Thoughts On Married Clergy

A few days ago the blog Catholicism Pure and Simple posted excerpts from an article about a possible push in the next synod to allow married priests. Those who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox will probably not find it or this post interesting. But I did, in particular because of my recent experiences. I’ve been attending a few different Eastern Catholic parishes for a long time now, and at several of the parishes the priest (also pastor) was married. Having had regular occasion to see married priests in action, and also having experiences with celibate priests (both New Mass and TLM alike) for most of my life, I imagine I have a somewhat different perspective than most Catholics. With that in mind, I wanted to offer a few thoughts of my own on the subject.

To begin with, I do not think that married priests in the Western Rite represent the end of the world. Having seen both systems in action, I can assert with a fair measure of confidence that married priests are just as effective in their pastoral and sacramental duties as celibate priests. In fact, I dare say that the married priests I have experience with are more orthodox and better pastors than a fair number of the celibate Western Rite priests I have encountered. From what I can tell their personal experience with marriage and children gives them an insight there in pastoral matters that celibate priests lack. Further, the Eastern Church has had married priests since the beginning, and it has not proven to be any kind of detriment.

At the same time, I fully appreciate the value of celibate priests. The married priests I have had for pastors have all been pastors at smaller parishes. It would be much more difficult for a married priest to be a pastor at a larger parish without running into time issues with his own family. Also, their own outside perspective on marriage can be very valuable as well- they can be detached in vital way. Time, though, is the biggest factor, and it is no surprise that this is mentioned by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. Celibate priests can devote all their time to pastoral care in a way that married priests can’t.

Taken together, I not only have no problem with married priests in the Western Rite, but I think it could prove beneficial. Something that is important to keep in mind is that the Western Rite tradition of only celibate priests is just that- a small “t”, human tradition. It is not Sacred Tradition, much less doctrine. It is pastoral discipline. Furthermore, that tradition has been around for less time than married priests were permitted in the Western Church.

However, I am apprehensive about this new “push” for married clergy. I think that the authors of that article may be right that there is more behind it. I suspect that some may be using it as an avenue to try and change actual doctrine, rather than pastoral discipline. If that is the case, and I suspect it is, then caution is the order of the day. It is important to do the right thing for the right reasons, otherwise it soon stops being the right thing.

One further note- I do not see married priests as being a panacea to “cure” the priest shortage here in the West. At least, not by itself. That problem is deeper, and much of it is rooted in series problems with Western seminaries. Until those problems are fixed, the kind of married men you would want to be priests won’t make it through to ordination. In other words, the same negative filter would be applied to them as well as to non-married men.

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20 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Marriage, Men, The Church, Tradition

20 responses to “Thoughts On Married Clergy

  1. Interesting. Peter was married I know, but I wonder if he had any children himself.

    To be honest, I don’t think it’s a big deal, and I don’t think much will change because of it. Though I generally agree with your sentiment that married men tend to have better perspectives than single men. Being a father is like being a shepherd/pastor.

  2. I see value in both: celibate priests do stand in contradiction to the mindset which views sex as impossible to live without (despite the fact that everyone has times in their lives when continence is morally obligatory).

    So I think the Western Rite (other than Anglican Use converts) should stay celibate, as it has traditionally been. We already have both married and celibate priests in the Catholic Church. Taking away the celibacy discipline from the Western Rite could easily end up meaning, in the long run, that instead of having both we’ll have only married priests.

  3. @ Deep Strength

    Interesting. Peter was married I know, but I wonder if he had any children himself.

    I too have wondered if he had any children. At the same time, the early Church didn’t track the bloodlines of anyone other than Jesus. They downplayed the role of blood ties to emphasis the importance of our new spiritual family. Also important was that positions were no longer hereditary (tied to the above).

  4. @ Zippy

    I see value in both: celibate priests do stand in contradiction to the mindset which views sex as impossible to live without (despite the fact that everyone has times in their lives when continence is morally obligatory).

    Yes, that is definitely a valuable role they perform. Of course, the same is said for all those who live a celibate life, whether consecrated religious or or not.

    Taking away the celibacy discipline from the Western Rite could easily end up meaning, in the long run, that instead of having both we’ll have only married priests.

    Possible, but highly unlikely. The Eastern Church has had married priests since the beginning, and still has celibate ones. Plus celibate monks too.

    In a way, all that permitting married men to be ordained priests does is restore the Church to its pre-Schism status.

  5. Michael Kozaki

    Good post.

    I do not think that married priests in the Western Rite represent the end of the world.

    There are already some, converts and such, in the Western church and I’ve never noticed it making a difference. Of course deacons are often married too. And married priests cannot be bishops.

