Optional celibacy for the Catholic ordained?

Catholic positions are very often easily and quickly misunderstood and misinterpreted by the media, by society at large, and even loyal, well-educated, faithful people.  It is difficult to synthesize down 2k years of divine revelation + 2k years lived experience of the Faith, known by Catholics as Tradition, into a thirty second sound bite.  

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” aka, “Einstein’s razor” correlating to “Occam’s razor”.  Used when oversimplification leads to false conclusion.
-“On the Method of Theoretical Physics” The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933); also published in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (April 1934), pp. 163-169., p. 165.

And, the Church, does a LOUSY job of explaining itself in a sound-bite world, as if it was truly concerned about that.  Maybe it should be concerned
“a little” bit more.  It would make it easier for everyone.  Exceedingly few are going to achieve the academic credentials necessary to understand the Church the way the Vatican naturally expresses itself.  Hence, the critical need for Catechist/Apologists.  Of which, yours truly, makes his poor, amateurish attempts!  I am, however, a certified Catechist of the Archdiocese of Chicago!  I have papers to prove it!  Bless the Lord, O my soul!  

Thus, there are truly greater and lesser “truths” and doctrinal assets/assents in Catholicism.  Ask a VERY well trained and normatively orthodox priest where your particular truth in question does fall.  (You know the joke…”Line up 100 priests and keep asking until you get the answer you want!”  The downer of the joke is the number necessary keeps shrinking.  Obviously, the closer it gets to one, the more we are in trouble!  It’s been trending downward of late.)  

Celibacy among the clergy is one of those “lesser” truths.  It is a “discipline”, not a doctrine.  Because the rule of celibacy is an ecclesiastical law and not a doctrine, it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope.  Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessors, have spoken clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice was not likely to change.

The earliest textual evidence of the forbidding of marriage to clerics and the duty of those already married to abstain from sexual contact with their wives is in the fourth-century decrees of the Council of Elvira and the later Council of Carthage. According to some writers, this presumed a previous norm, which was being flouted in practice.

Council of Elvira (c. 305 AD)
(Canon 33): It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.

Council of Carthage (390 AD)
(Canon 3): It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep… It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.


“In a 2010 study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate compared the increase of Catholics in the U.S. with the decline in the number of priests from 1965 until 2025. In 1965, the report noted, there was one priest for approximately every 780 Catholics. By 2010, there was one priest for every 1,640 Catholics. If the CARA projection remains consistent, in 2025—less than 15 years from now— there will be one priest for every 6,150 Catholics.

The declining number of priests and the burgeoning growth of the Catholic population, coupled with the closing and combining of parishes, ensures that fewer and fewer Catholics will have regular access to the Eucharist in coming years.

Lack of access to the Eucharist is not just a crisis, it is a disaster. Thus far, the only solution that the American bishops have offered for this disaster is to close and combine parishes and convert aging and already stressed priests into circuit riders.

Is there any way to turn this disaster around within the context of current canon law (the law of the Church)?

The answer is “yes” if the American bishops have the will and the courage to ask the Vatican for the right to ordain married Catholic men. They could do so using the same “Pastoral Provision” procedures that have allowed the ordination in the Catholic Church of married former Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopalian clergy.

Canon 1042 states that it is a simple impediment to ordination if a man has a wife. But Canon 1047 states that the Apostolic See can grant dispensations from this simple impediment on a case-by- case basis. Indeed, the See has used this latter canon to ordain married formerly Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran clergy as priests in the Latin Rite.

In addition, several American Bishops have successfully appealed to the Vatican for rescripts to ordain married clergy formerly from other denominations such as Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and Presbyterians.

These actions demonstrate clearly that the existence of ordained married men in the priesthood is acceptable to the Vatican, at least for those originally approved as ministers of other Christian denominations. Surely Catholic married men are no less deserving of such consideration. ”

“Studies show that half of the 19,302 active diocesan priests plan to retire by 2019. We are ordaining about 380 new diocesan priests each year. If the rate of ordinations remains constant, as it has for more than a decade, we will have only 13,500 active diocesan priests to serve our 18,000 parishes in just eight years.”

Shall we game the system?  Commit heresy/schism.  Become married/ordained.  You pick the order.  Reunification?  Is this what the US Catholic bishops are encouraging?  Technically possible.  Still recognized as “gaming the system” by all.

Let us pray, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus! – Come, Holy Spirit!” give us the wisdom as Your Church to know what to do.


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