Pondering Married Priests


There’s an item down in the news section on a rumor that Pope Francis is going to allow married men who had to leave their position as Priests to return, in Brazil, in order to address a Priest shortage. That item is here: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=1036405

That got me thinking, and I posted the item below, but as this expands out from the conversation on Brazil, I thought I’d cross post as a thread up here to see what people think.

I’m sure that this has been discussed ad nausem up here, but none the less, here goes:

In an effort to contribute, and after pondering this, I’ll add the following.

Before I do, let me know that I’m a very traditional Catholic. Not a Rad Trad, but I’m definitely on the traditional end. If I could put the alter rail back in my church, I would. And if they offered a Latin Mass here, I’d definitely go from time to time. And I’m glad that a selection of Cardinals has written their Dubia.

And I also feel that, in this day and age in which the history of the early Church is so easily obtainable, the truth of our Faith is beyond reasonable question.

With that background then, I’ll add this.

I think we ought to rethink the prohibition on married Priests in the Latin Rite.

We’ve been discussing St. Peter, of course, and I’ll be frank that while I think Karl Keating has done a huge favor to the Faith by starting Catholic Answers, I don’t find his argument regarding Peter’s spouse convincing. I really don’t see why we’d expect the writers of the Gospels to write about Peter’s wife and child(ren). Writing was a difficult and expensive burden and we know from the writers of the Gospels themselves that they omitted even many miracles from their writings, as they say they omitted them. If they were omitting miracles, why would they expend the resources necessary to detail family members unless necessary?

And I’m not prepared to discount Clement of Alexandria when he says he saw Peter’s wife martyred. Maybe he was mistaken, but it’d be assuming a lot for me to assume so. Admittedly that’s not much to go on, but it’s not so little that we can just discount it.

Carrying on, we also know that at least some early Bishops of the Church were married. Paul, in writing to Timothy, noted:

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity”

If Paul was of the opinion that Bishops should be good husbands and not drink too much, and govern his children well, this tells us that a married man could be a bishop and could drink (but not to excess) and could have children, and still be qualified to be Bishops.

And of course the prohibition on married priests exists only in the Latin Rite, although I believe that the Eastern Rite and the Orthodox do not allow married men to be Bishops.

Okay, here’s my question then.

I can think of some good current reasons why Priests should not be married. The life being a Priest requires, the pressure of the modern world, the need to move every few years, and the economic burden to the Parish, but I can think of some reasons why the opposite is true.

Principal amongst those is that it seems to me that times have changed so that its less likely, at least in the West, that manly young men heed their call in the sex saturated world in which we live today. In a culture in which virginity of any kind is abhorred its tough not to be distracted when young by this. Allowing married Priests would operate against this, I think, and allow a more manly class to be attracted to their vocation.

I also think that many hear that call later on, after they have been married. After a few years enduring the delusion of the satisfactory natures of careers, and the like, as they age, that old call comes back. But what then? Even if they have a good and faithful Catholic wife, and even, let’s say, if the children are grown and gone, they may not then answer the old call.

And on that, in an era in which we discourage the very young from entering the seminary, as we once did, and we allow for the ordination of priests who are middle aged or even a little older than that, what would be the harm in allow married Priests to some degree? That is, why shouldn’t the Latin Rite allow men to be ordained, let’s say, whose wives are past their childbearing years when their children are grown and gone? Indeed, wouldn’t that be an inspiration to those younger people as they considered their careers?

For that matter, why not encourage biritual Priests from the Eastern Rite to serve in Latin Rite churches if there’s enough of them? The Eastern Rite is pretty small in North American and Western Europe and t hey only need so many Priests. If they had a surplus of interested men (and I don’t know that they do) I’d be for the Latin Rite taking them in service, even though of course they’d remain Easter Rite Priests.



