April 10, 2005


Let Fathers Be Fathers (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 4/10/05, NY Times)

Here's my prophecy about the next pope: He will allow married men to become priests.

This is simply a matter of survival: all over the world, the Catholic Church is running out of priests. In the United States, there was one priest for every 800 Catholics in 1965, while now there is one for every 1,400 Catholics - and the average age is nearly 60. In all the United States, with 65 million Catholics, only 479 priests were ordained in 2002.

The upshot is that the Catholic Church is losing ground around the world to evangelical and especially Pentecostal churches. In Brazil, which has more Catholics than any other country, Pentecostals are gaining so quickly that they could overtake Catholics over the next decades.

No one understands the desperate need for clergy more than the cardinals themselves. In fact, John Paul II himself laid the groundwork for an end to the celibacy requirement.

Few people realize it, but there are now about 200 married priests under a special dispensation given by the Vatican to pastors of other denominations - Episcopalians, Lutherans and so on - who are already married and wish to convert to Roman Catholicism (typically because they feel their churches are going squishy by ordaining women or gays).

"It's really kind of a nonissue," the Rev. John Gremmels, one of those married Catholic priests, in Fort Worth, told me of his status as a father of the usual sort.

The Vatican also permits Eastern Rite Catholics in places like Ukraine and Romania to have married priests. That was part of an ancient deal: they would be Catholics and accept the pope's authority, staying out of the Orthodox Church, and in exchange they would be allowed married clergy and liturgies in local languages.

Polls show that 70 percent of American Catholics believe priests should be able to marry. David Gibson, author of "The Coming Catholic Church," quotes Cardinal Roger Mahony as telling him that it's reasonable to raise the issue and adding: "We've had a married clergy since Day 1, since St. Peter."

It's true that St. Peter, the first pope, was married, and so were many of the apostles and early popes.

Chastity is a worthy choice, but not a necessary one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2005 6:47 PM

In some Eastern rites married men may become priests, but men who are already priests may not marry.

Married priests are mostly in rural areas and are not permitted to rise in the church hierarchy. It's unlikely given the way the Catholic church is structured that they will make any significant changes in the priesthood.

Posted by: erp at April 10, 2005 8:53 PM

I think you really mean celibacy - chastity applies in all cases....

Posted by: sas at April 10, 2005 9:04 PM

if the fall off in donations continue, they might become more open to changes.

Posted by: cjm at April 10, 2005 10:05 PM

Celebacy was only introduced so that the children of priests would not claim ownership of land that was deeded to the church and used by the priest to support himself.

I believe that the RCs will accept married anglican episcopal priests into the Roman priesthood and will allow them to stay married. No not Bishop Robinson.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 10, 2005 10:14 PM

I grew up Catholic, so I've thought about this. There is a certain weirdness factor. To me, it would certainly be weirder to have a female priest, than to have a married one. I wonder why they couldn't create a tiered system. In other words, its not arbitrary whether a priest is married or not. Sort of like nuns of different ordes, maybe. The unmarried ones can rise to bishop and cardinal.

By the way, if they ever do allow women, they need their own outfits, like the military. Those Anglican women preachers just look like they're cross-dressing. They wear man-clothes, and it's not appealing.

Posted by: RC at April 11, 2005 6:13 AM

Since Christianity is a descendant of Judaism, the existence of celibate clergy is a foreign element. It came from the Romans and the Greeks, both of whom had a far greater fixation on sexual matters than Jews did and do. If the RC Church dumped it, they would be returning to traditional Christian practice. But since they consistently eschew anything resembling traditional Christian practice whenever it conflicts with Imperial Roman behavior, I will not hold my breath waiting for a change.

Posted by: bart at April 11, 2005 6:38 AM

And from Christ and Mary, every Jewish boy thinking his mother a virgin and she likewise of her son.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 7:12 AM

If anything the article understates the seriousness of the priest shortage, as an article in the National Catholic Register made clear (see http://ncronline.org/mainpage/roberts_votf102503.htm):

I was meeting several months ago with a priest theologian from the Midwest who, in answer to one of my questions, said, "You've got to do a story on the priest shortage." "We've done it to death," I said. "Everyone knows there's a priest shortage." "No," he said. "You have to go back and take a look at the numbers again. Really do the numbers." He explained that earlier in the year his bishop had made quite a deal over the fact that the diocese was ordaining, I think it was five or six priests this year, a few more than usual. I got the impression that it was being touted as a sign of turnaround. But my priest friend said he began looking hard at the numbers, at the ages, at the numbers retiring and dying and he came to a grim conclusion. In his words: "It's over. Not in 20 or 30 years, but in more like five or six or seven at the outside."

The priest shortage is number one on the next pope's "To Do List".

