Married priests must still be celibate?

Rome has allowed for some married priests, particularly Anglicans who have gone over to Catholicism.  Some Lutherans have been clamoring for the same privilege.  What is not generally realized, though, is that, according to Canon Law, married priests must still be celibate.  So says Mark Henderson:

According to a respected Roman canon lawyer, Rome absolutely requires “sexual continence” of married clergy in the Western church (Canon 277 excerpted below). Yes, you read that right, the canon law of the Papacy requires that in the Western church even married priests and deacons abstain from sexual relations with their wives (in the Eastern Catholic Churches observance of this rule is a somewhat patchwork affair but the long-term trend has been towards celibacy; but since that is the Eastern church, where different rules apply, it does not immediately concern us here). This matter has apparently been the subject of much intra-Roman debate recently, particularly in light of the small but significant number of ex-Anglican married priests who have gone over to Rome, most recently in connection with the Anglican Ordinariate. Rome is expected to make a definitive ruling at some time in the future. . . .

Code of Canon Law, Canon 277:
§1 Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.

via Glosses From An Old Manse: End of the Fantasy of “Lutheran-Rite Romanism”?.

Can this be true?  If so, that would be a serious distortion of what marriage is.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • John

    This is precisely contrary to the first few verses of I Corinthians chapter 7. “Do not deprive each other …”

  • John

    This is precisely contrary to the first few verses of I Corinthians chapter 7. “Do not deprive each other …”

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    “distortion” is what Rome does.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    “distortion” is what Rome does.

  • Michael B.

    This view definitely contradicts what Paul has to say about marriage.
    But then again, Paul seems to regard marriage in a completely different light than just about any of us:

    “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion”

    Imagine telling your daughter-in-law and son about their future marriage “yeah, I preferred that my son not get married, but he has sexual urges and can’t control them, so better this way”

  • Michael B.

    This view definitely contradicts what Paul has to say about marriage.
    But then again, Paul seems to regard marriage in a completely different light than just about any of us:

    “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion”

    Imagine telling your daughter-in-law and son about their future marriage “yeah, I preferred that my son not get married, but he has sexual urges and can’t control them, so better this way”

  • Nathaniel

    Does Rome really think that priests “can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour” if they have wives but must abstain from sex with them? I think this would make it harder to achieve the stated goal, not easier.

  • Nathaniel

    Does Rome really think that priests “can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour” if they have wives but must abstain from sex with them? I think this would make it harder to achieve the stated goal, not easier.

  • Random Lutheran

    The whole Roman conception of marriage is whack: just look at what is possible with annulment. If a “defect” can be found in either party’s intentions or state before marriage, it is possible (though it must be said, not tremendously likely, given what it takes to move the process through) for a marriage, with kids, to have never been. And then, to say that someone is married, but cannot do what those who are married are not just allowed but commanded to do with each other, is madness. Such things go against everything Scripture says marriage is (i.e., made — by God — through the union of a man and a woman, and not by someone else’s decree, pronouncement, or legal determination that all the ducks were in order). The Lutheran reformers understood this well, and their words speak clearly to the sexually-related scandals in Rome and other churches that teach such distortions today (scandals, it must be said, which grew not from sexual sin all by its lonesome, but from false teaching which fostered sexual sin and made room for it to spread). See Augsburg Confession 23 and Apology of the Augsburg Confession 23.

  • Random Lutheran

    The whole Roman conception of marriage is whack: just look at what is possible with annulment. If a “defect” can be found in either party’s intentions or state before marriage, it is possible (though it must be said, not tremendously likely, given what it takes to move the process through) for a marriage, with kids, to have never been. And then, to say that someone is married, but cannot do what those who are married are not just allowed but commanded to do with each other, is madness. Such things go against everything Scripture says marriage is (i.e., made — by God — through the union of a man and a woman, and not by someone else’s decree, pronouncement, or legal determination that all the ducks were in order). The Lutheran reformers understood this well, and their words speak clearly to the sexually-related scandals in Rome and other churches that teach such distortions today (scandals, it must be said, which grew not from sexual sin all by its lonesome, but from false teaching which fostered sexual sin and made room for it to spread). See Augsburg Confession 23 and Apology of the Augsburg Confession 23.

  • Dan Kempin

    Well, you know what they say: “When in Rome . . .”

    (That’s for the “lutherans” you reference that would like to go over.)

  • Dan Kempin

    Well, you know what they say: “When in Rome . . .”

    (That’s for the “lutherans” you reference that would like to go over.)

  • Jon

    Funny, even their “Law” gets the Scriptural part right: “Celibacy is a special gift of God.”

    Some people have it and some don’t, as Michael B pointed out above.

    But here’s where I don’t get the logic of their law:

    Some who have the gift are not called to be priests, but all who are called to be priests must have it.

    Yeah, right. That’s gonna work really well.

  • Jon

    Funny, even their “Law” gets the Scriptural part right: “Celibacy is a special gift of God.”

    Some people have it and some don’t, as Michael B pointed out above.

    But here’s where I don’t get the logic of their law:

    Some who have the gift are not called to be priests, but all who are called to be priests must have it.

    Yeah, right. That’s gonna work really well.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    The response I’ve heard most frequently from Roman apologists is this: to enter the Roman priesthood is entirely an act of free will and choice. Nobody forces a man to become a priest, therefore, accepting the requirements of the priesthood in the Roman communion is not cooercion, but a choice one makes.

    So, there you go.

    You know, they do have a point.

    If you want to be a Roman Catholic priest you agree to the rules set forth by the folks who determine what a Roman Catholic priest is to be, and to do.

    While I disagree entirely with the false doctrine behind these rules, they are their rules.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    The response I’ve heard most frequently from Roman apologists is this: to enter the Roman priesthood is entirely an act of free will and choice. Nobody forces a man to become a priest, therefore, accepting the requirements of the priesthood in the Roman communion is not cooercion, but a choice one makes.

    So, there you go.

    You know, they do have a point.

    If you want to be a Roman Catholic priest you agree to the rules set forth by the folks who determine what a Roman Catholic priest is to be, and to do.

    While I disagree entirely with the false doctrine behind these rules, they are their rules.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. The article Veith links makes it really hard to find its links substantiating its claims, so here’s the link to the post by the “respected Roman canon lawyer”.

    This sort of stuff quickly makes my eyes glaze over (as does all “canon law”), but that post quickly makes clear this is hardly a settled issue. The canon lawyer begins his post by noting

    The publication of now-Cdl. Francesco Coccopalmerio’s December 2011 letter denying the continence obligations of married deacons

    I have no idea who wins in a fight between a cardinal and a canon lawyer, but it at least is clear that nothing should be considered definitive at this point.

    And, you know, that maybe there’s something wrong in the Catholic church that they have such disagreements like this. Or, you know, that they have canon law and lawyers.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. The article Veith links makes it really hard to find its links substantiating its claims, so here’s the link to the post by the “respected Roman canon lawyer”.

    This sort of stuff quickly makes my eyes glaze over (as does all “canon law”), but that post quickly makes clear this is hardly a settled issue. The canon lawyer begins his post by noting

    The publication of now-Cdl. Francesco Coccopalmerio’s December 2011 letter denying the continence obligations of married deacons

    I have no idea who wins in a fight between a cardinal and a canon lawyer, but it at least is clear that nothing should be considered definitive at this point.

    And, you know, that maybe there’s something wrong in the Catholic church that they have such disagreements like this. Or, you know, that they have canon law and lawyers.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Bottom line: their church, their rules.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Bottom line: their church, their rules.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Paul (@10), if you are replying to me (which I thought was beneath you — perhaps that’s why you at least left out the direct address), you might note, again, that “their church” is hardly in agreement as to what “their rules” are, or how they apply.

    It is possible that this debate will be resolved such that their church unambiguously agrees that those are their rules. That has yet to occur. Until then, I find the argument of a Catholic cardinal slightly more authoritative than that of someone outside the Catholic church (even if it may ultimately fall to the argument of a Catholic canon lawyer).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Paul (@10), if you are replying to me (which I thought was beneath you — perhaps that’s why you at least left out the direct address), you might note, again, that “their church” is hardly in agreement as to what “their rules” are, or how they apply.

    It is possible that this debate will be resolved such that their church unambiguously agrees that those are their rules. That has yet to occur. Until then, I find the argument of a Catholic cardinal slightly more authoritative than that of someone outside the Catholic church (even if it may ultimately fall to the argument of a Catholic canon lawyer).

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    I think the Orthodox have it right with the whole priest thing, they want married priests with families, the unmarried ones usually are not in the parish long.

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    I think the Orthodox have it right with the whole priest thing, they want married priests with families, the unmarried ones usually are not in the parish long.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    This subject reminds me of a joke that involves a Rabbi and and a Priest who were comparing their respective religion’ restrictions.

    I won’t tell the whole joke here (you can Google it), but the punch line is the Rabbi whispering to the priest, “A lot better than pork, isn’t it?”

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    This subject reminds me of a joke that involves a Rabbi and and a Priest who were comparing their respective religion’ restrictions.

    I won’t tell the whole joke here (you can Google it), but the punch line is the Rabbi whispering to the priest, “A lot better than pork, isn’t it?”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X