Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Why Don't Catholic Priests Marry?

Check out this bible verse:

An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32b–35 NIV

This was one of the readings in my church last Sunday. The sermon didn’t really focus on it, but as soon as I heard the words a light came on. So this is why Roman Catholic priests and dedicated religious people do not marry! I accepted and defended the Church’s teaching before, but this is clear cut and straight from the Word of God. Exciting.

The more I think about it the more the Catholic policy makes sense. There are so many demands placed on priests and pastors, having the added stress of worrying about a wife and kids would be a recipe for meltdown. Either meltdown or neglect of the parish; neither outcome is desirable.

Of course I’ve heard many critics say that if only priests could marry then the Church would not have faced the scandals it did a few years ago. It’s tempting to believe, but the hard truth is that if someone is predisposed toward pedophilia, marriage will not meet that desire. Those priests that have problems with sexual sin must confront the problem head on and seek help from their friends and superiors, just like any other person facing the same struggles. The biggest issue with the church scandal was an apparent effort to bury the problem and deny help to those who needed it. Fortunately I believe the Church has learned its lesson and that Pope Benedict is addressing the root of the problem.

I know that many protestant pastors seem to successfully balance the demands of leading a ministry and running a family. Certainly, they are to be commended as it can only be accomplished by the Grace of God. But the Catholic priesthood is an even higher calling. Priests must literally be married to the church; they administer the sacraments daily and are called to be personal examples of holiness; they are called to single handedly lead hundreds or thousands of faithful in their parishes; and they are always on call for emergencies. My prayers are with them.


Anonymous said...

Check out these Bible verses:
Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:30, and Luke 4:38. Three out of the four gospels tell this story: Jesus came to hang out at Simon Peter's house and Peter's WIFE'S MOTHER was ill with a fever, Jesus healed her, and she got up and ministered to them.
Give me a break. Catholic priests don't marry because they have a "higher calling" than Protestant ministers? What self-righteous, pompous dogma! The Pope is the head honcho with direct lines going all the way back to the first "Bishop of Rome", "the rock upon which Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it", the "Holder of the keys to heaven and hell" etc, etc. So, if PETER HIMSELF WAS MARRIED, WHAT BIBLICAL ARGUMENT DO YOU HAVE TO STAND ON FORBIDDING PRIESTS TO MARRY? NONE! NONE WHATSOEVER! Jesus obviously thought Peter was good enough to follow him, even if he was married. Don't you Catholics actually READ the Bible to interpret correctly? PETER WAS MARRIED!! Jesus healed his MOTHER-IN-LAW!

Further, Catholics proclaim Mother Mary as Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Angels, Co-Redeemer, etc. and "venerate" her, pray to her, light votive candles, see apparitions/appearances of her, with miraculous healings, etc. WITHOUT A MOTHER, THERE WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN THE BIRTH OF JESUS. Yet, the patriarchial, oppressive, male chauvinist church still won't allow female priests. Hypocrites! You all are stuck somewhere between the Middle Ages and the Salem witch trials. God thought a woman was good enough to be chosen as the vessel to bear the Saviour into the world, yet you say a woman isn't good enough to be a priest? When will you all wake up and smell the coffee and "get it"? Your flocks are leaving in droves. You can't get enough males to enter the seminary to replace the priests that have left the priesthood. They are dying off, retiring, some left so they can marry and be "normal", and some were convicted of child sexual abuse scandals. GOD CREATED MARRIAGE AND CALLED IT GOOD! Denying, perverting, or blocking God's wisdom and will for our lives will cause all manner of evil to gain entry and work ill.

This is why I could never be a Catholic. You strain at gnats and swallow camels. (That's in the Bible also...)

Patrick O'Neil said...

Dear Woman Bearing Witness:

OK, Simon Peter was married, so were other priests in the early church, so are priests in the Eastern Catholic rite. That doesn't reduce the truth that St. Paul teaches.

As for all the other "quotes" I don't know who you are quoting.

If I can add one other thing,if you are concerned about bearing witness consider the non Christians who read this site, if all they see is Christians fighting each other what kind of witness is that?

