Married Priests And The Impending HR Disaster — Guest Post by The Blonde Bombshell

The so-called vocation crisis has been reported on here, here, and here.

The irreligious press has an answer. Of course, they say, the Catholic Church has to get with the times and either allow women to be ordained or let male priests marry. Translated from media-speak, “let priests marry” is “let them have sex”—which nicely dispatches with that troublesome vow of celibacy. In the media’s current narrative, of course priestly men will marry women; but one could very well expect to see male priests with blushing male “brides”.

The atheistic media is off to bad start in offering their (unasked for) prescription to combat the declining number of priests. They succumb to the temptation to equate “vocation” with “job” as in “vocational training.” In the religious sense, a vocation is related to God’s calling to direct one’s life in a particular way in the service of the Church. Lost in the debate is that marriage itself is a vocation. What the secular press is suggesting, if not demanding, is that a man have two vocations—two callings—two directions for his heart.

There are some who have slipped into the Catholic priesthood through the Anglican backdoor. The fact that there are exceptions doesn’t mean that the rule has to be changed. Additionally, the permanent diaconate offers a path to ministry for married (or single) men over the age of 35. It is categorically false that married men are being shut out from serving ministerial roles. In fact, if the crisis is so crippling, this is an avenue that should be more thoroughly investigated.

With these considerations set aside, imagine that starting tomorrow married men can enter the church to serve as priests, and by extension, brothers. Of course it would be discriminatory to allow priests to marry but not the friars. Things to consider:

1. Wages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps in all clergy, with a median salary of $45,740 (2016). Salaries for Catholic priests can fall about $10,000 behind, in part because they are not expected to support a family. It is potentially much more profitable to be a rabbi or Protestant minister, but less so for imams.

2. Housing. Catholic priests can live in the rectory, or if they are brothers, in a priory. Adding a wife and children to the equation is going to strain Church resources, and small children necessarily interrupt a life of meditation and prayer. Will they live communally? Will other arrangements have to be made?

3. Healthcare. Having a wife in most cases means having children, and childbirth costs in the United States are more than anywhere else in the world. Someone is going to have to pay for it.

4. Education. Some provision will have to be made for educating the children of the priests. At the very least, there should be tuition relief for Catholic schooling, from K-12, and perhaps even at the college level.

5. Moving costs/change of station. If bishop says, “Go”, the priest can no longer put his belongings in a modest bag and catch the next bus, but he will have to fold up his marital assets (i.e., worldly possessions) and incur the expense of moving house and home, which will be billed to the diocese.

6. On call/time off. The priest or brother doesn’t have a “weekend” as most people do, and even on a day off, a priest know that an emergency can arise and he will have to flee to someone’s bedside or hold someone’s hand. Ah, the secular press will cry out, but do not Protestant pastors have to juggle family needs with that of the flock? A Protestant can happily die without last rites, but for a Catholic to pass beyond the velvet curtain without the extreme unction is a completely different matter.

7. Marriage during seminary. If priests can marry, maybe they will when they are at seminary. Before seminary? How will the female factor affect the formation, not only of the man but also of his cohort?

Married priests will be a substantial drag on the Church’s purse almost immediately. To cope, more land, buildings, and treasure will be have to be sold at a much faster clip than they are now to cover these (perfectly avoidable) expenses. While there may be a net increase in the number of priests, there will be fewer actual churches for them to serve in.

What is missing from this debate is God. What is God’s plan? Recall the words of one Joseph Ratzinger:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning…Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

Vocations are declining, except for orders like the Dominicans, who openly embrace tradition. One solution to the crisis is to look backward and not forward, and to try to recapture and revive what has been drowned in the backwash of contemporary culture. It would be a costly and foolish mistake to do otherwise.

22 Comments

  1. I understand where you are coming from but the Orthodox Church has been able to make it work successfully. Why can’t the Catholic Church?

  2. The obvious solution to the priesthood crisis–both the ‘are now’ and the ‘would be’–is for the Catholic Church to once again become Catholic.

  3. It’s fair (and correct, based on history and 1 Timothy) to say that there is a place for both married and single priests and bishops. The benefits of celibate priests are often understated these days, though, and I think you did it succinctly.

    Also, everyone discussing this issue should keep in mind that in other “catholic” traditions (big O Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglo Catholic) that allow or even encourage marriage, many priests are either celibate or widowers.

  4. What is missing from this debate is God.

    Exactly. So many problems caused by a man-made rule with scant scriptural support. Along with the mistaken idea that priests are intermediaries between God and His people, a difficult situation is compounded. Let’s hope Ratzinger’s prophesy comes true — that the Catholic church return to its central essence and dispense with the burdensome legalisms that lead astray.

