This topic has drawn criticism from both ends of the spectrum and it doesn’t seem to be dying any time soon. Although the Roman Catholic Church uses celibacy as a requirement for those wanting to enter the priesthood, the Eastern Catholic Churches allow a priest to be married before he is ordained. The Roman Catholic Church has even allowed about 100 Lutheran and Episcopal married ministers who have converted to Catholicism to be ordained as priests. It is these exceptions that allows one to think that celibacy is not necessarily crucial to the priesthood within the church. So why does the Catholic Church still require celibacy and non-marriage for most of its priests? Well, that’s a question that is being asked by millions and has made the news as of late.
For instance, the new Pope Francis appeared to be against this idea while serving as Archbishop in Buenos Aires. However, his second in command, Archbishop Pietro Parolin (recently named the Vatican’s Secretary of State), has indicated that the idea of marriage for priests is on the radar and up for discussion. So what does this mean? No one knows for sure, but it appears that this issue is high on the Vatican’s list to review.
This has been a question that has been debated amongst Catholics and non Catholics worldwide. As a result, this has created much opinion on how the church should proceed with this requirement and tradition. According to Venezuela’s El Universal’s newspaper, the newly appointed Secretary of State Parolin was quoted as saying, “It’s not a dogma of the Church and it can be discussed because it’s an ecclesiastical tradition.”
Historically, celibacy was not always a requirement within the church. For instance, in biblical times, marriage and the production of children was a requirement and therefore an expectation. In Luke 4:38 it is mentioned that St. Peter had a mother-in-law. Upon further examination, it is known that during St. Paul’s instructions (1 Timothy 3:2,12) and directive to deacons and bishops was that they be married only once. These biblical readings give indications that marriage was very much a part of this religious order back in the day.
However, according to the Catholic University’s website, they indicate that the practice of celibacy for Bishops, and others in high positions within the church was mandated by Canon 33 (Council of Elvira in the year 306). This very issue of celibacy amongst the clergy appears to go back many centuries. In the 16th century at the Council of Trent, once again this issue is addressed and is again confirmed that this practice remain in place. It appears that the discussion of celibacy has been somewhat at the forefront throughout the ages and since the onset of the Catholic Church.
Today, the church insists that celibacy is a gift that God bestows to those wanting to enter the priesthood. The church indicates that celibacy allows a priest to love and attach to God rather than to a spouse or his offspring; thereby, professing all of a priest’s time and energy (without distractions) to the church and helping humanity as a whole.
Opinions on this very topic differ widely. Some believe that Jesus would not approve of priests being celibate and that this idea only came about during the Dark Ages whereby maybe Catholics had a dislike of sex. Some just say that it is unnatural for human beings not to engage in sex and that is what makes us human beings.
On the other side of the coin, you have those who support the celibacy discipline and agree that if a priest is celibate, he then can concentrate on the business of religious order and prayer versus the distractions that come with sex and marriage. It is also argued that Paul himself was a celibate and he believed that this was even a higher vocation than marriage. Although Paul is not known to be against marriage and celibacy per se, he merely saw that those who refrained from these acts would do better in live. Paul felt that being celibate for the sake of Christ put a person in a higher state than marriage.
Although some may not agree with the church’s standing on this particular subject, it should be noted that the church has the right, just as other institutions and organizations, to set its own guidelines. If a person does not agree with this thought process, then they can chose to join or not. Only history will tell whether the church will change its stance on this very issue. In the end, it may just fall back to the how much pressure Catholics put on its clergy and the Vatican to adhere to more modern times and acceptances. So will the Catholic Church make a decision on allowing priests to be married? The verdict is still out on this, but we may just see some changes with Pope Francis on board.