Why did the RCC changes its stance on celibacy for priests?


This is an excerpt from a Protestant website that I stumbled across earlier. Let me preface by saying that, I believe the priesthood to be one of valor, and great dignity. I believe that the RCC decided upon celibacy for reasons, perhaps relating to the fact that Christ Himself led a celibate life, and took no wife of His own. He was also Divine, and “needed” no wife. But, in stumbling across this, I think to some of my own internal questioning when it comes to this topic:

**Why can’t priests marry?
**Why do YOU think this changed after so many year of priests being permitted to marry?
**And, finally, do you feel (personally) that we would be better off as a Church, or worse off as a RCC community, if priests married?
**The Catholic Church didn’t always take a position of celibacy relating to priests–why did this change? (is it remotely along the lines of what the author states from the website I quote below?)

**Disclaimer–please please please do not turn this thread into a pedophile or homosexual analysis, relating to the priesthood. Let’s pretend those two issues don’t exist for the sake of this discussion. I would much rather have a discussion on why the RCC changed its stance on marriage for priests, etc. Thank you, in advance, for your cooperation.:wink: *


***A lot of controversy has arisen regarding celibacy in the Catholic church lately, because of pedophile priests and the church is being sued for billions of dollars at this time. Well, why are priests celibate to begin with? In the first ten to twelve centuries of the Church’s history the clergy had wives andkids like everyone else. Then in the 16th century the RCC’s Council of Trent, determined to set themselves apart from the heathenish Lutherans, decided to enforce the celibacy strictures.Before the beginning of the second millennium and of the pontificate of Gregory V11 in particular (1073-85) popes functioned largely as mediators. They did not claim for themselves the title Vicar of Christ. They did marry and have children if they so desired.

When we look into the Christian Greek Scriptures, we find that Peter was a married man, and at least in later years, his wife apparently accompanied him on his missions (or some of them), as did the wives of other of the apostles. (Corinthians 9:5) His mother-in-law lived in his home, one he shared with his brother Andrew. (Mark 3:16) So, there we have it. Peter, the (supposed first Pope) was a married man and this is comingfrom the same scriptures the RCC use to support celibacy.***


I think one of the biggest contributing factors was the fact that the Apostles’ wives were not part (or much of a part) of their ministries and that the priesthood derives from the Apostles.

They is very little biblical truth and any of the Apostles were even married…


The first part of your 1st paragraph is true–but I don’t know if the priesthood could be derived from the Apostles, if the first several centuries, we could see priests marrying. (and having children–even the popes) Did it take THAT LONG to determine that it wasn’t good for priests to be married? See, I always thought it had to follow the succession of the Apostles as well, but after reading different articles here and there written from Bibical historians and scholars, it doesn’t seem as clear cut than that. Why wouldn’t the earlier Church fathers ask for priests to be celibate in the earliest of Church days? I’m not being contrary–honestly, I’m not…lol I’m just trying to answer some of my own internal questions on the matter.

If God created woman to complement a man…to be a partner for him…why would our faith dictate that all clergy cannot marry? It just seems to go against the natural ‘order’ of things. Although…and here is the rub…I love the fact that our priests are celibate, and devote their energies to our Church. But, then I see the problems with Father Francis Mary, from Life on the Rock (EWTN) and can’t help but wonder why he should have to make such a choice…to be a clergyman for the Church, or to be in a loving marriage? (not bringing him to have a discussion on him–as those threads have been closed about him–but just giving an example of someone who comes to mind in the priesthood)


Celibacy for Bishops has always been the norm, other than in the very first generation when married men were selected to be Bishops. But their successors were required to be celibate right from the beginning.

Priests could be married, but if they were married, they could not advance in their vocations to become Bishops. This changed gradually over time. As I understand it, the requirement for celibate priests came about in the late period of the first Millenium (800s or 900s AD) - not in reaction to Protestantism. Of course the majority were already celibate, anyway, because they wanted the ability to be promoted to Bishop.

