INTRO: Catholic priests are known for their life of celibacy. Records however, show that the life of celibacy that the priests live is a sheer convention rather than a hard-cast dogma of Catholic Church. What this means is that a radical Pope can change it tomorrow. The celibate life of Catholic priests is not as old as the Church. St. Peter, the first Pope of the Church was a married man; and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men. The tide began to turn against marriage in 325 AD, in the Council of Nicea which decreed that after ordination a priest could not marry. This decree hints the fact that marriages which predated the ordinations were allowed. Thus, in 385 AD, Pope Siricius left his wife (he married a wife before his ordination) in order to become Pope. In an obverse case, Pope Benedict IX in 1045 AD dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry (his was not lucky marrying before his ordination, and could no longer bear the sexual starvation). Following the position of the Council of Nicea, Pope Gregory VII in 1074 said that anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy: priests [must] first escape from the clutches of their wives. The last straw that broke the camel’s jaw was the decree by Pope Calistus II as an outcome from First Lateran Council in 1123 AD, that clerical marriages were invalid. This decree made all the pre-ordination marriages which the Council of Nicea once allowed, a nullity. The Second Lateran Council, and the Council of Trent in 1563 reaffirmed the decree. “To our sex-obsessed culture, priestly celibacy seems a hard teaching of the Church, a heavy burden that must be borne with ascetic grit and iron resolve,” Stephen Beale wrote. Several reasons have been floated arising from the Bible, logic, and common sense why Catholic priests should not marry. Some of them are hereunder discussed.
1/ Celibacy is Superior to Marriage: It is the belief of the Church that celibacy is superior to marriage, and that it assists the more in achieving holiness. One of the Church Fathers, St. Augustine once wrote that nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman. In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explained it in clearer terms: “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife,” (1 Corinthians 7:32-3). St. Paul himself was a celibate and he wished everyone was like him, unmarried (7.7).
2/ Celibacy is a Time-honoured Tradition of the Church: Celibacy stands out as the pride of the Church. It is simply the source of the formidable aura radiating from the Church as the true institution of Christ Himself who was also a celibate. The position of the Church is evident in the words of the Popes of the twentieth century. In their words, celibacy is the “choicest ornament of our priesthood” (Pius X), “one of the purest glories of the Catholic priesthood” (Pius XI), and a discipline that makes the whole life of the priest “resound with the splendor of holy chastity” (John XXIII). As her most cherished tradition, Catholic Church’s body language to calls for change on the tradition of celibacy for priests has been: we can but we won’t.
3/ Priests are Married to the Church: the Church is often depicted as the Bridegroom of Christ in the Holy Book. Being Christ personified, priests are also married to the Church, and as such, remain “taken” in marriage market. In Catholic Church, priests are called “father,” and the Church is often called, “mother,” as another pointer to the matrimonial relationship between priests and the Church.
4/ Celibacy as a Sacrifice: In worship of God, many people have given up several life goodies. Celibacy in the priestly ministry of the Catholic Church is one of those sacrifices through which the faithful have approached the worship of the Almighty God. And that appears to be the zenith of sacrifices besides that of Christ on the Cross of Calvary. To every normal human being, sexual desire is a pain in the neck.
5/ Celibacy as a Detachment from the World: While praying for His disciples, Jesus Christ hinted that the disciples were in the world but were not of the world (John 17:16). Through celibacy, Catholic priests live out their detachment from the world. Marriage is a worldly institution. Jesus was point blank: “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” Celibacy helps catholic priests to concentrate in the pastoral ministry without worries from women and children that marriages bring about.