Interested in the discussion…


I consider myself pretty ‘orthodox’ (in a rather unorthodox way) and I, too, am surprisingly open to the idea of married priests. I think it would be a shot in the arm for the culture of the Church, not in a bad modernizing way, in a good, healthy foundation for modern culture way. I look to the Orthodox Church here, also the Anglicans, Lutherans, etc. I don’t want to lose the call to celibacy, the monastery, though, for those who choose a religious life of dedication to Christ. There is plenty of support for that as the highest form of service in the Gospels, not to mention in the tradition of the Church. However, I personally take the ‘married bishops’ reference in Timothy at face value, and pretty seriously, as evidence of married clergy in the beginning of the Church.

We could have celibate and married priests. I am fine with married priests beyond Brazil. Frankly I think the kind of men it would attract to the priesthood would for the most part be an asset to the Church. Let’s face it, opening ourselves up to married priests is probably a little more pro family than consuming ourselves with CDR. :smiley: Still, I don’t think it would do much for the priest shortage overall. The numbers for clergy in the Orthodox and Anglican Churches are dwindling too. If the Church wants to get back to pulling in parishioners, priests, it has to get back to the whole ‘Evangelization’ thing. That was going in the right direction, creating momentum. Out protestanting the Protestants. To put it in marketing terms, I think people are looking for a message, a value system, as much if not more than mercy about where they are at right now. A way to live, a bulwark against secularism. The Protestants understand this. But that is just me.


I do not object to voluntary celibacy for priests, but I am in favor of married priests. At the local Orthodox church, the wife of the priest greets and welcomes all the parishioners and helps out her husband and the parish in many different ways.


despite being very traditional, I am totally in favour of priests being able to marry.
It would ensure higher quality priests on average, and get rid of the shortage
Also it was the norm for about 1000 years, so if anything it is more traditional, and if it was so important that they remain celibate, it would have been the case from the off


I suppose one question would be “who will pay for their families”? I’m not sure how it works in other countries, but a Priest here in the UK receives a stipend that isn’t comparable to a “breadwinner’s” salary. I’m not sure how much more money would be given in the collection in parishes with married Priests if there was to be a change. Many are perhaps for married Priests until they have to pay for it? :shrug:

Not opposed to it on principle, but I think the practice may not be so easy as some might suggest.


Good point!


As a thought here - and let me qualify this by saying I’m not sure how I feel about the notion of opening up married priesthood all around (not opposed, just on the fence, I suppose).

What if this operated similarly to how many Protestant churches do it - or akin to the permanent diaconate where the married man has a full-time secular job and is a priest otherwise, assisting a pastor in overseeing multiple parishes or something to that effect?

Of course, not all would be in the position of needing a “breadwinner’s” salary if the kids were grown and wife worked or the couple were drawing pensions, etc.


Celibacy was made church law because of inheritance issues. St Gilbert of Sempringham inherited two parishes from his father, a Norman knight who was in the Conquest, as an example.

As messed up as this world is, and as much a bellwether as the church is, we need to have holy clerical families. Presently ordained diocesan priests would likely not be included. Married deacons would probaby be the first candidates considered should the law be changed.

But, yes, it’s church law, and it can most definitely be changed.


Married priests usually have to have a regular job and minister in their down time. Only very large parishes could afford them not to have an outside job.

Priests are paid $400 a month and receive state benefits. Would married priests require a salary of $1400 a month?

A few logistical details would have to be worked out, but I think we all would benefit.


I appreciate the focus upon serving one master which is upheld by clerical celibacy.
Prayers offered for increased vocations and for blessings for our holy priests.


I think many, many priests would stay celibate if they allowed married priests, at least the ones who started out that way - it is a way of life, a vocation. I could be wrong. I don’t see why we can’t have both married and single priests now and in the future; we have married and single laity, etc. I bet some duties/roles would be fulfilled by married, some by celibate. It could add balance. Different perspective inside and outside the clergy, for the laity too. This is not to say I don’t respect your concerns.


These involve two entirely different matters…actually three.

  1. The ordination of married men to the priesthood. This happens not infrequently relative to the Eastern Catholic Churches. In the Latin Rite, the vast majority of priests in the Ordinariates resulting from Anglicanorum Coetibus are men with wives and families who were ordained to function as priests in the Catholic Church.

