7. The celibacy of priests

Although this objection made to the Church is presented in waves, there are moments in which it is given great importance, usually due to the fact that the media expose some clerical scandal, real or fictitious, it is important to have some clear ideas about it. And, perhaps, the first thing you need to know is that celibacy of priests is not universal throughout the Catholic Church; the Catholic Church of Eastern Rite has married priests – first they are married and are then are ordained priests-, while the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite – our own – doesn’t have them. Initially, the majority of the priests were married men and it was the subsequent evolution of the pastoral needs and of the spirituality that led to the church to ask for celibacy of those who wanted to be priests. It should not be forgotten, on the other hand, that there are two types of priests within the Catholic Church: the diocesan and religious or consecrated persons; the latter, both in the Catholic Church of Eastern Rite and Latin Rite live in celibacy. In the Catholic Church of Eastern Rite, in addition, the bishops are chosen only from among the priests who live it, so although there are married priests there are no married bishops.

Teaching of the Catechism:

“All ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are usually chosen from among men who live as celibate believers and that they have the political will to save the celibacy “for the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Mt 19:12). Called to consecrate himself totally to the Lord and to his ‘things’ (cf 1 Cor 7:32), are delivered entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life in the service of which is enshrined the minister of the Church; accepted with a joyful heart, announcing in a radiant way the kingdom of God” (No. 1579).

“In the Eastern Churches, for centuries there is in effect a distinct discipline: while the bishops are chosen only among the celibate, married men may be ordained deacons and priests. This practice is considered as legitimate since remote times; these priests have a fruitful ministry within their communities. On the other hand, the celibacy of priests enjoys great honor in the Eastern Churches, and many are the priests who choose it freely for the Kingdom of God. In the East and in the West, whoever receives the sacrament of orders may not enter into marriage” (No. 1580).

“Chastity implies learning mastery over himself, that it is a pedagogy of human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (2339).

Other texts:

“Chastity is a treasure engendered by the abundance of love” (Tagore).

Purity is a requirement of love. It is the dimension of the inner truth in the heart of man” (John Paul II).

“If original sin broke the harmony of our faculties, continence replaces it; we get back to that unity that we lost” (St. Augustine. Confessions).

“The holy purity is neither the only nor the main Christian virtue: it is, however, essential to persevere in the daily effort of our sanctification, and, if it is not guarded, dedication to the apostolate will not last. Purity is the result of the love with which we have handed over to the Lord soul and body, the powers and the senses. Is not denial, is joyous affirmation” (St Josemaría Escrivá).


The requirement of celibacy for catholic priests of the Latin rite – the practice as a whole – as has been said, is an ecclesiastical discipline subject to possible changes, since it is not a dogma of faith or dogma that forces a moral behavior. Nevertheless -and in spite of the enormous pressure against it, in the lack of vocations and hedonism in which we live, -the Church continues to believe that priestly celibacy is a gift from God for the Church itself and that it would be a mistake to change the current legislation (see the encyclical of Paul VI “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus”).

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul explains with clarity the reason for celibacy: “The celibate deals with the affairs of the Lord…, while the married does so in the affairs of the world… and this divided”. From this perspective, there was little by little by imposing the requirement that, at least for reasons of pastoral effectiveness, the priests are celibate. This demand was felt, in the first place, by the people, that felt better served by single priests rather than married priests; then came the legislation on the subject, which was made little by little imposing such a requirement to candidates for the priesthood, especially when the church came out of the shadows and was able to organize with freedom – from the year 313, with the Edict of Milan by the emperor Constantine. By the way, the first legislation on the subject took place in Spain, at a very early period, when even the Church was persecuted. It was in the Council of Elvira (Granada), between the years 295 and 302. There was ordered for the first time explicitly that the bishops, priests and deacons were celibate or, if they were not, will leave their legitimate women if they wanted to receive holy orders. This practice was copied in France shortly after (Council of Arles, year 314). In 386, Pope Siricius convened a Council in which the priests were forbidden to continue having sex with their exwomen. In no case was it accepted that those ordained could marry. Years later, in 1123, with the First Lateran Council, there was definitively established the requirement of celibacy. The requirement was born, we must remember, of the people of God, that felt better served by the celibate clergy. The heresy of the Cathars and the waldensians, in the Middle Ages, was supported to criticize the Church, among other things, the failure of many priests to follow this law, because they lived with concubines and often put the funds of the Church at the service of their families.

Therefore, the Church sees the celibacy of priests as a gift to the community because the priest gives a better example of the celibate Christ whom it represents, and because it frees them of other concerns to become more fully dedicated to service of evangelization. We must not forget that the priesthood is not a right, but a gift that God gives and that, therefore, no one is excluded from a supposed right due to the requirement of celibacy, but it contrasts the existence of that call, that gift, with the decision and the ability to live celibate. This perspective is essential to understanding why the Church can ask for this requirement without infringing the rights of anyone.

There are those who argue saying that, in the face of the vocational crisis, it would be better if there were more priests, even if they were married and therefore with a more limited dedication, not less priests but with a lesser dedication. The deacons who are married are, in fact, occupying a place in the pastoral life that can meet, in part, the shortage of vocations, without giving rise to the discrimination that would be the fact that some priests would be married – with more salary, for example- and others not; in addition, if that were to happen and as things are, those who chose not to marry would be suspected of homosexuality.

It is also said that if the priests were married there would be fewer problems of pedophilia in the clergy. First, it should be borne in mind that these cases are, in percentage terms, very low and that are present in any profession – there are pedophile doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc., and these professions do not carry the implied requirement of celibacy (according to the Newspaper News of the World, 23-7-2000, in England at that time 110,000 persons guilty of sexual abuse of minors, of which practically none was a catholic priest). Second, to say that – getting rid of celibacy would solve paedophilia – is saying that this very serious sin is related to singleness, when that is not true at all; it is a disease that, fortunately, practically all of the singles do not suffer and that, in contrast, it is also given to the married. A normal person who is not able to live the virtue of chastity is not going to satisfy their sexual needs with a child. The one who does that is not because he is single, but because it is a sick person in addition to being an offender. Therefore, if someone is not able to live chastity – as much if he is married as if he is single and, in this case, if it is because someone doesn’t find partner it is because he chose to be chaste due to the fact that he is a priest, only in the event that it is a sick person does he to resort to paedophilia. Thus, the elimination of celibacy, has no influence at all in the number of cases – very low, we must insist- of pedophile priests.

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