Catholic Priests & celibacy

Can any of the more scholarly types, Catholic or not shed some light why catholic priests (& Nuns if you don’t count them as priests) are celebate?

What what I’ve read, I’m coming up with the reasons being an interpretation of a letter from St. Paul that isn’t all that clear on the subject, and the idea that it is a good thing for Priests to live their lives emulating Christ, and as Chris was celebate, so should they be.

Yet this wasn’t really enforced until the Gregorian Reforms (and for the secular clergy, later than that).

Is there some biblical reference that I’m missing where Christ asked his disciples to emulate him in this fashion? Has there been any debate as to whether Christ was celebate?

I do apologize to any Catholics who are uncomfortable with my questions. I’m not writing this to poke fun at you or disparage your beliefes in any way. I am writing this in an attempt to understand.


I’m not a Catholic, but I am a little familiar with their beliefs. I don’t know the exact reference, but at one point the Bible states that “some have made themselves eunechs for the kingdom’s sake . . . let he that is able to receive it, receive it.” As far as I can see, the King James version of the Bible never specifically requires that preists/preachers/apostles must be celibate, but that being celibate for God’s sake is a higher calling, and if you can do it, great, if not “it is better to marry than to burn.”

The point of celibacy is that you dedicate yourself to God, rather than marriage and family. Since the Bible denounces fornication and adultery, the only way one can have a sin-free sexual life is to be lawfully wed. Priests are married to the church, and thus have renounced secular marriage and sex in order to more fully dedicate themselves to God’s work.

St Pauls letter, IIRC, is referring to himself, not Christ when he speaks of celibacy.

At the moment, I cannot find a cite to support this, but I have read that it was a real estate deal.

Back in the middle ages, churchmen were often wealthy landowners. If a married cleric died, his wife or children would inherit the property. If an unmarried cleric died, he would leave his property to the church. The Vatican started preaching the “chastity is purity” line, and started discouraging their priests from marrying. Eventually, it became dogma.

mbh is right. It was more about politics than anything else.
Several Popes previously, in fact, had children. Wasn’t there the Borgias, or the ones Machiavelli admired?

Quite a few popes had children, and yes, the Borgias are counted among them. In fact, several popes passed their thrones down to their illegitimate sons, the office of the pope being more secular and political at the time than religious.

Not to mention the fabled Pope Joan, who may or may not have existed. (Many scholars are divided on this point). Supposedly, the villagers stoned Pope John/Joan to death when “he” suddenly went into labor and gave birth during a papal procession.

Actually, priestly celibacy is a matter of Church discipline, not of faith and morals, or of dogma, and therefore at some point the ban on priestly celibacy can be lifted.

BTW, only the Latin Rite demands a celibate priesthood. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, married men can be ordained as priests, although bishops must be either widowers or celibate priests. A priest cannot be married after he is ordained, however, and if a priest is widowed, he cannot remarry.

I personally have met two married Catholic Priests. One of them I’ve actually gotten to know fairly well, as he frequently fills in for my pastor if he’s out of town. He was ordained in Albania. For about ninety years, married men could not be ordained in the US in the Eastern Rite churches because of that pesky Edict of Baltimore thing, but that was lifted a couple of years ago.

The breeding Popes and the myth of Pope Joan are both discussed in this Cecil column.

Personally, I think the Pope Joan thing was a bunch of hooey.

I may be wrong, but… it is my understanding that a married Anglican or Episcopal priest who converts to Catholicism may be allowed to be ordained as a Latin-rite priest while still married.

… since this is a case of “Well,i read it somewhere, but I forget where…” I believe nebuli is correct. (Is there a difference between “Anglican” and “Episcopalian”?)

My understanding is that priests were originally allowed to marry. Several apostles were married and there’s mention made to Peter’s wife. During the Middle Ages, it all changed. Priests needed to be more mobile, travelling from parish to parish, and it was thought that a wife and family would slow them down, make them more reluctant to move, etc. This is also why the church started provided housing for its priests, IIRC.

IMHO, there seems to be no reason not to allow priests to marry these days. I believe that married priests would make better ministers and marriage counselors. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen. Let’s not even get started on female priests… :slight_smile:

Disclaimer: I don’t have any sources, because I read the above years ago; I could very well be wrong.

One is British and the other is American- but I probably would have been better off saying “priests of the Anglican communion” to show that I meant clerics from any of the churches in that group.

Celibacy has been encouraged throughout the history of the Church, beginning with several of Paul’s statements. There were locations, by the third century where it was required of bishops, priests, and deacons, at least locally.

In the sixth century, a pair of synods held in Spain ordered clerical celibacy, however, the Church(es) at the eastern end of the Mediterranean did not accept the decress of those synods.

By the ninth century, celibacy was mandatory in most of western Europe (although it was not wholeheartedly practiced).

From the ninth through the eleventh centuries, the breakup of Charlemagne’s empire resulted in a smaller scale replay of the fall of Rome, with most legal institutions (including the Church) suffering a certain amount of fraying at the edges. During this period, despite the calls for celibacy by several Church leaders, it was ignored by many of the clergy.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Church leadership took a strong stand in favor of celibacy. In the face of so many clergy ignoring the calls for celibacy, it was at this time that the Church passed punitive laws denying the wives and children of priests the right to inherit property (indeed, declaring that the children of priests could be claimed as little more than chattel slaves by the local lords). These acts, in turn, gave rise to the stories that the Church “only” enacted the rules of celibacy in order to acquire the property owned by priests.