  5. +JMJ

    This article makes many valid points, and sufficiently many, I would say, to show that the idea of married clergy would not be prudent. I fully agree that marriage itself is already a “full-time job,” if you will pardon the expression.

    People are certainly free to disagree with me, but I believe that celibacy helps me be more impartial in hearing Confessions.

    The families where I am try very hard to live by the teachings of the Church, and many of them have 6, 8, and even 10 or more children. One family of mine in a previous assignment had 17 children. Could a priest who is truly trying to live by what God wants for marriage and family life really handle this?

    There would also be the terrible problem of marital infidelity, whether on the part of the priest or his spouse, along with abortions, scandals, divorce, etc.

    I don’t know how the Orthodox manage. I am under the impression — and please correct me if I am wrong — that they do not have Divine Liturgy every day and that many of them hold other jobs during the week. The cultures where Orthodoxy and Byzantine Catholicism are prevalent have, I would think, stronger, healthier families that make such a system possible. In a society like ours where families are already in dire straits, partly due to estrangement and individualism, I don’t think an additional burden like this would help.

    With all that said, and speaking -only- for myself here, I am not completely opposed to the idea of bringing back the simplex. That could make it possible to ordain, for example, widowers or older, “confirmed bachelors” without requiring them to go through as extensive a training as for a younger priest. But this is only my personal opinion.

    One last thing. One time when I was back in my home town in central Kansas, a tough, wiry veteran who is not even Catholic said to me, “You know, I always respected those Catholic priests when I was in Vietnam. They’d be right up there in the front lines with the men. The other ministers had families and were afraid of getting killed.”

  6. I despise the argument that we can’t do X because some idiot might misinterpret what we are doing. Idiots are idiots. This type of argument is one of the reasons why conservatives have never conserved anything and have only succeeded in posing as noble in defeat. And it posing, because in the end, everyone know you just didn’t want to get your hands dirty.

    The local bishop, back when they weren’t mere administrative agents of the Vatican, would choose to ordain married men when needed. There also used to be local education- and not necessarily a need to cart people off to a seminary.

  7. I despise the argument that we can’t do X because some idiot might misinterpret what we are doing.

    I agree though the argument does gain some force where the idiots vastly out number the non-idiots.

  8. Distinguished Roman Catholic canon lawyer Ed Peters has had a lot to say on this and related issues over several years. To defeat the spam filter, I will not provide direct URLs. A search for “ed peters clerical continence” should uncover much. A brief summary is given for interested readers.

    The crux of the issue is, sadly, little understood, and it is: there is a HUGE distinction between ‘celibacy’ and ‘continence’ (as that word is used in canon law). ‘Celibate’ means not married. And that’s all. ‘Continent’ means No sex. At all. Ever. And there is essentially zero evidence that the Roman Catholic Church ever gave approval for any man, including married men, to have sex after they were ordained to the priesthood. To quote Dr. Peters (emphasis in the original):

    …the real question here is not so much married clergy (for celibacy, strictly speaking, is surely a disciplinary matter) but rather non-continent married clergy in ministry. Historical and canonical evidence that the Church accepted married men into her clerical ranks is widespread; historical and canonical evidence that the Church approved their continued living as married men is rare to the point of vanishing.

    Now, so far, the approach to this deeper issue has been to (a) ignore the question, (b) deny the question is real, (c) purport to have answered the question, and (d) claim the question has been answered, so it can be ignored again.

    And, as Dr. Peters explains, recent ‘institutional amnesia’ (viz., from both theologians and higher clergy) on the subject only kicks the can down the road:

    Canon 277 requires all clergy in the West, including married clergy, to observe perfect and perpetual continence. Notwithstanding, however, more than fifteen centuries of unbroken attestation (and, I suggest, twenty centuries of conscious observance), this obligation has been nearly-completely forgotten in a hardly a generation. But neither this institutional amnesia nor the fact that no recently ordained married clergy and their spouses were sufficiently (nay, remotely) aware of the obligation so as to have given consent to it, suffices to abrogate the canon law of clerical continence or to obviate the profound Western tradition behind it. Now at this point, one can either pretend that this conflict between clerical life and law does not exist or one can deal with it.