There were several issues at stake which are still pertinent, today, including mobility (a married man with children who has to spend a week packing and hire a moving van is much less mobile than a single man who can move everything he owns in one car trip), focus (a married man has many concerns at home; a single man can focus more clearly on his work), and issues around inheritance - who owns the Rectory? The priest, or the Church? And if the priest wills the Rectory to his children, and they don’t enter the priesthood (or they are all girls) then what recourse does the Church have, with regard to housing the next priest who comes to that parish?

Deacons have always and are still allowed to be married, but again, a married Deacon cannot advance in his vocation to become a priest.


Hi jmcrae;

Do you personally think that it’s healthy for the priests and for the Church, to have celibate priests? Was this a man made design, and why? If it was, which it is sounding like it, why did God make man and woman for one another?

BTW–I think that celibate has a different meaning here–we are also called to be celibate within our marriages, and if we are single. Celibate in the priests’ case meaning ‘to not marry.’ I probably should have said that in my original post…oh well! lol

Again–I’m not asking for the sake of debate, or that I need convincing, however, I have had such questions asked of me…and I don’t have a deep enough reasoning behind why our clergy ‘needs to be’ celibate in order to serve the Church.


Clement I, a first century Pope was noted in Patristic writing as a man who lived in perpetual virginity. His example was considered one that was praiseworthy as living what Paul had promoted.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians:
Virgins, have Christ alone before your eyes, and His Father in your prayers, being enlightened by the Spirit. May I have pleasure in your purity, as that of Elijah, or as of Joshua the son of Nun, as of Melchizedek, or as of Elisha, as of Jeremiah, or as of John the Baptist, as of the beloved disciple, as of Timothy, as of Titus, as of Evodius, as of Clement, who departed this life in [perfect] chastity,29 Not, however, that I blame the other blessed [saints] because they entered into the married state, of which I have just spoken.
Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. The apostolic fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. (81).

All we do know is that Peter and Philip were mentioned as being married, and it seems that they were married when they were called to be Apostles.


Yes, or at least I don’t see a problem with it. Sex and marriage are not necessary to good health - many people have lived without them. The Monastic tradition goes back to the first century, as well, and they have always been celibate/unmarried.

Celibacy in the single life has always been understood as a path to greater holiness - why that is, I don’t know, but we seem to be encoded from within to recognize celibate persons as being “more holy” than others. I don’t know whether that’s a cultural imprint or something in our DNA, but in our place and time, at least, a life that is marked by celibacy/singleness is a real witness of holiness to others - even the most unchurched person thinks of God and wonders whether he needs to improve his life when he sees a nun in her habit, or a priest in his collar.

Was this a man made design, and why? If it was, which it is sounding like it, why did God make man and woman for one another?

Man and woman were created for each other to be partners in the founding .of families and the upbringing of children. Not everyone is called to marriage - it is a very specific vocation.

BTW–I think that celibate has a different meaning here–we are also called to be celibate within our marriages, and if we are single. Celibate in the priests’ case meaning ‘to not marry.’ I probably should have said that in my original post…oh well! lol

Don’t worry - I understood your meaning. :slight_smile:


Thanks for this post! Let’s say for a moment that priests could marry–would that make them less holy? Are we not as married people…as people dating others, etc…called to put Christ first? Perhaps, there might have been dissention within families whereby a priest had to choose…family time or Church time. Being a priest is a vocation, and is a 24/7 way of life. Perhaps, that could cause some problems in a marriage. But, does it make our married Protestant brothers (who are ministers) less holy?

jmcrae–thank you again.:slight_smile: I enjoy your posts…you are down to earth. But, why wasn’t this the stance of the RCC in the beginning? If we are to believe that the Apostles’ way of life was what led the Church to adopt preistly celibacy as a policy for becoming a clergyman, (or woman) why wasn’t celibacy the policy from the get go?

My own opinion…hmmm…I have grown up with the Church as such a major part of my life…and for priests to be able to marry…hmmm…it would not change my high opinion of priests at all. In some ways, though, it would just be strange–change can be good, and it can be hard to take. In some ways, I think that they should have the option to marry.


