A Brief Scriptural and Ecclesial Justification Why Catholic Priests Should Not Marry; Rather They Must Remain Celibate
" If someone who wishes to become a priest cannot even make the sacrifice of celibacy, giving up wife and children, how will he hold up when it comes to other sacrifices? Can he give his life for his flock? If the priest is not willing to give up wife and children, just how serious is he about his vocation? How will he be the best possible servant he can be if he is not willing to dedicate his life wholly to God?"
"Now, however, We want you to rally to combat the abominable conspiracy against clerical celibacy. This conspiracy spreads daily and is promoted by profligate philosophers, some even from the clerical order. They have forgotten their person and office, and have been carried away by the enticements of pleasure. They have even dared to make repeated public demands to the princes for the abolition of that most holy discipline. But it is disgusting to dwell on these evil attempts at length. Rather, We ask that you strive with all your might to justify and to defend the law of clerical celibacy as prescribed by the sacred canons, against which the arrows of the lascivious are directed from every side."
- - Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari Vos on Liberalism, 1832
Many people, even many Catholics, wonder why the Catholic Church does not allow priests and religious to marry but requires them to be celibate. Our world at the threshold of the third millennium, is very secular and indulges daily in the gratification of the senses. Pleasure is what describes our sinful Western world, pleasure and instant gratification. It is very difficult, therefore, for a worldly person -- even if they mean well and are sincere -- to see the great gift and virtue of being celibate for life.
The reasons for priestly and religious celibacy are numerous. They range from theological to spiritual, from psychological to practical, from philosophical to biblical. Before I start going into some of the reasons, let me first mention a short but important book on the matter: The Case for Clerical Celibacy by Cardinal Alfons Stickler. You may consider getting this book from Ignatius Press if you are interested in this topic, for an essay like this one can never give you the full picture but only snapshots.
Before I get into the biblical arguments, let me quickly mention a fairly philosophical reason for priestly celibacy: it helps filter out unworthy vocations. A priest ought to be a most holy, most virtuous man wholly dedicated to God and ready to sacrifice his life for God and in order to feed the flock. If someone who wishes to become a priest cannot even make the sacrifice of celibacy, giving up wife and children, how will he hold up when it comes to other sacrifices? Can he give his life for his flock? If the priest is not willing to give up wife and children, just how serious is he about his vocation? How will he be the best possible servant he can be if he is not willing to dedicate his life wholly to God? If God calls you, God will give you the graces necessary to be a good and holy priest. Hence, if you feel you have a vocation but also feel that you could not be celibate for the rest of your life, this is an indication that you do not have a calling to the priesthood or religious life after all. As a former seminarian, I know what I am talking about. If the Church rescinded on her discipline of requiring priests and religious to be celibate, she would be opening the doors to many unworthy vocations, filling the seminaries, monasteries, and convents with people who are not willing to make this great sacrifice of celibacy in order to serve the Lord totally dedicated to Him. A vocation to the religious life -- whether it be that of a priest, monk, or nun -- must be willing to give everything to God, including one's life, to be shared with no one and nothing other than Him.
Now, given the many sex scandals that have been exposed by the press in recent times, you may wonder how I can say that priestly celibacy furthers holy vocations. Of course when I say that, I am talking about heterosexuals (males for the priesthood or brotherhood, and females for sisterhood). When you look at the many scandals that we have heard about in the news lately, you will see that almost every single one of them involves priests and other men. That is, we are talking about homosexual priests. Homosexual men should not be admitted into the seminary, into the priesthood, or into a monastery to be monks. The Church affirms this in its 1961 document on the matter. Unfortunately, however, many homosexuals have been able to infiltrate the seminaries and the priesthood and are now priests, educators, and administrators of whatever sort. It is because of this infiltration that we now see so many scandals. It has nothing to do with priestly celibacy but with homosexuality.
