Married Priesthood: Maintain celibacy as the 'norm' but allow dispensations on a case by case basis

My platform is this: We should maintain celibacy as the ‘norm’ in the Latin rite but allow dispensations on a case by case basis. This is consistent with the Magisterium, without abolishing celibacy.

In 1952, Pope Pius XII began dispensations of married men to the Latin rite priesthood before Vatican II in Germany. This was the first of 4 other married Latin rite priests that were also ordained in Germany within 12 years.

Dispensations continued under Paul VI who allowed the first married Roman Catholic priest to be ordained in the USA: Fr. Beck.

John Paul II then dispensed married men and allowed them to be ordained to the Roman rite priesthood through the Pastoral Provision.

Benedict XVI allowed married Latin rite Catholic priests through the Ordinariate. (At the time of this writing, Francis is examining the question for married deacons in the Amazon.)

None of these 20th Century Popes asked these men to remain continent when dispensing them from the celibacy canon. This is true for married Latin rite permanent deacons, too.

While celibacy and continence can be traced to the Twelve Apostles, ‘mandatory’ celibacy and ‘mandatory’ continence cannot be traced to the time of the Twelve Apostles. The key word is ‘mandatory’ or ‘compulsory’.

Earliest evidence points to the LOCAL Elvira Synod of AD 305 mandating continence. But this is a local council from Spain, not a UNIVERSAL mandate which came later. No earlier evidence exists for mandated celibacy or mandated continence. Even ‘conservative’ scholars admit that they cannot find evidence for ‘mandated’ celibacy before AD 305.

Finally, this is not a liberal issue, and it is not a conservative issue. It is a Catholic issue. Many conservatives are for a married Latin rite priesthood. It is not an intrinsic evil.

Thank you, Catholic Answers. I believe this position is consistent with what you have publicly taught.

The bottom line is that the Church has the authority to bind and loosen on the married priest issue. The Church taketh away, but the Church also giveth.

No one is being compelled.

Not sure who you think you’re addressing. This is a forum, not cabal. We don’t “publicly teach” here, but we do discuss issues and point out the teachings of the Church. None of us here speaks for anyone but himself, and certainly not for “Catholic Answers”.

Not sure what you’re advocating for, then. You admit that this is already a discipline, and one which the Church already allows as a dispensation on a case-by-case basis.


Ha! You’ll find that perhaps 1/3 of posters here would agree with you…including me btw. About 50% are pretty adamant to maintain the current celibacy requirements or allow far fewer married men to be ordained priests.

He did more than that! He allowed non-Anglican Christian converts who were ministers beforehand to become Catholic priests. I was recently reading about a former Pentecostal minister who became a Catholic priest. Changes made by Pope Benedict allowed for this as I understand.

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Thanks, jack63! Sounds like you’ve been there and done that around the block a few times already for this forum, and then some. Being the new kid on the block here, I’d be interested in reviewing old posts about this later for strongest arguments for (the 1/3) and con (the 50%) to see if I find anything new. 'Will have to look for what you’ve written about it, too. In my years of studying this issue, I’ve found no evidence that would preclude a married Latin rite priesthood. This can be done in a way consistent with the Magisterium. 'Still looking for compelling evidence to change my mind.

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FYI: there is an excellent blog opinion post by Fr. Longenecker about this. He is a married
Catholic priest…an Anglican convert. It is well worth reading. From the article…

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Welcome to CAF. You will find many kinds of new info and some colorful views at times. Hope it is interesting for you.

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Who do you think is arguing it’s precluded? I’ve never seen that argument.

On the other hand, what is argued is that celibacy is good, and there’s no reasonable argument for abandoning it. (Some conjecture, sure, but no argument.)


You nailed it, jack63! Yes, I’ve followed Fr. L. His thoughts for older married men (perhaps starting w the married deacons first) are the same as my own, for the most part. Thank you. It’s a Felix Medium and a balanced position to take. I hope he publishes his book. I also hope there are more like you and others that take this position here, and I’ll be on the lookout for it. Father doesn’t outright accuse defenders of celibacy of falling prey to the Manichean heresy, but perhaps God wants to purify His Church from it even more given developments w TOB. I think B16 may have even alluded to the point that sex isn’t dirty in the few leaked English translations snippets of his contribution to ‘Depths.’ Gratias tibi ago omnia.

