Should Priests be Allowed to Marry?


March 4, 2013 by mattfradd

Priestly Celibacy

Priestly Celibacy

Those who argue against priestly celibacy are often unaware of two facts:

1. Priestly celibacy is not a matter of dogma or doctrine (as is the case with the ministerial priesthood being limited only to men) but, rather, of Church discipline – it could potentially change.

2. While the norm in the Latin (or Roman) rite of the the Church is that priests are celibate, it is often not the norm in the eastern rites.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry (CCC 1580).

The Apostles were Married

Therefore, arguing that Peter’s wife was still alive (Matt 8:14) when Jesus called him to be an apostle, or that the apostles, apart from St. Paul, may have been married (1 Cor 9:5) is no more an argument against priestly celibacy than pointing to validly ordained, married priests in the easter rites of the Church.

Sometimes people reference 1 Tim 3:5 as an argument against priestly celibacy:

“Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:2-5).

Using this verse as an argument that priests (or at least Bishops) should be married leads to obvious absurdities. “For one, if ‘the husband of one wife’ really meant that a bishop had to be married, then by the same logic ‘keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way’ would mean that he had to have children. Childless husbands (or even fathers of only one child, since Paul uses the plural) would not qualify.

In fact, following this style of interpretation to its final absurdity, since Paul speaks of bishops meeting these requirements (not of their having met them, or of candidates for bishop meeting them), it would even follow that an ordained bishop whose wife or children died would become unqualified for ministry! Clearly such excessive literalism must be rejected” [1].

Biblical Grounds

The Church has good grounds for priestly celibacy. Our Lord not only lived it but affirmed it, saying:

[T]here 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” (Matt 19:12). 

Some of those who argue against priestly celibacy seem to be asserting the exact opposite: “Those who can receive it should not.” or, “No one can accept it -it’s unnatural-so no one should accept it.”

Similarly, St. Paul affirmed the celibate state as objectively superior, saying that he who marries “does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38). Paul argues that “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.” (1 Cor 7: 32-33).

Again, some of those who argue against priestly celibacy appear to be saying something contrary to paul, such as, “He who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage is – not quite right, perhaps oppressed.”

So while priestly celibacy could potentially change, it is unlikely. Catholics wish to remain faithful to Christ, who said of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, “he who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” The Church is right in inviting men and women to imitate Christ in forsaking all for the kingdom of heaven.

Notice also, that those who are called to the priesthood, are called to the priesthood. No one is imposing celibacy on anybody. The Catechism explains:

“Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” [Priests] give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God” (CCC 1579)

For a fully treatment of this issue, see our tract “Celibacy and the Priesthood”

12 thoughts on “Should Priests be Allowed to Marry?

  1. […] is not a matter of dogma or doctrine but, rather, of Church discipline – it could potentially …read more Source: Matt […]

  2. carloshelms says:

    Well said. As I – and others – have discovered, the priesthood ain’t for everybody. Doesn’t mean one can’t live a fulfilled Christian life. At the end of the day – it’s all about following the call of the hounds-of-heaven.

  3. Katherine Rickards says:

    I think the big problem these days is that people don’t perceive celibacy as a positive thing, they only see the negatives; what they feel a person is forced to give up. They don’t get to have a spouse or children or all of those experiences of married and family life that so many of the laity do. What they don’t realise is that celibacy is a gift. It is not something that someone can or should take on lightly, it is a gift given by God in order that the individual might have a more intimate relationship with him, give themselves over to him totally and serve him more completely. Yes there are the surface things that a person does not have, but when we give ourselves in such a way to God as in the various celibate vocations (and let’s remember not everyone is called to marriage) he gives us so much more in return.

    At my discerment group last week we were given a talk on the religious life by a religious sister and she mentioned this; how celibacy is a gift and that she does not understand why people believe clergy ought to be able to marry. She teaches at the local seminary and had been talking about this issue with a colleague, a happily married woman with seven children. Sr. Finbarr asked this woman her feelings on married clergy to which her colleague replied that “people think marriage is the remedy for everything. Ask any married couple and, despite all the good points, they’ll tell you that’s not true.”

    • Rachel says:

      I totally agree with Sr Finbarr’s colegue. I’m also happily married with twin babies but crikey, I wouldn’t be able to do it if I wasn’t specifically called to it by a higher power than myself. That lad is right, its not the answer to everything. We’re all so conditioned into thinking “oh I have to be with someone! Because if I’m not, that means I’m a failure and there’s something wrong with me and besides, the only purpose in life is to have sex galore!” Well its just not true. None of those things are the be-all and end-all in life. Serving God as best as you can is! 🙂 Good luck with your discernment group! I hope you enjoy it and get a lot out of it.