Well, we know that Jesus stressed that those who could accept this teaching should accept it, and Paul as well stressed the devotion virginity brings, and the Church understood it as the ideal.

There are certainly problems with a married priest as his mission conflicts with the needs of his family.

Remember that among the Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox [And if some of you reading this are from these groups and see an error in phrasing please correct] that while a married man may be ordained a priest, a priest may not marry. If he is ordained as a single man, he may not marry and if a married man becomes a priest, he may not remarry if his wife should die.

So even if the Church were to relax their discipline on allowing married men to be ordained, it would not change the status of those already priests.


I love this site–I learn so much from you guys!

I have heard that…an already ordained celibate priest, cannot marry. Isn’t it true, that there is no allowance for men to marry in the RCC, but they can in the Greek Orthodox Church??


Married men can become priests (but not Bishops) in the Orthodox churches, but a priest cannot marry - if he was single at the time of his ordination, then he has to remain single. Only single men can become Bishops in the Orthodox tradition.


It appears that they (the website hosts) have conveniently forgotten about “their” Apostle, Saint Paul. He followed the example of Christ and remained single, and single-mindedly devoted to Christ. Interesting that they trot Saint Peter out front, with many Protestant denominations minimizing his role, since he put forth little scripture and Paul much more. Both knew that teaching Christ’s Tradition was paramount, though.

Christ’s peace.


That’s true…but…Peter became our first pope. In reply to your statements…in essence, you could be making a good argument for the RCC to relax its doctrine about married men being able to become priests. :smiley: Or am I the only one seeing that?:blush:
(I don’t like the term relax, because it means something is out of place–please note, I don’t see an inherent problem with priests being celibate, but I think men should have the option to marry before being ordained. That wouldn’t be relaxing …it would just be change)

To everyone–sorry there is a typo in the title of this thread!!!:mad: I hate it when that happens.UGH!!!


Is there any evidence that Peter remarried after being ordained to the priesthood by Christ? If so, then they might have a point, but as far as I can tell, any marriage he may have had occurred before he ever met Jesus. This fits in perfectly with our traditional discipline in this regard - he was married before Ordination; not after.

If they want to prove that the Early Church permitted clergy to marry after Ordination, then they are going to have to find a clear example of that. I certainly don’t know of any.


Not only in the Greek Orthodox Church can married men become priests but also in the Greek Catholic Church, the Ukranian Catholic Church, the Ruthenian Catholic Church, the Maronite Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church they can be ordained. In all eastern Christian Churches they can be ordained. So the Catholic Church is not completely against married priests as you can see by the fact that Catholic priests of the east are married. But in the Latin Church they do require celibacy. There is nothing wrong with celibacy. It is a holy thing if you can do it. A celibate priesthood is not better than a married priesthood though.


Actually when you look at scripture, we see only that he had a mother in law and not a wife. Given that it would normally be the wife’s duty to wait on the guests and not the mother in law’s, I wonder if Peter may have been a widower who was caring for his mother in law. Some apocryphal gospels speak of children of Peter i recall but there is no mention of them outside of that context.


ah ha! I see…I will have to dredge up this website, and see if there is anything to it. I would say that my stance is more that married men should be allowed to be ordained priests…that is my question, as to why this isn’t allowed in the RCC, if in the Church’s history, that was not uncommon.:confused:


I wondered this myself…I have read that he would take his wife with him …during his travels, but I have not read that myself in the Bible.


Although celibacy has not always been required, it is a logical fallacy to deduce from that that priests were universally married before the law came into effect. Also, in some countries, Episcopal conferences mandated priestly celibacy early on such as Spain, c. 290 A.D. Not to mention that religious priests never would have married.

Some reading material:

Celibacy is a Gift:

Fundamentalist attacks on Celibacy:

How to Argue for Celibacy:

From the Catholic encyclopedia:


Also remember, in the Latin Rite - there are Priests who converted and are married. Some of these married convert ordained men then become Priests in the Latin Rite

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