The National Catholic Review

Oh brother. More lazy stereotypes about celibates. Bill Keller’s op-ed today in The New York Times “Sex and the Single Priest” (ha ha) says that pretty much all celibate priests are lonely and that celibacy “surely played some role” in the sexual abuse crisis. By his own admission, Mr. Keller hasn’t been an active member of the church since around high school. But that’s not the problem with his piece: former Catholics have written perceptively about the church. The problem is that Keller’s article is based largely on the opinions of two priests who left the priesthood and a sister who left her order, and his own speculation about what the celibate life must be like. That’s like writing a piece on marriage and speaking only to divorced men and women. “Yeah,” some of them might say, “married life stinks.”  

Maybe it would have been helpful to look at some actual data.  Sure, there is some loneliness in the priesthood--and there are problems in married life too. But the picture that Mr. Keller paints is ridiculous. In the latest survey on priests from the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate in 2009, 95 percent report they would “definitely or probably choose priesthood again,” up from 79 percent in 1970. Wow. Must be pretty lonely. And as for celibacy “surely” leading to pedophilia and cover-ups, that overlooks the fact that most sexual abuse happens in families, many cases are found in schools and sometimes even in macho places like the Penn State football program. The reasons for the sexual abuse crisis in the church are complex. As they are in families and in schools. But no one says that (a) marriage, (b) teaching or (c) football leads to abuse. Celibacy must be the main culprit in the church, say pundits, because it's so “weird.” 

His comment that celibacy deprives "priests of experience that would make them more competent to counsel the families they minister" also would imply that a married person should of course never see a single psychotherapist or an unmarried psychiatrist, since they would be incapable of counseling a married person; or that a prison chaplain would need to have been incarcerated to be "more competent."  It's a limited notion of professional counseling.  

Overall, the article is rife with lazy stereotypes and flat-out guessing. (“The apostles had wives.” Really? Peter did--but all of them? Guess I missed those mentions of Zebedee's daughters-in-law. And, not to put too fine a point on it but Jesus was celibate.) 

Ironically, Mr. Keller likes Pope Francis a great deal and speaks of his overall approach to the church approvingly. But he somehow missed the fact that Jorge Mario Bergoglio took a vow of chastity when he made his first vows as a Jesuit in 1960, and made a promise of celibacy at his ordination in 1969. In short, he has been living celibately longer than Mr. Keller has been away from the church. Does the Pope strike anyone as a sad and lonely guy?

All I ask is that the next time that any pundit writes on celibacy it might be a good idea to talk to some celibates. 

Show Comments (123)

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Julie McElmurry | 3/3/2014 - 2:32pm

I was fortunate to work alongside ministers of all stripes during 11 years as a campus minister. I realized the wisdom of celibate ministers when I saw the Catholic priest staying until late into the night hearing confessions on Monday nights. I saw that wisdom in the demands of his Sunday Mass Schedule (the third of the day began at 10:00pm), in the crazy times students liked having meetings (9:45pm weekly was the latest I recall) and simply in the emotional availability to be there when people needed him most.

In my married colleagues, I know that these demands on their schedules affected family life. At least two took entire semesters off to be with their families to repair the damage of being away from home and torn in so many directions. I "retired" from campus ministry shortly after getting married since I learned the hours and demands which gave me life as a single person working for the Church were not leaving much energy left at the end of the day to be totally there for my husband.

It is probably pretty fun to sit outside the church for 40 years, sipping coffee and typing away at what a misguided path celibacy is, but, by golly, when it was the middle of the night or late at night or early in the mornings, or a weekend, or a holiday, I know a lot of students, faculty and staff who were blessed by the availability of the celibate priest who could go there and be with them.

Richard Borowski | 3/1/2014 - 6:24pm

If it's a bad idea for non-celibates to write about celibacy, how can it be a good idea for men without wives, daughters, female colleagues or female bosses to write about the "special genius of women"?

Michael Tscheekar | 2/28/2014 - 12:26am

Some of the comments have raised hypothetical objections to married men being priests (or deacons?). Is it hard for a priest to manage parish life and family life? I think it is normal. It is life.

Tim O'Leary | 12/16/2013 - 1:46am

Here is an article discussing the problem of divorce in protestant churches, noting an LA Times survey that 20% of clergymen and 25% of clergywomen have been divorced at least once, and that 80% of the clergy think that ministry has negatively affected their marriages. The article notes that married clergy have unique stresses and there is this quote: "Those who are continually available and work tons of hours are perceived by their spouses as "not being there for them," and this can strain a marriage to the breaking point." Certainly no panacea.

Marie Rehbein | 12/16/2013 - 1:08pm

Do Protestant clergy have to have a zero percent divorce rate in order for them to be both married and pastors? Every job can have a negative effect on a marriage, while the income from it is what makes it possible to be married. It's unlikely that the demands on a pastor are greater than those on a policeman or a doctor.

Michael Barberi | 12/16/2013 - 4:52pm

Marie….great points.

Clearly, divorce for Protestant clergy or for anyone should be avoided if possible. However, for a host for reasons divorce is unavoidable and in many situations best for spouses and children. A divorced and remarried clergyman or clergywoman does not mean that their pastoral duties and responsibilities are less effective than celibate clergy. While we can fixate on the 20% divorce rate, but let's not neglect the 80% who are married and not divorced.

The most important issue that is being lost here is the fact that the Catholic Church accepts married Protestant Episcopal clergy into the Catholic priesthood. It would be interesting if these married priests, who have been practicing contraception for years and don't believe it to be intrinsically evil, will now practice natural family planning. For some reason, I doubt it.

Tim O'Leary | 12/16/2013 - 8:13pm

Michael and Marie - I think you are missing the point. There is a wealth of data (much of it linked to in the comments below) that having a married clergy is a mixed bag and no panacea to a vocation shortage (see especially the big drop in the Episcopal clergy in the last 5 years that I linked to below - their own report). Some have put the number of divorced clergy as high as 35%.

While I am not theologically opposed to a married clergy, I think it would come with its own new and possibly very disruptive set of problems. The big problems in the Early Middle Ages were nepotism and simony (and plenty of lust and greed) and these problems are already a problem among many Protestant clergy (esp. some charismatic televangelists). The initial effect of a mandatory celibacy rule was that it became for less attractive for clergy careerists and brought in a great age of reform.

I am happy to let the Magisterium take a new look at this but are you favoring marriage for Bishops and even a future pope? Even the Orthodox do not permit Bishops to be married. Why do you think they draw that line?

Marie Rehbein | 12/17/2013 - 8:57am

Nepotism and simony were problems due to the way wealth and power were available in the early Middle Ages. The Church's fix for that has become a Tradition in the Church when it really needn't have. It would be as though the Church decided to address overuse of the Internet by forbidding clergy from using that technology and ever after it became a Tradition that is debated by non-clergy; "I feel called to be a priest, but I don't know if I can give up being online...".

Michael Barberi | 12/16/2013 - 8:54pm

I did not miss the point you refer to, e.g., that a married priesthood is not a panacea for the priest shortage. However, it would help despite the fact that a married Catholic priesthood is not devoid of other problems.

I have no issue with a married clergy or voluntary celibacy, and I don't think that marriage or celibacy dictates the effectiveness or demise of a vowed priesthood.