    Finally, only non-Orthodox would ever think that there is such a thing as ‘the Orthodox Church’ position on this matter or on many others. More to the point for Roman Catholics, even the Eastern Catholic churches differ here, as Dr. Peters notes. The ‘Synod of Trullo’ mentioned below is ‘controversial’ because 215 Eastern bishops, but only one (sort of) Western bishop attended it, but the Eastern churches to this day proclaim it to be an ‘ecumenical council’; and because, as the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia says, “[m]ost of the new canons exhibit an inimical attitude towards Churches not in disciplinary accord with Constantinople, especially the Western Churches. Their customs are anathematized and ‘every little detail of difference is remembered to be condemned’ (Fortescue).”

    Eastern approaches to married clergy. I say Eastern “approaches” to married clergy because there is not, contrary to popular impression, just one approach among Eastern Catholics. Not all Eastern Churches allow married clergy, and among those that do permit it, not all clerics marry. Still, Eastern Catholic Churches generally accept married men into holy Orders and allow those men to live more conjugato [JohnK: ‘in the conjugal way’ -> have sex]. Now, for reasons that go beyond canonical, Rome has long steered clear of directly addressing how a married, and essentially non-continent, clergy took hold in the East (though most eyes look back to the controversial Synod of Trullo) and asking, in that light, whether this practice should be merely tolerated, mutually respected, or positively protected.

  9. acricketchirps,

    Doesn’t your logic fail the biological test? If you want to outgrow, out compete, and/or be able to provide direction to the idiots, don’t you have to do what it takes to strengthen yourself and your people, regardless of what the idiots think of you?

    Or, you can quote cannon law like JohnK, and go on having mimosas at brunch with your friends, and have that never-ending commiseration about how we are always losing the culture war. It is certainly cheaper than making sure the local married man whom the bishop would ordain could actually have a income upon which he could sustain his family.

  10. Quick P-Count: Four & before that about five intervening blog posts that didn’t have some mention of some perversion (I counted fast, so may be off by one, and/or, may have missed some mention of some perversion in one of those intervening posts). It took only five sentences, today, to present a worst-case outcome that is expressly contradicted by existing doctrine.

    That observation aside, onward to today’s topic:

    The Vatican’s Catechism on Holy Orders contains these tidbits:

    1579 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.”70 Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,”71 they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.72

    1580 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. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities.73 Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry.

    Ref: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c3a6.htm

    As I read 1579, one might interpret “with the exception of” and “normally chosen” remarks to allow for the occasional married man to become ordained, at least up to deacon. I’ve never actually observed or heard of that, but maybe rarely? I have heard of widowed Catholic priests (presumably widowed before they became priests, but maybe not…now I wonder)…

    1580 describes the “Eastern Churches” as limiting marriage to ‘below-Bishops.’ So there we see the core doctrine does accommodates married priests because there are married priests.

    –> So, at some level at least its been established in practice that Catholic doctrine and married priests are NOT incompatible.

    Further, J Ratzinger, later to become Pope, penned a letter endorsing consideration of celibacy requirements (see http://www.pathsoflove.com/blog/ratzinger-rahner-et-al-on-celibacy-1970/ ).

    Given such an individual/official could broach such a subject (and, holding such values as this indicates could later become Pope) indicates the current prohibition on married priests (or, priests later marrying) is based on tradition, not doctrine.

    Which makes the concluding quote of Ratzinger’s, presented in today’s essay to support the traditional view even Ratzinger himself clearly might not have been beholden to, rather curious. One can read Ratzinger’s piece and take from it what one will. However, an extraordinarily fundamental element of R’s point is — and remains(!) — the following:

    “Those who resolutely back the law of celibacy as it has been until now should have in the course of the last years also spoken up, in a spirit of courage and personal engagement, by way of practically convincing arguments, i.e., in an “offensive” tactic. Instead of that, persons largely entrenched themselves behind the “law”, and let rectors, spiritual directors, and others fight on the concrete front. This situation now comes to daylight and pushes inexorably for a genuine answer.”

    That, in context with R’s other remarks about how the Church functions in society, and to be effective MUST communicate on matters of social interest & significance points to one fundamental problem regarding which the Church as an institution continues to fail:

    Society sees the Church’s prohibition on priests & marriage peculiar — and the Church is not explaining its rationale … and that leadership vacuum is being filled with dilettantes. That is a recipe for undermining the Church’s own mission.

    Ratzinger noted:

    “It is not true that in this question [mandatory priestly celibacy] all is clear or certain and that one must only hold fast with faith in God and confidence to things as they were till now. One must honestly admit that the encyclical “Sacerdotalis Coelibatus” of June 24, 1967, says nothing about many things that must be discussed, …

    “If a sufficiently great increase of priests is not to be gained without a modification of the law of celibacy—and this question still remains also for our country [R wrote this in Germany] dangerously open—then the Church simply has the duty to make a certain modification. The conviction that God will at all times and in every case secure by his grace sufficient unmarried priests is a good and pious hope, but theologically unprovable and cannot in these considerations remain the single, decisive point of view.”

