Monday, June 5, 2017

Is it Time that the Church Allow Priests to Marry?

The Western rite of the Church, for centuries, has traditionally selected candidates for the Priesthood only from among those men who have chosen to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. As with most things, there are exceptions to this.  Yet, it is certainly the norm.  It's also worth noting that the celibate Priesthood is only a discipline, not a doctrine of the Church.  It could change at any moment, though it isn't likely.
Even in the Eastern Rite of the Church, where married men are allowed to be Priests, they may not marry if they were single when they became a Priest, nor can they remarry if widowed. Over the years there have been arguments from different directions regarding this Priestly celibacy.
From priests can’t relate to family life to single men need a sexual outlet, and that’s why sex abuse happened in the Church, to it’s not fair/Christian to deny a man the right to Marriage", the reasons for allowing Catholic Priests to marry continue to be brought up, ironically by non-Catholics for the larger part. Even more ironically, it is mostly brought up by non-Priests.  One Lutheran pastor wrote an article for the Christian Post, listing out 10 reasons "Why Priests Should be Allowed to Marry". Yet, all of the reasons, including the three that I mentioned above, are either short-sighted, wrong-minded, or based on bad logic.

For example, in the article I mentioned above, the author writes, "What if, for example, a priest changes his mind about celibacy based on Scripture or for personal reasons? It goes against the spirit of the Gospel to forbid him from pursuing this wholesome desire for marriage...It simply contradicts Christian freedom to bind man's conscience in this way, especially with something as beautiful as marriage...". He goes so far as to suggest that it's a form of "spiritual abuse".
Let's put that into another real-life situation, involving something as beautiful as undivided devotion to the Lord:
What if, for example, a married man changes his mind about choosing to be married, based on Scripture or for personal reasons? Afterall, Saint Paul said it's better not to marry in order to have undivided devotion to the Lord! (1Cor 7:8, 32-35.) Doesn't it go against the spirit of the Gospel to forbid him from pursuing this wholesome desire for undivided devotion to the Lord? Doesn't it contradict Christian freedom to bind the man's conscience in this way, especially with something as beautiful as undivided devotion to the Lord?
Or what about something as beautiful as mirroring Christ's example of celibacy? Or something as beautiful and wholesome as celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom?
The same can be said of a man who suddenly decides he married the wrong woman, but still wants to be married, just not to the 'wrong' woman to whom he is currently married. Is it wrong to deny this man the Christian freedom to leave his wife so that he can find 'the right' one? Was Jesus being spiritually abusive and going against the spirit of the Gospel by saying that a man could not divorce his wife and marry another?
No. Men who freely marry, and men who freely take a vow of celibacy, have taken a vow before God. They made a free and well-informed choice to accept the life vocation that God has given to them, and there is nothing abusive or unfair in expecting them to live out their vocation in light of the vow they took before God. Undivided devotion to the Lord, mirroring Christ's example of celibacy, and renouncing sex for the sake of the Kingdom are desires that are just as beautiful and wholesome as marriage.

Here’s a clue: if it causes you to revoke a vow that you have made to God, then it might not be a "wholesome desire" you are chasing, even if you disguise it with something wholesome.

Let's look at the other reasons.

"Priests can't relate to family life because they are not married."
I would go so far as to say that *some* Priests don't relate *as well* to family life as some others do. But this has nothing to do with not being married. Believe it or not, Priests have families. Yes, believe it or not, every single Priest in the world was born to at least one parent; and most of them had siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors, etc. Further, every single Priest is a member of a much larger family; that is, the family of Christians. All of us are parts of the Body of Christ, His Church, and celibate Priests are no exception. They even have a very special role in this family, as spiritual fathers, just like Paul (1Cor 4:15; Phil 1:10; cff. 1Thess 2:11; 1Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4). Priests are intimately familiar with this spiritual family life, and fully capable of relating to family life.

"Single men need a sexual outlet. This was the cause of the abuse scandal in the Church."
I would agree that men, in general, need some outlet from time to time. But I don't see why it needs to be sexual in nature. Jesus Christ was a single man, and he didn't need a sexual outlet. Paul was a single man, and he didn't seem to need a sexual outlet, either. You could probably get by with saying that *married* men need a sexual outlet (with their spouse). But, according to Jesus, not every man is called to be married (Mt 19:11-12).
And if you think that the sex abuse scandal erupted because of celibacy among Priests, I would say you are part of the problem of sexual abuse. The majority of sexual abuse victims were victimized by married men and women. They are victimized by uncles, aunts, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, police officers, married pastors, even their own parents or siblings. Of the 62,000+ victims of sexual abuse each year in the United States, about 8 of them are reported to have been victimized by a celibate Priest. Celibacy is NOT the problem. I would argue that part of the problem is this notion that we "need a sexual outlet".