As for whether a bishop or pope should be celibate, I have no opposition to such a rule but also recognize that most of the Apostles were married. Mandatory celibacy for priests was only a discipline in the Church in the second millennium after Christ.

However, my secondary point was that a married priesthood raises the issue of birth control, as a marriage issue. This issue often takes a back seat to any discussion about Episcopal married priests in the RCC. Nevertheless, it is relevant in the larger context of a married priesthood. For example, 30% of women have irregular menstrual cycles where NFP does not work. A married priest or the RCC does not want to deal with the financial reality of funding a large family. IMO, Episcopal married priests in the RCC largely ignore Humanae Vitae. This becomes a paradox.

Tim O'Leary | 12/17/2013 - 12:05am

Michael - it always comes back to contraception for you. It would seem you would redesign everything to get that approved. It colors all your "reform" arguments. But, there are millions of married laymen and women who accept the teaching of the Church on Humanae Vitae, so, why would married clergy not be among them? And there are many others who can understand the value of the teaching, even if they do not practice it. Many Protestants have converted because of it.

Michael Barberi | 12/17/2013 - 5:10pm

Tim - the issue under discussion was married priests inclusive of the impact of a married priesthood, et al. Birth control, as a marriage practice, does not deviate from the topic and neither do my arguments about contraception color my perspective. My perspective is based on scholarly education, expert mentoring and legitimate philosophical and theological arguments for the responsible reform of Humanae Vitae. My arguments regarding sexual ethics, in general, have historically covered every sexual ethical issue, not just contraception.

As for your rhetorical question, I never said that all married clergy do not believe in Humanae Vitae. Frankly, I do not know. However, since most Episcopal married priests do not believe there is anything immoral about responsible contraception when a marriage is open to procreation, it is not unreasonable to speculate that most Episcopal married priests who are ordained into the Catholic priesthood would continue with their birth control practices. If we can agree that very few Catholic or Protestant lay people practice natural family planning, then my speculation about the birth control practices of married priests is reasonable.

Honestly Tim, I don't want to get into another argument with you about sexual ethics, human experience, the truth, et al. Why don't we agree to disagree for I have explained my points as you have, and further discussion would not likely be productive but get us off track.

Tim O'Leary | 12/18/2013 - 7:33pm

The whole Protestant world taught that contraception was evil until the middle of the 20th century and they preached sexual continence and self-control as the only consistent Christian response to the Gospel. Since then, a good portion of them have blessed fornication, divorce, multiple marriages (serial polygamy), sodomy, sex change and even abortion, right up until birth. It took no new revelation to accomplish this, no new scripture. Yet all these items result in a demographic decline. So, it is no surprise that the influence and number of these Churches are rapidly diminishing. And it is great that the Catholic Church keeps its arms open to its prodigal brethren, magnanimously relaxing its normal discipline for those who are already married.

But, I can agree to disagree on the morality of contraception. But, why morph a discussion on celibacy all the way over to contraception. Can't there be a reasonable intermediate from total abstinence to periodic abstinence (a few days a month!) without necessitating an appeasing of an appetite with a pharmacological solution? What would we think of priests who not only forswore celibacy, but all sexual self-control?

Michael Barberi | 12/18/2013 - 8:07pm

Times change in particular our understanding of truth based on our growing knowledge of the world, what it means to be human, the sciences, scripture, theology, philosophy, anthropology, et al. That is how the Church were able to change certain teachings such as slavery, usury, freedom of religion, the torture of heretics, etc.

There is nothing wrong with natural family planning, nor responsible contraception provided the marriage is open to procreation. However, couples who practice contraception are not violating the virtue of chastity/temperance or forgoing self-control by embracing unbridled sexual intercourse. Many times one spouse is simply not in the mood and the other respects his/her wishes and controls whatever sexual appetite might exist. Many times one spouse would prefer more frequent sexual intercourse than the other and self-control is practiced often.

There is no evidence whatsoever that couples who practice natural family planning treat each other as loving subjects while couples who practice contraception have a utilitarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence.

I applaud priests who voluntarily embrace celibacy. My point is that those that want to be married and become a priest should be given that opportunity, just as the RCC has accepted into the priesthood Episcopal married priests. If married priests want to practice birth control, they should be permitted to do so as long as their marriage is open to procreation.

Tim, I think we need to cut this discussion short for now. God bless and Merry Christmas.

Bill Mazzella | 12/11/2013 - 10:36am

Married priests may not be the answer so much as more intense participation by all the faithful. Close the gap between clergy and laity by alternating presiders at the Eucharist. Place a bishop over one or two parishes and work on building a commuity. Presiders can have other employment as well. The sacralizing of the priesthood is the problem more than celibacy. Way too much concentration on the words of conscecration rather than the fact that the whole body of Christ meets at the Eucharist.

Michael Barberi | 12/11/2013 - 5:45pm


An excellent point. We need to eliminate clericalism and give a responsible voice to both theologians and the faithful.

Tom Wilson | 12/10/2013 - 11:02am

So what is Keller talking about here, marriage or sex? Anyone who's married knows that the two aren't the same. So let's talk about each individually:

Marriage: One of the falsehoods perpetuated in contemporary society is that marriage is designed to bring about happiness; that is, if you want to be happy, get married. Baloney. Nor does marriage guarantee that one will not be lonely; not being alone does not mean that one is not lonely. Many a spouse is lonely. And, of course, being married does not mean that one is satisfied sexually; indeed, sexual dissatisfaction and derivative acts are common reasons for divorce. If acts of sexual abuse are a result of not having sex, then marriage is hardly the cure; indeed, many couples will tell you that their sexual appetites are less satisfied since being married than before.

Sex: The fact that one has sex does not mean that one is not lonely. If having sex is the cure for the inclination to commit sexual abuse, then what Keller is really advocating for is sex without boundaries, regardless of marital status or vocation (see above, marriage does not equal sex). So once again, we have a progressive promoting th notion that unregulated sexual behavior is the answer to all of our problems.

Michael Barberi | 12/10/2013 - 4:34pm


I think you are both exaggerating the issue and missing the point about marriage and sex.

Marriage and marital sex does not ipso facto guarantee happiness. Nor does celibacy per se. Clearly, if one spouse does want sex especially during their young years of marriage, the other spouse will likely be unhappy and lonely because the sexual expression of love is important not only to procreation but to a healthy marriage. Few spouses voluntarily choose sexual abstinence for their entire married life.

Clearly, some older people may lose interest in sex for many reasons but this also does not mean unhappiness and loneliness for most of them.

Most marriages are happy, fruitful and virtuous but this does not mean that we are all perfect or do not suffer the ups and downs of married life. We are reminded that we are bound in marriage for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to death do us part.

Celibate priests can be as happy and secure (not lonely) as many married couples. Marriage and sex is not being put forth as a panacea for all of our problems.

The issue/question is this: should celibacy be mandatory for those who want to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood? Most priests today say they favor the ordination of married people into the priesthood. This does not mean that most priests today would get married and not choose celibacy. However, there are good reasons for allowing married people to become priests. A person, whether celibate or married, can be a faithful witness of a vowed life and conduct the duties and responsibilities of a priestly office. I see no evidence to the contrary.

