Priests for Celibacy

Please share this will all the priests you know. We are going to show that it is a small voice indeed amongst the presbyterate that wants to get rid of mandatory celibacy.

Priests For Celibacy

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24 Responses to “Priests for Celibacy”

  1. Charles A. Says:

    Father,

    If you have not already read them, there are 2 fascinating work regarding celibacy and the practices of the early church –

    “The Aposolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy” by Christian Cochini, SJ

    “Celibacy in the Early Church” by Stefan Heid.

    Both titles were published by Ignatius (the latter is a translation from the German).

    They both make a convincing case that celibacy – as an obligation for ministry – goes back to apostolic practice…

  2. Brian Says:

    I would be really curious to read about the practice of the early church in regards to priestly celibacy. My own understanding was that mandatory celibacy did not come much latter in church history. Am I wrong on this? When was celibacy declared mandatory? If it was the regular practice in the early church why does the Eastern Church not practice this in regards to priests. It should be noted that the Catholic church does allow married priests. Eastern rite priests are not obliged to marry. Excpetions are made for Anglican priests who convert. Clearly the case for priestly celibacy cannot be made on an argument based on tradition. There are however many good reasons for priests to be celibate. Many of them are very pratical ones. I do hope the Church does continue the discipline of celibacy. But as it is not a dogma but merely a discipline(albeit a very good one) it would not be the ruin of the Church if it was made optional and not mandatory.

  3. Donald Wirz Says:

    Father Reitmeyer,
    I’ll be sure to tell the pastor of my home parish about it this weekend! Even though I realize that the Holy Father will most likely not get rid of priestly celibacy on account of this letter, I believe it it important for the American public to now that there are many more priests who cherish their celibacy! May God continue to bless you in your priesthood.
    Pax Christi,

  4. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Todd,
    If a man is refusing God’s call because he doesn’t want discipline in his life then he isn’t a good candidate. You must follow where God calls or walk away sad like the rich young man.

    I can tell you, having lived as a priest, and a layman there is no way in our society you could be both a good father and a good priest. You would have to be mediocre at best at one of them. The nature of the time demands are such that you would have to constantly choose between family or flock.

    Regardless of whether you agree with that or not it still there still isn’t a Good reason to lift the discipline. It has worked 1000 years and will keep on working.

  5. Charles A. Says:

    It’s interesting that in the oldest discipline of the church (see earlier posts…) the fact that the church ordained married men – but required perfect continence after ordination – had the likely result of recruiting “mature” married men who had finished raising their children. It is absolutely true that a man could not possibly raise children and function as a a priest….

    It seems as if we could maintain a continuum with that earliest discipline – ordain suitable married men who are able (with their wives) to vow perpetual continence.

    Allowing ordained men to marry would have absolutely no precedent in the catholic tradition – east or west.

  6. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Actually Charles A there is one precdent but I would hesitate to make it public.

    I would disagree with the continent example. Even though it existed it didn’t mean it was a good thing. Part of what Married Love witnesses is exactly the marital embrace. If one is impotent it is an impediment to marriage. I think the sign value of marriage would suffer.

  7. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Your right in the distinction between dogma and discipline. One group argues that it should be lifted. The other group is arguing that it should not. I belong to the group that says it should not be lifted but stay in place.

    There is no good reason to lift it and many good reasons to keep it.

    I don’t think it will change but mainly the petition is to show the media and the public that this group of priests isn’t courageous or representative as the media would have them see them.

  8. Charles A. Says:

    The works I cited in my earlier comment containe detailed analyses of the practices of the early centuries:

    1. Married men could be ordained, but once ordained, practiced “continency celibacy” (perpetual abstinence) with their wives. But a man married twice (or more) was ineligible for ordination. (Remarriage was considered an indication that a man was incapable of continence.)

    2. Once ordained, a man could not marry (or re-marry, if he was married when ordained, and his wife died).

    3. The above applied to bishops, priests, and deacons.

    The eastern churches have backed away (apparently) from insisting that married ordinands practice continence with their wives. However, they have added the rule that a married priest cannot be made bishop.

    The latin church gradually stopped ordaining married men at all.

