Priestly celibacy is one of the most contentious issues in the Church today. Some Catholics, even some priests, argue that they should be allowed to marry. Others say that discarding priestly celibacy will seriously harm the Church.
In order to better understand the ongoing debate, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
There have always been married priests.
Some of the Apostles were married, including Sts. Peter and Philip. Eastern Rite Catholic priests have long been allowed to be married. It’s Roman Rite priests who must remain celibate.
However, clerical celibacy has always been highly esteemed in the East. Many Eastern priests choose to remain celibate in imitation of Christ’s life. And Eastern monks and bishops are required to be celibate.
There’s a difference between a doctrine and a discipline.
A doctrine is something authoritatively taught by the Church for us to believe, such as Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. A discipline is a practice regulated by Church authorities. Disciplines can come and go, although they should generally not be changed haphazardly.
Celibacy and married priests are issues of discipline, not doctrine. The Church has never taught that marriage and the priesthood are incompatible. But it has proposed celibacy as a way for priests to more closely follow Christ, who was celibate.
If priestly celibacy were a matter of doctrine, then why were some of the Apostles and other early saintly priests married? St. Paul said that the apostles had a right to take a wife, though he himself did not (showing that celibacy was still esteemed).
Celibacy may be a better option for priests.
Many people underestimate just how stressful having a family could be for a priest who’s devoted to his flock. You have to think about your wife and children. If you don’t, then you’re not a good husband and father.
But you also have to constantly be there for the people of your parish. There’s something beautiful about a priest with a singular focus on his people. He has nothing holding him back.
There are benefits to being a married priest.
A priest learns sacrificial love through his wife and children. And his wife provides an access point for the women of the parish, as she can relate to them in ways her husband can’t.
A holy family with a priest at its head is a living example of what Catholic family life should look like.
Ultimately, God calls some men to become priests and be married (in which case, they can become Eastern priests). Others he calls to an undivided celibate life.
We should respect both, while also submitting to the decisions of Holy Mother Church regarding celibacy and the priesthood.