I don't think anyone is saying that a married priesthood guarantees that sexual abuse would be nonexistent. Nor is anyone saying that celibacy is the cause of the sexual abuse of children among clergy. Clearly some priests have sexual affairs with women but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Happiness is not predicated on celibacy or marriage.

Tom Wilson | 12/10/2013 - 6:20pm

Michael -

My comment was in response to what Keller said in his NYT piece, and which Fr. Jim discusses in his post, that is, that celibacy is a cause of loneliness and of sexual abuse in the priesthood. The question of whether priests should marry is surely more complex and nuanced, as you mention, than Keller treats it. Pieces like Keller's are the sort that create movements, winning support of the simple-minded by talking about emotional issues and proposing simple solutions. The thought process is this: Priests are celibate, priests are involved in a sex abuse scandal, therefore, the Church should end celibacy of priests. And not only will the abuse be stemmed, but the priests won't be lonely anymore. A win-win.

Michael Barberi | 12/10/2013 - 8:50pm


I do believe and hope that married men who have the calling are allowed to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood. As for voluntary celibacy, many men who want to become priests will opt for it, but some may not and choose marriage.

Celibacy may involve some loneliness (e.g., the normal effects of voluntary sexual abstinence that is chosen for the Kingdom of God), but celibacy does not cause unhappiness and sexual abuse.

Michael Barberi | 12/9/2013 - 3:05pm

It is a good thing that annual number of priests are growing. However, note the following:

CARA’s new statistical look at the church shows the seminary-to-priesthood patterns and other shifts in American Catholic life:

1. Annual ordinations have inched back up to the 1995 level of 511 new priests, still far below the peak of 994 in 1965.
2. New ordinations won’t catch up to the thousands of retirements and deaths of ‘60s-era priests: the total number continues to slide from 58,632 priests in 1965 to 39,600 in 2013.
3. The number of parishes without a resident priest is still growing – up from 3,251 in 2,005 to 3,554 now.
A two-decade-long trend of parish consolidations and closings has led to fewer parishes where pastoral care is led by a deacon, religious sister or brother, or a layperson. Their number peaked in 2005 at 553 and now is down to 428.

Most of the increase in the number of priests worldwide are from Asia and Africa. I think we will be facing a priest shortage for some time.

Tim O'Leary | 12/10/2013 - 12:15am

It may well be that the recent growth in US vocations will lag the retirement rate for some time, as it does in the married Episcopal Church in the US. I guess one point I was making is that the Episcopal Church's married clergy and female clergy also fails to keep up with the retirement rate. In the report I linked to below, the male vocations that are occurring in the Episcopal Church are predominantly in the more conservative provinces (the south).

Overall, the vocation crisis is less urgent in the Mainline Protestant Churches because they are losing lay members at an even faster rate, buttressing up the clergy/laity ratio. See here

On the other hand, I agree the growth in vocations in Africa (+14%) and Asia (+13%) might be the biggest demographic news. The African Missions of our childhood may mean the opposite it meant then, where Europe and America rely on vocations from abroad.

Anne Chapman | 12/12/2013 - 2:57pm

The Episcopal church has no shortage of priests, and some dioceses have temporarily suspended applications to the seminary because they have too many candidates. Note that the Episcopal church does not limit the priesthood to celibate males.

All christian churches in the US are losing members - mainline protestant, evangelical protestant, Roman Catholic, Baptist, and also the Jewish religion. This generalized move away from institutional religion, especially among young adults, is causing near panic at times among all the "professionals" in religion who sternly denounce the "nones" and "spiritual but not religious". Marriages in the Catholic church have dropped dramatically in the last 20 years, and especially since 2000. Of course, that means that infant baptisms have also dropped. (CARA data: From 1995 to 2004 there was about one Catholic infant baptism for every four births in the U.S. This is how Catholicism remains a quarter of the U.S. population. Some leave before reaching 18 and some of these people come back later in life. Immigration also adds numbers. But after 2004 the pattern begins to shift with several years of more births (until the recession) and fewer Catholic infant baptisms." Moreover, in confirmation of this trend, "there were more First Communions celebrated nationally in 2011 than infants baptized.)

The Catholic church in the US is losing young adult women at increasing rates. They are choosing to leave a church that treats them as second-class citizens, and so they will not raise their children in the Catholic church. Many women who stay in the church "in spite of" are not encouraging their sons to become priests in a church that denies their daughters equal dignity to their sons.

You continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that the Catholic church in the US has lost literally tens of millions of members during the last 30 years. This has been true of Europe for even longer. Your ostrich attitude and wishful thinking don't change that reality. The reality is that the reason the Catholic church's numbers in the US have remained at ~23% of the population is because of the immigration from the south of millions of people who were born Catholic and so come to Catholic churches in the US (although the outflow of Latino Americans, especially the second and third generations, from the Catholic church has been increasing dramataically). In the US Catholic church today, almost half are Latino American and about 60% of those under 30 are Latino American and may be the future (but the numbers of Latino seminarians and priests is even smaller than in the anglo-saxon US population). In one sense, the Latino American Catholics are "saving" the US Catholic church (and their vibrancy is most welcome in so many sleepwalking parishes that doze their way through mass). However, the bump may have reached its peak - immigration to the US from the south (both legal and illegal) has slowed dramatically. And about 28% of American Latinos are now members of protestant churches, mostly evangelical, whose style of community and worship are dramatically different than the eurocentric model of liturgy imposed on all by Rome, and especially under Benedict.

Importing priests from the third world where they are so much more needed than in the west is a bad idea - the rich again exploiting the poor (look at the priest/parishoner ratio in Latin America for example and compare it to ours. As bad as it is in the US, it is far worse there). It is also likely that this source will dry up as the economies and educational/career opportunities increase in their own countries. Many third world "vocations' are encouraged by families because it ensures that their sons/daughters will be able to live at a certain level, have opportunities for education that the family cannot provide, will have the respect of their communities, and even the chance to move to Europe or the US.

Francis has captured the attention of all - the Latino outflow may slow because of his election. It is clear that he does not favor the sleep-encouraging euro liturgies so favored by his predecessor and won't impose those on cultures to whom they are very foreign, but will allow the local churches to have some influence on liturgy. His personal warmth is very much a reflection of his own Latin American culture. If you have never attended a Latin Catholic liturgy, or African or Haitian liturgy, I urge you to do so.

Many former Catholics are watching this pope with great interest and a few even with hope. They did not "fall away" from the Catholic church but walked away from it as a choice - for a whole variety of reasons. Many feel the church abandoned them, or that they were pushed out by the fundamentalist Catholics who swaggered around judging and condemning all who do not think exactly as they do, encouraged by the "leadership" who modeled that example far too often. Will this "leadership" begin to model Francis? Probably not. Their jobs are fairly safe. And so most of the tens of millions of American Catholics who have left during the last 30+ years will probably not be back, regardless of new evangelization efforts and saccharine Advent and Easter "Come Home" programs.

Tim O'Leary | 12/13/2013 - 1:29am

Anne - I'm not really surprised that you completely missed my main point. You think the Episcopal Church is bursting at the seams with vocations because they don't limit their clergy to celibate males???