Anonymous said...

I would personally like to see this argument expanded, perhaps by a calmer more even-headed party than Woman Bearing Witness. Right now I am undertaking a very large project involving primarily the question of marriage in the priesthood. I would greatly appreciate further correspondence, particularly in answer to the following questions I have.

Certain Catholic teachings I have encountered have denied any of the first Apostles being married, yet you agree that one, if not more, were indeed married. Why the variation within the Church, and what is the official teaching?

I have also read that early popes were suggested to have been married in historic documents. Is there any foundation within this claim?

There is also very little difference between the Eastern Orthodox church and Catholicism. Why does such a major distiction as priestly marriage exist between the two? It seems that all practices related to their marriage are holy, provide a good example to lay men and women, and are even considered the norm.

Lastly, if a certain protestant minister or reverend is married, but not within the Catholic church, and he converts to become a Catholic priest, why does that marriage remain?

Thank you very much for your consideration of these questions. I look forward to a thought-provoking reply.

Patrick O'Neil said...


Thanks very much for your thought provoking questions. I should start by saying, I'm a newish Catholic, it will be the 5th anniversary of my reception into the church next Easter. I'm also no theologian, here are just one lay person's thoughts.

1)I don't know that there is an official teaching. There may be, but my copy of the Cathechism has no historic reference to the question. As I understand it, official church teaching can be found in the catechism and in papal encyclicals. Teaching by other authors can be certified by an imprimatur although this doesn't signify that it is official church teaching, just that it is not explicity opposed to it. There are over one billion catholics in the world so naturally there's diversity of opinion on some matters. (Clearly there should be no difference of opinion on matters foundational to the faith) So far, it's been my experience that many of the more difficult 'Catholic' teachings, such as the idea that Mary is a Co-Redemptrix with Christ, are often not Catholic teaching at all, but simply a view held by some Catholics. Again, I don't know for certain, but I suspect a teaching that claimed none of the first apostles were married is not actually church dogma.

2)Sorry, I have no idea.

3)Again, I don't have any background or historical context here. All I can say is that there is scriptural backing for the view that celibacy is beneficial. (see also Matthew 19:12)

4)This is easy, "what God has joined together, let no one tear assunder."

Anonymous said...

Celibacy for Catholic priests has absolutly nothing to do with scripture. The main reason for celibacy was that during the Middle Ages the Catholic Church was losing property. After a married priest died, the property that he owned, (land, house, farm animals, crops, etc) all were inherited by his wife and or children. After the celebacy edicts, all of his possesions went to the church upon his death. When another priest was appointed, he was able to build on what the previous priest left behind. It had everthing to do with money and absolutly nothing to do with doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Celibacy for Catholic priests has absolutly nothing to do with scripture. The main reason for celibacy was that during the Middle Ages the Catholic Church was losing property. After a married priest died, the property that he owned, (land, house, farm animals, crops, etc) all were inherited by his wife and or children. After the celebacy edicts, all of his possesions went to the church upon his death. When another priest was appointed, he was able to build on what the previous priest left behind. It had everthing to do with money and absolutly nothing to do with doctrine.

Patrick O'Neil said...

For all the Protestants out there: On my drive home today I was listening to radio evangelist Chuck Swindoll, and he openly conceded that based on this passage, the priesthood is a higher calling than his. Interesting how no matter your label, a faithful and intellectually honest attitude will lead you to the truth.

Anonymous said...

what would these priests do then when they feel like having sex with women? Sex is a biological need and we all know that. it would be a lie if you'll say that those priests doesn't have sexual urges...

Patrick O'Neil said...

