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.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the comments made by Tope and others (over at Mark Shea's blog), contra the arguments of Fr. Ryland. There's so much to say here, but I'll limit myself to a different area than they have.

    Like Fr. Ryland, I also reject the arguments that a married priest can necessarily understand married people better, and that a married priesthood in the Western Church will necessarily increase the number of priests.

    What I don't accept is his underlying theme that celibacy and the prieshood must be linked together. The Church, in fact, doesn't accept it either; not in his case, nor in the case of the Eastern Catholic Churches following the Byzantine or any of the ancient Oriental rites.

    "The priesthood and marriage are both full-time vocations. The fact is, no one can do complete justice to both simultaneously."

    I've heard this line so many times from Western Catholics. About half of the priests in my Ukrainian Catholic eparchy (diocese) are married. Yes, it's not easy to be a married priest, but it's not easy to be a celibate priest either. To me, this a question is more based on the question of how many hours you can "put in", not about the quality or dedication of the priestly ministry. I'd love to have Fr. Ryland address the married priests of my eparchy and explain to them which of their two vocations they are deficient in.

    "While advocates of a married priesthood will likely continue their efforts, they have neither history nor the contemporary Church on their side."

    From time immemorial the priests of the Eastern Catholic Churches have had married clergy, and predominantly so. The Ukrainian Catholic Church in its native land is thriving after decades of Communist persecution. It has a most ancient history, and its ecclesiastical life is certainly contemporary. But as I read in this essay, it's apparently not Catholic enough for some.

    Celibacy in the priesthood is a wonderful gift, and so is marriage. Neither one makes for an inferior ministry.


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