Yet, they state in their own report (I provided a link in my comment just below yours - you obviously didn't read that before you came back with the ostrich comment) that they have had a 31% decline in ordinations just the last 6 years, that the average age of NEW ordinations has gone from early 30's to age 44! This is in spite of their affirmative action campaign to ordain women and gays? Wishful thinking would be too kind a word. But, they have a solution. If they lose lay members fast enough, their ratio of clergy to laity can still rise. They may end up a Church of only priests, the epitome of clericalism. That must be what you are experiencing. (I think from a previous post of yours that you now attend an Episcopal Church?).

Yes, I have been to Hispanic masses (and Vietnamese, and African...) and even Chinese masses in China. I consider it no setback that the US Catholic Church is becoming more Hispanic, as you seem to think I should. I would happily welcome poor Hispanic and Chinese and African and Indian converts to replace the rich white folks who leave. People who leave always have grievances. Jesus had a parable for this situation (the Great Banquet in Luke 14).

As to demographics and pesky facts, there are 1.2 Billion (that is with a B) Roman Catholics in the world today, up from 266 million (with an M) in 1900 (there were 10 million Catholics in the USA in 1900). There are now less Episcopalians (2 million) than Muslims in the USA. Guess how many Episcopalians there were in 1900, or Methodists, or Presbyterians? Yet all these denominations have followed your prescription for growth. They all have a benign view of contraception, abortion, homosexuality, liberal interpretation of scripture and doctrinal drift. These and other habits that are guaranteed to result in a demographic winter.

Tim O'Leary | 12/8/2013 - 10:28pm

There was a report on the Episcopal priesthood in 2012 ( which states that priestly ordinations have declined by 31% in the past 6 years. The % that retired in the same period was 43%. This is despite a much wider pool to draw from.

With respect to the surge in US ordinations of priests, I saw this short discussion on the WSJ over the weekend: It is with an author of a new (2013) book called “Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church,” by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White.

This is based on data before the election of Pope Francis, so I think we can be optimistic that the new pope will further increase enthusiasm for the Catholic priesthood.

Joseph Jaglowicz | 12/9/2013 - 7:27pm

Amazon's site for Hendershott and White's book tells us the following: "In the wake of the clergy abuse scandal of the last decade, many media commentators predicted the 'end' of the Catholic priesthood. Demands for an end to celibacy, coupled with calls for women’s ordination, dominated discussions on the effectiveness of the Catholic Church in America. Renewal argues that rather than a decline of the priesthood and a diminishing influence of the Catholic Church, we are living in a time of transformation and revitalization. The aging generation of progressives that continues to lobby Church leaders to change Catholic teachings on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and women's ordination is being replaced by younger men and women who are attracted to the Church because of the very timelessness of its teachings."

On the other hand, we have the following conclusion from Dean Hoge's "Mind the gap: the return of the lay-clerical divide" that appeared in COMMONWEAL MAGAZINE on November 19, 2007:

"When Hoge and Wenger examined surveys carried out in 1970, 1985, 1993, and 2001, they found that younger priests in both 1993 and 2001 were more likely than older priests to say that 'ordination confers on the priest a new status or permanent character which makes him essentially different from the laity.' Younger priests were also less likely to say that 'the idea that the priest as a man set apart is a barrier to the full realization of a true Christian community.' Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

"Today, the church in the United States faces a serious problem, and not simply because of demographics, the priest shortage, secularism, or the sexual-abuse crisis. There is a further disjunction. Laypeople are increasingly committed to an active role in the church while more and more of their priests prefer a limited role for them, coupled with a more cultic model of priesthood. These important cultural differences are the product of generational changes among both the laity and the clergy. Whereas the two groups seemed to converge in the 1960s and ’70s, they have diverged since the ’80s. As a result, there are sharp differences between young adult laypeople who expect the clergy to welcome their participation, and young priests who believe the responsibility for parish decisions is theirs.

"Laypeople in the post-Vatican II and millennial generations are going in one direction while 'John Paul II priests' are going in another. The full effect of this division is not yet felt or discernible, but that will change in coming years. In a decade or two, today’s older generation of priests and laypeople will be gone, leaving all the decisions to today’s younger priests and laity, precisely where the expectation gap is widest."

Hoge, professor of sociology at Catholic University of America before his death in 2008, was undoubtedly one of the most respected sociologists of religion in the U.S. and noted for his longitudinal studies (conducted with others) on trends in Catholic ordained ministry. Frankly, I do not see reality in Amazon's brief description of Hendershott and White's work.

To cite but one example: When the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, KY acquired a new pastor ca. 1984, the parish was reported to have had about 100 households. During this pastor's 14-year tenure, the parish was reported to have grown to some 2,000 households representing about 40 zip codes in Kentucky and Indiana. Shortly before introduction of the current liturgical texts, I stopped by the cathedral's noon mass one Sunday to observe attendance. I was not surprised: Attendance had noticeably dwindled. What had previously been a vibrant atmosphere was anything but. I later learned that my former cathedral parish of many years was no longer self-sustaining, thus requiring financial subsidy from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, now the new USCCB president.

Let's not forget, too, recent Pew and other survey findings showing a U.S. Catholic Church facing potential, if not (for now) actual, decline in numbers. But for Hispanic/Latino immigration, the church would be shrinking in size, and we know that members of this traditionally strong Catholic base are not necessarily remaining within the Catholic fold. They are joining other Christian communities or leaving organized religion altogether. It would not seem unreasonable to predict that as these people increasingly assimilate into mainstream American culture, they and their children and grandchildren are not necessarily going to remain within, or return to, the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI was reported to have expressed his wish for a "smaller" church. As one theologian noted in a blog thread a few years ago, the concomitant part of "smaller" is "purer". (Which, of course, raises the question, Purer what?)

With all due respect to the two authors, I don't find their expressions of optimism credible since too much statistical and anecdotal evidence today suggests the contrary.

Michael Barberi | 12/7/2013 - 8:25pm

I think a good litmus test for the viability of a married priesthood in the Catholic Church is the experience of non-Catholic Christian clergy. Another is the experience of the married Protestant clergy that were permitted entranced into the Catholic priesthood. I would be interested if the Protestant clergy who are now Catholic married priests, those who have been practicing contraception for years, will now switch to natural family planning especially those who have spouses with irregular menstrual cycles where NFP does not work. For some reason, I doubt we will ever find out the answer to this question.

I don't think the satisfaction rate among Catholic priests is the issue or problem. Most polls attest to a significant percent of them being very satisfied with their profession. The issue is their opinions, young and old, about whether they favor voluntary celibacy and marriage. A significant majority of them favor a married priesthood, which does not mean that celibacy would not be chosen by many or most current or future priests. Nevertheless, favoring it is one thing, and the reality of it is another. I think that celibacy is a gift from God given to the very few, and it is a nobel sacrifice that should be encouraged. However, there is no reason to believe that a married priest could not be equally effective witnesses of a vowed life, inclusive of the duties and responsibilities of their office, as celibate priests.

Time will tell on this topic.

