids to elite private schools, and take my family on a vacation to Europe or Hawaii every year. Hey, I can dream… But why not? That’s the standard of living for many of our parishioners. I suppose I’m being paid in grace, and all they get is dirty old money!

    1. Are you assuming that priests’ wives would be financially dependent on their husbands? Isn’t it more likely that the women would out-earn the priests during their working lifetimes? Employed wives might take a significant burden off parishes if, as is likely, they found rectories unsuitable for raising children. Priests would be living in single-family homes with mortgages paid by wives or with the help of wives. There are, of course, other considerations: if priest and wife have few children, parishioners might wonder whether she uses contraceptives. On the other hand, a frequently-pregnant wife, with many children, would likely strain vocation and finances. . . .

    2. re: Scott Pluff on June 21, 2012 – 4:32 pm

      Not a few Anglican/Episcopal priests are non-stipendary (not paid salary and granted material benefits like a celibate secular priest). I don’t see why married Roman Catholic priests couldn’t keep their day job and also celebrate Mass and hear confession, among other duties, on the weekend, during off time, etc.

      A non-stipendary priesthood is already present in the Roman priesthood, albeit in a very limited manner. The associate at my parish is a former Episcopal priest who is married and also employed as a teacher. The pastor and a visiting celibate priest say most of the weekday Masses. The associate says a weekday Mass and helps out quite a bit on weekends. I don’t see why non-stipendary service couldn’t be an option for married priests. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if non-stipendary service becomes the norm for married priests should Rome permit married priests for the Roman rite.

      I also wonder how many Anglican Ordinariate priests and monsignori are non-stipendary.

    3. In the 1980s when I was a voluntary member of a pastoral staff, a priest from another parish challenged the notion that it would be more costly to have a married clergy. I had sufficient knowledge of the parish that I figured out my pastor made about the same as I did at the time when all the subsidies were included in his salary. My estimate did not include the many “gift” perks that pastors often get from wealthy parish members, e.g. vacations, etc.

      His salary seemed appropriate given that I was a member of the senior management of the largest mental health agency in the city, and made about what executive directors of smaller agencies would make. His responsibilities, including a school, were about the same as those of a small agency. The public mental health system does not have strong differentiation of salaries, e.g. executive directors tend to make only about 5 times the average secretarial salary, and about two or three times the average clinical salary.

      From my brief experience of religious life as a Jesuit novice, it was not one of poverty. I came from a steelworker family where meat was some different version of ground meat. I learned to eat lobster and steak as a Jesuit novice. We also had an extensive LP classical music library for recreation; I would not have something like that again until I was in my fifties. After I came home from novitiate my mother reminded me that she had not raised me to be “particular” the Jesuits had done that to me.

      The wealth that maintains priests and religious is more akin to economic systems of serfdom and slavery. They can be very beneficial to the valuable slave of a rich owner but they also make you totally dependent. That, more than anything else, is why we will continue to have celibacy rather than a married priesthood. It is about power and control rather than sexuality per se. The sexual abuse scandal should have made that very clear. Once you have wives and children in the picture, the system loses power and control.

      1. “Once you have wives and children in the picture, the system loses power and control.” The married ministers I know feel the same way toward their “Board of Deacons” or the “Vestry” as do some priests towards their bishops. And having wife and children makes them even more dependent on those who can hire and fire them and at will quite often–job security for Protestant ministers is very tenuous at times and so the domestication of the clergy proves to be true in these situations–what married spouse wants their children to suffer because of their prophetic witness to the faith that could get them axed? I’d say there is less control over priests by bishops precisely because of no wife and children and more control over ministers by lay boards precisely because of spouse and children.

      2. We all could give endless examples but there are pressures no matter what. Any casual review of the numerous and very public abuse cases being tried currenlty (e.g. Lynn in Philly) highlights the typical clerical priest defense – “I followed orders”. Lynn is a graphic example of a celibate cleric who followed orders because of the cardinal’s threat to his livelihood, retirement, future positions, etc. The trial highlighted a number of *brave* pastors who stood up to Belivacque and were punished (usually financially and via position).

        Actually, it depends upon the individual (not whether he is married, with family or not). In fact, experts in abuse suggest that married clerics would have been pressured by wives to behave differently in reporting and protecting children because of their wives.

        Parishes and dioceses are highly poltical arenas (and not just in catholicism); but then so are universities which have both married and celibate employees.