    A great deal of synodal legislation, starting in the 5th century, re-inforces the above rules (as if they were under pressure for relaxation). It is a mistake to believe that celibacy was “adopted” by this legislation. The practice is apostolic.

  9. Todd Says:

    Peace, Fr Todd.

    You posted, “There is no good reason to lift it and many good reasons to keep it.”

    Hmm. I think celibacy has a virtue in the diocesan priesthood. While not every married priest would be a benefit to the ministry, I can imagine that at least a few married people might have fruitful ministries as priests. If we’re losing good candidates because of their married sstate, then I think there would indeed be good reasons to lift it.

    That said, I think there are also very poor reasons for either insisting on mandatory celibacy or advocating for an optional discipline.

  10. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Todd,
    I wasn’t trying to imply the call to marriage didn’t require discipline but I can see why you might have thought I was. Let me be a little more clear:

    If a man thinks he has a call from God to be a priest and he refuses that call because he doesn’t want accept the discipline with that call and he walks away the church is better off without him.

    We should not lower the standard of discipline just to get him ordained. What kind of priest would a man be if he though God was calling him and he refused to lay down his life to answer the call.

    Your argument about unchaste priests does not make a case for the end of mandatory celibacy. Again if a priest can’t be chaste in his call then that is a priest has a problem with chastity and the problem is with him and not the discipline. 1000’s live it faithfully. It can be done.

    I think you have some major problems with yoru ecclesiology as well. A patriarch isn’t the same as a Bishop for the first place and the conference of Bishops thing is Anglican in nature. National vs. Universal Church.

    Trying to find a loophole in which it might be permissible to have a married man be a priest still isn’t a good reason for dropping the celibacy requirement.

    We all admit it can be dropped. We definitely disagree on whether it should or not.

    I again assert that I do not think it is possible for a man to do both duties with the energy required of both. He would be at best average at both or good at one at the expense of the other.
    That is the nature. Family or Flock. St. Paul agrees and says it is better for one to be celibate.

    Dropping the celibacy requirement would solve no problem and add no benefit to our Church and it would hurt it in many ways.

  11. Todd Says:

    Peace, all.

    I wouldn’t deny there are some people for whom the mix of ordination and marriage would be bad. I would take exception to the thought that celibacy is somehow a stronger discipline than committing to a marriage. For some, it may be. For others, helping to care for children, attending to a spouse, and the other responsibilities offers far more of an opportunity for discipline than the lives of some priests.

    The Church struggled to implement universal clerical celibacy until Trent. It was certainly seen as an ideal until the Council of Trent, but even afterward, the appearance of universal celibacy belied what was underneath. Sexually active priests may well have been heeding God’s call in one area, but many were not in the approach to their sexuality.

    I think Charles’ point about ordaining people who have finished child-rearing is a good one. In my thinking, ordaining someone younger than 40-ish or ordaining a married person with young children would be an exception to the rule. Certainly, there would be the occasional prodigy who could be a successful priest at a younger age or manage it with children. But rather than impose a worldwide restriction on a married clergy, perhaps the Vatican would be wise to permit national conferences to decide (or groups of conferences). This would be in keeping with ancient tradition on the role of patriarchates. A local bishop would have the primary role in discerning suitability for ordination. If he wanted to ordain a younger person as an exception, he could. And a twenty-something seminarian committed to service and celibacy, but not yet mature enough for ordination, could serve in a monastery or as a lay ecclesial minister until the time was right.

  12. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Todd,
    Again your ecclesiology seems to be the problem. We can go on about this all day.

    1. The Catholic Church doesn’t vote. The Anglican does.

    2. Nationalistic conferences having authority are the tenet of the Anglican Schism. Not Catholic.

    3. The patriarchs were and are subject to Rome ultimately. We still have patriarchs today. It isn’t gone.

    4. God is the authority and he implements it through his Church so don’t try that technique.

    5. Then Milwaukee 160 are pretty well known Weakland Disciples. They are the same ones that have females dressed in stoles and giving homilies. etc etc.

    The list goes on.

