7 May 2022

Married priests

When ... happy, far-off days ... I used to spend my Anglican summers in the Kingdom of the West, County Kerry, chaplaining a couple of Church of Ireland churches ... kindly Roman Catholics in Ireland, anxious to sound friendly, often sought to show their soundness by telling me why they were in favour of allowing married clergy in the Catholic Church. 

"It will solve the problem of paedophile priests", they confidently asserted. They tended to be surprised when I explained that allowing married clergy does not achieve this end. I could tell them so much about Anglican priests - and bishops - who have laboured vigorously to disprove this assumption. The English Independent Inquiry into sexual abuse recently described mercilessly the situation in one specimen Anglican diocese. My own Anglican ministry was overshadowed by the proximity of a bishop whose sadistic abuse of epheboi was at an industrial level.

And I could go on to tell jolly tales galore about Anglican priests - and bishops - who have been sacked for adultery. And to point out that clergy wives can create their own scandals by running off with the Curate or the Rector or the chairman ... or chairwoman ... of the Parish Council. A priest who is trying to look after three young children singlehanded after his missus has done a bunk with a deft and friendly organist is not best placed to devote himself singlemindedly to the care of his people. 

 "And a married priest will understand marriage ... and women ... so much better", the Irish cheerfully added. There's a great load of nonsense in this. An unmarried priest has, does he not, experience of the marriage in which he was nurtured? And does he not have a mother, sisters, nieces? And yet ... there is a tiny something in this argument. But not, necessarily, quite what the speaker might confidently assume. Take this example: "Father, I can't get to Mass regularly; I've got young children". A celibate, hearing this, might feel intimidated. If he replies "Rubbish; pull the other one", there is a risk that he might get an abusive earful about how he has no personal experience of being up all night with sickly or cantankerous children, and of being stared at by censorious worshippers when the kiddies start screaming in church. 

If, however, someone has tried that nonsense on me, I have always been able to say "I remember when my wife had four small children and the latest in the carry-cot and I never heard a squeak out of any of them all through Mass. And you have your husband sitting beside you to help, so that you're not - as my wife was - coping singlehanded while your husband liturgised and preached. And you've only got two. I wonder why that is." (No; I don't think I ever really did say that last bit.)

But, strangely, Pope Francis has slightly mitigated my views on this matter of married priests.

If he had a wife, his equal who could Frankly point out to him his failings and misjudgements and unfairnesses and inconsistencies and hypocrisies ... that marvellous officium with which wives are so richly endowed ... would he be so cruel, spiteful, and hate-filled? 

Do we need to rethink this matter? Perhaps, by confining the Apostolic See to ordained widowers?

Henry Manning might have been Pope!

You know it makes sense. 


Ana Milan said...

You remind me of a PP we had that started as an English Anglican, converted on marriage to a Spanish woman, had children & on being made a widower immediately offered himself to Christ. He became the best & most popular of all priests I can remember & the church he presided over was after his death given to the CofE & now has Evangelicals & some other sect who don't pay a cent towards its upkeep & allow their children full run of the vestry & leave lights on etc. all in the name of false ecumenism.

Unknown said...

From another communion with married clergy, my three adult daughters remember Mummy's nails digging into their bare arms if and when they acted up in church. The result of these firm actions was that Frau Pastor (which does not mean ladypriest) was complemented on her children's reverent demeanour during service.

Anita Moore said...

If he had a wife, his equal who could Frankly point out to him his failings and misjudgements and unfairnesses and inconsistencies and hypocrisies ... that marvellous officium with which wives are so richly endowed ... would he be so cruel, spiteful, and hate-filled?

What woman in her right mind would have him?

Albertus said...

It is obvious, it seems to me, that there are both advantages and drawbacks to having a marriage clergy as well as to having a celibate clergy. In the Catholic Church we already have married Eastern-rite clergy and married former Anglican and former Protestant clergy, as well as married Latin-Church deacons. My own opinion is that proven married deacons - viri probati - with a calling to the priesthood should be ordained priest in the Latin Church. This would be much better than the current aberrant practice of laymen and laywomen pretending to be sacred ministers, even administering parishes, baptising, distributing, communion, marrying and burying. This abberance is turning the Western Catholic Church into a non- liturgical Church, and creating the impression that an ordained clergy is no longer necessary. I hope thst the Church will have the courage to ordain to the priesthood suitabke married men, and abolish the Novus Ordo liturgy at the same time! Of course, a celibate clergy would always keep a valuable and honourable place in the Latin Church, as it does in all Eastern rite Churches.

Fr. C. A. Fogielman said...

Well said, Father, but if he were a widower, would that not defeat the purpose?

From Fr. Khouri said...

Father, I greatly respect you but your experience of clerical marriage and child rearing is not realistic. Many mothers,wives of priests (Orthodox) have with help of their husband raised great families with well adjusted children.

The examples given were trite and vacuous. The clerical mother in the pew just deals with the kids. In many places older women will offer help. Women who marry seminarians must be a unique women. With eyes wide open she needs to see the reality of a priest's wife's life. Also, in many cases the wife of a priest can greatly help in the ministry of the Church.
Many see being a priest's Wice as as a true vocation.

Clerical marriage has many problems, so does non clerical marriage, the situations are different but both are difficult.

There might be divorces,in such a case a priest generally cannot remain in active ministry.

So since there are divorces in non clerical marriages should we outlaw the Mystery of Marriage altogether? Celibacy is problematic too. As you said some need a wife to keep thier husband well grounded,patient,loving and generous.

This is more about divinely instituted things (the Sacraments) and human discipline (celibacy). As we see fewer and fewer priests is the answer not to ordain married men or just let the faithful do without?

I'm not a fan of the Amazonian Synod or the bishop of Rome.

