As a child, I never questioned priests’ celibacy. Unlike others, I always knew that they cannot marry. But as to the reason, I didn’t know, I just believe what the Church teaches. It is until I read an article about eastern churches’ priests that have a family that made me curious about the topic. It left me wondering, how in the world is it possible? In this blog post, we will discuss this in detail. Can Catholic priests marry?
In the Catholic Church, there are four types of vocations, Religious Life, Priesthood, Married Life, and Single Life. In all these callings, chastity is a requirement. It means that singles should not engage in any sexual relations before marriage, that married couples should be faithful in body and mind towards each other, and that priests should not marry, in other words, be celibate.
Note that celibacy is a discipline. It is not a doctrine. Meaning it can vary depending on the ecclesial authority.
In connection, geographically, there are diverse rites. The Latin or Roman Rite is the largest. It is the only Western Church.
On the other hand, the rest of the other rites are from the East.
Although they differ in some practices, Eastern Churches are in full communion with the Western Church. They recognize the papacy and submit to all dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic Church.
Here is a bible passage that talks about celibacy.
“Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
In the third century, optional celibacy became the usual practice for Egypt’s desert hermits.
In the Council of Elvira, prohibition on sexual intercourse between a married priest and his wife started.
During the 400s, it was not allowed to be married after the ordination.
The Second Lateran Council (1139) made celibacy for future priests in the Western Church mandatory.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following on celibacy.
CCC 1579 “All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to the affairs of the Lord, they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.”
Since the information above all referred to the Latin Church, how about Eastern Churches? Do they also observe celibacy?
As mentioned above, celibacy is a discipline. In the Eastern Rite, secular priests and monks practiced it. However, celibacy is not a requirement for men who are seeking ordination.
As you can notice, “men seeking ordination” is highlighted. The reason is that this is one of the common misconceptions about being a priest in the Eastern Church. People would generally think that priests can marry as long as they are in the eastern rite. But that is not the case. A married man can be ordained, however, an ordained man cannot.
Can Catholic Priests Marry?
Now, let’s sum up everything we discussed.
Can Catholic priests marry?
No, a priest cannot marry. In the Latin Rite, ordination to the priesthood is only for celibate men. While in the Eastern Rite, although the ordination of a married man is possible, a single man entering the priesthood cannot marry after the ordination.
Reason of Celibacy
So, why can’t priests marry?
First, Jesus was celibate. Since priests serve in the place of Christ, they become models, consecrating and configuring themselves to Christ.
Paul also clarifies that remaining single enables one’s attention to serving the Lord undivided.
Imagine a priest attending to the needs of the Church and at the same time to the needs of his family as a husband and a father, there could be a conflict on each responsibility. Any or both the vocations could suffer.
Another reason is that priests from religious orders take a vow of celibacy, while diocesan priests make a promise.
Lastly, the Church blocks the validity of marriage by the ordained.
Canon 1087 Those in sacred orders invalidly attempt marriage.
Canon 1088 Those bound by a public perpetual vow of chastity in a religious institute invalidly attempt marriage.
The marriage of the ordained is only possible if he receives a dispensation from the Church.
In our baptism, we made a promise to be chaste. We have a call to be pure, valuing our bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit.
In this generation, we are in now, there seems to be no room for chastity in people’s lives. Sins of the flesh are everywhere. At any point, one could fall into these temptations easily. Priests are no excuse. They are humans too. They have weaknesses as well. Let us always include them in our prayers.
That God’s priests may be faithful to their vows and promises of celibacy.
Loving Mother, pray for us.