Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
December 5th, 2013

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

 
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shouldpriestsmarry1In 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.

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.

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.

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… 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.

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. 

 

Andy Otto

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.

If married priests were allowed? I’d jump at that opportunity… 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?

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®.

 

Kady Joy

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.

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

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.

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?

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 PatheosThe Deacon’s Bench” blog.

 
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The Author : The Editors

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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Tatiana Marie Bartlett

    Of all the above repsonses to the question, I found Deacon Greg’s to be the most helpful. My parents grew up Catholic, and my dad was called to the priesthood since he was a little boy. But because of this marriage question, felt absolutely torn when he met my mom between the priesthood and married life. They then discovered the Orthodox Christian Church – original Christianity which was in communion with Rome for the first 1,000 years of the Church until the Great Schism (good history to look up and know for any Christian). From the time of the apostles, they have ALWAYS allowed their priests to marry (prior to ordination) and it has always been a beautiful balance in the church. My dad became an Orthodox priest, and has been incredibly fulfilled serving the church and having the loving support of a wife and family to help along the way. I think it’s a tragedy that the Catholics chose not to carry on this tradition, and it’s caused more pain than good.

  • sandy

    Sublimating sexual energy , as an ability , an aide in reaching toward the divine ought be taught and cherished as a useful tool . However , its time to restore the possibility of marriage to the priesthood . An obvious benefit would be more willing to heed the call .

  • infowolf1

    perhaps the original style should be revived, which is still kept in the Eastern Orthodox (and Byzantine Rite type Roman Catholicism) churches. That a married man can become a priest, but not marry after ordination. This in turn is drawn from St. Paul who said a presbyter (from which we get the word “priest”) SHOULD be a married man who has already shown the ability to raise godly children, not full grown but not running wild. Ditto a bishop. North Africa had some obsessions about this, and demanded celibate episcopate. Two canons were issued from the whole church in the person of its bishops in ecumenical synodical meeting, which ALLOWED this and only for North Africa, with a snipe at their pusillanimity. Nowdays the bishops are drawn from the monastics which renders the dispute mute.

  • Ash

    If men were allowed to be married AND be a priest, wouldn’t it open up an opportunity for our undeserved parishes to now have a priest? If we had more priests, parish duties could be split among the priest and lighten the load for those serving now….leaving more time for married priests to serve both their family and the church. Our priests now are overloaded with duties and we need more priests overall. I say the more the merrier to those called!

  • Jackie LoretdeMola

    We Catholics need to thythe more if we want married clergy. We are the worst at financial giving and to support a priest and his family would be much more expensive for the church. AND would they practice natural family planning because they will need to be the example of our beliefs, no birth control other than natural family planning. I have VERY mixed feelings on this. I once asked a wonderful Irish priest friend, “father when do you think priests will be allowed to be married?” He replied, very dryly, “10 minutes after I’m dead!” I wasn’t sure if he meant, darn it, ten minutes after or whew I past that one. Love Fr. Liam!!!

  • Robbie Anderson

    Balance is a challenge for all who minister in the Church. There are many lay people who are running from meeting to meeting, keeping late hours, etc. Some of the priests I have worked with are better than lay people at taking a Sabbath. The question of whether priests should marry, is one of whether we should eliminate good potential vocations because a person must choose between the priesthood and the intimacy that marriage can provide. The faithful care of the parishioners is a matter of commitment to the parish. I do believe that a priest can be committed to the care of the parishioners and be married so yes, for some priests marriage would be good.

  • Mark Wemple

    Being the son of a Presbyterian minister, I can tell you that there are pressures but, being an attorney I can also say that they are no greater than for other professions. Priests were initially allowed to marry and I’ve never heard an argument with merit as to a valid reason for the shift. Marriage could potentially bring in more qualified people and would give the priests a more worldly view.

  • RufusChoate

    No

    • michael

      This is a very broad and vague condemnation you’ve made…

      • RufusChoate

        Apparently you don’t know any permanent deacon. The word wretched is the universal and most charitable term for their “service”.

      • michael

        Actually, I know dozens and am a candidate for holy orders as a deacon myself. Your universalization of your own personal experience and opinion is offensive to the Order of Deacons and those they serve.

      • RufusChoate

        Oh please, prove my experience wrong and drop the platitudinous redirection. I have encountered Permanent Deacons in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut and all were uniformly bad and shallow thinkers with bad or weak theology.

      • michael

        You are making a universal statement based on your personal experience and opinion. All I can do is assure everyone reading these comments that the service given to the Church by deacons is not “universally wretched” and that all of them are not “uniformly bad and shallow thinkers with bad or weak theology.”

      • Inge Loots

        We have a great, orthodox permanent deacon here. The older ones aren’t as great due to bad formation, but the younger ones are generally great and orthodox.

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      Not sure what you mean by “the quality”. I don’t think that married ministers and rabbis are any less dedicated to their congregations.

  • Trezlen

    I think it needs to be clarified that this question is directed toward Latin Rite Churches. I attend an Eastern Rite Church and the last time I checked we were still Catholic. Our priests can be married at the time of ordination.

    When I read the question, I was a little taken aback by the implication and the lack of clarity. Thank you Deacon Greg for bring Eastern Rites into the discussion.

  • Guest

    We had a married priest when I lived in Northern California. He was first an Episcopalian Priest and then converted to Roman Catholicism. WE all loved him and his wife and little girls. We loved his sermons, because he could relate to what most of us were going through since he was going through the same things. It was so cute, at the end of the mass, before he got to the back, his two little girls would join him at the end of the isle and walk out with him. If our Protestant brother and sisters can support their minister’s families, why couldn’t us Catholics support a family as a parish. I believe having priests remain celibate is just custom but not a rule. Eastern Orthodox priests are allowed to marry, I think the Pharoahs and Scribes under Judaism were allowed to marry. St. Paul said it was better to remain single but not if it would cause you to sin. How many Priests, even Popes from the Past had families on the side?

    • Inge Loots

      There is one main difference between the attitude of Catholic laypeople and Protestant lay people. It’s normal for Protestant Churches that everyone helps ‘running’ the congregation. Often there’s a committee of ‘Elders’ assisting the pastor.
      In Catholic parishes, at least here, the congregation is more passive and kind of expects Father to run it all, there are no ‘Elders’, and the things that need to be done to run a parish are done by the same handful of Church ladies.
      If Catholics really want to have room for married priests, they need to step up their own game: be prepared to give more money to the Church, because a married priest has more expenses than a celibate one (over here hardly anybody can be bothered to give money to their parish) and at the same time, people need to be willing to start active participation in their own parishes.
      In the current situation, I think I don’t think it would be right to burden our priests with all the responsibilities they have now in addition to raising a family. It has to come from both sides.

      • Amanda Harrison

        This is the best response to why it would be hard to have married priests. Thank you for looking at the logistics. I am in favor of married priests and I also see the challenge of supporting them with our current system.

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