Questions About Celibacy in the Clergy

I earlier responded to the thread,

It reminded me of questions that I have had for some time. I posted a reply there but the administrators deemed it to be too far off-topic and was therefore removed. So I’m posting here as a new thread.

New Testament qualifications for elders are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Similarly, the qualifications for deacons are found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. In the Catholic Church, “elders”, “presbyters”, or “overseers” are synonymous with the office of a bishop, and the term of presbyter is also applied to priests as well.

A common qualification in these passages is that such men must be “the husband of one wife.” However, I’m sure that in the early church there had to be some single men who had charge of certain churches . One example I can think of is Timothy. Paul left him in Ephesus and tasked him with leading that church and to combat false doctrine there (1 Timothy 1:3-4). Was he married? It appears to me that he wasn’t as Paul in 2 Timothy 2:22, counseled his protege to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace”.

Granted, in 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul wrote positive words about celibacy: “I wish that all men were such as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” Further down he wrote in verses 32-35 “…The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord, But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of he Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.” It therefore seems to me , that celibacy, although a preferred state for ministry, is not for all and should therefore be optional if the person is so gifted by the Holy Spirit.

So my questions are, when and why did the Roman Catholic Church then make the determination that celibacy was to be required of the clergy?

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It is the discipline of the church. It is not Christian dogma. It can be change if ever the church feels it needs to change the policy.

It came into practice in part because it was practical at the time and in part because the Bible also speaks positively about those who choose to be celibate. And, it is a choice that Catholic priests make. If they don’t think they can be celibate then they don’t become priests. They can use their gifts and talents in other ways in the church.


Does this mean “only married once”, i.e., not divorced or widowed, then remarried? Or does it mean that a bishop must be married (again, a single time) and not celibate?

For what it’s worth, I can tell you that wives of pastors typically work alongside their husbands and perform great service for their congregations, whether they be Orthodox (khouria, matushka, presbytera) or evangelical Christian (“First Lady” in some African American churches, etc.). I worked with the wife of an AA pastor and, somehow, she had never been made aware that Catholic priests are typically celibate. She told me that their churches actually prefer that a pastor be married “so it won’t cause confusion”, as she put it. I had to chuckle inwardly at the idea of a single pastor dating various women in the parish :joy_cat:


Yes a good friend is a Pastor’s daughter and her Mom does as much “church work” as her husband. She carries a lot of the burden. Also because they are a very small church the tithes don’t come nearly close enough to supporting them so they all work outside of the home at 1 or even 2 other jobs. Also the daughter does speak of how difficult it can be to be the child of a pastor.

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In small evangelical churches, the pastors often work at a secular job, in addition to their church duties. I have worked with evangelical ministers before.

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This does not mean they must be married.

This means he can only have been or be married once. For example if his wife dies he cannot remarry. This is true down to today, a deacon or married priest cannot remarry is their wife dies.

There have always been priests selected from among men who were married men and men who were unmarried. Over time, in the Latin Church the norm became priests selected from among unmarried men. It became the universal law of the Latin Church around 1100.

The Churches in the East maintained the tradition of selecting both unmarried and married men as priests, but their bishops only come from among celibates.


It was in practice because married priests were leaving the church and everything else to their children when they passed away, it was a problem because the church property should be owned by the church not the children of the clergy so from their the church instituted mandatory celibacy for all clerics. I don’t believe mandatory celibacy was the right solution I think they should have just made rules regarding leaving church property in wills, however the past is the past.


Hi, 1ke. Yes, I understand that to be the case. in my OP, I referred to Timothy, who I believe was unmarried when he was the supervising elder in the Ephesian church.

I assume then, that this is how the Catholic Church interprets the “one wife” rule? Others’ interpretations allow for remarriage in certain cases. For example, I found this to be an interesting view from Apologetics Press, from which I quote in part:

It would appear logical that a man’s condition upon the death of a wife, or due to a divorce because of marital infidelity, would be the same, and a subsequent marriage would not disqualify him from being the “husband of one wife.” Robert Saucy aptly summarized the situation:

If divorce on the basis of adultery is legal and dissolves the marriage so that the one divorced can marry another, is the one remarried considered to be now “the husband of one wife”? It seems evident that legally such a remarried person is the husband of only one wife. He is not considered to have two wives. If this is true, then technically, he meets the requirements of the language of 1 Timothy (1974, 131:234)

Here is the web page for further information.