I couldn't agree more that sex is a biological need. But your body has biological tools (example wet dreams) that will ensure it's needs are met. What will a priest do when he gets the urge - abstain and pray. There are plenty of examples where god asks people to sacrifice to draw them closer to Himself. (think fasting.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Patrick,
Looking at all these arguments, I realized that there are two sides to the argument. One says: Married priests should be allowed.... The other says: Marriage for priesthood is not essential. Perhaps, the problem was rooted in the FAITH itself. Celibacy was established in the Church around about the year 1136AD.... and it became official through Trent (1545)The Church was so concern with the spiritual welfare then, that they forgot the human welfare of people. Thanks to Vatican II who brought about a little change by acknowledging that we are human beings. Still, the Church is slow in bringing the dreams of Vatican II into reality. If married priests are to be allowed, again, the change would be slow.... Thats according to my calculation.

Clergy were married since the time of the Apostles though they even practiced celibacy as part of their lives. It was the mentality then that "sex" was a dirty action. Now, we all know that "correct sex" is the holiest action. Celibacy can still be practiced after marriage. Priest who left their ministry and marry should be allowed to return to ministry although they made mistakes. We are human beings.... we should acknowledge that we make mistakes... but there are areas where we are warned to control.

Our Catholic Faith is based on Scripture and Tradition. Is there any Tradition that states of how Priests were asked to choose to marry or not? Is there any scripture that points to priests deciding to marry or not to marry? I don't find any!!! Why are priests suddenly asked NOT to marry and are told of theological reason why one ought not marry?

Paul lived a celibate life... so Tradition says. Many apostles had women on their journey for missionary work and yet continued to live celibate lives. But, they were married...Married Clergy were already an option then. This is Tradition!!! Why not uproot that Tradition again? What is wrong with priests marrying now? Is it because of the theological aspects behind priesthood or Is it because of the Roman Authority over the Church? Is the Church a Church or is it a Government? It seems that all these issues are interconnected.
I'll be looking forward to your reply....

Call me Mr Brown
God Bless!

Patrick O'Neil said...

Mister Brown,

Thanks for your reasoned questions, and I do hope you see this reply. As you may have noticed, I'm a bad blogger, only posting something when I feel like it and have the time.

In your first paragraph, you describe two schools of thought. However, the church requires celibacy of its priests and religious, which is quite different than saying married priests are not essential.

On your point that at times the church has been more concerned about spiritual welfare than 'human' (I read temporal) welfare. My response is I should hope so! That's the churches job, evangelism and discipleship. Concern for spiritual welfare must be paramount.

You say Vatican II changed things. Well to be honest, I'm too young to have any first hand opinion on Vatican II. I like the strides it made to Christian unity, although this can only be accomplished through an honest discussion about our differences. The 'dreams' some folks had about the Church breaking with its past were probably just that.

Finally when you talk about sex, I highly reccommend the discussion on theology of the body that you can find here. Absolutely sex within marriage is holy, but I also believe our society elevates sex way out of proportion.

Overall, I'm going to say that I believe the Church's current teaching is well founded. I don't believe that the Church will break with tradition as it currently understands it. Remember from the Church's perspective, it doesn't ever really 'change' its doctrine, it only clarifies its understanding. I don't see any change forthcoming with respect to married priests.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this has been said. The Christian Church has always taught that after a man is ordained, he is no longer allowed to marry. That is Catholic dogma and has been taught since the Apostles. However, allowing married men to become priests is a different story. The Church has always taught that it is desirable to remain celebate, especially if you are a priest. However, this is merely an option. The Catholic Church, with her authority granted by God, has declared that normally married men would not be ordained due to the difficulties of leading a family and a parish, etc. This is simply a practice and can be changed at the pope's will.

Anonymous said...

As a former Catholic (32 years) I suggest that you get out of the church altogether and get yourself a King James version of the bible. You will see that the Catholic church's teachings are so twisted and so different to the bible it's not funny.

God wants people to be married and have children, and he wouldn't ask us to sacrafice this in order to serve him. We are all God's priests and only Jesus can forgive our sins.

Anonymous said...

King James and his group did paid the Catholics to hear the words of God. Irony!

I feel the Catholic Roman Empire did mixed up the Bible languages!

So the Pope is now gay because of one gay priest is suspended from the Vatican. So the Pope is not interested to have the priests to be marrie but the Pope wants all priests to be gay like him!

Kara said...

