A trustworthy witness does not lie. Proverbs 14:5
Simplistic answers to complex problems are rampant and on the rise in our culture. One such simplistic answer to a complex problem that we hear more and more frequently in our church is the theory that removing our celibacy law would relieve the church of its priest shortage and its child abuse problem, lead to an increase in better spiritual leadership and we would all live happily ever after.
Having known quite a few married ministers and their wives in my early years, I have always believed that this issue is not quite as simple as it appears.
Here are some insights from one who ought to know, Father Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican minister who is now an ordained Catholic priest. He said in an article published on patheos.com, where he has a blog called “Standing on My Head,” that he is frequently asked: “Father, you are so good with the children, and you understand marriage first hand. Don’t you think the church should allow priests to marry?”
“It would certainly seem, at first glance, to solve a lot of problems, not only in the developed countries where, arguably, the mandatory vow of celibacy is one of the greatest deterrents to increased vocations, but it would also be a great help in Africa, where celibacy is culturally unheard of,” he writes.
“It might also help to solve some problems of the modern priesthood in the West. So many of our priests are isolated and alone and a huge number of problems surround the men who struggle with celibacy. So is the answer to allow married men to be ordained?”
Father Longenecker says, “not necessarily.”
Opening the priesthood to those who are married may help solve the shortage of priests, and married priests may be able to relate to married couples, he said. But all of this assumes that the married priest is mature and happily married.
“Marriage in and of itself does not automatically make a man mature, self-giving and happy,” Father Longenecker noted.
“Married clergymen are often workaholics,” he said. “Many married clergymen are immature. Some married clergymen have sexual problems just like celibate men do. Married clergymen have drink problems. Married clergymen struggle with porn and same sex attraction and abuse children. I don’t mean to paint a horrible picture of married clergy — just reminding people that it’s not all quite as happy and wonderful as they seem to think.”
He noted that some challenges are practical ones:
“Catholics say they want married clergy, but do they want to pay for them? Do Catholics really want to provide a rectory and the income for a family of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12?”
These certainly are some things to consider.
For more information, visit Father Longenecker’s website.
Father J. Ronald Knott