Help with celibacy of priests!

I have been reading about celibacy of priests including articles on CA as well as Tim Staples and others. I am struggling to get my head around it.

I understand that 1 Tim 3:2 doesn’t mean that a bishop HAS to be married.

I also understand that Paul was quite fond of celibacy and wished that all were like him.

However to me it means bishops CAN be married (as long as only once) and Paul taught that if celibacy were to cause issues with sin, it was better to marry.

I also think Peter was married if I remember rightly.

So why does the Catholic Church teach that priests HAVE to be celibate?

One simple explanation is that in the Catholic Church, the priest functions in persona Christi in offering the Sacred Mysteries, and the Holy Oblation. Unlike your non-denominational minister who solely preaches. So the Priest, being in the person of Christ, when he offers the Holy Oblation, and the New Covenant in the Blood of Jesus Christ, is more Christ-like in his life by being celibate. IOW, it is easy for us to see the ministerial Priest as in fact, Our High Priest Jesus Christ, when he offers the Holy Oblation. Of course the Priest also functions in persona Christi, in administering the other Sacraments as well.

As St. Paul taught, it is also more appropriate for a celibate to be able to dedicate his whole life and work to God, as he is not divided by loyalties to his wife and family and the Church. However, this can be got over as the Eastern Church DOES allow married priests and bishops (but only one marriage) But basically this is a discipline of the Universal Catholic Church (both East and West.) So married priests are not automatically disqualified per se, in either the East or the West. Viz: In the US, there are married Catholic priests who converted from the Anglican priesthood.

It’s not a Doctrinal requirement, but rather the preferred disposition of Western clerics.

I would sketch it out this way.

(1) Jesus in Mt 19:11-12 recommends celibacy as a treasured spiritual gift.
(2) Paul himself in 1 Cor 7 (despite 1 Tim 3:2) clearly recommends celibacy enthusiastically as he himself is living.
(3) We know from Acts 15:28 that a decision of the Apostles in council is made with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
(4) Fellow workers and successors were appointed by the apostles over the flock [Acts 14:23; 20:28; 2 Tim 4:2-5; Titus 1:5-9; 2:1,15; cf. 1 Tim 5:19-21, 22]. In Col 1:7 we learn that Epaphras, a fellow worker with Paul, founded the Church at Colossae.

Now if one claims that Paul’s advice in 1 Tim 3:2 is considered valid down through time including what it implies, it must be so with (1) - (4) as well.

So if (1) and (2) are prized and practiced as a spiritual gift individually by priests and bishops in increasing numbers and councils of bishops as per (3) and (4) begin to mandate it and no one is forced into a ministry which is also a spiritual gift, where is the problem? 1 Tim 3:2 doesn’t say bishops must be married.

IOW Celibacy is disciplinary, not doctrinal. And if over time the spiritual benefits for clergy of a revered NT teaching and practice are seen, the successors of the apostles have the authority (Mt 16:19; 18:18; Acts 15:28) to require it. They are not contradicting a teaching of Paul: we conclude that, since Paul made a somewhat ambiguous statement** about marriage and bishops, he permitted marriage; while we know for sure he did not say “you must permit marriage for bishops.”

**1 Tm 3:2 can be translated: married once, and if widowed, did not remarry; or, monogamous rather than polygamous; or, faithful to a wife and without a mistress.

The first points in the beginning of this writing are spot on…

This looks like a great encyclical by Pope Paul VI on priestly celibacy

Another good writing on Priestly Celibacy

Having a family I could tell you from experience that it would be extremely hard to manage a parish to go along with the demands of family, work, along with some normal leisure time.

The Catholic Church does not teach that priests must be celibate.

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the Latin Rite priests adopted the discipline of celibacy very early in the Church’s history and it has been codified in the law of the Church for over a thousand years. Through prayer and discernment the bishops of the Latin Rite came to the conclusion that celibacy is part of their call to ministry.

