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Clerical Celibacy

Celibacy is required for all priests of the Latin Rite in the Catholic Church. But the requirement for celibacy is a discipline–church practice, rather than doctrine. After all, in the early Church, some priests were married, and in the Eastern Catholic Churches today, married men can be ordained to the priesthood. Some former Protestant ministers who became Catholic and were ordained are also married.

Protestants object to mandatory celibacy, saying it is "unnatural." They point to Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply," and to 1 Corinthians 7:2: "each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband." But the passage in Genesis is a general command to the human race that does not bind each individual to it. After all, Jeremiah was commanded not to take a wife: "The word of the Lord came to me: ‘You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place'" (Jer. 16:1-2).

And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul does not believe that everyone should marry, only that those who could not handle the celibate life should marry, because "if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Cor. 7:8-9), and "I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another (1 Cor. 7:6-7). "Each" in verse 2 refers to those who did not have the gift of celibacy and therefore could not handle the single life.

And Jesus said: "Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom it is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Matt. 19:11-12). What is important here is the fact that celibacy is a gift ("whoever can accept this"), and celibacy is also a higher calling ("for the sake of the kingdom of God"). Later, Jesus says: "everyone who has given up home . . . wife or children . . . will receive a hundred fold and eternal life" (Matt. 19:29). Here, Jesus promises great rewards to those who renounce wife and children (live the celibate life).

Paul himself was celibate: "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry" (1 Cor. 7:8-9). Paul also recommended celibacy: "With respect to virgins...it seems good to me for a person to continue as he is . . . Are you free of a wife? If so, do not go in search of one . . . I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided . . . So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (1 Cor. 7:25-38).

Some Protestants argue and actually make the claim that Paul was married. They quote 1 Cor. 9:5: ""Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?" But Paul was just asserting his right to be accompanied by a wife, a right he had even if he was not married.

Protestants also object to priestly celibacy because they say that a bishop must be married. They quote 1 Timothy 3:2, which says a bishop must be the "husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2). But Paul is not saying that a bishop must be a married man; he is saying that a bishop could not be married multiple times, something that was frowned upon in those days. What the passage means is that a bishop must be "married only once." Paul was a bishop, and he was not married. The rule forbids a man to be married more than once, it does not mean that a bishop must be married. And it would have been illogical for Paul to assert that a bishop must be married. Look at 1 Corinthians 7 and what Paul says about those who are married and single. Imagine Paul saying that single people, who are fully devoted to the Lord, could not be bishops, but married men, who are concerned with the things of the world and with pleasing their wives, are the ones who should be bishops instead. This makes no sense.

So is the unmarried man unproven and therefore unfit to be bishop? Protestants say that in order to be a bishop, one "must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?" (1 Tim. 3:4-5). So in other words, a bishop must have a family in order to "prove" he is worthy of being a bishop. The problem with this is that in order to be a bishop, one would not only have to be married, but have children as well. The fact is, the unmarried man can be proven as well, by managing himself well, because his household consists only of himself. And if requiring a priest to remain celibate amounts to forbidding priests to marry, then requiring a bishop to marry amounts to forcing priests (in particular, bishops) to marry.

In the early Church, many converts entered the Church as married men, and therefore there was a shortage of single men eligible for the priesthood in a growing Church. Soon afterwards, when there was an abundance of single men eligible, the Church began to encourage a celibate priesthood, began mandating it as early as the year 300 (Council of Elvira), and by the time of Gregory the Great (c. 600), celibacy was a requirement.

Protestants quote 1 Timothy 4:3 against the law of priestly celibacy. The passage condemns "forbidding to marry." Of course, the Catholic Church forbids no one to marry. Priests who renounce marriage do so voluntarily. Protestants who use this passage do not know what Paul is getting at. Paul is talking about the Gnostics, an early Christian heresy that forbid its members to marry because according to Gnosticism, marriage was evil. But the Catholic Church, far from teaching that marriage is evil, has elevated it to the status of sacrament. The Catholic Church does not forbid the marriage of men, like Gnosticism, only the marriage of priests.

The Scriptures mention an order of widows, of which Paul says: "But refuse to enroll younger widows; for when they grow wanton against Christ they desire to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge" (1 Tim. 5:11-12). This pledge must refer to a vow of celibacy rather than remarriage, because Paul does not condemn widows for remarrying (Rom. 7:2-3).

Finally, some say clerical celibacy should be abolished to stop the molestation of children that is rampant among priests. But celibacy is not the problem. The percentage of Protestant ministers who molest children is as high as Catholic priests, and they are allowed to marry. Many people who have a disposition towards pedophilia enter the ministry (Protestant and Catholic) thinking it will cure them, and it does not. It must also be noted that many molesters are married men; therefore, marriage does not "cure" anyone of pedophilia, nor would it "cure" pedophile priests.

Catholic Tracts


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