Will having more married Roman Catholic priests change the rules on celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church? The New York Times reports that there are currently 80 married priests in the US and more to come as the Ordinariate welcomes married men who are priests into the clergy ranks.
There were always some married priests in Roman Catholicism, too, until the First Lateran Council, in 1123, banned the practice. And there have been married Roman Catholic priests again since 1980, when the church said that Protestant clergymen who became Catholic priests could stay married to their wives.
There are about 80 such Catholic priests in America, says the Rev. D. Paul Sullins, a sociologist at Catholic University in Washington. Once an Episcopal priest himself, now a married Catholic priest, Father Sullins has interviewed over 70 married priests, and many of their wives, for a book he is writing. A vast majority are former Episcopalians, he says, though some came from other Protestant denominations.
The small cohort of married priests raises several questions. First, are they doing as good a job as other priests? If the church has decided that celibacy confers certain gifts on priests, does it follow that married priests are worse at serving their congregations? Second, wouldn’t celibate priests be a little resentful of colleagues who get to serve the church and have sex too? And third, if the married priests are doing a good job and not provoking envy, why keep the celibacy rule for priests in general?
To answer the first question, it is important to understand the rationale for the celibacy rule. (“Celibacy” refers to a life without marriage; “continence” is the term for living without sexual activity. In principle, celibate priests are also continent.) The church has never taught that celibacy is necessary to the priesthood. Rather, the tradition holds that that a priest performing the sacraments represents Jesus Christ, who was single. This idea of the priest in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, is also a prime rationale for why women cannot be Catholic priests.
Will married priests be less accessible than celibate priests?
…there is the practical belief that “if a man’s not married, he’s able to devote himself more fully and exclusively to his parish.” But he has found that married priests are usually aided, not hindered, by their wives, who are very committed to the parish. … if you call a married priest in the middle of the night, and he is disinclined to go out, he will get an elbow from his life partner, saying, ‘Hey, you committed yourself to this work.’
Are celibate priests envious? Read more here.