"It’s not fair/Christian to deny a man the right to marriage."
Well, if we are Christians, why are we seeing marriage as a "right", rather than a "calling" (a vocation) to the life which God has called us. Are we not here to love and serve the Lord? And did God not make some to be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:11-12)? It's not Christian to encourage a man to step away from the calling to which Christ has called him, and encourage him to do something else. It's also not Christian to presume that people who choose a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom feel unfairly treated.  Maybe we should get THEIR thoughts about this matter, instead of interjecting our own?  Afterall, it's their lifestyle we are talking about, not our own.  No one is forced into the Priesthood.  It must be freely chosen as a vocation, and Priestly celibacy along with it.

"God instituted marriage and it is therefore very good."
Amen to that! But why should this mean that those called to a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom should be married? God also instituted celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, and it is therefore very good. But that doesn't mean that *everyone* should be celibate.

"Marriage teaches ministers a lot about the Christian life."
Sure it does. Marriage teaches non-ministers a lot about Christian life, too! Marriage, in my opinion, is as close a tangible example as we can get to representing the Holy Trinity. But that doesn't mean it's for everyone. And according to Paul, one of my favorite evangelists and Apostles, it's better not to be married, unless we simply "can't control [our]selves" (1Cor 7:8-9, 25-27, 32-35).
Further, Marriage is not the only means by which we learn of Christian life. Suffering, perseverance in the faith, reading the Scriptures, accepting God's calling for our lives, carrying our cross, and living out our vocations all teach us about Christian life as well. So does being a Priest in God's Church, and renouncing Marriage for the sake of the Kingdom.

"Parenting is an important aspect in the life of discipleship."
Amen, again! Yet, I wonder if Paul would have been a better disciple if he had gotten Married and become a physical parent? Would Jesus have given us a better example if he was a "parent"? Being a parent, at least in the example of Christ and of some of his Apostles and their subsequent successors, and according to the story of Abraham, doesn't always have to mean that we physically beget all of our own children. Jesus and Paul were big fans of spiritual parenthood, and I don't see any reason why that should count less than physical.  You need not be married and beget biological children in order to engage in parenting.

"Binding man's conscience on secondary matters is harmful."
This is really bad logic on a couple of levels. For starters, God binds our consciences when he forbids us to sin. That's not harmful. A man binds his own conscience when he takes a vow to God to serve Him according to His Will for the man's life. That's not harmful.  Spouses bind their consciences to one another when they make their vows to each other.  That's not harmful.
But what about binding someone else's conscience for them, against their will? No one does that. A person who took a vow of celibacy took that on their own. No once forced them to do it. And of the millions of people who have taken such a vow, I have only heard of a tiny handful of them who later regretted it and decided to change their mind. (Martin Luther was one of them, along with the nun that he married.) Their conscience was not bound by any man or by the Church. It was bound by themselves and God. Was it harmful for God to have bound their consciences on this matter?
And speaking of "matter", who said that taking a vow of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom was "secondary"? Jesus specifically talks about this in His Gospels. Paul specifically talks about it as well. Given the fact that all the world could not contain all that Christ said or did (Jn 21:25), I think that ANYTHING that made it into the written Word is of primary importance. Who is this author to say that vows to God about celibacy are a "secondary matter"? By what authority is this claim made? It certainly isn't called "secondary" in Scripture!

"A married priest can be just as holy and dedicated as a single priest."
Not according to Scripture; because according to Scripture a married Priest's interests will be divided, and therefore he could not possibly be as dedicated as a single Priest, whose interests are NOT divided. But let's pretend that it's really true; that married and single Priests are just as holy and dedicated as each other. Why should that be a reason for a Priest, who has taken a vow of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, to get married? Are we free from our vows just because other people who *don't* take them are just as holy and dedicated? God called me to the vocation of being a husband and father. But since a single person that I know is just as holy and dedicated to the faith as I am, is that a reason for me to ditch my vocation and become single?