A more practical reason for priestly celibacy is simply that you do not have time for wife and children as a priest. You simply don't. Even in the seminary already it would be impossible to have a wife and children to take care of--you would get nowhere. Besides, having wife and children to care for is a huge responsibility, and of course the husband in the family must be very diligent and properly care for his family. A priest could not do this because he would be torn between his responsibilities as a spiritual father and his responsibilities to his wife and children.
Biblical Reasons Why Celibacy Must Be Upheld
Now we come to the biblical reasons for celibacy. I will be citing passages of Sacred Scripture from the Douay-Rheims Bible, the true Catholic bible. What follows are selections of passages that demonstrate the celibacy as a state for life is approved by the Bible, recommended especially in order to be free for prayer and focus on God, and will be rewarded greatly in the afterlife:
"Then Peter answering, said to Him: 'Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have?' And Jesus said to them: 'Amen I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting'."
"His disciples say unto Him [Jesus]: 'If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry.' And He said to them: 'All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mothers womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven. He that can receive, let him receive it'."
1 Corinthians 7:7-9
"For I would that all men were even as myself [i.e., celibate]. But every one hath his proper gift from God: one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I. But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn."
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
"He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord: how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world: how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit: not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment."
"These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God, and to the Lamb." [Note here how these virgins are singled out for special recognition--M.D.]
1 Corinthians 7:1,38
"Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. [...] Therefore both he that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well: and he that giveth her not, doth better."
1 Corinthians 7:5
"Defraud not one another [i.e. do not cease to have sexual relations], unless, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer: and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency."
1 Kings [1 Samuel] 21:5-6
"And David answered the priest, and said to him: Truly, as to what concerneth women, we have refrained ourselves from yesterday and the day before, when we came out, and the vessels of the young men were holy. Now this way is defiled, but it shall also be sanctified this day in the vessels. The priest therefore gave him hallowed bread. . . ." [Note here that married Jewish priests had to abstain from sexual relations for at least three days before eating the Holy Bread; a Catholic priest eats the Eucharist every day, so it makes sense for him to be celibate in like manner--M.D.]
"For thus saith the Lord to the eunuchs, 'They that shall keep My sabbaths, and shall choose the things that please Me, and shall hold fast My covenant: I will give to them in My house, and within My walls, a place, and a name better than sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name which shall never perish'."
"Again the kingdom of Heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it."
"If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."
I think these passages of the Holy Scriptures make it fairly clear that one is better-off if one does not marry. If, however, one would otherwise be too tempted to commit sin, it is better to marry. Being celibate lets one focus totally on God and is therefore superior to the married state--according to the Scriptures. Now, none of this diminishes the state of Holy Matrimony, which, indeed, God through His Church has raised to the dignity of a sacrament in the New Covenant (see Pauline Zingleman's magnificent exposition of Holy Matrimony at my site). Everyone who does not have an impediment to marriage (e.g. impotence) is free to marry in the Catholic Church, with God's full blessing. It is true that priests may not marry, but then again, nobody is obliged to become a priest. The Church requires her priests and religious to be celibate, but, as we have seen, she only does so because she only wants the most faithful sons and daughters for the religious life, sons and daughters who have a high-quality vocation, as exemplified through the great sacrifice of celibacy which they are voluntarily offering to the Lord, and for which they will one day be most generously rewarded.
Editor's Note: So many of the post-conciliar bishops today refer to those clinging to the true Roman Catholic traditions that were in vogue for 2000 years prior to the reforms of Vatican II as 'fossils,' 'dinosaurs,' 'old folks who will die off soon.' We beg to differ and offer as proof the youthful wisdom and enthusiasm of the younger generation in the Traditional Insights of Mario Derksen who exemplifies the thinking of many more young men and women today who realize the new thinking of the post-conciliar church does not add up to true Catholic teaching. Thus they long for those traditions so tried and true. His insight shows great promise, optimism and hope for the future of Holy Mother Church.
Note: [bold, brackets and italicized words used for emphasis]
For past columns by Mario Derksen, see Archives for www.DailyCatholic.org/2002mdi.htm
October 25-27, 2002
volume 13, no. 124
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS