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 catholic.com).
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.