"God leads many ministers of the Gospel around to world to get married."
Not the ones whom he has called to renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom. The ones whom He has called to celibacy are not called to get married...because they were called to celibacy. And how do you know that God led them to be married, rather than they, themselves, making that decision for themselves? And why is their testimony more weighty than that of those who say that God led them to a life of celibacy? Have you ever even asked for the testimony of someone who was called to the celibate Priesthood? We would do well to actually talk to real Priests and nuns about their calling, instead of simply interjecting our opinions about their vocation choices.

"Doing something "for the sake of tradition" is not always a good enough reason."
Agreed! But that's not why the Church selects candidates for the Priesthood from among the celibate; and it's not why men and women in the Church choose a life of celibacy. It does happen to be a tradition, but it's very bad logic to say that Priestly celibacy is "for the sake of tradition". (It's so bad, in fact, that there is a name for the illogic. It's called a "strawman".) No, the reason the Church chooses celibate men for the Priesthood is because it wants Priests whose interests will not be divided. Being that this was highlighted in God's written Word, and exemplified by THE Word Himself, that's a good enough reason. And of the men and women who choose celibacy, one of the reasons they choose it is because they are called to it, and are following the example of Christ (and Paul) in renouncing marriage for the sake of the Kingdom. Doing something because our Saviour provided an example for it, and felt it important enough to mention it in His written Word, is a good enough reason.

"Priests would personally learn a lot about the equality between husband and wife."
Priests don't need to be married in order to learn about the relationship of husbands and wives. Paul certainly didn't need to be married, and he wrote pretty eloquently about this very topic. In fact, Paul took it further and compared marriage to Christ's relationship with His Church. Priests know a lot about Christ and His relationship to His Church; and that knowledge naturally flows through to an understanding of marriage.  That's the example from Scripture, anyway. It also happens to be the reality. I have yet to meet a Priest who didn't understand or know about the relationship between husbands and wives, the equality, the differences, and any other matter regarding marriage. Could they learn more still? Maybe. But that doesn't mean they *need* to be allowed to be married, at least not according to Scripture.

"Many wise and discerning Christians in the Catholic church believe priests should marry."
Not Saint Paul. Not Jesus Christ. Not the many wise and discerning Christians in the Catholic Church throughout history who thought otherwise. Not the wise and discerning Christians in the Church alive today who still think it's a good idea for a Priest to renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom. Not the wise and discerning Priests and Nuns who have followed God's call to accept a life of celibacy in imitation of Christ. Why does it matter if "many wise and discerning Christians believe Priests should marry"? Many "wise and discerning Christians" also thought it would be a good idea to let people use contraception in extreme cases in 1930. Shortly thereafter, we saw a rise in divorce rates and abortion became rampant. Many "wise and discerning Christians" also think it's a good idea to encourage people in their lives of sin, because "feelings" matter more than God. Many "wise and discerning Christians" think many "wise and discerning" things that ultimately end up not being so "wise and discerning". And what makes their opinions "wise"? (That bit of the bad logic is named "circular reasoning", or "begging the question".)

"The Gospel message of forgiveness through Christ is more important than marriage or celibacy."
If that's true, then why bother writing an article with 10 reasons why Priests should marry? Why not just focus on the message of forgiveness? And what if, *what if* the message of forgiveness can be delivered to those in need of it by men whose interests are not divided? What if that message can be delivered, in the fullness of its truth, by men who can be 100% devoted to serving God's people in that way, rather than having much of their time taken up in providing for their spouses and their children? Is the Gospel message important enough to deliver it without divided interest?

The reasons given above, for why Priests should marry, have nothing at all to do with marriage, in my opinion. What they are is a stream of excuses for why people should be allowed to jump ship on the vows they have taken.
Is it time that the Church allow Priests to marry? No.
It's time that we start taking our vows to God seriously, and start living out the vocations to which He has called us, without trying to find excuses to change our minds on a whim.

For more on celibacy, and for 10 reasons why it's *good* to have celibate Priests, please take a look at Matthew Pinto's brief, article, "Why are Priests not allowed to Marry?"



    1. Thanks for sharing your article, Dr. Tai. It was informative and enlightening, but it's also unfortunate that the Marital embrace was portrayed as something possibly contrary to holiness, purity, and chastity. The Marriage Act was given to us by God as a means by which we participate in His creation; literally, we cooperate in creating new life through this act. When engaged in through the sacred Sacrament of Matrimony, the sex act, which renews the vows between the couple and through which they present their totality to God as procreative instruments, can indeed be holy, pure, and chaste.