Ordination of Married Men in the Catholic Church

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The Catholic Church has married priests at the present time, both in the Latin Rite and in the Eastern Rites.

The general discipline for priests in the Latin Rite is that they take a vow of celibacy before ordination:

"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' (Presbyterorum Ordinis 16). ... In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. ... In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry" (CCC, 1579-80).

The proper way for the two sacraments to be united is therefore marriage first and ordination afterward. Apart from one short aberration in one part of the Church the early Middle Ages, the Church has never allowed ordained men to marry.

Celibacy in the Old Testament

EWTN Expert Answers, "Celibacy of Priests."
Br. Anthony Opisso, M.D., EWTN, "The Perpetual Virginity of Mary."
Celibacy according to tradition
Elijah and Elisha were celibate all their lives (<Zohar Hadash> 2:1; <Midrash Mishlei> 30, 105, <Pirke Rabbi Eliezer> 33). When for the sake of the Torah (i.e., intense study in it), a rabbi would abstain from relations with his wife, it was deemed permissible, for he was then cohabiting with the Shekinah (the "Divine Presence") in the Torah (<Zohar re Gn> 1:27; 13:3 and Psalm 85:14 in the <Discourse of Rabbi Phineas to Rabbis Jose, Judah, and Hiya)>. It is well known that the rabbis spoke concerning the obligation of all males to be married and procreated: "He who abstains from procreation is regarded as though he had shed blood" (Rabbi Eliezer in <Yebamoth> 63b, Babylonian Talmud; see also <Shulkhan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) >section< Evenhar-Ezer> 1:1,3,4). According to <Yebamoth> 62b, B.T. a man is only half a man without a wife, citing Genesis 5:2 where it is said: "Male and female He (God) created them and blessed them, and called their name Adam (lit. "Man").
Nevertheless, "if a person cleaves to the study of the Torah (i.e., dedicates all his time to it) like Simeon ben Azzai, his refusal to marry can be condoned" <(Skulkhan Arukh EH> 1:4). Rabbinic scholar Simeon ben Azzai (early second century A.D.) was extraordinary in his learning: "with the passing of Ben Azzai diligent scholars passed from the earth" <(Sotah> 9:15). He never married and was celibate all his life so as not to be distracted from his studies, and because he considered the Torah his wife, for who he always yearned with all his soul <(Yebamoth> 63b). He was an outstanding scholar <(Kiddushin> 20a, B.T.) and also renowned for his saintliness <(Berakoth> 57b, B.T.).

John the Baptist almost certainly was celibate — the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the new.

Ordination of married men in the New Testament

  • Simon Peter had a mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31). This means that he was a married man, although his wife may have been dead at the time of Peter's calling.
  • "Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (1 Cor 9:4).
  • Titus 1:5-9

5 For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you,

6 on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious.

7 For a bishop as God's steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain,

8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled,

9 holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.

  • "A bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach ... " (1 Tim 3:2).

Rationale for celibacy

No one is forced to be a priest. Being a priest is not necessary for salvation. All men in the Latin Rite who have received Holy Orders did so as a voluntary act, with full understanding that this meant that they could not marry. I am baffled that so many Latin rite priests speak as though some injustice has been done to them. They "renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12). No one took anything away from them against their will.

St. Paul explains the spirituality of celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7. He wishes, without commanding, that all would be single for the Lord, as he is (v. 7). The single person (male or female, ordained or not) is free of the anxieties associated with married life and can devote themselves more fully to the work of the Lord (vv. 32-35). Both Jesus and Paul were "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom" (Mt 19:10-12).

Anglican Dispensation

By way of dispensation from the ordinary laws of the Latin rite, the Church has ordained married men who served as priests in the Anglican Church and who have converted to Catholicism. There is also a new policy for the formation of Anglican ordinariates in the Catholic Church which may, in time, become a full-fledged rite of its own.

The association of ordination with celibacy in the Latin rite developed over many centuries and was only firmly established around the year 1000. The Church could change this discipline at any time if it wished to. Vatican II changed the rule of celibacy in the Latin rite for deacons so that married men could be ordained as deacons.

The Bottom Line: The Catholic Church ordains married men as priests. Most of them are in the Eastern rites. A few serve in North America or in other countries where pastors from other Christian bodies convert along with their congregation. The Church also ordains married men as deacons.

Discipline vs. Dogma

Please distinguish:

1. Dogma: irreversible teaching of the Church.
2. Discipline: authoritative decisions about how the Church will do things.

The practical decision (discipline) to associate priesthood with celibacy in the Latin Rite is NOT DOGMA. It could be changed if the Church decides that it would be more prudent (wise) to ordain married men in the Latin rite.