However, ending celibacy will eventually lead to the end of male exclusivity in the priesthood as noted by Richard Schoenherr inhis book "Goodbye Father, The Celibate Male Priesthood and the Future of the Catholic Church' (see http://www.futurechurch.org/newsletter/spring03/goodbye.htm):

The conservative coalition is so adamantly opposed to a married clergy because clerical celibacy provides sacralized support for patriarchy. The Vatican seems to know intuitively that to say goodbye to celibate exclusivity means eventually saying goodbye to male exclusivity. A married clergy is anathema to most of the hierarchy because it is the camel's nose under their patriarchal tent. A married clergy will be the gateway to further equality for women, who eventually will be admitted to ordination. Schoenherr maintains that married men will be admitted to the priesthood during the lifetime of the present generation of churchgoers. He believes the ordination of women is several generations away although many would disagree, if only because so many Catholics, especially women, will not wait that long.

In a few generations after the end of celibacy, women will be ordained.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 8:46 AM

The source of the RCC's attidues towards women goes back to the early fathers of the Church:

"Both nature and the law place the woman in a subordinate condition to the man" Irenaeus, Fragment no 32.

"It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater . . . This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power." (Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, 153.

"Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says, "The head of the woman is the man;" and, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands." So also the Apostle Peter writes: "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord." Augustine, On Concupiscence, Book I, chap. 10.

"The Apostle wants women who are manifestly inferior, to be without fault, in order that the Church of God be pure" Ambrosiaster, On 1 Timothy 3,11.

"Who are there that teach such things apart from women? In very truth, women are a feeble race, untrustworthy and of mediocre intelligence. Once again we see that the Devil knows how to make women spew forth ridiculous teachings, as he has just succeeded in doing in the case of Quintilla, Maxima and Priscilla" Epiphanius, Panarion 79, 1.

"You (woman) destroyed so easily God's image, man." Tertullian, De Cultu Feminarum, book 1, chap. 1.

"How, then, would God have failed to make any such concession to men more (than to women), whether on the ground of nearer intimacy, as the male being in "His own image," or on the ground of harder toil? But if nothing (has been thus conceded) to the male, much less to the female." Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins, chap. 10.

" Women must cover their heads because they are not the image of God . . . How can anyone maintain that woman is the likeness of God when she is demonstrably subject to the dominion of man and has no kind of authority? For she can neither teach nor be a witness in a court nor exercise citizenship nor be a judge-then certainly not exercise dominion" Ambrosiaster, On 1 Corinthians 14, 34.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 8:55 AM

There's no reason not to have married priests, but no way you can have women without doing the Church irreparable harm.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 8:57 AM


Yes, women are not fully moral creatures and so should not be priests.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 9:08 AM

"Yes, women are not fully moral creatures and so should not be priests"

explain, please

Posted by: The Wife at April 11, 2005 9:15 AM

women are not fully moral creatures

So Mother Theresa was not fully moral? Please explain and elaborate this misogyny, er I mean statement. Perhaps then you can explain to us why your wife isn't fully moral. Then you can explain it to her.

Then you can blog from the garage where you'll be sleeping.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 9:17 AM

It's the Jean Valjean problem. Men and women differ dramatically in their answer over whether Valjean should have stolen bread to feed his family. Women are, appropriately, more concerned with nurturing, while men are more moralist because it regulates their often violent dealings with each other.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 9:21 AM


It's why you father punishes you and you run to mom for comfort.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 9:22 AM

Even if that were true (lots of moms spank their kids and lots of dads provide comfort), how does being more compassionate make someone less moral?

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 9:32 AM

It interferes with moral strictness. Men on the other hand lack compassion. It is only in the combination of a man with a woman that both become fully human.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 10:42 AM

" It is only in the combination of a man with a woman that both become fully human."

So then wouldn't it be best to have both men and women as religious leaders - balancing each other's "weakness?"
Gee Davey, overly strict rule of morality with no room for compassion doesn't seem like the Christian thing to do...

Posted by: The Wife at April 11, 2005 10:49 AM

No. You can't allow wiggle room on the command to behave morally or it all goes bung. The Church has to teach it but then our moms, wives, sisters can comfort us when we don't live up to it.

[BTW: Did you get my sister a birthday card?]

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 10:54 AM

OJ, your stereotypical views not withstanding, this is all academic. A married clergy will evantually lead to women priests.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 10:57 AM


Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 11:08 AM

To requote:

A married clergy is anathema to most of the hierarchy because it is the camel's nose under their patriarchal tent.

The ultra-conservative wing of the RCC is right to fear married priests. The whole structure of the Church is based on celibacy. It will do to the Church was Louis XVI call for the Estates General did for France or Gorbachev's glasnost did for the USSR.

Once reforms start in non-democratic insitutions (as conservative are fond of pointing out the RCC is not a democracy), they tend to snowball.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 11:35 AM

When's your sister's b-day?

