Why Does the Vatican Insist on Priestly Celibacy?
As horrid sex scandals envelop the Roman Catholic Church, a debate has arisen about the practice of clerical celibacy and the right of Catholic priests to marry and raise a family.
Some prominent “conservative” Catholics are demanding the Vatican rethink its position on celibacy and start giving priests the choice to marry. Britain’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, on the heels of his retirement amid allegations of sexual impropriety, recently told the bbc, “I’d be very happy if [priests] had the opportunity of considering whether they should be married. Many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy … and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family.”
Telegraph columnist and resident Catholic Damian Thompson delivered his argument a little more candidly: “To put it bluntly, the new pope must confront the suffocating hypocrisy of the Vatican and Bishops’ Conferences on this subject,” speaking of celibacy and priestly marriage.
Thompson specifically noted the hypocrisy of Catholic teaching in regards to homosexuality. “I’ve never heard a bishop acknowledge what is obvious to so many of us: that in certain large cities in the Western world, a majority of Catholic priests are gay, albeit celibate,” he wrote. “If the Vatican were to enforce its current ruling that homosexuals per se are unsuitable for the priesthood, then it would have innumerable empty urban churches on its hands.”
Thompson also alluded to the practice of celibacy as a chief cause of much of the sordid behavior of Catholic priests. The “juxtaposition” of the allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal O’Brien “with his claim that universal celibacy is an unrealistic ideal illustrates the sexual tension that is pulling apart the Catholic priesthood,” he wrote.
Let’s consider the biblical view of celibacy and the right of priests to marry. From the opening chapters of Genesis to the concluding chapters of Revelation, it is clear and consistent: God created and endorses marriage, for all humans. In Genesis 2:18 we read, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.“ Could you imagine God creating Eve, undoubtedly a stunning female specimen, then asking Adam to abstain from his natural inclination, an inclination God Himself created? God created Eve, and He created marriage between Adam and Eve.
Carry on through the Old Testament, noting great figures like Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David. God worked powerfully in the lives of these great men, all of whom were married.
The New Testament also overflows with examples of God endorsing marriage and family. Most notably, the Apostle Peter—leader of the first-century Church and namesake of the Petrine doctrine, the fundamental Catholic doctrine establishing papal primacy—was married. Read it in Matthew 8:14: “And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his [Peter’s] wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever.”
In 1 Corinthians 9:5, the Apostle Paul in a short sermon on the life and work of an apostle asks, “Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?”
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul endorses marriage—specifically, sex within marriage, as a means of averting sexual wrongdoing. “To avoid fornication,” he writes, “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.” Read the chapter, and you’ll see Paul vigorously promoting sex within marriage. If the Vatican followed the instruction of their beloved “St. Paul” and allowed priests to marry, countless innocent children and adults could have been protected from sexual abuse at the hands of “celibate” priests.
Study also 1 Timothy 3. Here God outlines the qualities to search for in a potential priest, or minister. Notice it does not say, ordain a man prepared to live a celibate life. Verse 2 says, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife ….” In most cases, God expects a minister in His service to be married. A loyal, supportive wife is an asset to the man’s ministry.
Some Christians will invoke the example of Christ and argue that we are to follow His example of celibacy and apparent abstention from marriage. First, it might come as a surprise, but Jesus Christ was in fact married. Not to Mary Magdalene, as some have supposed. Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament, and He was in a marriage covenant with ancient Israel (Exodus 19). Jesus couldn’t marry while on earth because he was still in that marriage covenant with ancient Israel, which ended when he died. Additionally, Jesus came with a specific purpose, a towering responsibility. He came to qualify to replace Satan (who presides over this Earth today), and to die in order to pay the price for human sin, and thereby enable humans upon repentance and belief to be reconciled to God (Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18).
No other human has ever been given a responsibility as exceptional as that given to Jesus Christ. Period.
Therefore, Jesus’s celibacy in no way necessitates celibacy today, even by the highest-ranked ministers.
Moreover, if you study the Scriptures it’s clear that Jesus actually intends to marry. Read the last half of Ephesians 5. Here Paul, in another frank endorsement of marriage, explains the roles of the husband and wife. Verse 32 reads, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”Jesus Christ at His Second Coming will be married!
This marriage, between Jesus and the bride His Father calls and prepares for Him, is the marriage referred to in Revelation 19:7: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”
You see, there’s no murkiness or inconsistency with God on the question of celibacy and priestly marriage. God is clear on this subject from one end of the Bible to the other. God created marriage, He endorses marriage and family for human beings, including ministers—and He even desires that His own Son marry!