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Christian Article

Instruction on Controversial Questions: Married Priests
by Ronald L. Conte Jr. 
May 21, 2005

1. Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, was a chaste virgin for His entire earthly life.

Jesus Christ lived among us. He ate and drank with us. He hugged children and he even touched lepers before they were healed. He worked, taught, slept, and lived as other human persons live. But He chose a chaste and unmarried life among us. For this reason, the priesthood of the Body of Christ will always be predominantly represented by men who, though sinners, also choose a chaste and unmarried life among us. The priesthood can never be comprised mainly of married men, because a priest's first duty is to be like Christ.

The Virgin Mary has always been entirely free from both original sin and personal sin. She is the first and best disciple of Christ. She was chosen by God, not only to be the Mother of the Savior, but to be a perfect virgin forever. The Virgin Mary remained a virgin, even though God chose her to conceive and to give birth to the Savior. The angel Gabriel announced to her that it was God's will for her to conceive and bear a child. Mary was already betrothed to Joseph before this annunciation. Any other devout Jewish woman might have assumed that the child was to have her husband as father. But Mary understood that the will of God was for her to be ever-virgin. So she had to ask the angel how this could happen. See how God chose virginity for Mary, even though she was also chosen to bear a child. Mary's example instructs us that virginity is better than marriage in the eyes of God. Therefore, a priesthood mainly comprised of men who are celibate, and preferably who are also virgins, is better in God's eyes than a priesthood of mostly married men.

Christ remained chaste and unmarried. Mary remained ever-virgin, even though she married. Therefore, the priesthood must always be comprised mainly of men who are chaste and unmarried, preferably virgins.

2. The Church has always permitted some married men to become priests.

This permission is based firmly on the example of Christ, who chose as Apostles some men who were virgins, like John the Apostle and Gospel writer, and other men who had been married, like Peter. However, these Apostles all left behind their former lives, in order to follow Christ wholeheartedly. Those married men who become priests, while still remaining married, will necessarily have to divide their time and their attention between their flock and their wife and children. While this situation is permitted, it does not wholly reflect the lives of Christ and Mary, nor can it ever be the norm.

3. Can priests marry?

No, the Church has never permitted priests to marry while remaining active in their priestly vocation. The priesthood is a higher calling than marriage. It is not right for a man to leave a higher calling in order to pursue a lower calling. When, at times, one priest or another has fallen away from his true vocation, through human weakness and sin, the Church has reluctantly permitted some priests to leave their ministry and to marry in the Church. However, they cannot remain active as priests, because they left a higher calling for a lesser one.

4. Can such priests who have left the priesthood for marriage ever be reinstated to active ministry?

The Holy See has the authority to reinstate, to active priestly ministry, a man who formerly sinned by leaving the priesthood to marry, if he is now repentant and humbled, and if he now fully adheres to Church teaching and discipline, and if he now agrees to perform penance for his sin and to do whatever else the Church may require of him. The Holy See has the authority to allow such a man to remain in the married state of life and to resume his active priestly ministry because the Holy See has the authority both to ordain married men as priests and to forgive sins.

5. Can married men become priests?

Yes, the Church does sometimes permit married men to become priests. The Catholic Church, in the East, regularly permits some married men to become priests. However, once ordained, an unmarried man is not allowed to seek a wife or to marry. Furthermore, even in the East, most priests are and must be celibate.

In the West, that is, in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the ordinary path to the priesthood is through celibacy and chastity, not by way of marriage. There are today some married priests in the Latin Rite. Some of these had been married Anglican ministers. When they and most of their congregation converted to the Catholic faith, these married men were permitted to be ordained as Catholic priests and to continue their married life and their ministry. Furthermore, when all the Protestant Churches repent and unite with the Catholic Church (in the early 2020's), many married Protestant ministers will also convert and will become married Catholic priests.

Married men are sometimes permitted to become priests because it is fitting to advance from a lower calling to a higher calling. But even better still is the man who begins with the higher calling and perseveres in it.

6. Can married men become Bishops or Pope?

A married man, who, thereafter, becomes a Catholic priest, can remain married and active in his priestly ministry. However, in the early Church and in the East and throughout the Church, married priests are not considered fit candidates for ordination to the Episcopate. Although Peter was once married, when he became an Apostle he did not continue his married life. If a married priest is called to become a Bishop, then he must take a vow of celibacy, both he and his wife, willingly and freely. Those who are ordained to the Episcopate have an even higher calling to imitate and to represent Christ to the faithful. Bishops must be celibate. Since the Pope must always be a Bishop, the Pope must also always be celibate (even though Peter the first Pope was once married).

7. Can married men be ordained as Deacons?

Yes. The Church permits married men to be ordained to the permanent deaconate. However, those men ordained as permanent deacons are often older men, some of whom have lost their wives. In addition, men who are called to celibacy are also certainly fit for the deaconate. The role of a deacon in the Church is a substantially different role than that of a priest or a Bishop. Deacons are called, first and foremost, to minister to the corporeal and spiritual needs of the faithful outside of liturgical services and places of worship. Although deacons can participate in liturgical services and dispense certain Sacraments, such is not their first or primary calling. The calling of a deacon is service through the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy, through prayer, and self-denial. This calling is compatible with the married life.

by Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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