Married priest: "A celibate priest can give so much more"

That comes straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were — from a former Anglican in the UK who is now a Catholic priest.

From the BBC:

A married Roman Catholic priest from Burnley has said he believes the church is correct to prefer single celibate clergy in their parishes.

Father Paul Blackburn is the most recently ordained priest into the Salford Diocese.

He is married with three children.

A former Anglican minister, Father Paul embraced Catholicism after growing dissatisfied with the direction the Church of England was taking on some moral issues.

He said single priests are better placed to serve God by giving their entire life to his ministry.

“Whatever the church decides about the future shape of ministry there will always be a need for celibate priests,” Father Paul told BBC Radio Lancashire.

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that its priests be both single and celibate claiming it is God’s will. They say it has apostolic authority and back up the argument with biblical references.

Critics, amongst them some practising clergy in the church, say laws of celibacy are a more earthly ruling and did not apply in the early days of the church. Saint Peter, the first pope, was married and so were some subsequent popes and bishops.

The rule of clerical celibacy is a church law and not a doctrine, thus the Pope can alter the ruling at any time. The current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, is staunchly in favour of the status quo. However, he can and does allow former married Anglican minsters to become Catholic priests with each case being viewed on an individual basis.

In recent times this was seen as a gift from the Pope and is also now part of the ordinariate as some Anglicans struggle to remain in the Church of England.

Many Catholics believe that a married priest is a more rounded priest whose experiences can help deal with family issues better than his single colleagues.

Father Paul disagrees. “A celibate priest can give so much more,” he said. “They can give themselves and everything about them. They can give to the church and to the service of God. I can give what I give but a proportion of my time will always go to my family.”

Read the rest.


  1. It depends on the person and their gifts.

    For me, I served the Church as a single man for 7 1/2 years. I’ve been a much better minister as a married man the past 15 1/2.

    Could it be I’m older and wiser? Maybe. Having a wife and daughter roots me in a way that resonates with many religious I know who have communities and the experience of permanence, commitment, and responsibility.

    I’m not available for parishioners 24/7, and maybe that’s a good thing. The priest isn’t there to do everything for his people. He should devote some time to coaching and forming his people to discern God’s gifts to meet their own spiritual needs.

    That said, celibacy is indeed a gift. We should keep it as such, and not permit requirement to lessen the ability of some clergy to serve a fruitful ministry.

  2. Aren’t they pretty much required to support celibacy, as a condition of ordination, even though their own situation is an exception? I would ask the question in a different way; if he had the ability to live his life again, would he choose not to get married so that he could be 100% dedicated to the Church, even though he would not have had his wife and children?

  3. pagansister says:

    If indeed being single (and celibate) is a better way to serve a church, how is it that married men and women are successful also?

  4. I’m not sure the best way to measure what a priest can give is in time alone. If a priest dedicates a good part of his time to a marriage and family, I don’t see that as time “taken” from parishioners. People don’t need your every waking hour as much as they need someone who is living a balanced and mature existence. One can do that as a celibate as well, although it’s my observation that very few men entering seminaries historically had the maturity to understand or live celibacy as a healthy vocation.

    There are of course the deep seated theological and economic reasons why married priests won’t happen in Catholicism, but on a gut level, I think it would help lessen (not solve) the abuse problem and also give priests a credibility they lack now. It sort of boggles my mind that priests are constantly lecturing people on what it takes to have a healthy marriage etc. when the vast majority of them have no experience (and perhaps no aptitude) for it themselves. It’s sort of like a sheltered young guy teaching about death (like the priest in Gran Torino)

  5. Celebacy forever with our priests is the only way to go. When someone is called in this special vocation, they need to give God everything and dedicate themselves to His Church and Her people.

    It solves nothing to have married priest as religions with married priests are also have vocation issues and as to abuse, there are a whole lot more married abusing teachers than celebate priests no matter how you look at the issue.

    It will not change. Of course many who favor this change also have the fantasy that we might have women priests even after that has been ended forever by Pope John Paul II with a very clear statement of not now and the Church has no authority to ever change it. But katholics seem to never be able to accept defined and non negotiable teaching like marriage between one man and one woman and pro life with no more murder of any infant. 54 million babies killed is enough.

  6. deaconnorb says:

    In the RCIA programs that are organized through a number of parishes in our area, I am regularly asked to do a combined talk on Marriage and Holy Orders which I usually entitle “Sacraments of Commitment.”

    There are always questions about the celbate priesthood and I do explain the history behind why Roman Catholicism went in that direction. Three specific questions continue to fascinate new converts:

    –What about the insight — mentioned in this posting by Deacon Greg — that priests are committed to a 24/7 life whether they want to be or not because of emergency sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing (neither of which a Deacon can do)?

