Married Priests and Women Priests

I commented last week on an article in the Irish press about liberal priests pushing for married priests and women priests. What gets me going is that people don’t see that the two issues are not connected.

The Catholic teaching is clear. The issue of married priests is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It’s like fish on Fridays. It’s a venerable tradition, but it can be changed and exceptions to the rule can be made. That’s why I’ve been allowed to be ordained as a Catholic priest. The Pope made an exception to the rule. Furthermore, he could change the rule overnight if he wanted to.

Women priests, on the other hand, are not a matter of discipline. The church has spoken and said that women cannot be ordained as priests because the church does not have the authority to change what our Lord instituted. Sorry. Can’t do it. It’s like this: Jesus instituted the Eucharist with bread and wine. You can’t–even for “good”  cultural reasons use other substances. Let’s say a missionary is in a jungle culture where they have never had wheaten bread or wine made from grapes. Their local staples are bananas and fermented banana juice. Can a Catholic priest celebrate a valid Mass using banana bread and fermented banana juice? No. He has to use wheaten bread and wine.

Same with the priesthood. It has to be a man. Can’t change the rule. Can’t make exceptions.

Married priests, on the other hand, could happen, but should the rule be changed? I don’t think so–even though I am a married priest myself.

Here’s why: the celibate priesthood is a way the priest is most fully configured to Christ himself. Within the vow of celibacy he shows the rest of us what it means to be “married to Jesus” and to no one else. This discipline and devotion of the church is powerful and strong, but it is not one which is totally mandatory for the priesthood. I support it nonetheless because it is the ideal. It is the tradition. It is the fullest way to be configured to Christ. My own ordination–by virtue of being an exception to the rule–is meant to support the rule by that exception–not challenge the rule.

The real issue here is not married priests or women priests, but that the dissidents in the church know full well that the two issues are not connected and that one is more important and more unchangeable than the other. They want to blur the distinctions on purpose. They want the issue of married priests and the issue of women priests discussed on the same page because they want the issue of women’s ordination to be treated as merely a disciplinary issue like the issue of married priests.

Their campaign is therefore either intentionally dishonest and deceitful or they are ignorant. Either way it doesn’t speak well of either them or their campaign.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

    There are certainly practical considerations against rescinding the discipline. Perhaps a partial cure for this confusion about female priests, so-called, is re-emphasizing the right understanding of vocations.

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    or another way that married priests can be an exception or to show a difference between the secular parish priest and the celibate monk priest- revive the monastic way of life with celibate priests taking VOWS of poverty, chastity and obedience

  • Andy s

    Thank you, Fr. This is the clear and concise teaching which is so true and self-evidently enduring, but gets muddled up even in good Catholic minds by bad catechesis.

    Has any institution on earth done more for the rights of girls, ladies, women, mothers, and grandmothers than the Catholic church? This isn’t my thought obviously, but I think the totally natural devotion and honor to our Savior’s mother is a pretty decent example to the world of how we truly love and respect women.

    My beloved wife and mother to my four boys comes into the Church on 5/6 after 42 years of Lutheranism. Great woman, great faith, great upbringing. She saw one place consistently where we respect women.

  • Paul Rodden

    In ‘my’ diocese (I’m the administrator to the local Anglican Dean as my job) the Anglican Bishop would probably allow married, gay, or even transexual vicars to run parishes, as well as the women who are already (and who are getting close to outstripping the number of male clergy), as he’s so theological liberal, he even allows the Muslims to use the Cathedral for religious events.

    So is this Bishop’s Andrew Sullivan/David Cameron-like Jesus (What they call ‘Fresh Expressions’) getting converts? No.

    Has the Anglican diocese got a problem with shortage of clergy? Yes. A chronic one.

  • Nicholas Hinde

    Interestingly a “syncretic” Last Supper painting in Cuzco cathedral depicts guinea pig and “chicha” (maize beer) on the table. But there is no suggestion of these being used for Mass – indeed I believe viticulture was introduced in the New World in order to provide wine for Mass.

  • Will

    “Married priests, on the other hand, could happen, but should the rule be changed? I don’t think so–even though I am a married priest myself.”

    For you, does this not become a “do as I say, not as I do” statement? You must have had other employment opportunities. You did not have to become a Catholic priest after leaving your church. Perhaps there are others, who are currently Catholic, who would make excellent priests but also wish to lead married lives.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Good question. I had to balance my call to the priesthood with acceptance by the Church. If the church said “No” God was closing the door. If the church said “Yes” the door opened. Likewise on the bigger issue. If the church says “Yes” I’m good. If “No” I support that.