Yet cannot diaconal "Veri probati" be ordained?

It is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is an issue of celibacy or Sacraments.

Fr. Eric said...

Thanks Fr. Hunwicke.
You forgot to add "merry" widower for the ordained.

Women are enamored of their own perspective of men who become priests after having had arrived at the altar later in life. "Finally, a priest who understands women." They say. To which their husbands politely bow their heads and look away.

Priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church Latin rite: where a man gives away his God-given right to be told what to do by only one woman.

And of course, married clergy guarantees nothing. Only Grace infused virtue.

Banshee said...

Moral Theology by St. Alphonsus de Liguori has a ton of canonically, pastorally valid reasons why somebody could ask to be dispensed from Mass attendance, and indeed it was generally okayed for anyone with young kids.

Probably the one I find most interesting is being excused if going to church makes you uncontrollably angry, either because you see an enemy there or because something about church, the sermon, etc. does it. Because mortal sins of wrath every week is not what church is about.

Of course, nowadays people dispense themselves for things like being sick, but I don't know if that informal procedure extends to chronic reasons like this.

Moral Theology's fasting section includes a hot chocolate recipe, and the cursing section is educational; and I like it a lot. Somebody has been translating it into English and I really need to buy it in hardcopy, instead of straining my eyes on Internet Latin.

+Anthony said...

Where there is the Church, there is sin. The Devil would not waste his time where sin already exists. So, you will find problems in every Church. That is why nightly we are warned to "Be sober, be watchful..."

AS to having popes with "mopes" (their wives) some would benefit greatly...though I can just hear them complaining about the dust in the apostolic palace. It has been said that "Marriage is the greatest argument for celibacy."

armyarty said...

People seem to assume that the good lady will indeed be good, but what if the poor man has married some ecclesiastical Madame Bovary?

Moritz Gruber said...


Mind you, I am absolutely in favor of admitting married converts to the priesthood. And perhaps that includes even *future* priests from Anglicanorum-coetibus-communities (though the law at present is, I believe, "case by case"), it being their patrimony and all.

But I like the celibate clergy of us Latins for a variety of reasons - which are collateral benefits, actually (the main reason is to be prepared for the priest's job, offering the Sacrifice of Mass, with a purity that would in a layman be supererogatory; not unlike the fact that we laymen also do some fasting before Communion, though that now is marginal).

One of these collateral benefits is that it prevents us - with some quite welcome, do not get me wrong, but limited, interrupts by married deacons - from being preached at by viri probati. What is a vir probatus? A vir probatus is a dignified elderly gentleman, perhaps not rich but rather certainly at least moderately wealthy, with a beautiful if perhaps aged wife who, in addition to being a sucessful businessman or professional, has successfully raised a family with children who, right now, are also on the verge of entering professional life, having earned their university degrees and so forth.

It is of course our Christian duty and, sometimes after some training admittedly (and especially if he's a sympathetic person), also pleasure to delight in our neighbour's goods. But if he then is in a position to lecture us... and tempted to use the "look'ee here, I can do it, thus so can you" argument ... and perhaps does use it ... then the temptationto begrudge it would be, perhaps, very hard on someone who, it may well be, aspires but fails, to get into a like position.

And that *especially* within marriage. I do not get why people say "they will understand marriage better". People don't all the time talk to their priests about marriage; but when they do, it is precisely because of their outside perspective that they might just barely make up their mind to ask them about something. Come on, let's be honest: who on God's good Earth wants to hear "well, I and my wife always handled it like this, that has worked well for us" about anything from anyone, let alone from someone in spiritual authority?

And yes, that includes the "I can't get to Mass because of my young children". If I am a father of young children who says this to a priest, I *want* him to be intimidated. And then consult Jone's handbook and give me, in the tone of a technician, an answer that is, quite possibly, more lenient than one drawn from his personal experience in which he successfully and laudably achieved the undoubtedly better, but possibly supererogatory thing. As Tolkien, unusually preachy for his style, wrote in Morgoth's Ring (attributed to the Valar): "It is our part to rule Arda, and to counsel the Children, or to command them in things committed to our authority. Therefore it is our task to deal with Arda Marred, and to declare what is just in it. We may indeed in counsel point to the higher road, but we cannot compel any free creature to walk upon it."

- Other points:

1. While marriage is sometimes a cross to bear, but I think it is clear that sacerdotal celibacy is the sacrifice of a great pleasure.

2. And with all respect to Henry Manning, from what I know from the few articles I read about him, I think they perhaps decided rightly not to elect him Pope... for starters, certainly St. John Henry's approach on Papal Infallibility was the right one and his, I hear, rather different from it.

Moritz Gruber said...

Dear Albertus,

one other of the "collateral benefits" of clerical celibacy I mentioned above is, in fact, precisely married deacons.

Married deacons were introduced, departing from tradition on Conciliar mandate (which, do not get me wrong, was legitimate - but we should not forget that it still was a *momenteous* step to take), with the express intention of reviving the deaconate on a *practical* level. Because, you can say as much as you like and as truthfully as you like that the deaconate is a vocation of its own and an Order of Holy Orders of its own, etc.; still on practical terms if the Church demands the same thing from deacons and priests, and the Church does need priests (and when has she not?), then the number of deacons not proceeding to priesthood will be marginal: there will be some, yes, like St. Francis and Cardinal Mertel, but they will not be a common sight in the Church.

There were two parties at the Council: the one said, "well, deacons would be nice but you can't have everything in life, so be it"; the other said "so, momenteous as this decision is, we need to lift celibacy for the deaconate, and only for the deaconate, in order to get deacons". Both are quite Catholic positions, in themselves, and the second won over Pope and majority. If, now, these deacons should proceed to priesthood, we would again have "no deacons" (that is on a practical level) but lost clerical celibacy in the process.