Monday, October 16, 2006

A Married Catholic Priest Extolls the Gift of Celibacy

Father Ray Crisis Magazine:

“You're a married priest? I didn't know we had married priests. I think the
Church should let all her priests marry.”

Words like these have greeted me frequently since my ordination to the priesthood in 1983, with dispensation from the rule of celibacy. I always assure those who favor optional celibacy that both my wife and I strongly support the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. While I'm deeply grateful that the Church has made an exception for certain former Protestant clergy like me, the exception is clearly a compromise.
The priesthood and marriage are both full-time vocations. The fact is, no one
can do complete justice to both simultaneously.

T he objection usually persists. “But surely a married man is better qualified to teach people about marriage than is a celibate priest.” Again, I disagree (politely, of course). The purpose of marriage preparation is not to teach couples what the priest has experienced. Catholic couples need and have the right to be instructed in the
Church's revealed truth about the meaning of human sexuality and holy matrimony.
If both a married and a celibate priest are reasonably mature, and if each teaches in harmony with the Church, the married priest has no essential advantage over the celibate priest in giving marriage instruction.

Then comes the final argument. “Yes, that may be, but if priests could marry, it
would solve our priest shortage.” I reply that this is an assumption with no
evidence to support it. If the rule of celibacy is keeping men out of the priesthood, how do we account for the dioceses in this country that have an abundance of priests? As Pope Paul VI said 40 years ago, the decline in priestly vocations is due to lack of faith on the part of our people. The dissent that has been rampant in recent decades has created widespread confusion about the Church's teaching, especially with regard to the priesthood.