    As Ratzinger seems to have made extremely clear, he was very willing to modify Church law to accommodate married priests (Church law applies to the institution’s management, much of which is based on tradition — not to be confused with the very different theological doctrine that is inviolate). Here he very clearly wrote in a manner consistent with a willingness to modify Church law to remove prohibitions on priestly celibacy as part of a solution to a much more troublesome matter (though, then, he was only in a position to endorse formal consideration by higher-ups).

    Ratzinger raised the alarm about a need to reconsider priestly celibacy requirements in 1970 (the quoted text is dated Feb 9th). The problems identified continue…

    Again, to reiterate an observation — very odd that this blog’s host would endorse a representation of that particular former Pope’s views in a manner so contrary to what that man actually wrote, and presumably, actually held as a value.

  11. I understand that there are deep religious reasons for the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood. However, the arguments given in the article are typically of a wordly and financial nature and about such things like housing, healthcare, moving costs, availability, &c. It seems to me that Catholics must be doing something wrong. A Jewish synagogue can pay their Rabbi enough to support his family and so can Episcopal or Protestant communities. So what’s the problem with Catholics that they cannot provide their priests decent salaries?

  12. The point also is, all these full time lay leaders, DRE, Youth leader, Musician, etc. Will for the average size parish all become volunteer of part time positions. The Church in the US has empowered professional lay people who work in parishes, except in the very large and wealthy parishes, these positions will be gone.
    Also to pay for a married clergy the yearly diocesan tax would have to be greatly reduced.

  13. Well, I’m going to be very uncharitable here.

    My parish has one deacon. His formation was, how shall I phrase it? –lacking. He’s an insufferable, self-righteous, judgmental narcissist. His wife is even worse.

    Our priest, on the other hand, is humble, long-suffering, compassionate, and loving.

    If our deacon were able to become a priest, I can only imagine how much more insufferable his wife would be.

    If the church opens the priesthood to married men, would we get an influx of men and their wives like my parish’s deacon and his wife? I think so.

    Perhaps it’s only my diocese, but I have yet to meet a deacon in this diocese who isn’t poorly formed. And every homily I’ve ever heard by a deacon in this diocese is nothing more than a personal essay on how important they and their families are.

  14. This sectarian piece is shoddy…British meaning. It deserves a response in kind.

    A Vocation or calling does not imply or even require complete dedication to one cause. It might help to pretend but it simply isn’t the case even if you might find it convenient for the weak argument against priests marrying.

    when compared with the obvious benefits of allowing them to sew their oats as so many of them do anyway, illegitimately as far as the mob are concerned it’s a more honest position for the church to take. Of course they’d lose some powers of pretence.

    Many have a calling or a vocation and they are married. Some have one calling and then go off and do something else out of the same sense of duty or innate caring.

    I think many of the little boys and girls would be safer in a world where a proportion of priests aren’t looking for the next chance and givethe rest, including some of the crustier cCatholics, reasons to pretend nothing happened or examine why.

    This will change and the sooner it does the better for everybody, including the priests. The sooner the Catholics rid themselves of their sex obsession the better for everybody. Our local priest killed himself, he died of loneliness and suffered with depression for years. He was one of the nice ones. He used to go to some of the other lonely parishioners houses for a whiskey nightcap.
    I wonder if there was canoodling. Who cares? if there was I sympathise with him as do many of the people who are Catholic and think the idea of priests not being married is silly wizardry. Just don’t look behind that curtain, there might be someone with their hand on the organ. For reference see WM Briggs posts about the polls. No innuendo there hmm.

  15. The money acquired by the wicked nuns from using child and prison labour is also not to be sold and it runs into the millions when the properties are included where the crimes against humanity took place.

    Babies sold for adoption, that’s some calling, lace and souvenirs sold, dirty laundry done and so on. One priest at least, raped one of the girls who was locked up for stealing an apple. Her child was taken from her and sent to England.
    Burns and scolds were left untreated, fractures as well, evidently, women died, buried with multiple fractures on their remains and 800 babies buried in a septic tank… what ghouls. (your) nuns.

    So when the Catholic Church shows that it can make it’s dogmas and doctrines actually work and not make everybody else’s life a misery in the process perhaps they’ll be taken seriously on their phoney outrage about progressives or whoever else is the latest sinning group that needs to be binned. The Catholics can jump into the bin as well.

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