I don't really see how it matters if someone decides to abstain from sex or not. It is a personal decision and whether you are in the ministry or not. Sex was created by God and is not bad(provided the sex in which you are engaged is within the bounds of marriage).

Anonymous said...

Being celibate for the kingdom of God is a choice, hand's down.

Technically, the Church could ordain married men and this is not a biblical argument.

the Church chooses not to, which is a good thing.

It's clear in the bible, that was written by early christians who were in fact Catholic, though they may not have had that name at the time, did write about bishops, priest and deacons as necessary parts of the Church.

the Bible speaks the truth though it is words about God, it is not the Word. Christ was the Word. He established a Church, did he not? It does not say in the Bible that priest can not marry, but it does give the Church authority. This is a choice made in good conscience to lead the faithful. Sure it could be another way, but the Church has the best interest of her people at heart. It does have to protect the message of Christ so that any person off the street can start the Church of Christ. Christ started the Church.

Brooks Lindsay said...

We've created a pro/con article on Debatepedia on this topic that may be helpful. And, thanks for the quotation from the Bible. We've used it in the article. Have a look.

blimey_oreily said...

First of all, what a great site. I studied theology a looooooooong time ago back at school and found it very interesting as it encompassed various issues - right down to archaeology! Fascinating.

I read an article on the BBC website a while ago (apologies, I lost the link!) regarding the issue of priests and marriage. Personally, I believe priests should marry as marriage is a normal course of action between human kind. Sex, is of course, the consummation of the marriage - a bond that binds two people to each other in body and soul. There is nothing wrong with sex and yes I agree with the comment that society has elevated sex to inappropriate proportions. (In order to sell something all they need to do is slap a picture of a model in a thong bikini and the product sells itself).

Another reason why I believe priests should marry is (although I am ashamed to say this) a priest in my previous parish was imprisoned for owning child porn. As you can imagine the entire parish was traumatised on different levels. It was horrible and I would hate for anyone else to have the paralysing thoughts going through their minds. While they entered priesthood willingly, they have a lot of pressure to remain celibate due to a manmade policy. I am not agreeing with priests having lurid affairs nor lusting after children, but you try and remain celibate til the day you die. I am sure the pressure will make you go a little nuts too!

As humans, all clergy confined to celibacy, have their weaknesses. Even in early literature (even Chaucer's canterbury tales, which I recommend reading) all the religious people had their faults and not living up to their vocation - pride, vanity, wealth, affairs. (for those interested, read it here

As catholics my siblings and I went to good catholic (boarding) schools and my brother mentioned from time to time that he would wake up in the middle of the night to hear the monks playing cricket - we assumed they were getting rid of their "urges". (well, why else would they be running around a field at such an hour??)

Finally, a lot of Catholic "policies" are manmade, not sent from God. Just because a priest spends years "training" doesn't mean he has a direct line with God or saints or anyone else except the local telephone company. A lot of what they study is manmade, so does this put them in a higher position than us? After all, Saint Thomas Aquainus (an authorised teacher of theology for priests) was a man, with human beliefs and opinions and as such, we cannot criticise current priests/monks etc for quoting what they had been given to learn. Fortunately, today's clergy is more open to debating issues than the priests from our childhood. They would call us blasphemous for even wanting to question their opinions and teachings. Debate is healthy; it welcomes other points of views and clarification of misunderstandings.

Anonymous said...

In 1 Timothy 3:2 it states a bishop must be blameless, a husband of one wife. In the same chapter verse 4-5 i states,"One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity ; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of a house of God.
1 Timothy 3:12 has similar statements written by Paul.

Anonymous said...

I don't really know in religious point of view, but I kinda know a little about Catholic's Dark Age and give reasoning why priest shouldn't marry.

During Catholic's Dark Age, bishops, cardinals, and even popes were like lords in England and not many concentrating in the real faith, concern more on politics and money. Church is only place to get position and honour for themselves and family. Even there was once a pope who was the son of a pope.

