On married priests

On married priests January 9, 2017

At least since Vatican II there has been discussion about married clergy in the Western Church, with many people advocating for it to address the vocations crisis, and with equal numbers arguing in support of the current discipline.  Often missing from these discussions is the fact that the Church has been quietly experimenting with married clergy in the Latin Church (as opposed to the Greek Churches, which have always had a married clergy).  Beginning under Pope John Paul II, exceptions have been made to allow Episcopal/Anglican and Lutheran clergy who convert to Catholicism to be ordained even though they are married.   This process accelerated slightly under Pope Benedict XVI, who created a mechanism for Episcopalians/Anglicans to be received while maintaining some of their traditional forms of worship.

But recently Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a priest from South Carolina, wrote a column about his personal experiences as a married Roman Catholic priest.    Since it appeared at Crux, which no longer allows comments on its articles, I am going to copy some pieces of the article here to open a discussion on this subject.  I urge you to read the whole piece.    He addresses some concerns, such as time management (can a married man devote enough time to his congregation?) and commitment (what about the conflict between serving God and serving his wife?).  He tackles the financial issues (will Catholics be willing to pay to support a priest and his family?) and touches on divorce and contraception (though I think shallowly).

In the end, despite his status as a married priest, Fr. Longenecker is generally opposed to ending the practice of clerical celibacy, except in limited circumstances:

[T]here is another option. Rather than allowing all priests to marry, the Vatican could delegate to individual bishops’ conferences the authority to consider some older married men for ordination.

As most of us are living longer, active lives, there are many married men who are financially secure and whose children have grown up who could well serve the Church as mature priests.

To lay my cards out on the table:  he raises some good points, but none that are overwhelming or support his argument that they tip the scales (along with the standard theological and historical arguments for a celibate clergy) in favor of maintaining the current discipline.  Rather, his arguments put me in mind of something I believe Chesterton said about Christianity:  It has not been tried and found wanting, but rather was found hard, and so not tried.  Though I do not think it would be a panacea, and would be hard, it is something I think the Church should consider.

Your thoughts are welcome.  Also, I feel like we have discussed this before, but a search of the archives at Vox Nova did not turn anything up.  If anyone can find older posts, please add them to the comments.

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