Tim O'Leary | 12/7/2013 - 11:47am

There was a report or two last year showing that a surge in U.S. priestly vocations in recent years (see here and here The rise in the US was in stark contrast to Europe. It seems, a fifth of new US priests (CARA data) had attended World Youth days before they entered the seminary. So, maybe, the older satisfaction poll data of priests is just that - out of date.

In any case, I think a priestly life is still a sacrificial gift of a life for the kingdom and should be seen as that, for anyone who is willing to answer the call.

Jay Gage | 12/6/2013 - 8:45pm

The issue of celibacy seems more complex than simply allowing priests to marry. The vow of poverty couldn't be kept either. And who will support this new family--with 6+ children per priest since the Church doesn't condone birth control? The average cost of raising a child is $241,000 in America. (Hint: if half of the priests in the US suddenly had 5 children, it would cost the church $200 billion to raise them, that's Billion with a capital "B").

And what about college? Pensions for wives widowed?

Let's not forget the complications of divorce. Marriage is a two-way street, the priest can't just say "My way or the highway."

Not to mention that raising a family is a lot of work! I can't imagine adding the responsibility of shepherding souls. Talk about stressed out. NO ONE would want to become a priest!

No, I think we're more likely to see women ordained to the priesthood, which will happen eventually--provided the Lord doesn't return first.

James Jenkins | 12/8/2013 - 10:55am

If the Catholic Church can afford the literally $billions to pay for their phalanx of lawyers and public relations consultants they hired in response to priests raping and sodomizing children, then the Catholic Church can afford to support a married clergy and their families.

How do you think Episcopalians are able to financially support - not without struggle for sure, but still very comfortably - their married priesthood? How do they manage "raising" their families? Do they have a gene we Catholics don't?

While you're waiting for the Parousia Jay, think about this: In every culture and society around the world, when women are educated, their economic power and status for the family increases, all indices of health and well-being improve for her and her family, domestic violence in the family decreases, her children have better health and economic outcomes, AND fertility rates in these cultures drop precipitously . To me, that looks like a win-win-win-win-win-WIN!

Jay Gage | 12/8/2013 - 5:03pm


I’m not sure why you brought up the advancement of women as if it was a counterpoint to something I said. I’m all for it. I also support ordaining women.

As for the rest, respectfully, I have to disagree. The Church has paid an estimated 2.2 billion on the sex scandal in the U.S., not even 1% of the potential cost of children. That in no way translates into the ability to shoulder the long-term financial responsibility of raising families. Incidentally, correlating celibacy to sex abuse is erroneous. Sex abuse is more prevalent among teachers than priests, so it’s not as if the option to marry is some kind of inoculation.

And comparing Protestant clerics and their families to Catholic priests misses the point entirely. Firstly, Episcopalians practice birth control so their families are generally small. Secondly, the responsibilities of parenthood are incontrovertible. Suggesting that priests could have big families without a deleterious effect on their job efficiency or health is wishful thinking. Thirdly, the financial priorities of Protestant Churches reflect the familial responsibilities of their clerics. Many churches pay the bills and the pastor and that’s it—no outreach, no meals for the poor, nothing. That’s not a slight, it’s just the reality of operating a church with different financial obligations and limited funds.

Permitting marriage in the priesthood isn’t a panacea. A more productive approach might be to ask what you hope to achieve by letting priest marry and then seriously consider whether marriage is really the solution.

Anne Chapman | 12/12/2013 - 12:06pm

Are Catholic priests less competent than clergy of other christian denominations and other faiths? Protestant ministers, Episcopal priests, Orthodox priests, Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, even some sects of Buddhist monks are permitted to marry and are able to combine the roles of marriage and family and religious leadership. Within the Catholic church, the priests of the Eastern Rite are permitted to marry - it is only western (Roman) rite priests who face mandatory celibacy. Is it true that the clergy of all but the Roman Catholic church are capable enough human beings to be effective clergy and also be husbands/wives/fathers/mothers? Good grief, what is wrong with the men becoming Catholic priests then - are they really such a weak bunch?

However, the church would truly have to face squarely several difficult issues - such as divorce, and the issue of contraception. As noted, western Catholics no longer have more children on average than the general populations (with the exception of Latino Catholics in the US but their birth rate declines with the second and third generation). Many of the younger, neo-orthodox priests would embrace NFP (most likely very publicly to brag about how much more "fulfilling" it is not to "use" one's spouse "lustfully"), but since most of them favor mandatory celibacy they might opt to not marry anyway.

I don't know where you are getting your information about Protestant churches. It is true that their congregations give much more per family than Catholics (and that is well documented) - perhaps because they do have to support a priest or minister and families. But they are also very involved with outreach - at least the Protestant churches, and especially Episcopal and Methodist, churches that I am familiar with. In the large suburban area where I live, the churches and Jewish temples and at least one mosque have their own in-house outreach, but also a very well organized, huge ecumenical effort that provides outreach - running homeless shelters, food pantries, free medical clinics etc. The services provided are worth millions and millions. (This outreach does not include Catholic Charities nor the Jewish Appeal, but is a totally independent ecumenical effort).They work together, and each congregation takes turns providing meals, serving support etc. in the shelters, pack and deliver good, provide rides to hospitals, help people fill out employment applications and other practical support. Many congregations of all denominations also conduct active prison ministries. They all run clothing drives, weekly food collections, Christmas toy drives, Thanksiving drives, etc. Please don't rely on one small group of Catholic bloggers and websites for your information. Their biases very often exclude reality.

Permitting priests to marry would increase the numbers of priests. Very likely it would also increase the quality of the priesthood overall since there would be a much larger applicant pool. There are many fine celibates, but, by definition, they have no lived understanding of marriage and family. Fr. Martin does not believe that non-celibates can understand and judge celibates. Most Catholics who are married believe the same thing about celibate priests.

Jay Gage | 12/12/2013 - 11:03pm

Hi Anne,

You can’t feed the poor with good intentions, it costs money. And so will supporting the families of a couple hundred thousand priests. That’s all I’m saying. And I guarantee the Vatican is not overlooking those fiscal realities. As noted, the U.S. Catholic Church has closed or merged 1,200 parishes in the last ten years and 8 dioceses have gone bankrupt.

And I don’t think it is accurate to say that celibate priests “by definition, …have no lived understanding of marriage and family.” As Fr. Martin noted, this is a limited understanding of professional counseling. Marriage issues aren’t about “the marriage,” they are about the individuals in the marriage—their selfishness, anger, lack of emotional availability, whatever. Issues that are universal to the human condition, and well within the wheelhouse of a priest.

“The church” is the Body of Christ. It’s us. If there’s a problem with “the church” it isn’t just the priests or hierarchy. The problem is with us, and having married priests isn’t going to “fix” us.

Anne Chapman | 12/13/2013 - 5:16pm

No, you can't feed the poor or a priest and his/her family with good intentions. But that comment fails to address the point - you seemed at one time to be assuming that Catholic priests cannot be both good priests and good husbands/fathers. Then you mention the cost. Yes, the cost is real.

