By Tom Quiner

A Quiner’s Diner reader posed some good questions to me:images

Not being a Catholic myself, I find it hard to comprehend why those in the priesthood are forbidden to marry when every pastor I have known has been married. (I attended Methodist church as a young man, and switched to Baptist later in life.)

It seems to me that there would be fewer problems if Catholic priests were allowed to marry, as they would have a legitimate venue for sexual release. Humans ARE sexual creatures. God made us this way so that we could “go forth and multiply”, but also told us the proper avenue for those desires.

The Catholic dogma of preventing their priests to marry seems to only invite such things as the adulterous relationships we hear some priests have partaken in or the molestations we have heard about of an admittedly small number of other priests.

One scholar suggested to me that Catholics priests of old were forbidden to marry so that they would have no heirs, and therefore would leave their riches to the church. I am not as cynical as that, but still find it hard to understand the prohibition of marriage. I can find nothing Biblical about it.

Here are some insights on these questions, which I will address in a Q & A format.

Is priestly celibacy a dogma of the Catholic Church? No, it is a discipline the Church chooses to embrace.

Are there any married priests in the Catholic Church? Yes. In the Easter and Orthodox Rites, married priests are the norm. In the Roman Church, there are married priests who  converted from the Lutheran, Anglican, and Episcopal traditions.

Could the Roman Church choose to relax the discipline of celibacy? Yes, although it is unlikely. The Church views their priests as being married to the Church. They are every much in a sacramental relationship as a married couple is in a sacramental relationship.

Wasn’t the first Pope, St. Peter, married? Scripture clearly indicates that he was married at one time. Interestingly, his wife isn’t referred to in scripture, only his mother-in-law, which suggests his wife wasn’t living at the time he began his priesthood. We don’t know for sure.

Is celibacy unnatural and even unbiblical? No. Scripture calls on each of us to be celibate at certain times in our lives, and to reserve conjugal expressions of love within the confines of sacramental marriage. St. Paul even commends celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

Well, doesn’t this scripture quote support the questioner’s concern that celibacy may have been the root cause of the priest-abuse scandal? No. Because of the notoriety of this issue, extensive research has been conducted on the subject by a wide range of non-Catholic investigators. Writing in Psychology Today, researcher Michael Castleman writes:

“From media reports, one might infer that Catholic priests commit most pedophilia. In fact, only a tiny fraction of child sex abusers are priests.”

Another researcher, Dr.Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State and author of Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, reports:

“My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy.”

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, agrees:

“We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this [abuse] or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else. I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others.”

Research by professor of psychology, Dr. Thomas Plante, found no evidence that abuse by Catholic clergy was any different  than any other denomination, but was in fact less than that of school teachers and half that of the general population. As additional proof, insurance companies who provide sexual misconduct riders on their liability policies with churches found incidence of abuse no higher than non Catholic denominations, and charge the same premiums.

Doesn’t celibacy make marriage seem less precious? No, just the opposite, as the website Catholic Answers so eloquently explains:

In fact, it is precisely the holiness of marriage that makes celibacy precious; for only what is good and holy in itself can be given up for God as a sacrifice. Just as fasting presupposes the goodness of food, celibacy presupposes the goodness of marriage. To despise celibacy, therefore, is to undermine marriage itself—as the early Fathers pointed out.” 

No Comments

  1. MB on May 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Well done, Mr. Q. A fact based, direct response to the mythology that surrounds this issue. Thank you.

    • quinersdiner on May 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Thank-you, MB. Much of the confusion regarding the Church’s positions is based on a lack of information. The QD reader’s concerns on the subject were well-intentioned. I hope this post clears them up. Great to hear from you.

      • Shawn Pavlik on May 12, 2014 at 3:47 pm

        There’s a lot about the Catholic Church I don’t understand, religiously and politically:
        1. Praying to Mary
        2. Not allowing other to partake of the Lord’s Supper (some Protestant denominations have the same rule. My own church has open communion to any who have accepted Christ.)
        3. Why so many Catholics vote Democrat, when that party is the reason abortion is legal today. “Pro-life Democrat” is pretty much an oxymoron, especially with Liebermann retiring.

        • quinersdiner on May 12, 2014 at 5:15 pm

          Shawn, these are great, and legitimate questions. I will respond more fully in future posts.

  2. LB on May 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    The assertion that celibacy caused the priest ephebophilia scandal or that its absence would assure no priests would engage in adultery or fornication not only betrays a lack of understanding of what celibacy is, it supposes that we human children of God are no better than animals in that we have no control, whether in a healthy, natural, committed marital relationship, or when facing an unnatural, disordered tendency. That logic suggests as well that even those in a marital relationship are at least some of the time using their spouse for sexual release. I think more of and expect better of mankind. Our culture demonstrates otherwise, event vehemently demands otherwise, but God made us better than that.

    • quinersdiner on May 10, 2014 at 8:38 pm

      Totally agree. You forced me to learn a new word in this exchange. Thanks a lot!

    • Shawn Pavlik on May 12, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      LB-I think you missed my point. God made us sexual creatures so that we would go forth and multiply. Sex between a married couple is a joyous and happy thing. By not allowing priests to marry, the church removes this blessing of God from the the life of the priests. Yet those urges still remain. Seems an act of cruelty, almost, to prevent marriage. LB, can I guess that you are female? Men and women think of sex in very different ways. It may explain why my point was difficult for you to understand.

      • quinersdiner on May 12, 2014 at 5:19 pm

        Shawn, priests voluntarily choose the discipline of chastity. It is certainly not cruel, for they are truly married to the Church. The Church calls on all of us to live chastely in one form or another. Obviously, we are called to chasteness when we’re single. And we are called to confine our sexual expressions to our spouse in marriage, even if we are attracted to women outside of our marriage. The virtue of chastity draws us into a deeper relationship with the Triune God.

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