Every once in a while someone brings up the topic of married priests. “Wouldn’t it be great if priests could marry?” “There wouldn’t be a shortage of priests if they could be married.” “There would be no sexual abuse crisis if priests were married.” And on and on. Then you hear the usual criticisms, “It’s all about money. The Church doesn’t want married priests because then they’d have to pay them more money.” “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they don’t want to have to take care of their widows.” “The Church doesn’t want married priests because of the high cost of health insurance for families.” “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they’d have to provide them with houses where they could raise their families.” Again, on and on.
I’m no expert on the theology of married clergy, but since I am one, maybe I can shed some light on this subject. Number 1, there are married Catholic priests. Married priests from some other faith traditions can convert to Catholicism and become priests. There aren’t a lot of them but they do exist.
Number 2, the Church’s teaching on married priests is a “discipline”, not a “dogma”. What’s the difference? Disciplines can and do change. (Remember meatless Fridays?) Unlike the “all male” priesthood which is a dogma of the Church and can’t ever change, the celibacy of priests could. (See # 1 above)
Here’s the real issue. Those who say they want a married priesthood haven’t really thought the matter through. Here’s where my experience as a married deacon comes into play. It’s not possible to give 110% to two vocations! You say you want a married priesthood? Let’s look at a very simple scenario. Your beautiful daughter is in love. She wants to be married. She has her heart set on a big church wedding on June 1. She’s already reserved the hall. (Believe it or not, brides do reserve reception halls before they check on the availability of the church.) She also loves Father Bob and will only be satisfied if he performs the ceremony. Only one problem; Father Bob’s son graduates from the university on June 1, two hundred miles away.
Or on an entirely different level, grandma has been rushed to the emergency room. The situation is critical. Your faith tells you to call the pastor. You need him right away. Here’s the problem. The pastor’s daughter’s dance recital is going on as we speak and he’s turned off his cell phone. Grandma is called home before you can reach Father.
I can hear you saying, “But deacon, other religions have married clergy and it doesn’t seem to be a problem.” The thing you have to remember, with all due respect to our brother clergy, Catholic priests are called upon to do far more then their protestant counterparts. Anointing of the sick can only be done by a priest and medical emergencies always seem to happen at the worst possible time. We just expect the priest to always be available. Protestant churches seem to have larger staff that Catholic parishes, making it more difficult for priest pastors to delegate. Priests are “married to the Church” forever. Protestant pastors are employees who can be hired and fired and often are.
Then we have the marriage itself. Our protestant minister friends have a divorce rate that’s very close to the national average so there’s no reason to think that married priests would do much better. (BTW, they also have a similar rate of child sexual abuse). But we belong to a Church that teaches that marriage is until death do us part. What do you do with a divorced priest? I imagine you do the same thing you do with a divorced deacon. Transfer him somewhere where they don’t know his past. But that’s not really much of a solution.
Just imagine how messy a priest’s divorce could become if the about-to-be exwife blames the Church (the other woman, so to speak) for the breakup. Yikes!
I’ll site an example from my own life and then I’ll lay this topic to rest. I currently have a handful of parishioners who are mad at me because I left the Goulash Festival a half hour early to catch the tail end of my grandson’s birthday party. On the other hand, I’m sure I disappointed the grandson by missing his soccer game and the rest of the birthday festivities.
So the members of my church expect me to be available 24/7 and my lovely, long-suffering wife says that when there’s a conflict the diaconate “always” wins out. And, remember a deacon’s responsibilities are so much less than those of a priest.
Bottom line, you may think you want married priests, but when push comes to shove, you really don’t. You want the sacraments to be available around the clock, 365 days a year. You want the priest to spend his free time reading and praying and in general just “being a priest.” You want him to hang out with the school kids and to never miss a meeting.
When you call the rectory you don’t want to hear that Father had to take his sick child to the doctor and is gone for the day. The Church hasn’t survived for over 2,000 years by being stupid. Someday the discipline may change, but I doubt it because it just makes too much sense.