I mentioned that somehow the clergy of just about every other religion in the world, including Eastern Rite Catholics, manage to be both clergy and spouses and parents, most of them quite successfully. You have not commented on that reality. Admitting married men (for a start) would solve the "priest shortage" almost overnight, if the church would invite back the thousands of priests who have left to marry during the last 40+ years. That would mean that many parishes could be reopened, priests would have smaller congregations and maybe even have a slight chance at being a pastor instead of an administrator and sacrament dispenser.. I also mentioned that the people of other religions give more to their churches than do Catholics - a lot more. Enough to support ministers/priests and families AND the parish AND outreach, which you seemed to believe is non-existent in other denominations which is not true.

So why are those in other religions willing to give so much more than Catholics? They are willing to provide chadequate support to their clergy and staff and still do God's work in the world through outreach. Why are Catholics less willing to do this? Maybe because they assume it's not needed because the priests do not have families and live in church-paid housing, etc? Do you doubt that Catholics would step up to the plate and contribute more in order to have the blessing of married priests?

And no matter what you believe and Fr. Jim (an unmarried man) believe, no celibate priest has lived experience of marriage. They are not married! They are outside observers, academic analysts. But they have never personally experienced the depths of the pain and emotion that some couples experience. It's all a head exercise for them.

Of course it's about "individuals" but it is also about the complex relationship between two individuals, and some very intimate problems possibly that many would simply be unwilling to share with someone who has no lived knowledge or experience of these kinds of challenges, but only an academic understanding. I would never go to any counselor - secular or religious - who was not married, and a parent for at least 20 years.

And, finally, what is the "problem" with "us" the church that has anything to do with the issues under discussion?

Jay Gage | 12/13/2013 - 9:48pm

Merry Christmas

Tom Wilson | 12/13/2013 - 11:54am

Marriage is also in great part about God, an important fact that many couples tend to forget and on which priests are quite qualified to speak.

James Jenkins | 12/11/2013 - 1:05pm

@ Jay Gage: Really? I don't know about you, but in my world $2.2 billion would buy an awful lot of diapers; college educations for children, etc. for the families of a married clergy, at least in my neighborhood.

I think YOU, Jay, are missing the point: A married clergy works REALLY well on average for most if not all Christian communities. If you bothered to check the US Census data recently, Catholic women use contraception at the same rates as every other sector of the population. I've been active in the baptism ministry at my parish for decades, I can't recall ONE Catholic family with more than two children.

Yes, ["the responsibilities of parenthood are incontrovertible."] But, it is a MYTH that families have a "deleterious effect" on the ministry of clerics. Given the critical health outcomes and actuarial data, Catholic priests would certainly benefit from having a woman in their lives. [i.e., on average when men are situated in a marriage or family they live longer and have better health outcomes - women tend to take care of their men!]

To have the "financial priorities" of priests "reflect [their prospective] familial responsibilities" is exactly the point. Most Catholics I believe would welcome a married priesthood because there are obvious humanizing effects for the priests - not the least of which is that they would think twice before sexually abusing or exploiting children if they had a wife and children in their own homes. [Being situated in a family or community makes it less likely that men will act sociopathically because it provides boundaries and limits - something that the narcissistic celibate clerical culture does not.]

No one thinks, no one is proposing, that marriage is a "panacea" for all what is wrong with the Catholic priesthood - that is a straw man argument you are constructing, Jay.

But, ordaining married men and women would go a long way toward pulling the Catholic priesthood back from over the cliff of hopeless alienation and dangerous irrelevancy into which priests and the hierarchy have taken the Catholic priesthood - jeopardizing the very survival of the Catholic Church in this century .

Jay Gage | 12/12/2013 - 8:37pm

Hi James,

Here’s the thing: Yes, the Catholic Church has spent 2.2 billion dollars on the sex scandal, BUT those expenditures have resulted in the closing or merging of 1,200 parishes in the last ten years, reduction of parish support services, and 8 US dioceses going bankrupt. It does not mean the Church can throw caution to the wind and take on 100 times the financial burden. At issue isn’t how many diapers the Church could have bought with $2.2 billion spent on legal fees and settlements. The question is how much money is available for future spending, and there are not hundreds of billions of dollars lying around.

Your argument that priests would think twice about abusing kids if they had children of their own is just not true—although we all wish it were. A lot of abuse (like 80%) is perpetrated in the home by fathers, uncles, grandfathers, older siblings etc. Sex abuse is not directly correlated to celibacy. Period. Marriage won’t make it go away. I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s the reality.

Of course clerics can marry, but there is a cost. And it’s prudent to count the cost. Families take money, energy, dedication, a huge commitment of time—ask your priest if he thinks he has a lot of those resources to spare. And the married clergy of Protestants are just as likely to divorce as their parishioners. Obviously, this presents a problem for the Church.

Also, marriage won’t only draw desirable applicants to the priesthood. It will also draw people looking for a steady paycheck.

And talk to the children of Protestant ministers (they call themselves PKs). It’s not an easy adolescence to navigate.

So, yes, priests can get married, but it’s not all a box of chocolates. Actually, there are more issues than can be debated here. I’m just suggesting we pump the brakes and count the cost. Or at least recognize that the Church has legitimate reasons for being hesitant.

James Jenkins | 12/13/2013 - 12:56am

@ Jay Gage: At least according to the USCCB, the money the hierarchs spent on the their attempts to contain the priest sex abuse and exploitation scandal cannot be linked to the "closing or merging of 1,200 parishes in the last ten years." Most of those decisions to close parishes, "limit parish support services" are part of a historic cultural and sociological trends over the last forty years, and are rooted - according to the hierarchs - in demographic shifts in the population and the general rapid decline in affiliation with the Catholic Church.

Bankruptcy was NOT caused by awards to survivors. As advised by their legal and financial counsel, dioceses chose bankruptcy "protection" as a method by which the diocese could shield its assets from being taken in court settlements when the diocese's legal exposure was too great. It is what any corporation would do when it is guilty, liable and under assault - the Catholic Church, Inc. is no exception.

When I was on the SF review board, now Cardinal Levada assured us that when it came to the costs of the abuse scandal the archdiocese was "insured against damages" and archdiocesan ministries "would not be affected financially." I also know that insurance companies demanded extensive "risk-reduction programs" be implemented by the archdiocese in order to limit its legal liabilities.

Jay, you have swallowed the hierarchs' twisted logic and argumentation which uses the fact that indeed most child abuse in general occurs with family groups. BUT, you can't just dismiss the fact that you are dealing with a male celibate population that abuses and exploits children and vulnerable adults at FAR GREATER RATES than the rest of the population where the perpetrator is from outside the family. [P.N. Parkinson has written extensively about this very factor in his studies comparing sexual abuse of children in Catholic and Anglican communities in Australia.]

You assert that sexual abuse of children is not directly correlated to priestly celibacy. That is a whopping assertion. I'd like to see that correlational study. To my knowledge I do not believe that such a scientific correlational study has ever been conducted by independent researchers. [The infamous "John Jay Study" was not a correlational study - the reason it has never been published by an professional journal is because the peer review committee would laugh it right out of the room.]

No one is saying that celibacy is the "cause" of sexual abuse in Catholic priests. Nor is anyone saying that priests marrying will make it [sexual abuse of children] go away.

I would contend that celibacy is one of the main support pillars for the clerical subculture in the Catholic Church - which is the real guilty culprit in the child abuse and exploitation scandal in the church. If celibacy was not mandatory for ordination, I'm saying that it would go a long way to dismantling the present Catholic clerical culture, and its corrosive political hegemony over the rest of the church.

