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Catholic Priest and Celibacy: Should Priests Marry? Essay

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Updated: May 2nd, 2022

Opening

Catholic priests grabbed headlines in recent years. But they are not in the news because of their good deeds. The mass media outlets of the world has made known child sex abuse cases involving the priesthood. Thus, there are many who are calling for the abolition of an ancient rule regarding priest and their vow of celibacy. Priest should be allowed to marry in order to significantly reduce or eliminate the problem with priests and inappropriate behavior. At the same time, allowing priests to marry would likely improve their ability to help the members of their flock especially those with marriage problems.

Thesis

The vow of celibacy is outdated and no longer applicable in the present time and so it must be eradicated as one of the primary requirements to become a priest.

Overview

The vow of celibacy that prevented priests to marry is a rule that has existed for hundreds of years. It can be argued that the ruling was made to protect Church property. If the Church allows priests to marry, then, there will be a problem in the event of their death because their properties will be transferred to the wife and children. But at the same time it can be argued that this issue is no longer a major concern in the present time. The Catholic Church should reconsider the practice. Furthermore, a priest should have the opportunity to understand what his congregation experiences on a day to day basis juggling work, home, family, and yet still find time to practice their faith. There should be no other requirement to enter the priesthood aside from being a devout Roman Catholic and a deep desire to serve God.

Points to be considered on the purpose of the celibate requirement

Church history and land ownership were the primary reasons for the celibacy requirement.

Throughout the centuries there have been married and unmarried clergy both within and without the Roman Catholic Church.

  1. The ownership of land and the transfer of the same was the main concern. Priests are supposed to live as Christ who was not married and did not have children.
  2. If living like Christ is the primary requirement, then, the same idea applies to everything they do. For example, the priests will be required to be of Jewish descent.
  3. Furthermore, they will have to be circumcised males.

Members of the Catholic Church believe Jesus placed a high value on celibacy; yet, some of his disciples were married. In the very first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, it was mentioned that Peter had a mother-in-law.

Rulings & Impact

As a result of the Second Lateran Council, around 1139, mandatory celibacy was made official for all Roman Catholic priests.

From that point forward the marriage of priests’ were declared invalid.

Those who are already married were forced to separate from their wives and children. There was no concern for their welfare even if this separation meant leaving them homeless and destitute as well as without the loving support of a husband and father (Cline, n.d.)

In an encyclical of 1967 ‘Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,’ which purported to be a document stressing the sacredness of celibacy, Pope Paul VI explained that celibacy was not an absolute necessity.

Arguments

There have been various arguments put forward as to why celibacy makes a priest better able to fulfill his role.

  1. This is often more to do with the time involved than with ideas of ritual purity.
  2. Throughout the world, there are examples of men and women who serve God selflessly both within and without the married state. Why is it that celibacy seems to conclude that a priest is unable to both love wife and God?
  3. Experience of marriage surely puts someone in a better position to counsel married couples.
  4. The priest’s wife in the Orthodox tradition has a definite and necessary role in church life, as do the wives of many Protestant ministers.
  5. Thomas Lederer included in his article ‘Celibacy and the Catholic Priesthood’ a quotation from Karl Rahner’s book that says, “In a sense, he (a priest) is always on duty” (Lederer, 1992, p.110). He also added:

In the light of this sociological aspect of his life, the priest must clearly understand that he belongs body and soul, with all that he is, to this church, to her task, to her mission, her work, her destiny, and he can never disassociate himself from these things (Lederer, 1992, p. 110).

It must be pointed out that priest should be Christians first and churchmen second.

Recent actions of church leaders have caused confusion, especially among the laity.

  1. Married former Episcopalians are allowed to join the priesthood, but Catholic priests who have married are not allowed to function as priests.
  2. This action is sometimes described as ‘vindictive’. Lederer quotes A.W.R. Sipe’s book which attempts to define celibacy:

Celibacy is a freely chosen dynamic state, usually vowed, that involves an honest and sustained attempt to live without direct sexual gratification in order to serve others productively for a spiritual motive (Lederer, 1992).

For some, celibacy is the best way for them to serve their God and is a traditional stance taken in many other religions.

  1. Lederer refers to Sipe’s examples of Tibetan Lamas and others. However, it doe not mean that God forbids marriage.
  2. There is no support to the claim that celibacy is better than marriage.

Consider the Bible verse, Genesis 2:18. It says that it was not good for a man to be alone.

There is no agreement to the meaning of this verse but it seems to suggest that marriage is a good thing.

The claim that there is no way to balance time for the Church and for the family can be easily disputed.

  1. The majority of churchgoers are married couples that also work outside the home.
  2. A married priest would have a more realistic understanding of the struggles encountered by their parishioners on a daily basis.

Conclusion & Summary

It is time to give priests the free choice when it comes to marriage. The Roman Catholic Church has to take a look at married clergy within the Protestant churches; married priests within the Orthodox Church; and married servants of God in the early Church. Some argue that allowing Catholic Priests the option of marriage would interfere with their devotion to the Church. However, others believe it would offer more insight in counseling members of the congregation. There is no valid research available to prove that priests would neglect their duties if they were allowed to marry. In fact, the Bible makes references to the importance of marriage.

As evidenced by the chart, as recent as 2011, a poll made in the Roman Catholic Church indicate that celibacy is the least of their concerns when considered along with other virtues or traditions of the Catholic church (Dillon, 2011). If the Church followers are not concerned with this tradition, then, all the more it is important to reconsider the view on celibacy.

The celibacy of the priesthood is a contentious issue that has to be resolved in the near future.

The rule of celibacy has not always been in existence and cannot be satisfactorily proved from scripture. Even the papacy agrees that though celibacy is a good thing, it is not a doctrinal necessity.

Enforced celibacy brings with it many problems such as a guilty conscience and damaged lives for those who failed to keep their vows.

It can be argued that a priest can serve the congregation better if he has the support of a wife and family. It has to be pointed out that there are many examples of priests who marry and yet successfully managed to perform their duties as priests.

There remains the idea that celibacy is a requirement to keep the priest pure. This is a debatable argument. This statement is derogatory to women and to married couples.

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