No one is forced to be a priest. It is a calling. If one is not called to celibacy, one is not called to the Latin Rite priesthood.

The Eastern Rites do not share this discipline and have married priests. They, in agreement with the Latin Rite, believe bishops are called from among those who are celibate.

It is also important to note that the preponderance of documentary evidence we have from the early Church indicates married men who became priests and bishops ceased conjugal living with their wives and devoted themselves wholly to their priesthood. Their understanding of their call was shaped from earliest times by those teachings of Christ and Paul that pointed to living in complete continence and chastity.

Some catholic chuches allow Priests to be married , and I believe this is the direction the pope wants to continue to go

This is a discipline of the Church. As such, it may be changed at some point in the future if the Church determines that course of action.

There are a few married priests in the Latin Rite; most of them were converts from Anglicanism who were married before their conversion.

In the Eastern church married men can become priests, but they can’t become bishops. You can’t get married after you are ordained. I think that’s how it works.

If you have trouble with celibacy marry, but that does not mean you have to become a bishop or priest.

A slight correction. There are currently no ancient Churches that allow married bishops.

It doesn’t. But the reason candidates for the priesthood are generally selected from among the celibate in the Western Church is so their interests won’t be divided, just like Paul warned about in 1Corinthians 7.

In 1 Timothy 3:2, it’s not stating you must be married. It stating that you shouldn’t have 1, 2, 3, 4 wives at one time or shouldn’t be divorced or remarried. Paul is making sure that Bishops are living an exemplary Christian life.

It was common to be married in Judaism and that carried over into the first generation of Christians. Jews-Christians were the foundation of the early church in a sense. They were converted and baptized as adults with their whole households (Acts 16:33). Some of these men became Presbyters-priest (elders) who had families. These men were ordained as priests by laying of hands of other priests (1 Timothy 4:14) like in the Old Testament (Numbers 27:18-21) but became “overseers” (Bishops). This title didn’t take away from there priestly ministry (Romans 15:15-16). They were, above all, priests. Even the Apostle Peter considered himself a presbyter in 1 Peter 5:1.

In Matthew 19:10, Jesus’ disciples stated that “it’s better not to marry” after Jesus teaches about marriage, divorce and remarriage. Then in verse 11, Jesus explains that some will be able to accept this teaching of marriage because it’s a gift. Jesus continues in verse 12, that some will renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom. In Revelation 14:4, John tells us that there was a whole lot (144,000) of those who are pure (chaste) who haven’t defile themselves for the kingdom. It’s those men who choice a life of celibacy for the Kingdom of God who were called by God.

So Paul isn’t mandating marriage because it goes against his own teachings. In 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul states its better not to marry. In verse 7-8, he wishes that all can be like him who is not married. In verse 28, Paul states he wants to spare us the troubles that can occur in marriage but in your churches interpretation he wants “overseers” to have those troubles. In verse 32-35, Paul writes about unmarried man are concerned about the “Lords affair” and married men will have there interests divided. Again, you church’s interpretation is that Paul wants “overseers” to have their interests divided and not to give 100 percent of their concern to the Lord. Even in verse 38, Paul writes “he who does not marry does better” so in your church’s interpretation he doesn’t want Christ’s overseers to do better. Finally, Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:3-4, that we should be good “soldiers of Jesus Christ” and not get “tangled in civil affairs”.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate “overseer” in 1 Peter 2:25. He would have been disqualified by your interpretation of 1 Timothy 3 because he wasn’t married.

For more information on this please consider the historical data offered by Christian Cochini, S.J., in his book The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy which was published by Ignatius in 1990. This book is a complete historical study on the question of when priestly celibacy was required and what tradition was passed down by the Apostles. This book is also a complete Bible study on the following verse from Sacred Scripture:

1 Timothy 3:2 "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher…"

The arguments presented by Cochini overwhelming.
Please read Cochini’s book, as it is an in-depth study of this specific verse. A 469 page Bible study on this verse to be exact.

