Should priests be celibate?

What should the Church do now with Padre Alberto, dubbed “Pastor Oprah,” in his role as a TV priest. He was “caught” by photographers with a woman on a beach, and says he should — and all priests should — be allowed to marry.

“There are plenty of good, practical and faithful reasons why the Church asks its priests to remain celibate: the priest is married to the church; priests have lifestyles that are incompatible with family life; priests (who also take poverty vows) don’t make enough money to allow them to support families; celibacy frees them to focus on their priestly duties,” writes the Washington Post’s On Faith blog, while pointing out that Protestant pastors who are married and convert to Catholicism are allowed to stay married. So if some priests can be married and married to the church, why can’t others?

In 2004, a Minnesota Franciscan sister surveyed seminaries about celibacy and found “that some seminary faculty members lack confidence to make appropriate interventions and recommendations, and some are uncertain how to deal with ‘cross-cultural dynamics relative to sexuality’ — especially when dealing with formation of the foreign-born seminarians who now make up about one-fourth of the theology-level students in U.S. seminaries.”

One presumes it’s coming up in discussions today.

  • MNguy

    Celibacy is just another “rule” conjured up by the religious authorities to control behavior in the name of power. It really doesn’t matter. Some spiritual leaders are skilled at what they do and some are not. Symbolic marriage to the church is cruel fraud that denies the most basic human need for intimacy in exchange for a mouthful of pious mumbling. Priests are the same as the rest of us in all the wonderful and flawed ways that people are. This distracting nonsense trivializes the core spiritual mission of the church and makes a spectacle of the enforcement of irrelevant regulations.

  • First, define what you mean by priest before you try to answer this question.

    If you include Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholic (in communion with Rome, but not of the Roman Rite), and Episcopal/Anglican priests, the question doesn’t have any meaning. Marriage is already open to them.

    It is only Roman Rite priests that normally have the prohibition on marriage (with the possibility of exceptions granted for clergy coming from outside the Roman Rite to the Roman Rite).

    The real question is why is it normative for Roman Rite priests to be celibate when it isn’t for other priests, even for priests in communion with Rome but in an Eastern rite.

  • Shelia McComb

    I grew up Catholic and worked for Catholic organizations for about 10 years. I was privileged to discuss many prevalent issues including celibacy with various clergy and nuns during that time. They believe that celibacy is a calling that is part of their vocation and identity. Because they are not in committed relationships outside of their personal commitment to God and their work, they are able to commit themselves fulltime to the people they minister. And I also believe that celibacy is quite complex. As evidenced by Protestant religions, priests and nuns would be better counselors and leaders if they experienced the same emotions and issues as the people they minister to. It would take awhile for priests, nuns, Catholic lay ministers, and the Catholic faithful to allow for partnerships, marriage and relationships for those in leadership. And I believe it will make them much better ministers. However, this issue is better advocated in Rome.

  • MN Catholic Girl

    I was born and raised a Catholic, and I continue to practice today. The question of celibacy and the differences in enforcement is just one of the many problems that Rome has. I have learned, however, that no matter how much we rant, that things don’t change over there. I wish that priests could be married or single. I think it would make for a healthier overall person. I wish that the Catholic church would stop gay-bashing. I wish women could be priests…

    …but I have resigned myself that I am powerless, the church is not a democracy, and that things are not going to change in my lifetime. So, I will go to church and pray, and hope for the best. I just don’t plan to ask my priest for marriage advice or any advice, for that matter.

  • Al

    I was surprised to see a priest caught with a woman but the reason being because it was a woman he was caught with. My priest and ex-priest friends say that certainly greater than half of all US priests are gay, with some estimating as high as 90%. What would you expect when combine this ridiculous celibacy rule with the constant calling of gays sinners? You shame a bunch of gay Catholic boys into hating themselves for being gay and where are they going to hide from their feeligns? The celibate priesthood of course, where they’re not allowed to be attracted to anyone. Of course that makes going to the seminary a lot like hiding from your alcoholism in a bar. After seminary, many priests are placed in parishes far removed from each other. Gone are the days when each parish had a few priests who could share the joy and trials of daily life as a pseudo-family. For many, the frustration of isolation sets in.

    I have become good friends with a number of priests in the past and it’s no wonder to me that I know as many priests who have been to treatment for substance abuse and/or depression as those who haven’t. The Catholic priesthood is something I wish upon noone.

  • Nicole

    I once learned that, at some point in time, the Church implemented the “priests are married to the church” / celibacy rule because it was too expense for them to support priests and their families. It was a money saving procedure that turned into doctrine.

    Is this true? I honestly don’t know. How about an interview with someone about that history — a reality vs myth thing?

  • Elizabeth T

    Nicole –

    yes, it is correct. Around the 12th (13?) Century, the Roman Church made it a rule that one could not be married and be a bishop. It then expanded down to the regular priests by the 13th Century. To claim it was a money saving project over-simplifies it though.

    One ought to point out, comparing Rome to the Orthodox/Eastern churches – with the orthodox (as I understand it), an ordinary priest is allowed to marry, but he cannot become a bishop or ‘higher’ priest. I believe (again, as I understand it) their rationale is similar to Rome about dedication to the church. The difference is that they implement it when, in practice, a greater dedication to the Church as an organization is imposed upon a man. The dedication for a parish priest is more directly to the people, and not to the Church as an organization.

    I think this would be a nice stepping stone for Rome to choose.

    Of course, I also think women should be allowed to be ordained as priests.

    Another point is celibacy vs. marriage. The Roman Catholic church states that any sex outside of the bounds of holy matrimony is a sin. So, yes, priests should be celibate – as long as they’re not married.