    But for a good example how married priests can be a problem, read Rod Dreher’s blog regarding his EO missionary parish failure. It’s expensive to support a large family and the parish has to pay this expense, and it can break a small community. Having unmarried priests is just easier. Every business would love to have only unmarried workers. If you can get them.

  6. http://freedompowerandwealth.com

    I consider the questions if priest should be married or not of minor importance. It is true that there are historical reasons why celibacy was ordered to the catholic clergy but when it comes to salvation other matters are of more crucial weight.

  7. Ugh, I think the idea is atrocious. It is giving in to the desires of modern day to make our priests ‘just another man’ instead of the Father of his whole parish. We need men that are devoted, supremely, to God and only God in today’s world. A priest with a family has less time for prayer, for works of charity, for his duties to his parish, and will be torn between the world and the faith. His call to chastity stands directly in contrast to the world, and sets him apart as a leader of men towards the higher callings of God and virtue.

  8. I think it’s relevant to mention that for the first 1,000 years or so of Church history, priests were allowed to be married. And that the reasons for the change were more about politics/money and the misguided notion that to not be celibate **even if it was strictly within the confines of marriage** was to make oneself impure. And that, as bad as the world is today, there really is nothing new under the sun. The world (and Church) have seen some truly horrible times in the past.

    I think Donal made a very good point in that, if seminaries would stop kicking out the seminarians who show themselves to be the most traditional (Beefy Levinson, are you still around?) that would most likely solve the shortage-of-priests crisis, which means that “time” would be far less of an issue here.

  9. Michael Kozaki

    Cassie: …the change was more about politics/money and the misguided notion that to not be celibate **even if it was strictly within the confines of marriage** was to make oneself impure.

    I was unaware of the “impure” argument. My understanding was it was just economic, priests were getting too much property and power with kids in power positions. And of course today, as I said above, it’s dang expensive to raise lots of children and the congregation has to pay for that.

    Chad: Ugh, I think the idea is atrocious. It is giving in to the desires of modern day to make our priests ‘just another man’ instead of the Father of his whole parish.

    Not unless one thinks the entire Eastern Church is “modern”. And they still use the old calendar and often use Greek! And of course the ancient Church would be “modern” too as Cassie points out.

    But your points on time are very true. It’s just horse sense to want unmarried workers. If you can get them. And I think we can, again as Cassie points out, with conservative leadership. Many priests are turned away for being too “conservative”. We need a “cuckservative” term for Catholics who are trying to undermine the traditional faith – maybe “cuckcatholic”?

  10. It’s true the early Church, and the Eastern Churches still, ordain married men as priests. The Church has never permitted men who are ordained priests to marry afterward, which I think is what many people have in mind when Catholics talk about a married clergy. It’s also worth noting that in the East, married men can be ordained priests but only unmarried priests can ever become bishops.

    I’m in favor of retaining the celibate priesthood for the same reason as Zippy: it’s our traditional practice, in addition to the sound reasons for it even if we don’t take tradition into consideration.

  11. Michael
    The East did it in a different time and place, which is essential to keep in mind. To suddenly switch is a far greater amount of social and spiritual upheaval than to continue practicing a poor traditon but make the best of it. You mistake my argument against the change as being a capitulation to modernists as saying that all who have done so for centuries are modernists, which I did not and will not do.

    However, clerical chastity is a jewel of the church that allows our shepherds to race after Christ that we may follow. It is a higher calling and our priests are more beloved by God than us mere laity. That the east did not chose such blessings is on them. As with many things, the Latin church allows such practice to continue, because she prudently sees the damage that would be caused as greater than the one rectified.

    Some relevant documents:

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_25031954_sacra-virginitas.html

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_24061967_sacerdotalis.html

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20111121_levada-celibacy-priesthood_en.html

    From the last:

    “But the Fathers are unanimous in saying that those Apostles who might have been married gave up their marital lives and practiced perfect continence. Cochini calls this “common opinion” of the Fathers an authoritative hermeneutics of the scriptural texts in which reference is made to the detachment practiced by Christ’s disciples, especially Matthew 19:27 and Luke 18:28-30. (8)”

    And, to argue purely on the basest level of practicality; can you imagine the possibilities of state interference in the married life of a priest? What hapens with civil divorce and church teaching. The marriage remains? Would his flock view further sermons on it as bias? How does that work with child support? Would the wife and children have a right to some of the parishes collection? How do you think judges would rule, if they thought the priest was taking less so that the money can stay with his flock rather than someone in mortal sin and with no right to it?

    No. On a spiritual, mental, and temporal level it seems atrocious in every way.

