Should Priests Be Allowed To Marry?
We ask a question that rolls around in a lot of people’s minds about Catholic priests not being allowed to marry
In the Catholic Church where clergy are celibate, the question comes up in discussion from time to time: Should priests be allowed to marry? Even an official at the Vatican is talking about it.
What would be the implications for the priesthood and local parishes?
We turned to some Busted Halo® friends for their opinions. Here’s what they had to say:
Steven Bell, CSP
I remember having my first conversation with a spiritual director about celibacy. As much as celibacy is considered in priestly circles as a “gift” that is so countercultural to the way many societies work, how does one find the impetus, rationale and energy to sustain it? My spiritual director offered the answer that works for me. She said, “Steven, your priestly vocation requires you not to be focused on loving a few; rather to be available for the many. Celibacy frees you up to love the many.” Having been a priest for five years, I can appreciate how my flow and availability of ministry and pastoral care has been, since I’m not beholden to anyone in particular. Also, celibacy frees me up to see and respond to a clearer, bigger picture of the kinship that I strive to foster as a priest, from as local as the parish to as global as, well, all God’s people.
I believe it’s a good idea to consider practically what I would do if priests could marry. My answer hinges upon my commitment as a Paulist priest to my Paulist Community. Unlike diocesan priests who live in rectories either alone or in very small numbers, I live in a community with other Paulists. I have made a lifelong promise to live, work and pray with my brothers in a community of fraternal support. While celibacy frees me up for the mission, my promises to the Paulists give me the structure to live out the mission. I would consider my promises violated if I got married. If my spouse moved into the community, the dynamics would change drastically. If I moved out to live with my spouse, I’d feel like I was abandoning my brothers. Neither of those options works in favor of my commitment to priesthood or to the mission of our ministry.
Now, all that said, I cannot speak for all of my brother priests, nor do I think that married priesthood marks the end of religious life. Some of our Protestant brother and sister ministers have been living such a vocation successfully for centuries. I do applaud those who have the ability to love both spouse and flock in ways that do not hinder one another. For Catholics, however, it’s a radical change of culture and expectation that needs to be done mindfully. If priests were ever able to marry, I would hope that each of us (priests) would do honest soul-searching to see whether we can manage not only the demands of both a family and a parish, but also be authentic about where our love and devotion lie.
Fr. Steven Bell, CSP, is associate director of Busted Halo®.
Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
My concerns about priests being allowed to marry are more logistical than they are theological. I do not think priests should be allowed to marry without a drastic change in parish structure happening first. The current responsibilities and duties placed on priests are backbreaking. Most of the priests I know are constantly running around from meeting to meeting, barely getting a chance to eat, let alone a decent amount of sleep.
I have no idea how a person could do this job and also have a family. I just left my job at a high school because I couldn’t balance the needs of the school with the needs of my family, and a priest is required to do so much more. When one is married, the family is the person’s first and most important vocation. Being a priest would come after that. If priests were allowed to marry, churches would need to add staff to distribute the work of the parish among more people, allowing priests to attend to the needs of their families. And don’t even get me started on how parishioners would have to change expectations. I’m not saying it should not happen because it’s too hard to deal with or too hard to figure out, but it seems like quite a mountain to climb.
Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft writes for Busted Halo®’s “La Lupe” blog.
What drew me to leave religious life was a yearning for intimate and exclusive companionship. Celibate life certainly has its blessings, but for me, even close friendships could not replace the kind of love experienced in a monogamous romantic relationship. But if married priests were allowed? I’d jump at that opportunity.
There are married priests in the Catholic Church. Not only do priests who convert to the Roman Catholic faith stay married, but priests in the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches (which are in communion with Rome) can be married. The reason for this is that priestly celibacy is not a doctrine; it’s simply a discipline which leaves room for custom and tradition.
What always bothered me was the inconsistency in the discipline. If marriage is allowed for Eastern Rite priests why not change it for Roman Catholics? A few years ago I met an Eastern Rite priest who said that he grew up Roman Catholic but felt called to both the priesthood and marriage so he joined the Eastern Rite. While I understood his desire, I didn’t want to leave my Roman Catholic tradition; it meant too much to me. Why did my tradition not seem to respect a dual calling?
I have witnessed priests and pastors in other Christian traditions live well their dual vocation. They find that their wife is a partner in their ministry to their congregation. Some worry that non-celibate priests will not be as available as those whose primary responsibility does not include family. There is some truth to this, but I remember a Catholic priest once telling me that he thinks it’s possible. A priest’s parishioners respect the need for balance. Those middle of the night calls are rare, but a married priest should find no issue in taking them as they come, or even having a day or two “on call.” Celibate priests have days off when they don’t answer hospital calls. The people generally respect that and wait until Monday morning to phone back. Surely they would do the same if their priest had a wife.
Andy Otto was a Jesuit for 2 1/2 years and is pursuing a graduate degree in theology and ministry at Boston College. He is a contributor to Busted Halo®.
Being United Methodist, where both men and women may become pastors, as well as marry, I would say yes. That being said however, I don’t necessarily feel every priest should marry. If a priest feels that he best serves God while remaining celibate, then by all means, that is what he should do.
If, on the other hand, he feels that he has found someone to share his life with, that helps him to be a better priest, then he should be allowed and encouraged to marry that person. Two people serving God in harmony is a beautiful image. It should be up to the individual to decide if celibacy should be part of his priestly duty.
By allowing priests to marry, the Catholic Church would open the doors for a more universally accessible Church and encourage more young men to seek a life of priesthood. This would, in turn, bring more young couples into congregations, especially if they felt they had a priest who understood them as individuals and as partners. It is important that priests be able to relate to members of their congregation on a personal level, as well as on a spiritual one.
Kady Joy is an intern and contributor to Busted Halo®.
Deacon Greg Kandra
My answer is “No” since it’s never been part of the Church’s tradition for men already ordained priests to be allowed to marry.
I just don’t think the Church is ever going to tilt in that direction.
However: if the question is “Should men already married be allowed to become priests?” my answer is “Yes.” And this is a real possibility. There is a long history of that in the Church, notably in the Eastern rites, and it’s becoming increasingly more common in the Latin rite, with Rome granting exceptions to some married men through the Anglican ordinariate. My sense is that the people in the pews would welcome it, as well. It becomes harder and harder for the Catholic Church to explain why cradle Catholics who are married can’t become priests, but converts can. I think the people in the pews are having a hard time understanding it, too.
As I’ve mentioned in various places, I often get asked by people after Mass, “How come these Anglicans and Episcopalians who are married and have kids can become priests, but you can’t?” And I don’t have a good answer for that.
I hasten to add: I’m not interested in becoming a priest myself — I love serving as a deacon, and don’t feel called to the priesthood. But there are a lot of married men who would make wonderful priests, and a lot who are wonderful priests. Is it time to follow the practice of the Eastern Church? What would be the benefits or the problems involved? I think it’s time the Church took a serious look at these and other questions and study whether mandatory celibacy in the 21st century is helping or hurting the spread of the faith.
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon serving the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. He writes for the Patheos “The Deacon’s Bench” blog.