        You are creating straw men arguments.

      3. I have no doubt that a single person functioning under the same economic system as a married person has much more freedom in taking chances with their career.

        I am just saying that the celibate priesthood that we now have does not have that freedom. Priests are “company men” owned by the bishop, and protected by their owners (as long as it suits the owners).

        I just do not see a priest being single as having any more value (freedom, ability to witness) than a lay person being single; in fact it has less value because priests are more dependent upon their bishops than most lay people upon their families.

        We need to demythologize sexuality and money when it comes to the clergy. Jason Berry has made a great beginning in this area. Unfortunately most Catholics are not very willing to face the truth.

      4. Jack, as a priest I’m no more dependent upon my bishop than as a lay person I’d be dependent on my employer or job.
        Celibacy tied to chastity (fidelity in one’s vocation, marriage, single life or religious life/priesthood) is about spirituality and belief in God and the coming of the Kingdom.
        Once I have a wife and children, I’ll be more dependent on my bishop and the good graces of the Church that keeps me employed.
        But if I left the priesthood or was thrown out, I’d survive even if it means going back to work for the Dairy Queen or Macy’s or going further back in my life to being a paper boy!
        And if Penn State’s own version of institutional failure, which is quite common in secular institutions, apart from the Church’s institutional failure, has shown us anything, it shows that the institution is dependent on the perpetrator for what he supplies, whether it is sacramental services or good coaching! Progressive Catholics who use the scandal to beat up the Church are very myopic about the institutional enablement of abuse, be it the wife who depends on her husband who abuses their children or the school system who depends on its faculty or the Church–we are all in the same boat–human beings compromised by original and actual sin–which one seldom hears from progressive quarters in the Church and who in the past (progressive Catholics) have called into question, as well as judgement, heaven, hell and purgatory.

      5. The usual meme:

        “….we are all in the same boat–human beings compromised by original and actual sin–which one seldom hears from progressive quarters in the Church and who in the past (progressive Catholics) have called into question, as well as judgement, heaven, hell and purgatory.”

        It isn’t progressive vs. conservative….it is victim vs. injustice esp. practiced by many in authority – whether civil, government, society, school districts, churches. If anything, progressives recoginize that victims are re-victimized by those who put the institution first and use all sorts of justification.

        Interesting – you mention Penn State – guess you missed the earlier verdict on Msgr Lynn -unlike Penn State’s case that trial highlighted an archdiocese and three cardinals who have abetted and covered up abuse since the 1970’s (20 years before Sandusky)). And unlike Penn State in which the two top guys’ trials are still pending, the Philly district attorney seems not prepared to deal with the corruption of the Philly church.

        Celibacy and chastity is about -really, no different that marriage vows and chastity. And no, there is no difference between a priest serving a bishop and any of us who are employed…..example, 80% of all church employees are lay.

        And it would be interesting if you *had* to go back to working at Macy’s or a burger joint – you assume they would hire you?

      6. obviously and I’m shocked, you didn’t read my post on Mgsr. Lynn today!

      7. You mean this disparaging, inaccurate, and slanderous post:


        Really? other than ignoring facts, etc…..where do you come up with this stuff. Krol, Bevilacqua must have been conservatives masquerading as progressives; same with Bishop Finn; etc. And then the usual meme link – how these abuse court decisions (guess they are progressive decisions?) are like the state with its unjust mandates? You might want to download, print, and study the latest copy of Commonweal – it is far superior to Lori and company who have admitted never even reading the HHS mandate but that doesn’t stop their conspiracy F4F dance (like FOCA, it will waste millions of dollars).

