Why Does the International Catholic Confederation Maintain a Married Priesthood?
Why is it that The International Catholic Confederation (ICC) allows for their priests and bishops to be married? Why do we permit this practice since it has been prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church since the very beginning — or has it?
I’ve said it before, “history is written or rewritten by the victors.” This is the case with Roman Catholic Apologetics as well. The Church of Rome has become an expert at phrasing or parsing their historic polemic in such a way as to discount the relevancy of every other Catholic voice and tradition. The truth of history is actually vastly different that what the Roman Magisterium portrays to their laity. The issue of priestly celibacy is just one of many such problematic areas of concern.
Actually, there have always been married priests. The Ancient Jewish Priesthood definitely allowed their priests to be married, in fact, it may have been a requirement. The Churches of Orthodoxy still permit their clergy to marry — including those in full communion with Rome. In more recent times, The Roman Catholic Church has been accepting married priests within the “Anglican Ordinate.”
The problem and misunderstanding seem to stem from (IMHO) poor catechesis among Roman Catholic faithful on the subject. It is in the spirit of providing a good catechetical background for our faithful — clergy and laity alike, that I’m writing to you today. The subject came to the top of mind yesterday in an online discussion, where otherwise faithful Catholics where insisting that priestly celibacy was always a requirement. While I would agree that there have always been men of God who have deliberately chosen celibacy, this was not mandated until after the Great Schism.
So what’s the deal? While not making it a requirement, the Apostle Paul definitely seems to be okay with bishops being married — read 1 Timothy 3:2-4. In other places, the Apostle also advocates for abstinence but concludes that it is better to be married than to succumb to sexual immorality.
The Apostles and many in early Church leadership married
At least some of the Apostles were married. Matthew writes directly about Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14), and Paul references other apostles or ministers being married in 1 Corinthians 9:5when he says he has a right to marry a believing woman because Peter, Jesus’ brothers, and other apostles had married. However, Paul was not married, at least at the time of his writings.
From the above, it’s fairly simple to extrapolate that Bishops, priests, pastors, missionaries, and other church leaders and workers are allowed to be married in the primitive church.
Yes, as noted above, Paul did write about the benefits of being single when working for the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32–35). He said, “I wish that all were as I myself am [unmarried]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Corinthians 7:7). He also wrote that “… it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). Why would the Apostle present the qualifications for bishops and deacons as including references to their marriages and families (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9), if Being married disqualified men from priestly service? These qualifications do not require that clergy be married, but they do certainly demonstrate that married priesthood is a historical fact.
We know that the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy for clergy does not line up with the examples of Christ’s disciples. Some were married and some were not. In fact, Peter, whom Rome claims is the head of the church and the first Pope was clearly married.
Throughout history, Catholic men have served God in a wide variety of life situations. Marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:22–33). It can be a relationship of love and support in which each spouse is encouraged to follow God all the more deeply and the two work as one to further His kingdom. In singleness, a person might be more directly focused on God’s kingdom. Singleness may also provide a unique opportunity to rely solely on God for relational intimacy. Both situations, of course, have unique struggles and hardships. No matter our current life situation, we are called to depend on God and faithfully follow Him.
The practice of priestly celibacy began to spread in the Western Church in the early Middle Ages. In the early 11th century Pope Benedict VIII responded to the decline in priestly morality by issuing a rule prohibiting the children of priests from inheriting property. A few decades later Pope Gregory VII issued a decree against clerical marriages.
The Church was a thousand years old before Rome took a stand in favor of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139 when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. In 1563, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the tradition of celibacy.
As it stands today, Celibacy in the Roman Church is merely a discipline. Priestly celibacy in that Jurisdiction is neither a firm doctrine or an unchangeable Dogmatic position. As such, contrary to popular opinion, this position may be changed at the whim of the Pope.
Post-Vatican I, after the Founders of the Old Catholic Movement, made their decision to return to a more ancient orthodoxy, they also embraced the practice of allowing their clergy to be married. In light of the above, the founders of the ICC also recognize that maintaining a married clergy is not only consistent with Catholic Orthodoxy, it also recognizes, as the Apostle Paul, that not everyone is called to a life of singleness.
Yes, I am a married priest, and so are the other presiding bishops of our various national churches. In many ways, I view my marital status as a strength rather than a weakness. Is a married priesthood some sort of inoculation against the sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Roman Catholic Church? I would not make such a bold statement. All men have the potential to sin; priests and bishops are no exception. However, the Apostle Paul said it very succinctly “it is better to marry than to burn” in our lusts of the flesh.
Appendix: (from Wikipedia)
Mother-in-law is mentioned in the Gospel verses Matthew 8:14–15, Luke 4:38, Mark 1:29–31 and who was healed by Jesus at her home in Capernaum. 1 Cor. 9:5 asks whether others have the right to be accompanied by Christian wives as does “Cephas” (Peter). Clement of Alexandria wrote: “When the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, ‘Remember the Lord.’ Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their perfect disposition toward those dearest to them.”
Later legends, dating from the 6th century onwards, suggested that Peter had a daughter – identified as Saint Petronilla. This, however, is likely to be a result of the similarity of their names.
Pope Felix III
Married and widowed before he was elected as pope.
Himself the son of a priest he fathered two children, one of which was the antecedent of Pope Gregory the Great.
Married and widowed before he took Holy Orders
Father of Pope Silverius.
Pope Adrian II
Married to Stephania before he took Holy Orders, she was still living when he was elected Pope and resided with him in the Lateran Palace
Yes (a daughter)
His wife and daughter both resided with him until they were murdered.
Pope John XVII
Married before his election as Pope
Yes (three sons)
All of his children became priests.
Pope Clement IV
Married before taking holy orders
Yes (two daughters)
Both children entered a convent
Pope Honorius IV
Married before he took Holy Orders, widowed before entered the clergy