  12. Novaseeker

    The trouble with permitting married men to be ordained in the Latin rite is the context. In and of itself, it isn’t something that would in itself be problematic, but the problem is that it would be a substantial move *away* from the traditional practice in the Latin rite, and in an area that would be very, very prone to all kinds of mischief because of the context. In other words, it would be seen by many, both inside and outside the Church, as being “the first step” towards things like (1) permitting ordained people to marry (which has never been done), (2) permitting women to be ordained, (3) permitting practicing homosexuals to be ordained, (4) permitting married people to become bishops. The wider view kind of throws all “sex/gender/sexuality/marriage” issues together into one pot, and the permission for married men to be ordained would be seen by many as a step in the direction of the rest of this stuff, and would make the advocacy for it all reach a kind of deafening crescendo of sorts. It would be risky for that reason, and I say that an an Orthodox who obviously has no issue with married men being ordained in substance. The context, however, is important.

    As for the practical side of things, your married priests would likely need to have jobs in order to earn the kind of money needed to contribute to raising families, and most of the priest wives would have jobs as well (some of them are primary breadwinners of necessity). The larger Latin rite parishes may be able to afford to pay a family wage to a married priest, but it would create financial pressure against competing priorities. Also, there is the matter of size. Our parishes are small (both EO and EC) — much smaller than RC parishes. (That’s also the case in much of the Orthodox world as well, interestingly, aside from huge cities like Moscow or Athens). A married priest would have lots of difficulty, as a practical matter, balancing the needs of the very large typical suburban Latin rite parish with the needs of his family. Orthodox priests struggle with it, too, and their parishes are tiny by comparison, for the most part. Of course if you had more priests, you could have somewhat smaller parishes, but it isn’t like ordaining married men will boost the ordination numbers *that* much. It would boost them a bit, but not *that* much. Orthodoxy does not have an overload of priests, despite the fact that we ordain married men. In part that’s because we’re picky (as are the Latin Catholics, for that matter, these days), but in part it’s because there aren’t *that* many guys who are interested in stepping up to that plate in 2015.

  13. A Visitor

    It’s a discipline that can be rescinded but an important one in my book. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of God. I can see the other side of the argument, too, given how the Eastern Rites have made it work. Still, they don’t allowed married priests to be bishops. Granted, there’d be enough unmarried priests to hold those positions. Still, it should be cautiously approached.

  14. Paul wrote to Timothy:

    3 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

    Since Paul himself was not married, as well as others, it seems unlikely that running a family well is a must.

    On the other hand: Running a family well is the sign for knowing whether or not a man can manage a church; whether he is fit for the task.

  15. Another thing to consider: if Father’s wife frivorces him, would parishioners be asked if they could provide a little extra cash every Sunday to help with his annulment fees and child support?

  16. Michael Kozaki

    Cane: On the other hand: Running a family well is the sign for knowing whether or not a man can manage a church; whether he is fit for the task.

    Your translation of Tim 3:1 Whoever aspires to be an overseer “overseer” is ἐπισκοπή (episkope). Historically this was considered “bishop” in English (KJV, for example).

    But “the” sign for today? Not a mainstream interpretation by most Christians (at least 80%). By that way of fundamentalist/literal reading of the bible, Jewish Christians are still prohibited from eating meat containing blood (Acts) or all women required to cover their hair in church (Paul). Most Christians think the Church retains the authority to change rules to match the cultural context.

    Beefy,

    …parishioners be asked if they could provide a little extra cash every Sunday to help with his annulment fees and child support?

    Got me chuckling! If he had an actual invalid marriage he couldn’t remarry anyway, so who cares? Plus, his bishop would not grant an annulment anyway. He would just become a separated, single priest again. And with his vow of poverty, he wouldn’t pay any child support. What would the state do, lock him up? It would be like a vacation from his parish :-).

  17. This is a very interesting post and conversation. I think it could be ok – if already married. I also find it interesting that in the protestant culture there is no room for the person called to celibacy to be in a position of leadership – or at least not often.

    I think there could be room for both.

  18. Thank you everyone for your contributions. This has been a great dialogue thus far. I agree with what a number of others have said: whatever the merits of married clergy in the Latin Rite, now is not the time to make such a change.

  19. Another thing to consider: if Father’s wife frivorces him, would parishioners be asked if they could provide a little extra cash every Sunday to help with his annulment fees and child support?

    Well, in the EO Church, that’s a no-no. In almost all cases they are barred from parish ministry. There may be exceptions, but I’ve not come across one. It doesn’t get you defrocked, but you lose your ministry. The Church may use these guys in other capacities — teaching, administration or something like that, or they just may be suspended in general other than on an as-needed basis (i.e., filling in when a priest is on vacation with his family and so on).

  20. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/12/20) | The Reactivity Place

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