What's wrong with a paycheck? It would be a perfectly good control mechanism on the outrageous behavior of narcissistic priests. Besides, there are thousands of men and women who would gladly trade their lives in a office cubical for the challenges of ministry - if they could also support and educate their families.

My wife and I have good friends who happen to be an Episcopal priest and a classroom teacher here in California, living and ministering in the same church for now over twenty-five years. They've raised their two boys who have both now graduated from university. The oldest boy after almost two years teaching in a South African township has entered seminary training at Virginia Theological Seminary and will follow his father into the priesthood. The other son is a fire jumper with the California Forestry Department. Both doing fine - not shabby at all. Seemed to have "navigated" their adolescence with the same ups and downs as most of us.

Curious that you get the meaning of Forrest Gump's famous line about a "box of chocolates" turned around. Gump was trying to tell us that life is excitingly unpredictable, not a prized box of goodies to be sought after or protected and guarded. ["Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."]

Perhaps the better, more apt quote from Forrest Gump as it applies to Catholics deciding what to do with celibacy: "Stupid is as stupid does."

Jay Gage | 12/13/2013 - 5:40pm


Buddy, take a deep breath and relax. You’re getting all worked up over this. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in life is the freedom to change your mind when you’re wrong. And it’s Christmas. You should give yourself that gift RIGHT NOW. Go ahead, open it.

I’m just messing with you. Relax.

It’s pretty obvious that this is an emotional subject for you. I get it. But be honest, your righteous indignation is keeping you from seeing things objectively. You are lashing out as if every fact that goes against your privately held beliefs is a personal attack, and your responses are personal, not logical. At this point I could say “Mary had a little lamb,” and you’d scream "It was a goat, Moron!"

I’m sure you’re aware of confirmation bias. We all do it. It’s so hardwired that we can end up seeing what we believe—as opposed to the common sense of “seeing is believing.” So the joke I made earlier is really quite true. If you are not open to changing what you believe, then you will always see blindly, projecting into the world your preconceived notions of the way you believe things should be. This is at the heart of the Christian message. It is why Jesus said, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” You may know that in Greek the word for repent is metanoeo, which means “to change your mind.”

I’m certainly not suggesting you change your mind to align with me. Forget everything you THINK I’ve said or what you THINK I stand for. I am irrelevant to this discussion. You’re getting sidetracked by fixating on me. Consider your own confirmation bias instead, and then ask yourself: Why hasn’t the Church allowed priests to marry yet?

James Jenkins | 12/14/2013 - 3:26pm

[You (Jay Gage) are messing with me (Jim Jenkins)]? Really? Nice try, Jay, but this isn’t the first time I’ve ever dealt with someone trying to squirm away and deflect from the implications of their own words. If you don’t really believe these things, then why did you write them?

I don’t apologize one bit for this being for me an [“emotional subject”]. Your condescension may be fetching for some, but it’s really transparent for me. My breathing is baseline, thank-you very much. Bringing up “confirmation bias” is a nice debating ploy, but your bigger problem is that you have stated things that are not supported by the written scientific record.

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, told us: “The twin daughters of Hope are Anger and Courage.”

My passion comes from the hopes I have for all the survivors who have yet to come forward with their stories of assault and survival. You may mock that, but mistruths and ignorance must be challenged for the sake of the survivors – no matter how glibly and/or reasonably stated.

All right, [“Why hasn’t the Church allowed priests to marry yet?”] That’s a big question requiring quite a bit of historical deconstruction. A.W. Richard Sipe has devoted most of his career to answering those questions – I suggest you have found your holiday reading assignment.

However, my own professional and clinical experience with priests, especially hierarchs, has taught me that there is a primitive fear and loathing for “the feminine” within the clerical caste of the Catholic Church. Some of it is indoctrination; some of it is intrinsic to the personalities of the men who are attracted to the priesthood.

So I would recommend Jay that you save your pleas of “metanoeo” for your buddies in the hierarchy. For too long they have been dangerously alienated and hopelessly irrelevant to the lives of increasing numbers of Catholics and Christians.

It’s time folks like me and you help them in from the cold. Think of it as a gospel Christmas gift to the Church.

Jay Gage | 12/15/2013 - 6:49am

Are you listening to yourself? “You (Jay Gage) are messing with me (Jim Jenkins)]? Really? Nice try…" Since you're handing out reading assignments, I have one for you: Proverbs 16:18.

As for the points I've raised, I stand by them. Here they are, for your review:
1. Priests’ families will cost money, a lot of money, and that money has to come from somewhere.
a. And your assertion that having spent some money in the past is proof of the ability to spend much more money in the future is a logical error.
2. Married priests would have to apportion their energies differently than celibate priests.
3. Sex abuse isn’t about a man not having the opportunity to marry or have sex at home. Consult any professional you like, they will absolutely confirm this.
4. Before we propose marriage as a solution, we should define what problems we are hoping to address.
5. Whatever we hope to address, giving priests the option to marry isn’t going to magically fix everything people feel is wrong with the Church. The Church consists of people, the Body of Christ, and as such it will always be imperfect in this life (i.e. there will always be problems, and marriage can’t solve them all).
6. Marriage in the priesthood will raise new problems that the Church has to consider. Among these are divorce, contraception, a new discernment of men who may unintentionally confuse the security of a paycheck for a true calling, pensions for widows, and the difficulty of priests raising a family under the microscope of their congregation.
7. When people become entrenched in their views, confirmation bias makes it extremely difficult for them to see things in any other way than the way they wish to see them. This isn’t a “debating ploy,” it’s a fact backed by much research.

These are observations, not opinions, and they merit consideration. If you think the Church is going to plow on without considering them, then, well, I guess you'll continue to be frustrated about why priests aren't given the option of marriage because--news flash--your personal opinions, experience, and anecdotes do not constitute universal truths.

James Jenkins | 12/17/2013 - 10:57am

@ Jay Gage: Your argument is on thin ice with all these weasel words. But, if that is what you need to get you through your day: Knock yourself out.

Your principle argument is that if [priests had families it would cost a lot of money]. True, but no more than what it has cost to fund and underwrite the $billions that the hierarchs have spent for slick legal eagles, hush money, public relations consultants, court ordered settlements, and on, and on. [To say nothing of the mountains of money they spend on themselves like the bishop of bling in Germany, on their very comfortable life-style in general, and all those limos that Papa Francesco finds so assaultive of the simple life

Whether your willing to admit it or not, other Christian denominations have demonstrated for decades and centuries that a married clergy works at least as well as the celibate kind.

Your asserting that I propose [marriage is the solution] to all Catholic "problems" is a straw man argument. I'm never said that. I do believe that if you ordain married men and women we would have a much bigger and better pool of priestly ministers to serve the church.

For me, it's not either married or unmarried clergy. For me, it is the PEOPLE getting to chose from among themselves the men and women they want to minister to them and their families and friends.

BTW considering your penchant for "entrenched views" some advice: My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, often would opine: "When you stick your head in the ground like an ostrich, remember which part of your anatomy is most exposed."