    I am not threatened by discussion but none is taking place. Just unsubstantiated opinions about celibacy mostly by a bunch of priests who betrayed their vows (voice of the ordained), unfaithful Catholic organizations (voice of the faithful), and the New York Times and co who wants the Catholics to be like everyone else.

    The disicpline is in place. If it is lifted it shouldn’t be because of some wacko publicity stunt or under any appearance that petitions work.

    If the next holy Father sees fit to lift it then that is his perogative. Until then people should live with it. My personal opinion is that it would be a disaster to lift it.

    Also my diocese is very rural. 9 people per square mile. Married clergy would be a mess.

  13. emeka onyeneke Says:

    Dear father,
    I need prayers for Gods guidence and prosperity.I have been of fund to complete my project work as a graduate of microbiology but know one earth to help me out,I have wrote many educationist to helpbut no avail.I have been training myself in school up to this level and now I stand the risk of loosing my carrer because of $us5000.I was trained my the motherless baby home from primary to secondary school.I work in the resturant to train myself to the university level.I am working on the incidence of gastro-intestinal parasite in owerri north L.G.A of Imo state in Nigeria.I will be greatfull if the catholic church will see me through in this problem inclouding all asistance from my childhood,I wish I have parents to tell my problems talkless of a way to solve it. I ask for immediate consideration because I have only to weeks left to defend my project or I loose my graduation this session.

  14. Todd Says:

    Peace, Fr Todd.

    “If a man thinks he has a call from God to be a priest and he refuses that call … and he walks away the church is better off without him.”

    Essentially agreed.

    “We should not lower the standard of discipline just to get him ordained.”

    Also agreed. Changing a discipline (or keeping it) from a position of personal or institutional self-interest would be short-sighted, if not defeatist. We agree, I think, that we need better priests.

    My argument involving unchaste priests intended to show that celibacy is not a perfect ideal. A person who is inclined to abrogate a matter of discipline would likely be a faulty spouse as well as a faulty cleric.

    I have no doubt that celibacy can be fruitfully lived. One problem is that bishops do not support their priests enough in living the discipline. I would also suggest that seminary living might also set up false expectations. Some priests might indeed be able to live as celibates. But not in what amounts to a secular eremitic life. You are fortunate to benefit from a communal living arrangement. But most priests don’t. And in your diocese, I suspect the day will come soon in which you will be living alone. I’ve known priests who have just not been prepared for this.

    “I think you have some major problems with yoru ecclesiology as well.”

    I don’t think so. Celibacy isn’t even a universal norm within Catholicism. Rather than a decision resting with Rome, I think the implementation of such a discipline should rest at a lower level, something in the neighborhood between a national conference and a true patriarchate.

    No argument that dropping mandatory celibacy would not address the phenomenon of abuse (sex and power) in the clergy and episcopate. It may be that an open discussion in the Church would result in a new affirmation of the discipline. I would welcome it, if it happened that way. But the extreme reaction to the Wisconsin petition reveals a deep mistrust and spiritual immaturity on the part of the institutional church. Enough loyal Catholics have raised the question. It should be addressed prayerfully and openly now, so the Church can benefit and move on once we’ve achieved something. By continuing to parrot the bottom line, I think more damage is done.

  15. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    I certainly will pray.

  16. Colleen Says:

    “But the extreme reaction to the Wisconsin petition reveals a deep mistrust and spiritual immaturity on the part of the institutional church. Enough loyal Catholics have raised the question. It should be addressed prayerfully and openly now, so the Church can benefit and move on once we’ve achieved something. By continuing to parrot the bottom line, I think more damage is done.”

    How is the reaction to the petition (replying to it) immature? Why would addressing the issue – either way – be a sign of “deep mistrust” or “immaturity?” It really angers me that anyone defending the status quo is looked at as archaic or not trusting in the “Spirit” or immature or not growing in their faith life. But to challenge the status quo is life giving and mature and a sign of spiritual growth. Most issues in the Catholic Church have been prayed over and talked about for centuries. This debate is old! — like about 2000 years old.

    Can anyone point to how a married clergy benefits (more than the Latin practice of celibacy) any of the mainline denoms? The Protestants are hurting for ministers and the Orthodox are fairly stagnant – plus their clergy usually have to work a regular job to sustain the family. What do you do about divorce – which is always a possibility and is starting to rear its head among the orthodox clergy.