Good point. Granted, for your first line. I have to add most defenders of the status quo will admit married priests existed in the first 300 years of the Catholic Church, but an extra step will be argued that they were continent. However, evidence for mandated continence doesn’t appear until the Elvira Synod in AD 305.

For your second point, I think it would be better to say that proponents for (expanding) limited exceptions are advancing the position that celibacy should be maintained as the ‘norm’. For example, Fr. Longenecker will hold this, as does jack63. I think And it is after all in the Catechism that ‘normally’ priests are chosen among celibate men for the Latin rite. So yes celibate priests are good. And indeed they are a gift. But married priests are also a gift.

Thanks, Gorgias!

Thanks, commenter. I don’t mind the color, as long as it’s what Christ wants for the Latin rite. Looking forward to new insights.

OK… I’ve got to hear this one: why is support for celibacy a form of Manicheanism?

To steal a line, sometimes celibacy is just celibacy.

“Maintained”, but by making it less prominent? Hmm…

So… what problems does a married priesthood solve, do you think?

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Some support for celibacy can be a form of the M heresy. Im simply building on and even agreeing w B16’s recent comment (or perhaps Sarah’s from Depths) that celibacy isn’t the result of a demeaning of sex as the Manicheanists held but rather was for some ontological reason (e.g., the Levitical priesthood). Fr. L’s blog that jack63 sent me noted that celibacy is a good. So yes let celibacy be celibacy.

Married priests will not solve the crisis in the Church but will alleviate part of it.

What stance do you take, Gorgias?

I’m not seeing it. Manicheans saw the physical as evil… sex was only a manifestation. So, how could a secular priest or a member of the laity espouse celibacy for priests, if they felt that all physicality was evil?

Maybe I need to follow up on the B16 quote you reference, but I’m not getting how the Levitical priesthood could be seen as promoting an “ontological” preference for celibacy. After all, it wasn’t a celibate priesthood!

How will it alleviate it, do you think?

I’m not seeing the reason or benefits to eliminating normative celibacy in the Latin Rite Church. :man_shrugging:

My comment is not intended to be directly to you. But for the life of me, this issue about “abolishing celibacy” keeps popping up (in the negative) and I cannot for the life of me figure out its source.

Perhaps it is just that I don’t read “progressive to ultra progressive” literature or come across it anywhere. I hear priests commenting about not eliminating celibacy, and I want to ask “Who said anything about that?”, to the point where I begin to think it is some sort of boogeyman in the closet, just waiting to pounce. In other words, no one specifically is proposing an elimination of celibacy (with the possible exception of some whackadoodles who may propose that as a “solution” to the sexual abuse crisis), but rather a projection in the minds of certain celebrates.

And my participation goes back to 1964 - 1966 when I spent my first tow year of college in seminary. It was not a constant point of discussion, but it certainly came up more than once or twice.

If the Church were to say “come one, come all” and open vocational discernment to both unmarried and married men, I have no fear at all that the end result would be that we would end up with more celibate priests than married priests. And certainly one element would be that anyone married and discerning priesthood would have a spouse who also would be discerning. The same thing has been happening since the permanent deaconate was opened up. at least in some dioceses the process is about 5 years long, and at least in my diocese (and I presume all of the others), the wife is going to be consulted - not once but repeatedly. That, in itself is going to act as a filter.

I think you and I have had this discussion before There is one main city in Oregon - Portland - and the population size falls off rapidly from there. In the Archdiocese there are 124 parishes and 22 missions (total 144) and there are 150 priests; so the missions get covered by a priest in a “nearby” parish. nearby meaning possible 20 or more miles away.


I just read an article about one of the priests covering 3; whether they were all missions, or 1 or more parishes and a mission was not noted. He obviously cannot provide the coverage to two that he could to one; and to three, it gets down to providing sacraments and not much more. In some of the larger parishes, a priest will say 4 Masses on the weekend (and possibly 5 if there is a wedding). I have not spoken with any priest with that schedule (and I know several) who feel they are physically at the end of their rope each and every Sunday. A few miles from me there is a parish with 11 Masses on the weekend, including 1 in Vietnamese, 4 in Spanish, 5 in English and one in Latin. There are two priests there, and they have to find someone to cover the rest. One priest who comes to say one (or more) of the Masses travels over 40 miles each way. We are short of priests - and that is not just hard on the priests; it is also hard on the laity. Additional priests - possibly married - could provide some more coverage of what right now is thin at best - even if it was limited to the sacraments. (continued)

I think we’re essentially agreed on not abolishing celibacy. It is normal to select priests from celibate men in the Latin rite. Fr L., jack63, and I agree to this. We are neither Modernists nor liberal dissenters.