Marie Rehbein | 12/11/2013 - 11:50am

You might want to know that many Protestant pastors' wives have income producing jobs outside of their churches. However, I agree that relying on NFP would probably show that it is not appropriate for every couple. Think, though, if RC priests had typically been married, the conclusion drawn by the pope of the day that contraception is evil akin to abortion likely would not have happened.

Anne Chapman | 12/12/2013 - 11:42am

It would be interesting to know the numbers.

Of the male Episcopal priests I know, some wives work outside the home, and some do not. The husbands of married female Episcopal priests usually do work outside the home.But, that is not a bad thing - their lives reflect the reality of the families in their congregations. They understand the hard decisions that must be made, the juggling.

How many of the priests ordained by Rome from protestant denominations are/were young enough to worry about contraception? My former Catholic parish had a married priest (former Episcopal) for about a decade before he retired. By the time he became a Catholic he was a grandfather. He was also very popular as a family resources - with three adult children, he had first hand personal knowledge of the pain of one child's divorce; as a grandfather he was his daughter's and grandson's primary advocate fighting the state for educational and other support benefits for the grandson who had severe disabilities. He had sat up late at night waiting for late teen-agers, worried sick. He had lived the life of his parishoners, and so they sought him out instead of one of the celibate priests.

Michael Barberi | 12/5/2013 - 5:46pm

I do not have access to the 2009 study from the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate. However, from the 2002 LA Times Poll of Priests, the following is important.

1. 69% of all priests, and 61% of younger priests (those who were ordained less than 21 years) favor the ordination of married priests. This indirectly means allowing celibacy to be voluntary.

2. 36% of all priests (regardless whether they favor or not the ordination of married priests) believe that the most compelling reason for allowing the ordination of married priests was: to help reduce the shortage of priests….and 30% of all priests said the second most compelling reason was: it would make the priesthood more representative of the laity. Only 15% of all priests believed the third compelling reason for the ordination of married priests was: it would help priests understand married and family life better.

3. Finally, 38% of all priests and 34% of younger priests believe that the Church will allow the ordination of married priests in less than 20 years.

Stanley Kopacz | 12/5/2013 - 12:07pm

Celibacy, freely chosen and adhered to in an overpopulated world is a good thing. Being mandated is not good. The ordained should be able to be celibate or married. The rest of us should be able to be celibate or married. Both modes of living have their advantages and disadvantages, whether in or out of clergy.

Tim O'Leary | 12/4/2013 - 10:06pm

Oh my gosh! The slavery discussion over at has metastasized into the celibate discussion. And the Mortara affair has reappeared here, although it has nothing to do with slavery (though Fr. Mortara did stay a priest for his whole life, so I guess he might have been a happy celibate).

Fr. Martin's main critique of Keller is not that he listened to 3 ex-religious but that he only listened to them (and didn't bother to ask the opinion of committed religious) to make a judgment on celibates.

Jim McCrea's list leaves out all the antislavery papal parts, as befits his sense of fairness. For a more balanced review of Noonan's book, see here: For an article on how the papacy fought slavery, see the non-Catholic historian Rodney Stark and get his book "For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery" at

Jim McCrea | 12/4/2013 - 3:10pm

Mario, you said: "Yes, some priests were sinful in this regard and did not follow Church teaching." Talk about downplaying history!

(Source for the following is John T. Noonan, Jr.'s A CHURCH THAT CAN AND CANNOT CHANGE: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching)

Nicholas V granted the king of Portugal in 1452 the right, inter alia, "to make war on Saracens, pagans, and infidels; to occupy their dominions; and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery." In 1455, Nicholas V "issued the bull 'Romanus pontifex' confirming the first bull..." (p. 62).

Popes Calixtus III (1456), Sixtus IV (1481), Leo X (1514), and Alexander VI (1493) issued bulls in the same vein as noted above (p. 65). The bulls issued from 1452 to 1514 "show that slaving was an enterprise requiring no special scrutiny. Nicholas V and his successors approved the enslavement of whole peoples...without setting conditions on the right to enslave" (pp. 66-67).

Pius V received "558 [Muslim] slaves after the naval victory of Lepanto" in 1571. "Galley slaves [were] obtained from the knights of Malta by Urban VIII in 1629 and by Innocent X in 1645" (p. 78).

"In 'Sublimis Deus', Paul III denounced the enslavement of Indians. He did not denounce enslavement at home [i.e., "the papal states"]. In 1548,...he declared that, 'from a multitude of slaves, inheritances are augmented, agriculture better cultivated, and cities increased.'...[T]he pope decreed that slaves fleeing to the Capitol and there, according to custom claiming freedom, were not freed and were 'to be returned to their masters in slavery and, if it is seen appropriate, punished as fugitives.' The decree, the pope added, included those slaves who had become Christians after their enslavement and slaves born to Christian slaves" (p. 79).+ "The catechism based on the decrees of the Council of Trent dealt with slaves under the commandment against theft [as well as] the commandment against coveting a neighbor's goods" (p. 79).+ "By mid-eighteenth century, the moral issues arising from slavery aroused even less attention among those [casuists] working in the main tradition" (p. 85).

"In 1814, two Irish Dominicans [informed Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore] that the [Jesuit and Sulpician] clerical slaveholders of Maryland were 'stumbling blocks in the way of their Quaker brethren [and others who had started to limit slavery].' The Dominicans carried their complaint to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, then in charge of affairs in the United States. The congregation did nothing" (p. 92).

"Slavery continued to exist in the Papal States into the early nineteenth century. From 1600 to 1800 a total of two-thousand slaves, almost all Moslem, manned the galleys of the pope's navy. As late as 1800-1807 in the troubled papacy of...Pius VII, four privately owned slaves and eleven slaves of the state were registered in Rome at the Casa dei Catecumi" (p. 102).

(Source for the following is Thomas Bokenkotter's A CONCISE HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH)

As recently as June 20, 1866, the Holy Office had upheld the slave trade as moral. The justification was based both on philosophy (natural law) and on revelation (divine law). Various quotations from Scripture were cited in support of this position...The Fathers of the Church and local church councils laws, Popes, and theologians were cited in the attempt to show that the approval of slavery was part of an unbroken, universal tradition" (pp. 487-488).

Bill Mazzella | 12/4/2013 - 2:12pm

No questions a lot of emotions were stirred by Keller and the response of Jim Martin. Keller seems like he might be the lonely one as he fights his way back to his true country.It seems that too many of us pop off at Martin just because he is a member of the clergy. Which is unfair. Martin never said that there were not problems with some celibates. His point as I read it is that you cannot lump everyone in one basket. Especially, if you have never lived the celibate life. As far as the subject of the hierarchy and reform we might refrain from total condemnation as we might from total acceptance. Constructive criticism is mandatory because of the paucity of it in past years. Mainly because people were killed and tortured if they disagreed. At the same time to lump everyone under one umbrella is quite unfair. Especially since Jim has done nothing but send Good News our way in the proclamation of the gospel. We are a total church. As Paul the Apostle admonishes we should build each other up as one body.

Romans Chapter 12;10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Anne Murphy | 12/4/2013 - 7:22pm

Perhaps this very lively thread might suggest to the editors of America that another "special issue"--on celibacy and the priesthood--belongs on the boards for 2014?