To make Catholic Church more concentrating in faith, the priests more focus, and to prevent dynastic and political exploitation toward the Holy See, preventing priests to marry is the right thing to do, and not doing sex is a form of sacrifice they have to make to show their seriousness and determination, to show their commitment toward this hard job.

Anonymous said...

After reading all the remarks, I thought I will give you my opinion. Celibacy in the church is a fundamental problem. God is nature and nature is God. The very reason the church is going against nature is going against God. As one reader mentioned, church brought in celibacy in order to retain its properties. Church has gained enormous power over the years and has amassed considerable amount of wealth on the shoulders of the ignorant masses. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In the past when communication was very limited, and the poor very poor, they gave their children to the church in order that they may become someone someday.
Priests being human, and easy access to these kids, even though they may not have been born pedophiles, may have become one.

Nature is very strong and going against it is like trying to stop an avalanche with bare hands.

If, in the past, popes and clergy were married, the church has to reconsider celibacy for the right reasons. What was taught to us, that the Pope is infallible in spiritual matters is open to debate.

To err is human. Every time man made some law, it came with a load of errors and bad effects. Marriage is one of these. One man one woman. This applies to the western society, which is of the opinion, social stability will follow. This does not apply to other races where the western culture has not fully penetrated. Yet, their social structure has not crumbled.

If we did not cloth ourselves, nakedness would not have looked abnormal. Animals don't.

Money is the root of all evil. Since power is measured relative to money, going after it has created many major problems.

So, can we solve the basics before trying to correct a issue somewhere half way down the line.

If we started a problem with 1+1=3
we will end up with the wrong answer, if we accept the current mathematical system. Trying to solve it somewhere in the middle will cause more problems.

It's easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven.

Wealth, societies idea of sex, nature, manmade pollution, marriage etc are fundamental issues which we will not overcome in this generation.

Like someone once said “Not in God's life time",
We lost a wonderful priest to marriage. He was a true Christian. Not all catholic’s are Christians.
He followed the commandment, “Love thy neighbor’ to the last letter. Unfortunately, nature was too powerful.
Should priests marry, Yes. That’s my opinion. Priests are not the only ones who serve God and the people. Every one of us do. Can someone tell the Pope that the priest should get married? We can beat the drums around the world as many times as we can but who will bell the cat

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Anonymous said...

Priests dont marry because they try to imitate Christ and not his disciples, "Christ was not married". Now Jesus never had restrictions on marriage, neither in the Bible is said u should marry, he left the decision on us as long as v follow and spread his teachings...The Catholic faith doesnt force people into ordinations, People become priests to dedicate their entire life to God.

If one is against the catholic teachings, its ok, Its freedom of belief, nobody is forced to remain in a belief, we as catholics don't judge others so we shall be more than happy if we are not judged too...Let us leave that in Gods long as we pray to the same Christ, we are one...Thank u

Clark Grizwald said...

the catholic church does have a bit of history with celibacy for priests which is contradictory and conflicting (see
notably it is Pope Gregory VII who's papal edict that any priest should not be married and celibate which continues to this day and is the reason for current Catholic Church practice in this area, not, as some would claim that scripture says so, since scripture has both discussion that a priest should have one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 4–5) and also the 1 Corinthians passage Patrick sited discussing reasons for devoting one's self to God (although being a priest or pastor is not specifically mentioned in the 1 Corinthians passage) - it seems clear, really, that God is not particularly concerned whether a priest is married or not, but will take any who wishes to serve Him in any situation in which they come to Him (which was Pope Pelagius II's teaching and policy)
The Catholic Church would be well served by a return to Pope Pelagius II's teaching

NKA said...

Peace be upon you. Thank you for writing about this topic. I was intrigued with the whole celibacy issue around the Catholic priests.I was looking for evidence why priests cannot marry. True i think that when one dissociate oneself from worldly affairs one becomes closer to almighty God. However, why are priests elevating themselves like that? Are we worse servants of god if we marry?

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Yuumi_chan said...

