An argument for married priests

posted in: Priesthood | 4

The local newspaper published this letter today:

“A priest shortage is offered as a reason for transferring the Rev. G. from one local Catholic Church to another, each within throwing distance of the other. I believe there are more than 200,000 married priests worldwide, some of whom might be willing to help ease the critical mass of the shortage (not to use a pun) if an invitation was extended to them. Perhaps the diocese should conduct a survey (and several national surveys have been conducted) of the Catholic population to discern what percentage would be in favor of married priests helping to fill the gaps so to speak. My guess would be about 70 percent. Since I attend the Eucharist weekly, I would be more than happy to preside at the Eucharist as a married priest. I don’t think I would contaminate anything or anyone. And, I would give a fairly decent homily giving the word of God an added spiritual and sacramental dimension.
Will this happen in my lifetime or yours? Historically there was a change from married priests to celibate priests for various reasons. Maybe now it is time for us to return to our earlier Christian roots. – R.”

First it is important to notice what exactly the author is arguing for. The strongest possible argument against priestly celibacy would be that it is unnatural, that is, against God’s plan for man and woman. This argument does not hold up to examination, because of the words of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7) and the clear witness of a great number of the world’s saints, such as St. John the Baptist, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope John Paul the Great, and especially Jesus himself. (For fundamentalist arguments against celibacy, see

The author of this letter is not arguing that married men be allowed to enter the seminary and be ordained priests. Both the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have a practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood. Men who are ordained priests, however, are not allowed to marry and a married priest whose wife dies cannot remarry. Also, bishops are required to be celibate, even in the Orthodox Churches. The rules would not go far enough for R.

The author is not arguing that married ministers who convert from other denominations should be ordained priests. The Catholic Church currently allows some Lutheran, Anglican, and Episcopal ministers who convert to Catholicism to be ordained as priests. The priest who vested me at my ordination was a married convert from the Episcopal church.

R. is arguing that men who were ordained Catholic priests and then left the priesthood in pursuit of marriage should be invited back to active or semi-active ministry. He himself is in that situation. His basic argument is that he is available, the Church is in desperate need, and it is better than nothing. Is he proposing an “open” priesthood, that priests can flaunt their promises and later return to ministry, with their wives in tow, as if nothing happened?

At first I was simply going to dismiss this letter as a faint whimper of a priesthood long buried, but I thought it would be an interesting spark into discussion on the role of celibacy in priesthood, and why once a man is ordained a priest, he is no longer free to marry.

Response #1: Lifetime Commitment [expired]

Response #2: Celibacy [expired]

4 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Actually, in this diocese we’ve taken back priests who became alcoholics, or had mental disorders, or who had affairs, all after their rehabilitation, treatment or repentance. We even took back one who left and got married when his wife eventually died. Apparently for years we even took back priests repeatedly who sexually abused children. If a priest, after an honest try, found he was not “called to celibacy,” was honest about it and left then to marry, he seems a better risk than the others. If there was a very careful case-by-case evaluation, I’m guessing a majority of Catholics would be very pleased to have him.

  2. Maddie C.

    The real problem here isn't a shortage of priests, but a shortage of GOOD priests. I honestly don't care if all the parishes in my county have to be consolidated to avoid getting some heretical deadbeat killing the ministry and driving good Catholics away from the Faith. What the Church needs right now is to zero-in on QUALITY of priests. Seminaries (especially major seminaries) need to be held accoutable for the intellectual and spiritual formation they use, as it clearly has been having some problems. Look at all the sexual abuse scandals–why were those men ordained? Because for the last 50-odd years, Catholics in the west having been screaming about a "priest shortage". For some reason, that was interpreted as a license to ordain literally anyone who showed interest. So no, absolutely don't let R and his ilk back into the priesthood to alleviate the 'shortage'. The Faith will grow with the service of truly well-formed priests, even if there is only a handful. Look at any time of persecution–the Church has thrived, even though there were clearly not enough priests to go around. Why can't people see that ordaining 'just anyone who can help' will destroy the Church? Isn't that where we've been getting all the problems?

  3. I didn’t mean ordaining heretics or “just anyone who can help.” There are worthy men who served faithfully but were ultimately released from the priesthood at their request- often celibacy-related. I thought if he was given a dispensation from his promise of celibacy, he is in fact free to marry and remains a Catholic in good standing.

  4. My oldest freind (met in kindergarten) became a Legionary priest. He was full of fire and after 12 years of formation that included several graduate degrees from various universities throughout the world and missionary work (and, I saw him serve for JPII Christmas mass on TV one year!) he became a priest who worked in several european contries and eventually the vatican.
    Suddenly he was back home. Awaiting a dispensation from JPII. He eventually got it and found a girl and now has 2 kids. He did it by the book. And to my knowledge is still a faithful Catholic.
    First, I know he is still a priest his soul having been marked indelably.
    I sometimes wonder if his ordination is now waisted. I wonder if the asking to be dispensed from his VOWS somehow diminishes his (worthiness?).
    I as a married father cannot ask for a dispensation from my vows but that is different. Even if I didn't have children; am cleaved to another who would be damaged by this. And the reality would be that I would still be married and if I tried to remarry I would really not be married to another I would just be creating a big mess.
    To me it seems there are 2 possible reasons not to allow the married priest. 1. – Is the priest by abandoning his VOWs damaged? 2. Is there prudential practical reasons? Like a flood of priests getting dispensations with the intent of being allowed back after marriage, or a flood of married dispensated priests asking to return to activity with insuficient resources to review the cases?