Are Unmarried Shepherds More Attentive to their Flocks?


In our RCIA class, we discussed married versus unmarried clergy.

One of the best arguments for unmarried clergy came from our junior priest, who had been married but entered seminary after the death of his wife:

“I don’t know how I would ever have the time to do what I do if I were still married or had children to care for.”

These men are on call around-the-clock. We had a dinner party at my house just after Easter to celebrate our confirmations, and were quite surprised when both our priests managed to attend. They stayed for about 30 minutes, but were then called away to administer Last Rites in a hospital in the city.

That’s what prompted this question:

Are unmarried clergymen better clergymen in the sense that they do not have conflicting obligations to wife or family?


I’ve had a “younger” priest mention this. He gave an example that was pretty good - What happens when if a priest is married, has children and the wife works - say nights. What happens when the priest gets a call at 2am?


Catholic priests, even if unmarried, are often unavailable because they are engaged in priestly or pastoral duties. The life of a priest is no doubt in many ways very demanding, and marriage would add to those.

I am not sure how Orthodox and Protestant priests handle being married, perhaps that is something Fr Ambrose could comment on.


I also heard a statistic that the divorce rate among Protestant ministers was much higher than that of the average couple.


It would be a tidy kind of idea if they were - but in reality, I think not.

Many Protestant clergy have been as devoted as any Roman Rite priest - & OTOH, the state of the clergy in the period of the Reformation does not really encourage idealisation of clerical continence (which is presumably what you mean).

The problem is arguably not the state of being married, but that of having too much to do for one to be able to be a good pastor: and that can be as much of a problem for a continent Pope, as for a priest who is married with a family. There is far too much emphasis on sexual activity versus sexual continence, & far too little emphasis on sexual activity as a distraction versus politics, power, or careerism; which are no less able to be distractions.

Bishops & cardinals no longer fritter away their time at princely courts: this was one of the problems in the pre-Reformation Church, & it was a problem after it, despite the Council of Trent :frowning: - now, thank God, they spend their time in their dioceses. Paul IV read the Riot Act to those who hung around in Rome in earch of advancement, favours, & other such baubles - which gives an impression of the low quality of those who were ordained as bishops. A sense of vocation was far less important than exalted birth: in 1789, there were 130 French bishops; only one was not of noble birth - of the 129, one at least did not even believe in God. That did not stop his being a bishop.

Bishops today are a far better crowd than used to be the case; the average ones are at least recognisable as bishops; while the rotten ones are not nearly as usual as once they would have been. Bishops no longer hang around in Rome, leaving their work to be done by a swarming clerical proletariat existing on a pittance. Nor do they amass deaneries, abbacies, & other clerical positions, for which they receive the revenues without doing the work. That was common more than once - now, it’s non-existent.

Were these married ? No. So either they had bastards on the side, or had mistresses. As for clerical sodomy - that’s been around for centuries: St.Peter Damian (1007-72) denounced it.

Except for clerical sodomy, these are all pre-19th-century scourges, so the CC in the US has been spared them; & for that, it cannot be too thankful.


Same thing that happens when a married doctor gets a call at 2 am. Happens all the time.



Yes, obviously, in regard to purely pastoral matters, other things being equal.

I know a married Catholic priest: I would not wish his life on my worst enemy. Or his wife’s. Whatever good he does his parishoners, and it is huge, he cannot be there for them as often as he would otherwise, and he suffers terribly, I think, both from that lack and from overcommitment.


Here is what the Bible has to say about the subject:

Jesus said:
"Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom it is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it." (Matt. 19:11–12)

[FONT=Arial]St. Paul states:**
“I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. **
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,
and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”
(1 Cor. 32-34)**
[/FONT]**** **
Jeremiah was forbidden to take a wife:
**“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.’” **(Jer. 16:1–2)


This about doing this with scripture is that as Catholics we also have Tradition.

Tradition has it that the celibate secular priesthood is a discipline.

After all, St Peter was married, we know this. We do not know anything else. Whether he left his wife to follow Jesus (which I highly doubt) or if he was a widower. We just do not know, she might have been alive and following along with St Peter. We just do not know.


There’s other relevant verses, including 1 Tim 3 and 4, Titus, and Old Testament verses.



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