After we’ve all torn our hair out over the canonical question of continence, now might be a good time to reflect on the issue of a married clergy in general — and the priesthood, in particular.
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me, “Wouldn’t you like to be a priest?,” a question that is usually followed by a laundry list of qualifications that people seem to think would be ideal for a priest. Usually one of the first that’s mentioned is the fact that I’m married. There is much to be gained, the argument goes, from having men who are married be priests.
The esteemed Fr. Dwight Longenecker — a convert, and a husband — takes a look at all this and raises some good points, both pro and con:
Having married priests would certainly help the vocations crisis, and they may relate better to married people etc. However, believing that married priests are the answer assumes that they are mature, happily married men. Errr, I’m afraid marriage does not automatically make a man mature, self giving and happy. In my experience of married clergy in both the Evangelical Churches and the Anglican Church it is not the magic bullet. Having married clergy will not necessarily solve the vocations crisis, nor will it necessarily improve the priestly ministry, and it certainly won’t be the solution to the priestly sex abuse problem.
Remember married men are not perfect. Married clergymen are workaholics. Married clergymen are immature. Married clergymen have affairs. Married clergymen have drink problems. Married clergymen struggle with porn and same sex attraction and abuse children. When a clergy marriage breaks down it is usually disastrous and scandalous and the hurt and pain ripple right through the whole church. I don’t mean to paint a horrible picture of married clergy–just reminding people that it’s not all quite as happy and wonderful as they seem to think.
There are other practical problems. Catholics say they want married clergy, but do they want to pay for them? I can get by because I work two jobs–parish priest and school chaplain. In addition to this I speak and write and Mrs Longenecker works. Not all married priests and their families can do this. Furthermore, remember that a married priest and his wife will be living by all the teachings of the Catholic Church. If they’re young and fertile they will have a large family. Do Catholics really want to provide a rectory and the income for a family of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12? It’s not really cheaper by the dozen.
Check out the rest and see what you think.