An article entitled “Vast majority of US Catholics who left the church can’t image returning, study says” appeared on September 2, 2015 in the Washington Post. The article referenced a study by the Pew Research Center that gave reasons why Catholics had left the Church. One item mentioned was “Allow Priest to get married” with an associated percentages of 62%. The percentage reflects the teaching of the Church that those who had left found objectionable.
The Roman Catholic Priesthood is all male, celibate and unmarried. This position stands in direct contradiction of our culture’s expected norms. The Pope has allowed some clergy from other faiths—for example Anglicans—to remain married and be Catholic Priests. This is not the norm of the Church. In this article, I will speak to Priestly celibacy in the general case and not address the exceptions.
To begin with, Jesus was a Jew and never relinquished His Jewish religion, background or heritage. The Church recognizes and embraces this fact. For example, on April 13, 1986 when Pope John Paul II visited The Great Synagogue of Rome, he said that Jews are "our elder brothers." The roots of the Catholic Church are in Judaism.
With respect to the Jewish Priesthood, we see that after Moses went into God’s service, it is inferred that he became celibate by evidence of the fact that after Exodus Chapter 3, his wife is rarely mentioned and that there is no mention of having children. Moreover, it has been conjectured by Biblical Scholars like Scott Hahn that during an ancient Jewish Priest’s time of service he remained celibate. We see an example of this by tracing a typology from Matt 12: 1-5. Jesus’ disciples are seen by the Pharisees picking the heads of gain and eating them. The Pharisees tell Jesus, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful” to do on the Sabbath. Jesus answers the Pharisees in a very curious way by saying, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the House of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions, but only the priests could lawfully eat?” We read what David and his men did in 1 Samuel 21: 4-6. David goes to Abimelech, the priest of Nob, and asks for five loaves, or whatever the priest can find. The priest said, “I have no ordinary bread on hand, only holy bread; if the men have abstained from women, you may eat some of that.” Clearly, Jesus sets His Priesthood based upon His disciples and makes reference—through typology—that they are to remain celibate in His service as was the Jewish tradition.
It can be said that the bride of a Priest is the Church. The concept of marriage—in reference to a bride and groom—in the Catholic Church is based upon the teaching of St. Augustine who taught that marriage is the making of a vow that is composed of three parts. The three parts are exclusivity, lifelong commitment and open to the possibility of new life. The Priest clearly meets the first two parts of the vow, but what about the third: children? In the Gospel of John 1:12 we read, “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.” Jesus is God. Therefore, as we live our sacramental lives in the Church, and particularly at those times the sacraments are given, we became the spiritual children of the Priest as he acts in Persona Christi Capitis. Moreover, in the Catholic Church there are recognized marriages in the type of Mary and Joseph where both are married, yet remain celibate. Marriage is not constituted upon the performance of a sexual act, but on the taking of a specific vow as taught by St. Augustine. The conjugal act is a fruit of being married, but it is not the conjugal act that defines a marriage.
In closing, a celibate Priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church is not based upon the whims and desires of men, but on the words and deeds of those who give their testimony (i.e., that we believe to be credible) as Holy Scripture. As such—and in recognition that the servant is not greater than the master—we simply follow God’s will.