Is it time to reconsider priestly celibacy?

As sexual abuse by clergy has come to light and made headlines in recent weeks, the question of priestly celibacy has been debated by people in and out of the Catholic Church. Is asking a priest to remain chaste and celibate the problem?

“I’m having a really hard time with the scandal that the Church is dealing with at this time and I know other people are, also. My observation is that there are other Christian denominations where yes, these kinds of things do happen, however, it is not as rampant as it does occur in the Catholic Church. Is it maybe time that we reevaluate the role of married versus non-married clergy? … Because it seems that a married priest would be less likely to be part of this … problem,” asked Beth.

“There’s plenty of celibates who have lived their vows faithfully, there’s plenty of people who have answered the call to imitate Jesus—Jesus was not married. And as you say, Paul encouraged us and of course Jesus himself speaks about this as a legitimate charism, as a calling that some have; you can see this in Matthew 19, for example,” responded Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM on Relevant Radio.

“We have married clergy, we’ve always had married clergy in the Catholic Church. In the … Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, in many places married men are ordained to the priesthood. In the Western Church, now we have several hundred men who were ordained when they were married, most of them are converts to the Faith from other Christian denominations. And we have deacons who were ordained as married men. So the question of if there should be more married men ordained is a question that the Church can address based on what God is calling us to in a particular time,” explained Msgr. Swetland.

“So that’s an open question, but to link it at all to sexual abuse is highly problematic. First, quite frankly, there are problems of sexual abuse by married men as we can [see] by looking at any police blotter. Second, the men who have violated their vows and done abusive things, I don’t see how marrying would cure that. That’s not the issue; the issue is a misuse of their power, a disordered inclination,” said Msgr. Swetland. “To have sex with someone who is underage is a gross violation of Christian morality and priestly vows on so many different levels that I think it’s mixing apples and oranges to make that suggestion that somehow if only these priests could marry that would cure that. No, people who want to have sexual relations with underage people, that’s a disorder that those people shouldn’t be married, either!”

“Thank you very much, Father, and thank you for comforting us during these difficult time. I look forward to your show every day and this is what I’m holding onto to get through this period,” said Beth.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.