Even Pope Francis has alluded on occasion, that it might be time for the Roman Catholic church to consider to admit married men to the sacrament of Holy Orders for the ordained Catholic priesthood. Although it sounds revolutionary in the Roman framework, this is really not a big deal in the broader sense of Catholicism.
There are many circumstances where men who have been married are in active ministry as ordained Catholic priests. As early as the 1980s, there were quite a few Protestant ministers who were received into the Catholic church with their wives and permitted to continue in active priestly ministry as Catholics. According to Crux, these men were often kept out of the pastoral spotlight, perhaps also because the less conspicuous ministerial positions, such as those in hospital chaplaincy and diocesan administration, might also offer better financial support for their family. Additionally, married priests are normative in regions of the world where Catholics worship in the Eastern Rite, and in 2014, Eastern Rite churches in North America revived the practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood after 85 years of surpression.
The practice of clerical celibacy is the Roman Rite discipline, not doctrine. Men do not take vows of celibacy- they do not avow themselves to God. Upon their ordination to the transitional diaconate, which precedes priestly orders, a promise is made that they will remain celibate, or literally, unmarried. By virtue of their life as a single person, this also implies that they would live a chaste life.
Because emotional and physical intimacy are so often inseparable, the noble act of remaining unmarried for the sake of service, often makes it difficult to experience for the celibate person to experience healthy friendship.
I am a single woman at an age when most of my friends confide solely in their spouses. In my 20’s, I didn’t feel so alone, but now that I’m in my 30’s, there are days when life is exhaustingly lonely. The lack of physical affection is the least of my concerns. Sometimes, I just want to talk to someone who is fully interested in my life when my day comes to a close. If I were to find that and to marry, my livelihood would not be a canonical impediment nor would I be restricted from continuing in active ministry as a married person. I cannot imagine how difficult this stage of life must be must feel for those who are challenged to keep the promise of celibate continence that they made in their late 20’s.
Unfortunately, a candid discussion about the lonely moments of ministry is nearly taboo. The seamy, unhealthy side of celibacy is an elephant cub who has rapidly outgrown the confines of the less-than-ample sacristy where he was birthed. We throw peanuts at him. We walk on a bed of peanut shells. We know that he is obstructing transit around the vesting case, but he’s perhaps too expansive and too expensive to relocate. We cover him with a ratty old funeral pall in hopes that Babbar will go unnoticed, but as others trip and fall around him, it becomes more difficult to access the sacristy where he lives in lonely captivity. Eventually, he will make it impossible for the faithful to celebrate mass because the sole retired priest who came in the room to vest cannot maneuver towards the door that opens onto the altar.
Recently, Aleteia posted an article about by Msgr. John J. McSweeney, pastor of the largest parish in the United States, who made strong statements about the need for the ordination of married men to the Roman Catholic priesthood. Then Aleteia removed the post. It was only more proof that this is a topic that few people, even confident leaders who are aware of this matter’s complexity, are willing to publicly discuss. Herein lies the problem.
Celibacy is not the problem. We have made it problematic because no one wants to talk about it for very long, as if somehow, an honest conversation about the difficulties of unmarried life would somehow brand conversors with a scarlet ‘A’ for ‘Apostate.’
Until the church is more comfortable to talk about the emotional affects of celibacy, we are in a stalemate. We pray that more courageous folks like Msgr. McSweeney will speak freely, openly and encourage other Catholics to do the same.
You can read more about the comments made by McSweeney here: