Married Priests?

Tomorrow there will be a Vatican meeting to discuss mandatory celibacy after the renegade Archbishop Milingo ‘ordained’ four married men. Pope Benedict has called a meeting to discuss the implications of Milingo’s actions. I expect Rome will take a hard line and continue to insist on mandatory clerical celibacy. To do anything else would look like they were actually taking Milingo and his band of activists seriously wouldn’t it?

On the other hand, could the Pope actually be considering a change in the rules? As I am a married man–about to be ordained and celebrate my first Mass exactly one month from today–I’m not a little interested in the question. There are already over 200 married former Anglican priests who are now Catholic priests. The Eastern rite Catholic churches have married priests. It’s possible. If Rome were to change the rules what are the options?

1. Maybe Rome will allow ‘viri probati’ to be ordained. ‘viri probati’ are respectable, older married men. Probably not. This option was rejected by a synod of bishops in 2005.

2. The Church will allow priests to apply for a dispensation from their vow of celibacy to marry. This is very unlikely.

3. Perhaps Rome will allow dispensations from the vow of celibacy by priests who left to get married. As far as I understand, this would be possible as long as each individual case were examined, the priest was laicized properly and there was no scandal associated with his marriage.

4. Married deacons may be dispensed from the vow of celibacy to be ordained as priests. This could happen, but it would undermine the already existing ministry of the permanent deacons and the whole concept of the permanent diaconate would have to be re-examined. Furthermore, permanent deacons have not been trained for priestly ministry–many would need to be re-trained.

The whole question of mandatory celibacy is worth studying. Donald Cozzens’ new book tries hard to be balanced, but can’t help pushing an agenda. At the other end of the argument is Cochini’s book Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy. A good summary of this line of argument is Fr Ray Ryland’s (himself a married former Episcopal priest) recent article in Crisis magazine.

Cochini’s book makes a strong case for celibate priesthood being the norm far earlier than the twelfth century. On the other hand, Cozzens shows that not only priests, but numerous bishops and popes were not only married, but were actually canonized by the church.

At the end of the day several things have to be kept in mind. First, there are Scriptral arguments and ancient traditions on both sides. Second, neither side of the argument over mandatory celibacy must push to raise this issue from a discipline to a doctrine. Thirdly, if this is the case, Holy Mother Church has the authority to change the discipline as the Spirit leads.

Conservatives have to remember that things can change and do change. The Spirit does continue to lead the Church into the fullness of Truth. The life of faith is full of surprises. We have to be prepared to accept change and be open to the Holy Spirit’s lead. On the other hand, those who wish for change should remember that change that simply follows fashion is empty and vain. Who marries the spirit of the age will soon be a widow.

As for me…I face my own imminent ordination to the Catholic priesthood with fear and trembling. I am unworthy and ask, if you are reading this note, to pray for me.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Anonymous

    Prayers heading your way!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04531940083918935976 David Hart

    If #4 would ever be adopted I would guess that married priests would then be restricted to parish priests, i.e. never to become a bishop similar to the practice in the Orthodox Church. Another idea would be to limit married priests to the title of Parochial Vicar

  • Anonymous

    If this shows up twice, I apologize, I was having problems posting because I’m in Blogger Beta and you’re not.I generally agree with David, I think to whatever extent the celibacy discipline is relaxed in the Latin Church, it’s going to be something along the lines of the Eastern Churches’ practice.As far as limiting married priests to Parochial Vicar, I had thought at one time that was going to be the practice for the Pastoral Provision priests (not in the Anglican Use parishes, but in regular Novus Ordo parishes)…they could be PVs or chaplains, but not pastors. I have heard differently since, that there are some married PP priests serving as pastors. Perhaps it’s OK if they’re the only priest in the parish, but not if they would “outrank” a celibate vicar? Don’t know.Anyway, prayers and congratulations offered on your ordination. I posted on my blog about you and Al Kimel both being ordained next month. Are you being admitted to diaconal orders the same day, or prior to that? Ad multos annos to the once-and-future Fr. Dwight!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Dwight Longenecker

    Thanks for your prayers. I’ll be ordained deacon on 29 November at the cathedral in Charleston.In England sometimes the married men will be parish priests in fact, but they carry a different title…maybe they are officially chaplain at a convent in the parish or chaplain to the school in the parish. Theologically the celibate cannot ‘outrank’ the married priest. There is only one order of the presbyterate. However the ban on us being parish priests is simply a practical measure to do with some matters in canon law.Thanks for your good wishes!

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t using “outrank” in any kind of ecclesial sense. I just thought maybe as a matter of discipline married priests could be placed as solo pastors, but not in a parish with a celibate vicar. Anyway, I talked to somebody (online anyway) who said her pastor (of a Latin Church, Novus Ordo parish) was a married PP priest, and he was the senior pastor, not an associate/vicar. But apparently an exception to the rule, I guess.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00721977026333975632 Esther

    Praying Dwight. Did they move up your ordination date? I thought it was going to be in December? Then I will have to remember to call you Fr. Dwight :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Dwight Longenecker

    Esther, I will be ordained deacon on 29 Nov and priest on 14 Dec

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13753776175726884530 Rowena Hullfire

    No offense Fr Dwight, but I would never go to confession with a noncelibate priest.


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