  4. Rachel says:

    Well said Matt. I’m all for celabacy in the priesthood for all the reasons you’ve already said Matt but also because when you go to a priest for help and he gives you his undivided atention, at that moment in time you feel like the most important person in the world to him because, as someone who has forsaken a a life with a wife and children, he prioritises his flock because we, the flock, are like the priest’s children. WE are his family he has been called to take care of by God and for God. They become spiritual Farthers and wouldn’t be able to fulfil this duty for God as effectively as they do if they were physical fathers. They have forsaken wordly things in exchange for spiritual things and any man who can achieve the dicipline of celebacy can pretty much achieve dicipline in all other matters and are therefore holy and therefore deserve the utmost respect.

  5. Eic says:

    One of the main problems that RC’s have is that the church has made celibacy a requirement for church leadership. It denies I Tim 3 requirements for leadership. Married RC men are disqualified from being bishops because they are married. This shows that the RCC is not a biblical church.

    • carloshelms says:


      Somebody didn’t read the article…

      LOL….nevermind. I’m getting used to it.

    • mattfradd says:

      Eic, did you even read the article? I dealt with that passage.

    • Rachel says:

      But Matt explained that Bible passage very well. Also The Church isn’t denying anyone anything. When men become priests they are CHOOSING to follow Gods will. No one is making them do this. As for the “requirements for leadership” comment, the priesthood isn’t a career path that men go into because of the promotion opporunities so ordained men don’t, or shouldn’t, have ambition to become bishops, then cardinals, then… They allow what ever God wants. And a married man is less likely to be able to do that when he has the responsibility of a wife who may have a job and children who need stability in school etc. You can’t just be sent to another parish or to Africa to do missionary work or to Rome to teach when u have a family, its simply not practical. This may be why the RC Church is the biggest in the world. Its ran the way God wants it to.

  6. duane denetto says:

    Hi mel, this is another email blog I usually get weekly, thought u might like to read.


    Sent from my iPhone

  7. Michael says:

    Well Matt, as a laicized priest, properly dispensed from my promises by the Pope, I would agree with your first points but take issue with your latter points.

    I believe that celibacy should be an option and that it’s current mandatory enforcement is strictly a human rule (discipline) and can be changed. But your latter points use a straw man argument. You put words into your opponents’ mouths in such a way they are easy to refute. This may be missed by those who are already in agreement with your conclusion. If I were to use your kind of arguments I could argue that married people should not have sex and thus be celibate. Afterall, St. Paul suggested from his own authority, not via a revelation from the Lord, that husbands and wives should live as thought they were not (no sex?):

    “28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

    29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep…” (1 Corinthians 7:28-30 New International Version (NIV))

    The point being that St. Paul was writing from a place of believing in the imminent return of the Lord. He preferred celibacy over married life because the end was near. There is, in his opinion, nothing wrong with getting married but celibacy was the better option given the coming of the Lord’s Day.

    Therefore, if we are now making it mandatory that a man accept celibacy if he is called to the priesthood based on Paul’s preference for celibacy we should say the same for married couples! But this is not the case. The Clerical Hierarchy has determined these words to apply to one and not the other.

    I object to the popular traditionalist belief that if a man is called to priesthood he is automatically also called to celibacy because that is the rule in the Latin Rite. I do not believe God so limits Himself based on our political preferences (or that of the hierarchy). I do believe that God calls good men to the priesthood AND marriage just as He call some to priesthood and celibacy. I have seen many a good young man start discerning the priesthood only to leave to be married because they could not see themselves celibate for life. (I was too hopeful it could work for me! But I had a choice only between accepting it as a celibate or not at all). What we have in the Catholic Church today is not a shortage of priestly vocations but a problem with our requirements.

    The other side is that to live a celibate life requires important support systems which are severely lacking in our western culture. But that is another story for another day!

    As for 1 Timothy the points you make still do not deny that it does not omit a non-married man from being a bishop but it does instead emphasize the stewardship a man displays in his existent responsibilities and gifts. On the other hand, the fact that Paul chose to use family life as THE example shows an openness to married clergy we have lost in the Latin Rite, and in the Eastern Rites since they only make celibates bishops.

    In conclusion, I am all for celibacy in the Church whether lay or ordained but I do not believe it right that men who feel called to be priests should have to be celibate or forgo ordination.

    • mattfradd says:

      Thank you Michael,

      You’ve raised some very good points that I have benefited from.

      My post was not aimed at faithful Catholics who recognize that priestly celibacy is a matter of discipline and who may wish to see that discipline changed, but rather, to those who attack celibacy (in this case priestly) as being either unnatural or unbiblical.

      I am not guilty of the straw-man fallacy for this reason: the objections I raised were not intended to be representative of everyone who disagrees with mandatory priestly celibacy. I was deliberate in writing, “*some of those* who argue against priestly celibacy appear to be saying…”

      Thank you for your thought out and well written comment.

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