    –What about the wife and children of a Roman Catholic Priest? How does the husband’s life style affect their lives ? Does the example of the wives of the ordained priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches give us any insight here? Does the typically protestant PK/PW “preachers’ wife/ preachers’ kids” syndrome hit the Catholic priests’ families as well?

    –Does the lived experience of the married diaconate in Roman Catholicism offer any genuine insights or is there too much of a spiritual disparity between the two ministries to mean anything?

    I do want to put these three on the table.

  7. pagansister says:

    Kenneth mentioned something I had always wondered about —that of a celibate man giving advice on what it takes to have a successful marriage. Perhaps all the priest had for an example is that of his parents and hopefully he came from a family where the parents were indeed happy together. However he as a priest has never had the experience of the give and take of being married. Obviously the Church isn’t going to change it’s mind on this anytime soon. IMO, perhaps some of the married priests who have left the Angelican church to join the Catholic church would be more helpful in advising those who wish to marry or are having problems in their marriage—-as they live a married life too. But as there are fewer of those men, the majority of the priests are still celibate and will continue to be the pre-marriage advisors or the ones to councel marriages in trouble. Guess that has worked for a couple thousand years.

  8. Deaccon John Gerke says:

    Father Paul does have a good point. As a married man, and a deacon I have had to say no to some invitation to ministry that I truly believed that I was called to, for the sake of my family. St. Paul makes the same point…that its best for a single person to serve the Kingdom..if he or she can remain emotionally whole in doing so.
    It is true, that married clergy….specifically protestant clergy…have a higher rate of divorce than the general population….presumably because of the stresses that ministry puts on a marriage….
    At least one Apostle, Peter, and most likely several other apostles were married men…Apparently Jesus didn’t have any difficulties calling married men to the priesthood.
    I think we need both….married and celibate priests.

  9. Deacon Norb says:

    Re: Greta #5

    A few years back, Bishop William J. Dendinger, the ordinary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Island Nebraska, ordained a married Lutheran Pastor to the Roman Catholic priesthood. A few fascinating tidbits about that whole scene:

    –Bishop Dendinger is no “screaming radical” here. In fact, Pope Paul VI approved the process for about a half dozen married Lutheran pastors way back in the days immediately after Vatican II.

    –In his ordination homily of that married Lutheran Pastor, Bishop Dendinger mentioned that –at that time — there were about 500 married men then serving as Roman Catholic priests. I have tried — off and on — to verify that statistic from reasonably official sources in our church but cannot do so. Apparently there is no office that keep accurate records on that whole scene.

    –IF, however, Bishop Dendinger’s statistic is correct, that means — as an average — we have slightly under three such married men serving as Roman Catholic priests in each diocese here in the United States. But then again, hard statistics are impossible to come by from official sources. It is not that a diocese keeps that whole scene secret — they really do not — but no one makes a big deal out of it.

    –Bishop Dendinger is a fascinating man in his own right. According to his official biography at
    he served 31 years as a military chaplain retiring in 2001 as the United States Air Force Chief of Chaplains with the rank of Major General.

  10. wineinthewater says:


    I think your comment reveals the big difference between the conceptualization of marriage in Catholicism vs the conceptualization of marriage in most of Western society. Within Catholicism, a central element of marriage is the total gift of self to your spouse. When that happens, the things that contemporary society focuses on – sex, communication, money, sex, affection, support, sex – fall naturally into place.

    Now, the total gift of self is something that a celibate priest does know about, because his vocation is a total gift of self to the Church. In many ways, he is likely to know it better. He has been formed for years to prepare him for this vocation while even Catholic spouses are only formed for a few months for theirs. A married priest must deal with the tension of two vocations that demand him in his totality.

    So, a celibate priest may not have the same kind of familiarity with the details of married life that a married priest does, but he does understand the core of a good marriage: total gift of self, dying to oneself for another.

  11. pagansister says:

    With respect, wineinthewater, I still have a hard time feeling that a celibate man can give marital advice—formation/education etc. is still not the same as actually living in the institution of marrage. He gives himself to the “church”—however—and I do not mean this to be disrespectful— the church doesn’t act like another human being in an intimate relationship such as marriage, IMO. I do realize that those married men and women who lead churchs, Mosques, temples etc. do have to deal with pull from a family as well as religious duties.

  12. I’m sorry this priest doesn’t have the kind of family we have (sorry…sounds prideful)- we are flexible for holidays, we are always there during Mass and events- it is part of family time- extra stuff like house blessings and caroling we do as a family as well. Confessions? of courser we have no idea! But what family is ALWAYS there during a father’s work? I would say that the average working father is gone from family 50+ hours a week, supporting the family. anyways….it was a sad post

Leave a Comment