by Jenna Drummond, Columnist
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that priests can’t be married. Christ, while instituting the priesthood at the last supper, did not say “do this in remembrance of me, but only if you’re single.” The first priests, the twelve disciples ordained by Jesus himself, were almost all married. Even as the priesthood developed, it took nearly a thousand years for papal decrees and councils to definitively favor clerical celibacy. This means that the idea of clerical celibacy is rooted in the Catholic tradition, not Dogma. If he really wanted to, Pope Francis could theoretically revoke this rule.
So, as more scandals and abuses continue to surface in the church, what is stopping him? Both Catholics and non-Catholics wonder why the church continues to mandate priests to take vows of chastity, forbidding them from marriage.
This debate dates all the way back to St. Paul and St. Augustine, who both agreed that celibacy enables soldiers and followers of Christ to serve God without distraction and, therefore, is the preferred lifestyle. St. Paul even writes, “He who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Corinthians 7:38). While having a spouse can help people grow in faith, as seen in the cases of St. Zelie and St. Louis Martin, it may also unintentionally distract them from the ultimate mission of the priesthood: leading the flock and following the direct will of God.
Initially, the Church placed restrictions on clerical marriage that addressed issues with property rights– would land of deceased priests belong to the church or to the priests’ children? However, the Church also began to realize the importance of moral integrity among the clergy, and the challenges that marriage could present to this. In response to corruption of power and the decline of sexual integrity in the priesthood, lay groups, such as the Pataria in Milan, began to protest. They believed that priests should make a promise of chastity, since they wanted assurance that the priests who administered the sacraments were being held to the highest moral standards possible. These standards included chastity. They that recognized priests were supposed to be the model of Christian excellence, the ones who act like the Good Shepherd and lead their flocks closer to God.
In a more modern context, if a priest is not married, their opinions and decisions are not swayed by the needs and wants of his family. Many fathers would do anything to protect their children or families, so when a priest is put into a situation where he is forced to choose between the church and his family, there is a strong possibility that he would choose the latter. How can a priest maintain his role as an ambassador of Christ when he is forced to choose between his family and his flock?
Priests have the sacred duty of acting in Persona Christi, something nobody else in the world can do. This means that priests share a very sacred bond with God that is solidified through Holy Orders. By remaining chaste, priests consecrate themselves to Christ, who was married only to the Church. By abstaining from commitments to earthly families, priests can devote their entire lives and attention to the Church’s betterment and development. As highlighted in Matthew 22:23-30, nobody will be married in heaven; when priests remain celibate and unmarried, they more closely outline what our final state will be.
Pope Francis could remove the restrictions on clerical marriage, but by allowing our priests to marry someone other than the Church we are also allowing potential for the abandonment of the moral integrity and attention that is required in the vocation. Clerical chastity is often overlooked to simply be a fail-safe to protect church lands, but in reality, it helps to bring priests closer to Jesus, which by extension brings us closer to Him as well.