Response to Married Priests – Celibacy

Fr. Joel Priesthood

Many, many people favor married priests. They believe that the Church started priestly celibacy for practical reasons: priests are too busy to have a family, it used to cause problems with inheritance of church buildings, and most Catholics don’t give enough to the church to support both a priest and his family. They believe that for practical reasons, now is the time to make a change. Here are some of the arguments:

  1. Celibacy emerged from a negative view of sex that it was something bad. Now we know better, and a priest doesn’t need to avoid marital relations in order to stay pure.
  2. Some people might be called to be priests but not given the gift of celibacy (perhaps in the case of our author above). Why not have married priests too?
  3. Maintaining priestly celibacy may be a beautiful thing, but if it causes a shortage of priests and a lack of the Eucharist, it needs to go.
  4. Celibacy is contrary to human nature; it condemns a priest to life a life of loneliness and isolation.
  5. How could a young man at the age of 24 or 25, maybe one who has never even had a serious girlfriend, make such a big decision as this for the rest of his life?
These five objections are taken up by Pope Paul VI in his beautiful (and forgotten) encyclical on the celibacy of the priesthood, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, from 24 June 1967. How does the Pope respond to such damning arguments? Very simply:
Jesus Christ is the Answer
Christian priesthood takes its origin from Jesus Christ. Jesus came with a mission to love us and to be our heavenly bridegroom. He lived a life of complete celibacy, why? Because sex was bad? No, because it was good, but he was offering us something better – the unconditional love of God. He remained his whole life celibate in complete, dedicated service to God and man. In doing so, he opened up for us a new way of loving. Celibacy signifies “love without reservations”. As Paul VI says, “celibacy is and ought to be a rare and very meaningful example of a life motivated by love.” Jesus provides us the model for the priesthood.
Life of Self-giving Love
A priest cannot be married because, quite simply, he has already given himself to someone else. He has given himself to the Church and to Christ. Priesthood is a life of self-giving love. This is why it is a permanent commitment, this is why a man cannot be un-ordained. This is also why a man, once ordained, cannot marry. Some people look at the life of a priest and say, “I couldn’t do that.” What they generally mean is, “I couldn’t live without love.” I completely agree with them; I couldn’t live without love either. But priesthood is not the invitation to a life without love. Rather, it is an invitation to love without reservations. Celibacy is a radical way of living based on two simple truths:
  1. You are worth it.
    You were worth the death of the Son of God. God loves you so much, he is giving you men who are completely dedicated to serving you. That is celibate priesthood.
  2. God is enough.
    God alone satisfies, as St. Teresa of Avila says. Our ultimate happiness in heaven comes from being satisfied by God himself and his unconditional love for us. By his life, the priest is testifying that in the end, the only thing we truly need is God.
Answers to the Objections
Here are some very short answers to the above objections:
  1. Celibacy is not about ritual purity. A conjugal relationship is beautiful when it expresses a true gift of self. Celibacy, when lived out of love, does the same thing.
  2. The Western church has a very beautiful and very fruitful tradition of celibate priests. It is a poignant witness to God’s love and the power of grace. Would it not be arrogant for us to throw away something beautiful because we are afraid of a lack of priests? Does this show that we do not trust God to supply what we need?
  3. Celibacy is more necessary now than ever. People are attacking it because they fear it; it shows how hollow is the world of glorified, self-gratifying sexual encounters. 
  4. Celibacy is a super-natural gift which rises from the fact that God himself loves each of us. Rather than attacking nature, it shows us that the true nature of every human being is to be loved by God.
  5. This is not a commitment to be made lightly, and it requires careful and proper formation. But a man can give his life to defend his country at the age of 18, and a man can give his life to defend his family at any age. Can he not also give his life out of love even at the age of 25? So many of our young people do not see their true capacity to love and be loved and they settle for using and being used. Let’s start a revolution of purity and manliness.
Now I have given you a beautiful vision, but you will tell me that it isn’t possible. Celibacy may testify to God’s love, but I man really cannot live this beautiful vision in the real world. In the words of U2: “I believe in love.” I still believe that real, self-giving love is not only possible, but even necessary for our survival as human beings. Paul VI says:
Of this [the Church] is certain: if she is prompter and more persevering in her response to grace, if she relies more openly and more fully on its secret but invincible power, if, in short, she bears more exemplary witness to the mystery of Christ, then she will never fall short in the performance of her salvific mission to the world—no matter how much opposition she faces from human ways of thinking or misrepresentations. We must all realize that we can do all things in Him who alone gives strength to souls and increase to His Church.

Read more here:

Encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus