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The other side of celibacy

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Oct 16, 2003

We have a lively debate going on, in Sound Off, about priestly celibacy. What strikes me is that everyone tackles the issue from the perspective of the priesthood. Let me try the other approach.

Clerical celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine; it could conceivably be changed. Many good priests have been married; we know that marriage is not necessarily an impediment to holy orders.

But isn't holy orders an impediment to marriage?

Leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether a married man can serve the Church well. Ask whether a priest-- who has given himself wholly to the service of the Church-- can give himself wholly to a spouse. Can a pastor, charged with care of many souls, have enough time to raise his own children properly? When the baby is sick or the wife is in labor and a parishioner is dying, who comes first? A celibate man is never forced to make that decision.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2003 8:39 PM ET USA

    I am a permanent deacon with a wife and a number of children. I can attest to the difficulties of balancing familial and church obligations from hard experience. A married priesthood would be an injustice to spouses and children, an injustice to members of the congregation a priest is supposed to serve, a source of unending conflict and tension to priests, and a disastor for Holy Mother Church. While a matter of discepline, any discepline in conformity with natural law will preclude a married P

  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2003 6:32 PM ET USA

    As a fairly recently married father of one (but just getting started) and one-time seminarian, I can't imagine combining both priesthood and marriage. I barely have the time to properly live the vocation I'm in.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2003 4:25 PM ET USA

    Phil: Right on.This all-important distinction must be strongly underscored. We can't go back to mentality behind effort of USA bishops to drive Ruthenians back to Europe, because of married priests. Result was new community, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, members: former Byzantine Rite Catholics. An Episcopal parish & its priest in my diocese rejected because "If they can be married, why can't we ?" Childish? Myopic? Or just plain stupid? Married men as priests? Some times. Priests to marry? Never!

  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2003 9:48 AM ET USA

    Bingo Phil. I know many Protestants who view the history of dedicated celibate Catholic missionaries with something bordering on awe. They may have trouble with Catholicism, but many of their holy have impressed them greatly. I'm sure there are many fine married clergy. But can they win the hearts, minds and souls like a platoon of consecrated nuns? a division of cassock wearing old school Jesuits? Every battle has its heroes. A celibate priest is the backbone of our Special Forces.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 16, 2003 8:43 AM ET USA

    Dr. James Dobson's son Ryan has just written a new book for the younger generation attempting to swim in the moral whirlpool that constitutes post-modern life today entitled "Be Intolerant, Because Some Things are Just Stupid!" Very appropriate, I think. And again I must also quote the essential meaning of the Holy Father's teaching "Fides et Ratio" which basically deals with the same thing. Must we debate everything??? Are we not insolent??? A married priesthood is just stupid!