  2. Allowing priests to marry is wholly different. In East and West, among Catholics and Orthodox, once ordained, clerics do not marry. There have been exceptions and Pope Saint John Paul initiated a process by which permanent deacons who had lost their wives and wished to remarry could petition for a rescript to marry instead of for laicisation…but it required the personal intervention of the Pope…it was extremely extraordinary.

  3. This specific instance posits the possibility of restoring a priest, previously laicised, to the clerical state. It can and has been done, when the wife has died or when the marriage has otherwise gone away. But it is also something relative uncommon and, again, requires – or, in the past, has required – the personal intervention of the Pope. To do this with the marriage intact presents a different scenario to this tertium quid.


We have a married priest in my diocese- my understanding is he is a convert and was a pastor before, and got permission from the Vatican to be ordained a priest. Seems like if he can make it work, other men could too. I’m sure that he and priests from Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy could provide insight as to how the support issue is handled. I lean traditional, but agree that Biblically there is no reason for our priests to be forbidden to be married. I concur that a married priest is likely stretched even thinner as he tries to minister to his parish and also be a husband and father, but that should be a choice, I think. I saw a comment in here that we should keep our priests holy (or something like that) and I guess my question is why would marriage make them less holy? Celibacy doesn’t necessarily equal holiness. I expect, as another person said, that many men would choose to be celibate priests. But I think opening the priesthood up to married men could bring some very holy priests into the Church.


I used to be completely against this idea. But in recent years after more reading on the subject I could envision a situation where married men could be ordained. Though I still think that celibate priests should remain the norm. I think there would be nothing wrong with having married priests as relief in a parish where there are too few celibate priests or where there is a requirement for additional priests. I do think most men with a family would have to keep up some other employment as the church could not afford to pay them.


One thing I could envision would be allowing the ordination of married priests who are older and without children. Say, perhaps, men who had reached 50 years of age and didn’t have children in the household who could otherwise provide for their spouse. That might not be a large number of men, but it might be some who would bring something unique with them.

Or perhaps allow it to be the natural next step for married Deacons, but with restrictions, as noted, on what they could do, perhaps. Even now not all Priests are licensed for homilies or confession, etc. I could see Deacons being ordained as Priests but limited nearly in the same fashion as Deacons, but allowing them to say Masses and do confessions.

Or perhaps there could be married Priests who basically fit into the same category as those brought in from the Anglicans but with an extra level of discernment, given their married status, and a proviso that they could not go on to become Bishops.

Just musing, I guess.

I may be off the mark, but I’m under the impression that in the Eastern Rite many men who enter the seminary are not married, and therefore never can marry. This may be significant in that married Priests might provide an added and beneficial leavening, but might not, at the same time, ever become more numerous than unmarried Priests, if allowed in the Latin Rite.


Can I ask why there is the assumption that the man must be the sole support of his family? In the vast majority of families in the West, both spouses work outside the home, and in increasing numbers of cases, the wife’s income is the larger. Why wouldn’t this be the case for priests? I think the financial arrangements should be up to the family.


I think it’s more that the Church has always undertaken the financial responsibility for her ministers (priests and religious) in one way or another. The folks pondering this are just trying to find practical ways the Church can honor that responsibility, IMHO.


I think, should The Option be given, that each clerical couple would have to decide for themselves – considering how much the parish can provide – whether or not to engage in outside work. Any married couple has to do that where survival is concerned.

The wives’ involvement with the church also depends on what’s needed, or expected, by the denomination or parish. Our elementary school guidance counselor was the wife of a Lutheran minister, and she said she didn’t minister alongside her husband. I, at one time, was intended to a Pentecostal minister, and had planned to attend Mass on Saturday evening, and do what I could alongside him on Sunday morning. (Obviously, that didn’t happen). As an aside, he’s now with the Salvation Army. He and his wife are both school teachers, and I don’t know how much interaction she has with his ministry.

A married priest’s wife, Mary Vincent Dally (I hope I’ve got that right), wrote a book “Married to a Catholic Priest”. She considers herself and other priest’s wives to be sacramentals. I encourage reading the book, as she gives a lot of insight into the vocation.


Patron saint of married priests?

Today’s feast is that of Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor of the Church – all while married:


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