  15. Two points: 1. Coercion. One comment distinguished properly between the undertakings given by those who marry and those ordained as priests. The former ‘may take as little time as six months, amidst a ton of cultural and familial influences and pressures’ while the latter follows years of training and preparation. But who says there is no ‘ton of cultural and familial influences and pressures’ on the boy straight from school into a junior then a senior seminary whose family and pp have effectively blocked contact with girls and young women, who hears from the pulpit constant warnings about the fate of those who prefer their own will to God’s? I for one was ordained out of fear of Hell i.e. I was pressured into it and only after eight wretchedly unhappy years grew up enough to take responsibility for the life God gave me. Yes, the institutional church soft pedals Hell today but let no-one deny coercion in the past – perhaps even with some of the appalling scandals of children molested by priests among its consequences;
    2. Celibacy: as The Movement for Married Clergy statement makes clear, undertaken ‘for love of the Kingdom’ (JP2’s words) this way of life is truly golden. Otherwise though, not better than marriage but (also in that pope’s words) ‘complementary [to it]: both of them being about ‘self-giving’ and for both ‘the measure of worth is supernatural love.’ Why then must men be ‘obliged’ to commit themselves to it when they want to serve the people of God, but also want to exercise what Vatican 2 called their ‘inalienable right’ to marry? Church authorities are transparently at odds with their own reasoning when they praise the married clergy of the eastern churches, encourage married ex-Anglican clergy to become (married) Catholic priests (badly needing them because the priest shortage would otherwise have already closed countless churches) yet refuse to allow Catholic men to be both priests and married. Literally nonsense.

  16. Anthony Ruff, OSB :

    My point was that I as a monk don’t vow celibacy any more than a diocesan priest does (so I’m told), so the distinction between vows-for-monks / promises-for-diocesan-priests doesn’t hold up.

    The argument that it would be wrong for a priest who has made a promise of permanent celibacy to his bishop to seek to marry, if it were ever generally allowed for priests to marry, would seem to also apply to diocesan priests who wish to change diocese or join religious orders. And since vows are involved, it would seem to apply even more strongly should a monk seek permission to become a secular priest. But there are numerous cases where such permission has been granted with little or no controversy.

  17. But my point is that we all have a line we would draw in responding to sin in the priesthood (or elsewhere). The sin can be forgiven, but sometimes it has lasting consequences in this world.

    And the Church says that the renunciation of such a sacred vow has consequences. With good cause, I think.,/blockquote>

    I think we need to differentiate between sins that bring about their own consequences, and those that don’t. For example, many have argued that there is more damage done buy the enforcement of laws banning the use of marijuana than by the use itself. Yet often the same people seeking to legalize marijuana warn of the dangers of meth or bath salts!
    If I ate meat at lunch today, I would not be sinning. But what if I ate meat on February 24, 2012? (The Friday after Ash Wednesday). What if I ate meat on another Friday, February 24 that did not fall in Lent?
    Easting meat on a day of abstinence is clearly a break with hierarchal discipline, but is it a sin? I know Jesus handed Peter the keys to the kingdom, but those keys came with a certain amount of responsibility. Is there no Scripture that speaks to those who use God’s name to impose their own will?

  18. Thanks, Brigid. My dismay and emotional response above reflects your thought.

    Dangers of using a strictly juridical approach is that the very essence and heart of the ministry of priesthood is lost. It appears to elevate the vow of celibacy to the level of another sacrament or makes celibacy the core of priesthood – is it? or is priesthood about witness of the gospel values?

    “Breaking the vow” is a sin – this is a minimalist, legalistic, and impoverished concept of priesthood. How does one arrive at the judgment of *SIN* – for many of those who struggled, agonized, and reluctantly sought church approval via canon law to be laicized (sort of a misnomer really), it is an insult to call this sin and would suggest that most did penance for this. Appears to paint all inactive priests with the same brush.

    What of the many examples of clerics I know who have *technically* kept their vows (at least publically) but gave up living those vows years ago? The hypocrisy of this type of comparison is mind numbing.

    As I remind my active clerical classmates – unlike them, I now live the vows of poverty, obedience (to wife and family), and chastity (in some cases). (yes, this is meant as a joke but Jack’s observations above are on point)

    1. If I understand correctly, chastity is not the same as celibacy! The fact that the two are often confused says something about our deepest (mis)understandings of sexuality. Two married people fully faithful to each other and sharing sexual relations are as chaste as any virgin!

      1. Chastity is the living-out of one’s sexuality in conformity with one’s state in life. It’s a call to all, not the preserve of a few.

      2. Two married people fully faithful to each other and sharing sexual relations are as chaste as any virgin!
        As are two gay priests having sexual relations.

  19. And it gets even more confusing, or should I say hypocritical, when using terms such as *trust*, etc. when recognized and respected expert studies indicate that at any time 50% of celibates are acting out sexually (guess as long as it doesn’t go public and you don’t marry) than the *vow* is protected; or the increasing disconnects around papal pronouncements on homosexuality (intrinsically disordered) and those same experts finding that a range of 40-50% of all priests are gay. Or that we are still dealing with a 25 year long abuse scandal that is primarily a scandal about episcopal cover-up, denial, and manipulation (mental reservation – nice phrase for lying). But, we still come back to *trust* – really?