So I gather from her reply and yours, that mandatory celibacy is something that could theoretically be changed. I didn’t know whether it was a matter of dogma or not, but I guess in a sense, it is, in a “kind of” sort of way. :slightly_smiling_face:

No, it is not dogma in a “kinda sorta way”. It is a discipline and can be changed at whatever point the church deems it necessary to change.

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Good morning, mrsdizzyd.

Why I referred to it in a “kinda sorta way” is that since the rule became, as 1ke noted, “universal law of the Latin Church around 1100”, is because those in authority declared it to be so. I was assuming that since the Magisterium made this decision, and therefore, according to the Roman Catholic Church it is equal in authority to Scripture, that’s why I reasoned as I did.

It is not dogma. It is not infallible. It can be changed at anytime.

Our church has a right to decide how she is run just as your church does.

When the magisterium teaches on faith and morals, and those teachings are in continuity was Holy Tradition and the Holy Scriptures, then we can have a conversation about whether or not something is dogmatic. Priestly celibacy does not meet these criteria. It is not an issue of dogma or “kinda sorta” an issue of dogma.

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In many of the newly converted barbarian kingdoms, priests might be the only literate people. Priests often functioned as the civil service and chief advisers, and if they had been able to marry and have children, passing on their office as hereditary positions would represent a threat to these newly converted kings. There was a significant political element, it protected the conversion and it protected the integrity of the Church. In China and other Far East countries another solution was adopted; the castration of civil servants.

It is a disciple, not a doctrine. It can change, although it is unlikely to do so.

"The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord, But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of he Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.”

A Priest’s life is not his own. His life is given to God to use as God sees fit. A Priest’s spouse is the Church and we are all the Priest’s spiritual children. Priests are truly spiritual fathers and just as biological fathers their children (all of us they shepherd) are their concern. If a Priest is truly caring for his spiritual spouse & spiritual children in every way possible that doesn’t leave much time for anything else. His time is not his own. Just like a married man must consider how every decision he makes affects not only him but his spouse and children----a Priest also knows that every decision he makes (his time, his attention, his prayer, his financial decisions, his authority, etc) affects his Spiritual spouse and children (The Church and us the Faithful).

I commented to our Priest once after mass (after he spoke about this in his homily) that he had the absolute best Bride any man could ever ask for—the Church. He said yes but she is a very demanding spouse. None of us have even a clue as to what Priests are called to 24-7—365. Their Priesthood isn’t a job it’s a life, a calling, a vocation that they can never forget or put aside.


It is not a dogma, but it has always been highly regarded by the Catholic Church.

After all the main reason the Church has give to uphold this, is the fact that Christ Himself was celibate. Naturally priest should resemble as close as possible to our Lord’s life.

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I don’t understand why bequeathing Church property to heirs was a problem that couldn’t have been remedied with some sort of Canon Law. Instead of priestly celibacy, the Magisterium (or whoever made the decision) could just as easily decreed, “Property of the Church shall not be bequeathed…” etc.

And this line of thought leads me to question if property inheritance was the real reason for priestly celibacy.


That was the reason for bishops , not all clergy and dates to the second century, both east and west.

by the time celibacy was mandated in the West several hundred years later, there was no notion of priests owning the church or other church property.

while i’m at it, ill note that in the east, parish/diocesan priests were generally married, with only the monastic still being single.

I’m not certain, but the Russian Orthodox may still keep the practice of only ordaining married men for non-monastic clergy. one of their saints is a man who was diving soon of answer, and married a young man so that he could be ordained . . .


In relation to the topic, I read that there married priests in the Church, but it’s because they were priests in other religious groups and converted to Catholicism.

In one article, some were interviewed with their spouses and said that some of the problems they face include making sure that they earn enough to pay for family expenses, and difficulties if the father is asked to move to another parish.

MOST of the Catholic churches have married clergy . . .

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