    An option on celibacy will equal no celibate priests in the not too distant future. Few of us choose the harder road.

    PS. I recommend Cardinal Stickler’s (what a name!) small book on the “The Case for Clerical Celibacy” – it is meticulously footnoted and researched.

  17. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Todd,
    The idea of going to a national church level is Anglican not Roman. Rome sets the disciplines and approves the laws. Canon law for the east and the west. Rome is the ultimate factor.

    I honestly don’t see faithful catholics raising the idea. It ususally comes with a host of other issues in it.

    Again I don’t think you can argue that celibacy is hurting the Church in anyway. I also don’t see any good reasons for lifting it and a host of reasons for not.

    I also don’t think you you have formulated an argument but rather ad hominen attacks. To say that someone is parroting the bottom line without addressing the issue itself isn’t an argument. At best it is an appeal to the audience.

    I believe CARA did a report on priestly satisfaction and it was over 80% who said they would do it all again.

    I think we have a lot of good priests. The vast majority are good. I think to imply anything else is unfair. Do we need more? Yes.. But that will only be accomplished as we challenge our young to consider the call.

  18. Todd Says:

    Peace, Fr Todd.

    A good discussion is always worth the effort, I think. Point by point:

    1. I was incorrect to suggest voting. Discernment is always a better method for Christians, Cattholics, anglicans, or whomever.

    3. The Orthodox would have a bone to pick with rome being “over” patriarchates. The real question would be the issue of decisions which are made at high levels really should be made there or farmed lower.

    4. God is indeed the authority, but God also chooses to implement through a variety of means, including open discernment. The fact that authority has a positive function in the Church doesn’t preclude that inspiration can occur at a grass roots level.

    5. Are you so sure? Generalizing about 160 of your brother priests seems pretty risky fare to me, especially considering that most of these guys predated Weakland’s arrival in Milwaukee.

    Your portrayal of “… unsubstantiated opinions about celibacy mostly by a bunch of priests who betrayed their vows …” seems rather uncharitable coming from a brother priest. Do you have evidence these 160 have sexually acted out? Or acted in any inapporpriate way? Strong words coming from a person with no fear.

    “If it is lifted it shouldn’t be because of some wacko publicity stunt or under any appearance that petitions work.”

    I agree. But by the same token, it shouldn’t be retained from a false sense of security or satisfaction. Perhaps such a petition would have been better addressed provately to Dolan or Gregory. Do you think it would have had a hearing?

    “My personal opinion is that it would be a disaster to lift it. … Married clergy would be a mess.”

    Not an invalid opinion. But as a lay person with rural ministry experience, I find the current situation more of a mess. People who have continually been denied access to the sacraments, especially penance and anointing because there are not (and have never been) enough clergy to fill the existing needs. Fifty- and sixty-something priests with spouses would not be a “mess” for Catholics not fortunate enough to live in or near a big city like Sioux Falls. I suppose an alternative would be permitting deacons to hear confessions and anoint the sick. But then you would still have a problem with access to the Eucharist. Seems to me the institutional Church remains rather petulant about the sacraments: insisting on old ways that were never quite adequate in mission lands and placing the discipline of one sacrament (orders) on a higher plane than the central one (Eucharist). Good holy priests with wives and perhaps even children would be a great benefit in small parishes. And it might encourage healthy communities to pitch in and assist with ministry, rather than rely on one guy to do the whole thing himself. I don’t know about your objections, my friend. I see a lot of possible benefits, assuming that only the very best are ordained, be they married or celibate.

  19. Todd Says:

    Peace, Fr Todd.

    “The idea of going to a national church level is Anglican not Roman.”

    The notion of patriarchates and their authority predates the Roman-dominated West. Many others have advocated a return to a traditional approach such as this, and it also must be admitted than one of the obstacles to East-West reunion is Rome’s “modernistic” approach to matters of discipline.

    “Rome is the ultimate factor.”

    The Orthodox would disagree. Actually God is.

    “I honestly don’t see faithful catholics raising the idea. It ususally comes with a host of other issues in it.”

