Most Americans, perhaps most American Catholics, do not know that the church allows married priests. But there have always been married priests in the non-Latin rites, like Ukrainian Catholicism or Maronite Catholicism. These churches are fully Catholic, obedient to the pope, but they ordain married men, although they do not allow unmarried priests to get married.
There were always some married priests in Roman Catholicism, too, until the First Lateran Council, in 1123, banned the practice. And there have been married Roman Catholic priests again since 1980, when the church said that Protestant clergymen who became Catholic priests could stay married to their wives.
There are about 80 such Catholic priests in America, says the Rev. D. Paul Sullins, a sociologist at Catholic University in Washington. Once an Episcopal priest himself, now a married Catholic priest, Father Sullins has interviewed over 70 married priests, and many of their wives, for a book he is writing. He says the vast majority of the priests are former Episcopalians, although some came from other Protestant denominations.
The small cohort of married priests raises several questions. First, are they doing as good a job as other priests? If the church has decided that celibacy confers certain gifts on priests, does it follow that married priests are worse at serving their congregations? Second, wouldn’t celibate priests be a little resentful of colleagues who get to serve the church and have sex too? And third, if the married priests are doing a good job, and not provoking envy, why keep the celibacy rule for priests in general?
Read on for some answers.