Where you and I seem to part company is the dispensation part, b/c I suspect you and others see dispensations as a weakening of the norm of celibacy. But this is why there is a difference between the norm v. dispensations. In other words, the rationale given for dispensations is that Pius XII started dispensations from the norm, not Francis. And this was BEFORE Vatican II under the old Code of Canon Law of 1917 by a pre-Vatican II Pontiff! The Church has the authority to declare on whether married priests should be restored in the Latin rite.

As for the M heresy, yes, I would wait to see what Benedict XVI says about it when the English translation of his contribution comes out. You might be able to google some of B16’s leaked comments, and I’m sorry I cant give you a link. This was when all the media gossip of B16 and Francis being at odds came about. B16 wrote something along the lines that celibacy should not be upheld bc sex was somehow evil and therefore celibacy should be chosen but rather B16 wanted some better theolgical foundation for celibacy. (Unfortunately, some of the Fathers can come across putting down sex like it’s not a holy thing.)

As for the alleviation comment, this requires further discussion, so the jury is still out for me and the data still needs mature analysis. The only Latin basis of comparison to answer your questions are the married permanent deacons, the married priests in the Ordinariate, and even the Eastern priests but let’s leave out the East for now. (1) The first way has to be legitimate theological development. If for example the priest is in persona Christi, that means that the theology of the priest’s wife is that she is in persona Ecclesiae, and this unfolding of the mystery somehow is needed for the Church in the 21st Century before the Second Coming. This is a sample of the case being theological that does not reply on sociological data to make the case. (2) Alleviation, however, can be practical. This is the weaker of the two but is nevetheless an alleviation. For example, there is a real priest shortage in some parts of the world. Africa and Asia for example, send up to half their priests to the West.

For a different point of view: Permanent deacons can be ordained at the age of 35; however there appears to be an unspoken (or not widely spoken) decision to ordain closer to 50+.

Deacon Harold Burke Sivers spoken openly about the need for younger men. He was ordained at the age of 35 and was being interviewed on Catholic Radio. Hos point was that there was a very positive value of an ordained man with younger children; that it gave a different type of witness to Catholic Marriage, and a different witness to younger people. He had some very good points to convey - and should the Church decided to ordain married men to the priesthood, those points would appear to be as valuable there as to his witness and evangelization.

I think too often we end up with a mindset that presumes that whatever is “best” and then works to exclude anything else.


*Correction: Some dioceses in Africa and Asia send up to half of their priests to the West.

I think it’s just sloppy argumentation. The real issue is the “elimination of mandatory celibacy as normative in the Latin Rite Church.” (Then again, that doesn’t make as attractive sound bite. :wink: )

We have that same dynamic here in my neck of the woods – as you get further from the central city in my diocese, and head toward the outer fringes, 20 miles between church buildings becomes the norm. Then again, so does this distance between shopping centers, theatres, etc, etc. This “oh noes! 20 miles to the nearest church!” scare tactic is a red herring. (We’re just accustomed to having a conveniently located church with ten Sunday Masses in each of our neighborhoods.)

And, to tell the truth, the notion currently under consideration by the Church isn’t meant to solve the “problem” you identify, but a real problem – a situation in which a community wouldn’t have a priest present for Mass except for once a year. Your “20 mile away mission” example doesn’t rise to that level.

Then why aren’t the laity encouraging vocations, if this is a hardship? Or, are we waiting for someone else to take care of the problem? (Or, are we saying “we don’t feel like working… let’s just change the rules”?)

Isn’t that really the goal, though? Not an expansion of dispensations, but a removal of the requirement to dispense? And therefore, the removal of the norm?

Of course. It does. No one is arguing that it cannot (AFAIK). That doesn’t mean it should, though.

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In other words, “let’s change a long-standing discipline of the Church, and see what happens”?

Wow. That’s an assertion not present anywhere in Christianity! You’re not advocating “development” – you’re advocating brand new theology!

And in an earlier era, it was precisely the opposite. Are we so short-sighted and self-centered that – now that it’s hitting us, here in the West – we cry “change the rules for us!”…? :thinking:

The standard is to not ordain deacons who have young children.

Let me get this straight: we’re trying to increase the availability of clerics, and so we’re suggesting that we ordain men who have greater family obligations and therefore less availability for ministry?

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