Without in any way denying the harshness of the eleventh and twelfth century rules (or trying to deny the corruption that occurred, in many cases, among the local married clergy or the church hierarchy), it is still possible to point out that the concept of celibacy was far older than those events and that the practice of celibacy was not “created” to cement power within the church.

Regarding Anglican/Episcopalian priests and Catholic priests: For several years, now, John Paull II has been accepting Episcopalian priests into the Catholic Church (particularly when they indicate that they have been upset by the willingness of the Episcopalians to ordain women); if these men have already married, the church waives the celibacy rule. Meanwhile, the Episcopalians have been accepting Catholic priests (frequently, those who have left the RCC in order to marry).

Personally, I think we need women priests. Or Hell, why can’t Nuns do it? I knew some nuns who could put the fear of God into ya…I’ll tell ya.

Just to throw a little piece of trivia related to dying clerics- by the thirteenth century, the papal practice of ‘providing’ (directly appointing a cleric to a benefice) had become used to reward bureaucrats in papal service, rather than reforming and opening up the dynasticized cathedral chapters. The decree Licet ecclesiarum in 1265 reserved all beneficies of clerics who died in Rome at the papal curia. Then in the 1320s, John XXII’s bull Ex debito extended this to the beneficies of clerics who died within two days’ travel of Rome, as well as any cardinals or bishops who were consecrated in Rome.

Priests do not marry because of social and legal sanctions against pedophilia.

(Sorry, but in my country there has been a tremendous problem with priests buggerig little boys. Some of my clients were so messed up by priests that they are now messing up their own children. It’s really depressing to see the damage across the generations caused by the priests. This whole hangup the church has with sex is way out of hand.)

The basis is the phrase “in persona Christi” or “in the person of Christ” . . . meaning, basically, you try to live as Christ lived; you don’t get married or have sex and you are poor and you obey God’s will. Where that comes from I don’t know, as the priest I learned that from didn’t go into detail about it.

Was Jesus celibate?

I had the grand misfortune to be soaked in catholic twittery from an early age. Looking for ‘reason’ in catholic theology or practice is a bit like looking for good examples of Newton’s laws of motion in a Chuck Jones cartoon.

Basically, those poor individuals so suckered by the virus as to end up as catholic priests or nuns are supposed to be celibate for one reason, and one reason only: because the church says so.

Next… why did the church say so? No reason whatsoever. The nearest thing you ever get to a ‘reason’ is that the priest is emulating the life of jesus, and he was single. There are more holes in this kind of ‘reasoning’ than a warehouse full of gorgonzola, but this is only of concern to people concerned with thinking straight, which by definition doesn’t include catholics. The catholic church has a great many hangups about sex which can be traced back to social and cultural mores of medieval times. Why anyone in the 21st century would want their whole life to be governed by such ancient, arbitrary and ill-advised precepts is a good question.

Next… will the catholic church continue to insist on celibacy? I’d lay good odds against it. The church is woefully short of new priests, despite a ton of prayers for new ‘vocations’. My bet is that they will eventually dispense with the celibacy clause in the contract, if they suspect this might up the numbers a bit.

Incidentally, before I get flamed for my intolerance… back off and keep the fires down. There’s really no need. I ridicule and despise catholicism not because I happen to disagree with it, but because it is ridiculous and despicable. I respect anyone’s right to believe whatever they want. I hope they, in return, respect my right to point out that something is a bucket of hogwash.

In addition, the fact that I respect the believer (and I do) does not mean I have to respect the belief. It is well-nigh impossible to ‘respect’ something as Looney Tunes as catholicism. One might as well respect someone’s belief that Clinton is a virgin.

As for the believers, they have my respect and my sympathy as unfortunate victims of a cruel and virulent mind virus.

Actually, the Catholic Church has been at least a little misogynistic since the time of that great (supposed) repressed homosexual, Paul of Tarsus.

The celibacy of the church may have some other motives, though.
I heard a comedian once mention that he came from an Italian family. His oldest brother went into the family business. His youngest brother went into the army. His middle brother who was “a little queer growing up” joined the priesthood.

But jokes aside, remember that the Church is all about power. What greater way to take power away from people than to tell them that the most natural thing in the world, sex (of course) is wrong. And before I get someone telling me that the church only says sex outside of marriage is wrong, remember–that is only a concession. The attitude is “of you’re going to have sex, do it with your spouse. But we’d rather you not f**k at all.”

Tell people when and with whom they can make the beast with two backs and, if they believe you, you have their testicles in the palm of your hands.

[tasteless joke]

Q: How do you get a nun pregnant?

A: Dress her up like an altar boy.

[/tasteless joke]

The OP said:

Doug, your questions did not make me uncomfortable. I respect the spirit in which they were asked, and I actually found the responses (well, most of them) very informative. Thank you for helping to eradicate ignorance. Please accept my apologies for the upcoming hijack. It will be the last time, I promise.

mangeorge, that’s a good question. I don’t know, and I’m not sure what the Catholic Church teaches. Maybe tombdebb can help.

ianzin and Muffin, I’m still trying to figure out if there’s any redeeming value to your posts. To disparage all (or most) of those who are trying to answer an OP is very destructive, and offensive. You clearly do not respect me; by insulting what I believe, you are showing me an utter lack of respect. You have the right to point out that you don’t agree with what I believe, but you seem to lack the tact necessary to see that this is the wrong place for your message and that you’re talking to the wrong people. I’m sorry that you have had bad experiences; however, they are irrelevant to the topic of celibacy amongst Catholic clergy. Perhaps you were looking for this thread, or even this forum. In any case, I feel that this is not the place.