  20. Scott Pluff above, raises to my mind the most important issue on the practical side. How are these priests to be provided for?
    Any way you cut it, there seems to bring a number of challenges. Fully providing for a middle-class family would be a strain on many parish and diocesan budgets (especially in rural areas where married priests could very well be the norm). Expecting the priest to have a day job brings with it the dangers of a loss of that job or the need to move, to say nothing of the distractions from ministry and prayer such additional work might bring. Expecting a wife to provide the bulk of the income is also problematic due to similar issues. She can loose her job. She can be asked to move. There’s also the issue of separation and divorce.
    One also needs to ask whether having two parents out of the house working is a good way to raise a family, however culturally normative it has become. If the church decided to change the discipline, I think it would be reasonable that the priest and his family would be provided for.
    A married priesthood would also likely be far less mobile than what most Catholics are used to now. I don’t have experience with the Ordinariate or convert-priests from the Episcopal Church, but I can’t imagine dioceses moving families around to new locations every few years. An implicit vow of stability might be required. But those in the know should correct me if I’m wrong.
    That all definitely creates a two-tiered priesthood, which may make careerists, but I’m not so sure having a stable married priesthood, with fewer possibilities for clerical career advancement would necessarily be a bad thing (of course, there are other important administrative and teaching roles in a local church besides bishop). At the least it could provide a parish a sense of continuity in character, often lacking and alienating for parishioners.

    1. It seems some want a subservient, almost slave class, priesthood. Or, is that what we have?
      Do Catholics not think it is a moral requirement to pay a fair wage and give proper conditions? The more I read about ‘moving priests about’ the uneasier I become with what I think is an abuse of power and control. It is materialism at its worst; treating people as property to be shifted about at the whim and will of another.

      1. I maybe misunderstanding your first question, but to be clear I am not saying I want a slave-class priesthood, or that it is a workable or better system than one built on fair wages. I am only trying to accurately portray the situation as it is.
        I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that moving priests about is ‘an abuse of power’ because, frankly, its one form of the normal exercise of power in a diocese – no abuse necessary. The bishop places priests and moves them as deemed necessary. The parties all know what they’re getting into when the vows are made, I imagine.
        That doesn’t mean that its not a problem of course. For whatever reason, conventional reason (or at least my impression of the conventional wisdom) seems to think that fixed priests can become problems for parishes. They can become ‘institutions’ – and I know some parishes that as a whole are comforted by the knowledge that they likely only have to put up with a priest for a few years if they don’t like him. I can sympathize but the lack of ‘institution’ priests has helped made an institution out of priests and parishes being at odds.

  21. There would be no problem providing adequate financial support for married priests. The people will contribute what is needed to have a viable parish able to pursue its mission. Protestant communities have borne witness to this for decades. In my parish, income exceeded expenses this year by more than 200K. That is not unusual in parishes that have been practicing sacrificial giving. Married priest would serve in parishes most able to provide support. Some, however, could work in other settings and have plenty of time to meet important demands of priestly ministry.

  22. I must admit I find it strange to discuss priestly salaries
    sufficient to support married clergy with children when
    most church employees are married laity (male and female). Many of us have more education and experience than our parish clergy, and most of us don’t make enough to support a one-earner family. And yet we serve. Hmmm.

    1. I agree that often the salaries for church employees are often woefully small and coupled with terrible insurance plans (which are often not carefully selected by diocesan managers!). Churches, both on the parish and diocesan level, need to think about how their employment practices fit into a larger vision of Catholic social teaching and its broad vision of the family.
      I do see some difference between the salary of a married priest and those for other lay professionals working in the church, however well educated they may be. The priestly vow complicates things. He can’t say, “As much as I like this work, I think I’d rather have better pay. I’ll pursue a career in X instead of being a priest.” Well, he can say that, but it would entail breaking his vows. A lay minister does not have that burden.