We have to be careful not assume that a Bible passage’s meaning is always self evident. This passage cannot be proving that bishops were required to have conjugal relations with wives. Such a reading makes St. Paul an invalid Bishop

Paul points to celibacy for early church leaders.

** “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7: 32-35)**

The interpretation that 1 Timothy required bishops to be married is also irreconcilable with Christ’s appeal in Matthew 19 that early church leaders be celibate.

Matthew 19:10-12
**The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.”11 But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” **

In his book Christian Cochini, S.J. points out the similarity it the phrases “husband of one wife” and “wife of one husband…” in the verses below.

1 Timothy 3:2 "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher…"

1 Timothy 5:9 "Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband…"

Cochini makes a strong case that the phrase “husband of one wife” was like an idiom. [Although he does not use that word] He reasons that the “wife of one husband…” had taken a vow of celibacy and it is obvious that she is no longer married, being a widow. He reasons that the parallel Greek phrase of “husband of one wife” meant the same thing, a widower who had taken a vow of celibacy.

I can’t do justice to his book in this short article so I recommend to all interested that they read it, especially pages 436-439. In the book he quotes Fathers who say the celibacy of the priesthood came from the Apostles. He says, “On the other hand, the opposite movement poses more problems, and it is more difficult to see how Fathers concerned with Tradition and respecting the will of the apostles could have been obstinate enough to impose a discipline of continence if it had been flatly denied by Scripture.”

He makes the point that although Peter had a mother-in-law, ( and Philip had three daughters,) there is no mention of their wives and presumably they are widowers.

Some priests were married, that is non-celibate, individuals were ordained. But upon their ordination they were no longer allowed conjugal relations with their wives. I believe that this celibate requirement was meant to be understood as just a discipline of the early church from the time of the Apostles. [The Church can change disciplines to fit the needs of the times.] Never in the early Church do you see an ordained priest being praised for having children after ordination. On the contrary, that was considered as wrong since they were expected to be celibate.


I have an article on this that I wrote on my blog that may help you.
Priestly celibacy is unBiblical. NOT!

Thank you for sharing you blog. I especially liked the Franciscan Brother daily schedule. The schedule shows he’s concerned about the “Lords affairs”. Comparing that to me, my interests are divided because I have a family.

It is a discipline, not a dogma.
Hope that helped.

It is a discipline that only unmarried men are ordained in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, that priests are not allowed to marry cannot and will not change.

Paul didn’t just recommend celibacy for the clergy, he recommended it to everyone who is strong enough.

Actually, disciplines can and do change. The Lenten Fast disciplines are different now than in the past, for example. The Church may decided that married priest are appropriate at some future date.

Paul didn’t just recommend celibacy for the clergy, he recommended it to everyone who is strong enough.

Agreed. And Jesus said that those to whom that gift is offered should accept it. :thumbsup:

I was noting that while the Church can decide to start ordaining married men she cannot decide to allow priests to marry, they are separate issues.

I am not sure this is correct. If the Church chooses to change a discipline, what prevents priests from marrying? :shrug:

As a former Episcopalian I never thought about celibate vs. married priests. Now being part of the Ordinariate after years of being Latin Rite, I have come to the realization that celibacy (at least in the Western Church) is better. Although from my perspective the married priests are doing a wonderful job of leading their parishes just as well as celibate priests, I have found one very small Ordinariate mission that seems to be having problems.

It appears that the wife dominates her husband and in my opinion does not qualify to be married to a priest as she does not understand that she has a role to play. The Church really needs to focus on the wives of the men who wish to become priests and know that the wife is capable of just being a wife, not bringing her own life style into his ministry.

We are all humans with failings and if those failings influence the priest, it can destroy a small mission just beginning. For some men it would be difficult to separate his feelings for his wife’s and put his love of Christ and His Church first.

As I said I know of only one mission/parish within the Ordinariate that has had this problem.

Yours in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary


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