    Really? Do you presume to know what is really in the bonnet of the Wisconsin 160? Yours is an easy suggestion to make, but a difficult argument to prove.

    “Again I don’t think you can argue that celibacy is hurting the Church in anyway.”

    I wouldn’t argue it is. I approve of celibacy. But I think the rentention of a mandatory discipline without an open discernment foments an atmosphere of distrust of Rome, the curia in particular. This damages the Church. If mandatory celibacy for Latin Rite priests could be retained and strengthened by an open period of discussion on the issue, without fear of prejudice or retribution, then I think the persistence of dissent could then be seen as harmful. As it is, prelates deny there is a problem, and real discussion is nearly impossible. If there is no problem and nothing to fear, then why not welcome a prayerful discernment by clergy and laity in dialogue with their bishops?

    “I believe CARA did a report on priestly satisfaction and it was over 80% who said they would do it all again.”

    I believe you are right. Why not give the Wisconsin 160 (or at least 128 of them) the benefit of the doubt and consider the idea?

    I would still forward the idea that you or I are not the best people to judge specific instances (or all) of a married person stepping forward to be a priest. The issue of an older candidate with grown children has been raised in many places. Such people would bring a perspective of family, secular work, and a committed marriage relationship to their ministry as a priest. My experience of marriage has been a largely positive one, even for my ministry within the Church. Marriage has helped my maturity, not strained it.

    I think the roles of pastor and parent are a potential strain, as you and others have suggested. It would seem wisest to let the local bishop determine if a younger married priest was suitable for a pastorate, or for a different priestly ministry until a certain maturity was achieved. I think rural and small urban parishes in particular might benefit from a married priest. Why not poll the parishioners of parishes without a resident pastor and ask them if they would prefer a married priest to a circuit-rider? Polling priests alone strikes me as unfair.

  20. Fr. Timothy D. Lannon Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Fr. Reitmeyer that mandatory celibacy is a meaningful, excellent discipline and should be retained; however, I am uncomfortable with Fr. Reitmeyer’s assertion that the members of the “Voices of the Ordained” are “a bunch of priests who betrayed their vows.” I do not know this to be true and firmly believe that such a declaration should not be advanced unless it is publicly known.
    Todd mentioned as an alternative to optional celibacy that Deacons could be allowed to hear Confessions and administer the Anointing of the Sick. This contention, as far as I know, has absolutely no basis in the tradition of the Church and, therefore, must be rejected out-of-hand.
    As a priest, I cherish celibacy and believe that the Church is wise to have established this discipline and that Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II were and are wise to insist that mandatory celibacy be maintained.

  21. Todd Says:

    Peace, all.

    Regarding the alternative of deacons hearing confessions and anointing: There is a precedent for lay people bringing home blessed oil to anoint the sick. But the bishop was the only one authorized to bless oil. We also know that the practice of “hearing confessions” was begun by monastics (men, women, lay) in Ireland. Originally, there was no precedent for presbyters to oversee the Church’s early practice of Penance; this was the prerogative of bishops.

    As tempting as it may be to denigrate people with whom we disagree, it is a common failing. In my more enthusiastic youth, I might have written Fr Todd off as an out-of-touch reactionary, but I believe he is sincere in his opinions about Church discipline. No one has yet to prove VOTF is an unfaithful organization. And if the group is judged by the non-traditional views of some of its more prominent members or speakers, then by the same token, a lay person would be wholly justified in judging all bishops by O’Brien, Law, or Milingo. In perspective, labelling a group as Fr Todd did is clearly unfair, and in the case of guilt by association extended to priests and bishops, he would be wholly justified in objecting to being associated with Geoghan or Shanley.

  22. Father Charles M. Mangan Says:

    +JMJ+

    Praised be Jesus Christ!

    I have been following the discussion of Father Reitmeyer, Todd and Father Lannon regarding mandatory celibacy.

    Todd believes that an alternative to optional celibacy would be the authorizing of Deacons to hear Confessions and administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

    The Church has already pondered this possibility during the time of the liturgical reform and rejected it.

    To carry home blessed oil to the sick is not the administration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) settled the question of who may administer this Sacrament.