    2. And keep in mind that married clergy, providing that they & their wives were healthy and young enough, being devout and sensing the need to be good examples of Catholic family life to their parishioners, would probably have very large families, even double-digit numbers of children. Any priest without a large family would run the risk of being thought to be suspect in living out HV, therefore, the parishes would have to be able to support those families. Dioceses would probably provide these priests a discount toward parochial educations for their children. The situation with deacons is different because most of them are ordained later in life.
      Bishops would have to be widowers or originate from those diocesan clergy who were ordained without being married. I believe that some Eastern bishops receive tonsure before episcopal consecration suggesting that they do not always come right out of a monastery.

      1. You are assuming that with a married clergy, HV would still stand as the law of the Church!

  23. The posting of the Mission Statement for the UK Movement for Married Clergy has produced an interesting debate with many varied views being expressed. That is inevitable. What it does indicate is that we are dealing with a complex issue where change from our present circumstance will not be straight forward.
    The principle of choice, of optional celibacy being accepted for those who seek it within their priestly vocation, is clear : it is hard to argue against continuing the present discipline.
    However, the practicalities, given our starting point, will require some serious discussion. It may well be that we have to ask real questions regarding our accepted model of a priest responsible for a parish full time; the worker priest model will have to be considered where income earned will maintain a family and the parish not be expected to assume a much greater financial burden.
    We will not be able to move forward until we accept the premise that discussion is necessary, that we cannot just lock down and say “No” Let’s get over that hurdle and then begin the necessary examination of the detail that would be involved in such a change.
    Continuing with the status quo is not an option.

  24. To speak to the financial issue – my church is unable to support me full time, so in addition to the parish ministry I hold down a full-time day job. It actually has been a great addition to the ministry, I believe. I recall the Apostle Paul calling this “tent-making.”

    I wonder that bi-vocational ministry could be a viable economic solution for married priests especially if the primary reason to encourage vocations is sacramental availability.

  25. The venerable tradition of the Latin Church to maintain clerical celibacy is worthy of retention in my view. It might be worth investigating why so many here would seem to be displeased with this tradition in our rite. While maintaining a celibate clergy the western Church has expanded well beyond it’s point of origin from the western peninsula of Eurasia to the whole world. From the purview of history, the Latin Church can only be seen as a success story. It seems contrary to Vatican II to fail to appreciate retaining the traditions of any of the individual ritual Churches. Are we next going to encourage the Byzantines to dilute their more rigorous fasts?

  26. From Fr. Komonchak’s John the Baptist homily this past Sunday – speaks to “ordained minstry”:

    Money quote:

    “…think the metaphor is a good way to think of the ordained ministry in the Church. The role of a deacon, a priest, a bishop, or even of a pope is to prepare, to facilitate the union (wedding) between individual souls and Christ, between the Church and Christ. That relationship is intimate and immediate, and none of these ministers should come between the community and its individual members and Christ. We are not substitutes for Christ, as if the primary relationship is between a believer and a minister, when, of course, always and forever, it is between believers and God or Christ. It is Christ who is present and active in the sacraments. It’s not the priest who washes sinners clean in baptism, but Christ; it’s not the priest’s body that becomes present on the altar, but Christ’s; the encounter in the sacrament of reconciliation is not between a sinner and a priest, but between a sinner and God. Both priests and people should be very glad that the validity and fruitfulness of a sacrament does not depend on the holiness of the priest, but on the love and power of Christ at work in the various sacraments. As a Church, we have over the last two decades or so had enough bitter experience of the truth that ordained ministers are capable of horrendous evil; but even apart from such scandals, we ought always to remember that when we come to the sacraments, it is Christ we encounter.”

  27. The “tradition” for a celibate clergy arose in a completely different ecclesial, political, and cultural setting. Because it was imposed, it was often disregarded as impossible to follow, whether the scofflaws were peasant clergy or popes. Save for Catholics who have their heads firmly planted in the sand, it is obvious to the rest that priests as human beings may experience and yield to sexual feelings and temptations. The notion that all priests are automatically chaste and pure because of the grace of Holy Orders is simply not tenable. This does not mean that most priests are not striving to live chastely. At issue, then, is the desirability of a new system in which the church will choose to ordain both those with a call to celibacy and those who are married who have a call to priestly ministry. Which system will best serve the needs of the church in this age? I read of a bishop in Latin America who has 900 parishes and 30 priests. He has called for all bishops to reconsider the qualifications for ordination in the Latin rite. Surely it is a subject ripe for discussion throughout the church. Preventing such a discussion is quite possibly a violation of the rights of Christ’s faithful.

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