      • Will

        I have no problem with your choice. I wonder why others, already Catholic, do not have that choice.

        • savvy

          Will,

          Byzantine or Eastern rite Catholics already have that choice. Married men are ordained, not single ones. Bishops, monks, and nuns are celibate monastics.

          The East and West have different approaches to theology and discipline. Insisting that everybody be exactly the same has not worked out well historically. It results in either Latinization of the East or the opposite.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          There are good arguments for and good arguments against. It’s not my call.

          • Irenist

            “It’s not my call.” Precisely. I submit to the restriction of the priesthood to men because it is a dogma that will never change because it can never change. I submit to the restriction of the priesthood largely to the celibate men because, despite my own prudential misgivings about it, the Magisterium has not yet changed this changeable discipline.
            Atheists and liberals ask of the admission of women to the priesthood: Why doesn’t the Church change the rules? But the Church can no more admit women to the priesthood than a physicist could change the speed of light. Like the physicist, the theologian does not make the laws of nature and of nature’s God, he merely reports them.

          • http://ideasaboutgodandtheworld.wordpress.com/ Alejandro

            Atheists don’t want so much to ordain women as to just completley disintegrate the Church haha

  • Randy

    I am a former Anglican. I can honestly say that every married Deacon and Priest who served in my former parish suffered a divorce. Not a great record and perhaps it shows the wisdom of have unmarried priests. Surely your own marriage will have suffered some of the strains that this kind of ministry can bring.

    • Ella

      I am a former Episcopalian and I concur. Every single one of our priests was divorced. Married priests sounds good to a man without the self-control to be celibate but it is a brutal task to be a priest’s wife. None of the Baptist pastor’s wives that I met (2 continents and several states) were happy save one. And some of those pastors were divorced as well.

  • Rehmat Sher

    Hi,
    This is Rehmat Sher from Karachi, Pakistan. I am a ex-catholic priest and now I want to join married priests congregation. I shall be very grateful if you can guide me in this regard. It does not matter weather it is pastor or lay community. Hope to find answer.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      If you are already ordained as a Catholic priest, but have left the practice of your priesthood to be married you would not be re-admitted to ministry. The only married Catholic priests in the Latin rite are former Anglicans who were married before they converted.

  • http://ideasaboutgodandtheworld.wordpress.com/ Alejandro

    Have to disagree here. I’m a catholic and I try to be a good one, but I really have issues with non married clergy and not allowing women to be ordained. With non married clergy, maybe is my liberal upbringing, but I really feel it would solve the problem of pedophile priests. It’s true though that probably the media in a bit of anti-catholic bias exaggerates the stories of pedophilia in the clergy, but still, I think it would be a solution. With women priests, I want to know where in the Bible does it say we can’t ordain them, maybe its apostolic tradition but we can surely just trump that one if we trumped the instruction from Paul that said that women should cover their heads. We have an enormous devotion to Our Lady, The Virgin Mary, so on that simple basis, why don’t we ordain women because of that? It would really change the public perception of the church, because they clearly ignore how much we venerate Mary.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Please take time to think through your position a bit more: The statistics show that married men are more likely to be child abusers than single men. Also, marriage would not have solved any problems for the vast majority of pedophile Catholic priests were homosexual. On women priests–this is a case of listening to the church’s teachings. Ordination is of far greater significance and importance than women wearing hats to church.

  • http://none laura

    Before ,I was thinking like Alejandro,consider my self liberal catholic,but everything change when my husban became Deacon,his not home no more he’s everywhere but home,oure daughter verly see him,I support the celibate,now i andurstand.

  • alaina

    I personaly think the Roman Rites would be better off if they allowed priests to marry. Because when you look at the Orthodox priests. Liberal catholic priests, Epispalions, Reformed catholic priests and Inpendent Young Rites the one thing they all share is calim is these groups belive that Priests should marry also you do not see as many cases of child abuse or men cheating and sleeping with women in the congrations in the these organzations. Also Some of the these groups except women to a vaild members of clergy , along with allowing gays and biesexuals to work along side straights as minsters. Only in the Roman Rites do you see these types of cases of children getting abused and women getting in trouble for having relationships with men . So i Ask Why not alow either one of the other branches teach the Roman Rites How we work out much better in minstery then them or Let the priests gey Married and understand peoplein their congations better they would make better minsters if they understood how relationships worked.


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