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
1 Timothy 4:1-3

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law was an Anglican Episcopalian Bishop. He had 2 sons with his wife & 2 step daughters who were very young when he married. So, he had 4 children & a wife to care for. This was very demanding! I often saw the chaos going on in this family as he advanced from a priest to a Bishop. This also required several moves across the nation.
This man was a very dedicated priest & Bishop. I saw the strain on him as, although he was a great father & loved his wife dearly, he mainly wanted to serve the Lord & his parishes.
I could go on & on about this family but my point to be made is that it is very, VERY difficult to be married & have children when you have this calling to serve God first.

I believe the verse from Corinthians is absolutely describing why a Catholic priest should not marry.
Also, I completely agree with whomever said earlier that if any man or priest is inclined toward pedophilia, a wife is not going to make any difference. This is a sickness in a person and has nothing to do with lack of sex when celibate.

Also, many married people have decided to become celibate in their marriages to make their union with God greater. It is a sacrifice that some feel cleanses their sins & like fasting, brings them closer to the Lord.

We have become so sexually oriented via Hollywood and television, music & even sometimes, outright selfishness. I'm not so sure that God intended sex to be the most important part of a marriage.

And please......those that hate the Catholic Church....could you please refrain from our business & out devotion to the one, true Church? The apostasy was prophesied a very long time ago. When Christ comes again, there may not be many of us left and God knows that. Yet, even in the end, people will be given that one last chance. But for now, please keep you negatives to yourself & let us handle our matters.......which include out Catholic priests remaining unmarried & celibate.
God Bless.....Marie

Fabian Daniel said...

Patrick.... You had the light of God in you... for you know the 'Holy catholic and apostolic church'... you and me are the same religion... Thx for your support with the Catholic church

Anonymous said...

Catholic priests not marrying has NOTHING to do with God and EVERYTHING to do with the keeping money in the vatican. If priests marry and have children, when they die, property/money/possesions will pass OUT of the Catholic church. ALL clergy know this.

Many priests have a true calling from God and feel that they are in the wrong place if they are not serving in the church. However, putting forward that they can fully concentrate on the things of God instead of their wives and children only comes from people who do not understand their lives. Almost 100% of them are in terrible emotional pain and are so lonely they look forward to dying only. They work 18 hour days, often to be paid with abuse and misunderstanding. Most of them desperately WANT to be married and to have the SUPPORT of a loving wife and family. The vatican cares for NOTHING except control and money and this has ALWAYS been the case and always will be. Some clergy FINALLY cannot keep up the lie anymore and leave. OH for the time the LORD brings judgement on the Roman Catholic Chuch whose sins are piled up to the highest heaven (Revelation 17).

Bro.Okeifufe Chijioke Paul said...

Down here in Nigeria, I have seen many pentecostal pastors, married ones, impregnating young church members and wives of other church members. A man who cannot control his sexual urge as a bachelor or a celibate priest, cannot control it in marriage. Marriage is not the prerequisite for averting the temptation of the sin of the flesh.

Celibacy is the highest calling, I am not here too defend the holiness of the priest when it comes to the sin of the flesh or the ability of the whole priests to resist the sin of the flesh, it is a basic fact that there must be Judases among the disciples, but I am here to tell you that celibacy is golding. Without the grace of God, no one can live a holy life.

The Church does not force anyone to become a priest. There are others ways one can serve God, other than through the priesthood.

The priesthood, being the highest order in the church requires highest sacrifice. The holy order is the greatest way to serve God in truth and in spirit. It is a way of telling God, take me and do with me whatever that pleases you. I am all Yours, all I have and are belongs to You my Lord and my God.

Anonymous said...

I think that its best stated that Marriage is Eternal and given by God so that man can become more christ like if done properly and not deformed by Satans view on what marriage is.

We have the power of choice and in that the view to abstain is between yourself and the Lord.

It's simple don't want to marry become a Roman Catholic Priest.

Want to marry don't become a Roman Catholic Priest.

cynthia said...

may d spirit of madness come upon u for d rest of ur life for accusing and insulting annointed priest of God. Mark my word if ur still alive

Anonymous said...

May God Bless You Patrick