    Similarly, “hearing Confessions” is not the same as imparting Sacramental Absolution, which is absolutely necessary for the Sacrament of Penance. One could argue that anyone may “hear a confession.” Only ordained Bishops and Priests have the power and authority to absolve sacramentally by way of the Sacrament of Penance.

    Finally, Todd asserts that Father Reitmeyer has been “unfair” in labelling the “Milwaukee 160.” Since Father Reitmeyer has not yet responded to Todd’s last two postings, the charitable and just thing (two virtues which Todd invokes in his postings) would be to allow Father Reitmeyer to reply to the charge.

    May the Risen Lord Jesus, His Virgin-Mother and Saint Joseph bless and protect us always.

    Father Charles M. Mangan

  23. Father Todd Reitmeyer Says:

    Todd,
    In answer to your points or questiosn.

    3. The orthodox might in fact disagree but they are also in schism. I don’t think they can be used as an example for what we are speaking of.

    4. I don’t think God implements authority for universal decisions through open discernment at the grass roots level. I think God can inspire people at the grass roots and they can voice their opinion but authority is always, ultimately with the Pope. He is the last word. I might not understand what your saying so feel free to clarify.

    5. Your right in that I can’t necessarily include all fo the 160 especially since we don’t have a published list of names. That being the case I don’t think the generalization is unfair given the well known, public reputation of the problems in Milwuakee. You yourself use a generalization in the same sentence saying most arrived before Weakland. I don’t know if you have a list or not. I am guessing not so it would be fair to say yours is a generalization also.

    My comments on Voices of the Ordained are based on the two articles I have read that describe them as well as descriptions from priest who are in the New York ArchDiocese. They include, as a substantial part of their membership, priests who have left the priesthood to get married and are now organizing to try to come back as many priest. This is what I mean by priests who have betrayed their vows. I also remember them calling for elected heirarchy, including Popes, and this includes term limits. One of the participants was quoted as saying that this was about getting enough people to get power to change things. Priesthood is about service. Not power. What about the power of prayer?

    This is combined with the fact that they are oftentimes associated with groups such as VOTF (from which they parroted their name), Call to Action, CORPUS (which advocates womens ordination) etc. etc. lead.

    These factors combined with the fact of the media campaign (why not a private petition) do lead me to question the motives of the group.

    As far as living and working in a rural diocese I do both. I think before I would recommend lifting a disicipline as a hypothetical solution to “problems” you might want to come look at a diocese that is working well under the current discipline and in similar situations.

  24. Todd Says:

    Peace, Fr Todd.

    Good to discuss this with you. The Schism with the Orthodox is rather a mutual thing. Their take on patriarchates is more traditional than the Roman approach. Eventually it will get sorted out. Regardless, clerical celibacy may be a discipline best determined on a lower level than in Rome. I think many Catholics would have a different view of the role of the pope. He is the last word when he needs to be. And this would be an instance where we are not yet in enough of a crisis to have a single leader make a determination where the Spirit has clearly not settled us.

    I make an educated guess about the demographics of clergy in Milwaukee. If their median age is over 55, then most were ordained before Weakland. If not, then the old Benedictine was doing rather a good job, don’t you think?

    “Priesthood is about service. Not power.”

    On this point, we agree. Sadly, not all prelates have this sensible take and prefer the route of Mrs. Zebedee and her boys instead.

    I don’t really know if Sioux Falls is “working,” as well as the diocese of my experience, Dubuque. I would make an assessment in part, if the laity had access to the sacraments. To me, the bishop providing the sacraments is the most significant and important service he does. Any solution that deepens the sacramental life of the Church should be well considered. And the small town parish may be the best possible assignment for a married priest with or without children.

    In speaking of authority, my friend, the person responsible for overseeing clergy also bears as grave a responsibility as the person who has heard God’s call to the priesthood. By the same seriousness you yourself place the call to service, it may also weigh on the prelates of today. If indeed, the Holy Spirit is speaking through the agitation (both quiet and loud) of those who are asking for a return to the question at hand, then the pope, curia, and bishops ignore this call at their own peril. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the obstacle for God’s plan. I wouldn’t want my bishops to be.

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