The topic of Catholic priests being able to marry is a popular one. Many Catholics feel that if priest could marry, then we would not have a priest shortage. There are some Christians that believe that celibacy is “unbiblical or even “unnatural.” And some people seem to think that being celibate leads to a higher rate of illicit sexual behavior or perversion, than with a man who is married.
So, why does the Catholic Church in the Latin-Rite continue to require their priest to take vows of celibacy? Is this a firm dogma of the faith where it could never be changed ? Well, there are exceptions. There are some married Latin-Rite priests who are converts from Lutheranism and Episcopalianism. But for those men wanting to be a priest, the vow of celibacy is still in place. It has been a rule that has been firmly in place since the early Middle Ages. It is not a dogma, but a disciplinary rule. A discipline of the Church is something that has the possibility to be changed in time.
What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say?
“All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’ Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to ‘the affairs of the Lord,’ they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God (CCC #1579).
Those Christians that feel this practice is unbiblical will point to where St. Paul says that bishops must be “married only once…(1 Tim 3:2).” We read about how St. Peter had a mother-in-law and Jesus healed her in Luke 4:38-39. In first Corinthians we read that Peter “took along a Christian wife (9:5).” St. Paul commands that “…each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…(7:2).”
If we look to Jesus himself, we see that he carried out his public ministry as an unmarried celibate. He did this so he could be free to “give” Himself to the whole Church (Rev 21:9). It is this lifestyle that has become the model for the current Roman Catholic clergy.
So, let us look at Scripture to see if the discipline of celibacy has any foundation:
Jesus talks about freeing oneself for the sake of spreading God’s Kingdom: “Then Peter said in reply, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Matt 19:27-29).”
Jesus also says this about the ideal of renouncing marriage: “…not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given (Matt 19:11).”
St. Paul actually endorses celibacy for those capable of it: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (7:8-9).”
St. Paul speaks about a celibate man or woman is free to dedicate themselves to the Lord: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35).”
Until next time, God bless.