[Tangentially, I was once interested enough to look relatively carefully into the theology behind the prohibition of women prients in the Catholic Church. It was surprisingly persuasive, so long as you accept the authority of Catholic theology.]

Posted by: David Cohen at April 11, 2005 11:40 AM

The Anglicans made it a few centuries without and stand as an object lesson against the slide.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 11:41 AM


The 15th. Can you sign it "Your loving brother, Orrin C. Judd"?


Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 11:56 AM

Sorry, but I think it is in all our interests if you keep a clear demarcation in mind between Dr. Judd and me.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 11, 2005 12:03 PM

Dang, you seemed to be offering...

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 12:14 PM

I suspect priestly celibacy is keeping the left from infiltrating the Catholic Church the way they have infiltrated organized Protestant Churches.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at April 11, 2005 1:38 PM

I suspect priestly celibacy is keeping straight men from infiltrating the Church (the clergy is a mostly gay profession).

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 1:56 PM

Not even in America.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 2:26 PM

See "Goodbye Good Men". Best estimate is 2/3 of the clergy is gay.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 11, 2005 3:21 PM

If Orrin is right (he's not), then the only logical thing would be to ordain priests in married pairs: sort of like 2 cops to one police cruiser.

Anyhow, it explains why he is so anxious to destroy popular education.

If women keep learning how to read, the question will not be where are the women priests but where are the women Christians.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 11, 2005 3:33 PM

Eastern Orthodox here. Our priests can marry, and we've been kicking around for about almost a thousand years longer than the Anglicans.

Parish Priests can marry, Bishops (and presumably patriarch's) cannot.

Posted by: AML at April 11, 2005 3:56 PM

If Orrin is right (he's not), then the only logical thing would be to ordain priests in married pairs: sort of like 2 cops to one police cruiser.

Baptists have been doing that very thing, essentially, for at least two hundred years. It generally works pretty well.

As for the argument that married priests will lead to women priests--huh? Ever heard of the Orthodox Church?

Posted by: Timothy at April 11, 2005 3:59 PM

Shoot--AML beat me to it.

Posted by: Timothy at April 11, 2005 4:00 PM

Sweet Jesus and Mary (squared)! Sorry I missed this thread.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 11, 2005 4:54 PM

Eastern Orthodox priests cannot marry. Married men, however, can be ordained as Eastern Orthodox priests.

Many of the Eastern catholic churches have married priests, and quite a few married protestant clergymen have converted to catholicism and been subsequently ordained as priests. The precedents for ordaining married men are there. Allowing priests to marry, however, is something altogether different, and quite unlikely.

The biggest obstacles, it seems to me, are the the low pay, and the extreme demands made on a catholic priest's time. Given the large size of most parishes, the first one is easier to fix than the second. There is a huge difference in size between the congregation of the average Episcopal parish and the average Roman Catholic parish (I would estimate a 1:10 ratio). The broad range of sacraments, along with daily masses, along with the large congregation, makes it hard to imagine many married priests succeeding as both husband, father (of a large family), and pastor.

Posted by: Keith R at April 11, 2005 6:17 PM

Isn't there one eastern rite church that still acknowledges the Pope's authority (that is, is part of the RCC) in which married priests are allowed?

Posted by: David Cohen at April 11, 2005 11:13 PM

Outside the U.S., most (all? I'm not sure) of the eastern catholic churches allow married priests. Inside the U.S., there are historical reasons why it isn't the norm, but even so, married men are ordained abroad and moved into the U.S.

Once a single man is ordained a priest in an eastern catholic (or orthodox) church, however, he is not allowed to marry (in the U.S., or abroad). Bishops are drawn exclusively from the celibate priests.

Posted by: Keith R at April 12, 2005 9:26 PM

David, Maronite Catholics are one of 7 (I believe) eastern rites in communion with Rome.

My best-remembered religion teacher, Father Haddad, was a Maronite. He told us that Maronite priests could marry -- I do not recall that he said they could not marry after they had been ordained -- but that the patriarch would not assign married priests to parishes in America, in order not to scandalize the Baptists.

This is ancient history. He was my teacher back during the debate about whether to retain the Latin Mass. But he offered Mass in Arabic.

That was one of the threads that made me realize that Catholicism is arbitrary.

Incidentally, Father Haddad told us that the Arabic Mass was the most beautiful of all the Catholic masses, and as he spoke 7 languages he may have been qualified to have an opinion. I have since seen others comment on this recondite subject, and they also say the Arabic Mass is the most beautiful of all the Catholic liturgies.

Who'd a thunk it?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 13, 2005 3:25 PM

Everyone loves Arabic. It's one of the reasons Islam is so good at evangelizing.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2005 3:35 PM

Still, allowing the vulgar masses while getting rid of the Latin mass was a mistake.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 14, 2005 12:43 PM