When Catholics discover that I am a married priest the vast majority of them say, “That’s fantastic! I hope the Church changes to allow our priests to marry. That would solve this problem of pedophile priests!”
As one of the few married former Anglican priests who has been ordained as a Catholic priest I can address the matter from personal experience. Furthermore, I served as a celibate Anglican priest for seven years before marrying, so I also have experience of that way of life.
This hot topic should be cooled down with a bit of common sense. Firstly, it should be plain to everyone that marriage does not solve the problem of pedophile priests. Marriage doesn’t cure pedophilia. The fact is, most child abuse is committed by married men.
Furthermore, most of the sex abuse by priests was against young men. Do people seriously think that marriage would cure a man who is attracted to teenaged boys? Are they suggesting that homosexual pedophiles would be cured if they just found a good woman? I don’t think so.
Neither will marriage purge the priesthood of other sexual scandal. Plenty of married Protestant clergy still manage to tumble out of the pulpit onto the wrong pillow. Being married doesn’t mean a person is free from lust and temptation.
On the other hand, being celibate doesn’t mean a person is constantly panting for sex. There are plenty of people in all walks of life, of both genders and all ages who are sexually inactive for many different reasons. That doesn’t make them all insatiable sex hounds or sad and desperately lonely souls. Many single people successfully integrate their sexuality into their singleness.
Then there is the realistic question of financial support. When a Catholic enthuses to me about having married priests I usually ask, “Are you willing to put an extra twenty bucks in the collection plate every week to make this happen?” It’s amazing how quickly the subject changes!
Speaking of the married priest’s family, has no one else seen the most obvious problem? If a young priest is married and he and his young wife are fertile they would be expected to live within the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Yes, it is still Catholic policy that artificial means of contraception are forbidden.
The Catholic priest and his wife would be expected to live within that teaching. Do the parishioners who are so gung-ho about married priests really want to support the priest’s children? Would they want to re-build the rectory to house them? Pay their health insurance, deductibles and orthodontics? Would they be willing to cough up to send the priest’s kids through Catholic school and college? What if the priest had six, seven, eight, ten or twelve kids? It’s not really cheaper by the dozen.
On the other hand, where a husband and wife both love and serve the Lord in his church the example of a totally committed couple and family can be a terrific blessing for the Church. Parishes where the priest is in a healthy and strong marriage can show the way for all the families in the Church.
I’m the first to admit that there are benefits to be gained from having married priests, and I’m aware of real problems with celibacy for priests. My celibate colleagues are sometimes isolated and lonely, but then, I know married people who are isolated and lonely. Many celibate priests are workaholics and starved for real relationships and affection. Ditto many married men.
However marriage for priests is a pipe dream panacea. It will solve a few problems but it will create many more: What happens to clergy widows? Who picks up the pieces when a clergy marriage breaks down? Will a priest be able to date? If his marriage breaks down and is annulled will he be able to re-marry?
The powers at the Vatican could change the rule. It’s unlikely they’ll allow priests to marry, but they might adopt the Eastern Orthodox discipline in which priests may not marry, but married men may be ordained, or they might decide to allow older married men to be ordained.
In the meantime, the discipline of celibacy for our priests reminds everyone that sexuality is something which we all need to control in order to be happy—married people and single people alike.
The celibate priest, brother or sister reminds us that sex and marriage are given to lead us on to something better than sex: true and lasting Love. That’s why we insist that marriage and the celibacy vow are for life: because lifetime love gives us a taste of the eternal. The celibate reminds all of us that whatever our state in life we are called to integrate and control our sexuality in a healthy way, and that this virtue is called chastity.
For this reason alone chastity should be a valued virtue—because it is a self-discipline that reminds us that while true love is tender, for it to last it also has to be tough.