Did Pope Francis Really Call for Married Men to be Ordained as Catholic Priests?
In a wide-ranging interview with a German newspaper, Pope Francis was asked about ordaining married men. He said what he has said in the past. He reaffirmed the gift of consecrated celibacy and does not favor making it optional.
Francis also affirmed the possibility of ordaining viri probati, a Latin phrase for older, proven married men. They would serve in limited pastoral situations like “isolated communities.” In the Catholic Church, deacons are considered ordained members of the clergy, and most are married. It is likely that any viri probati consideration for ordination to the priesthood would be chosen from among them.
As always, much of the world’s press treated the Pope’s remark as if he were proposing a radical break with Church teaching.
The Catholic Church’s Married Priests
Of course Francis wasn’t doing that. For one thing, the Catholic Church already has married priests.
First, we have a growing body of married men who were ministers in other Christian communities who entered the Catholic Church. The Church dispensed them of the discipline of celibacy.
The most visible community of these priests are the former Anglicans in the special bodies (called Ordinariates) Pope Benedict created in 2009. I addressed this historic gift to the whole Church here.
Second, the Eastern Catholic Churches have an unbroken tradition of admitting married men to the priesthood. (These Churches are Catholic Churches under the pope who have their own bishops, use the ancient eastern forms of worship, and follow their own church law.)
Consecrated Celibacy and Consecrated Marriage
What does the Catholic Church teach? Let’s look at the teaching on ordination from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Priests, it says, “are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.
Why does it teach this? Consecrated celibacy is a prophetic sign of the Kingdom of God and a gift to the whole Church. It was instituted and lived by Jesus, demonstrated in the lives of many of the Apostles, confirmed in the earliest witness of the ancient Church and affirmed in the unbroken tradition of the Church (see, e.g., Matt. 19:12). Here’s a quick history.
But that’s only one side. Consecrated Christian marriage is also a prophetic sign and a gift to the Church. Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church the bride. This witness is increasingly important, especially in an age that so often rejects marriage.
At the foundation of both states of life is the call to live the nuptial or spousal mystery. The consecrated celibate is called to participate in the nuptial or spousal mystery in an immediate and prophetic way. He forsakes one person to be married to all. The married person participates in a mediated way, through chaste love with one spouse and then through the couple’s creating a family, the domestic church. Both responses have a prophetic dimension as well as a pastoral one.
However, when love is perfected and complete in the Resurrection there will be no marriage (see, e.g, Mt. 22:30, Mk. 12:25). We will all be married to the Lamb of God, the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, and live in the eternal communion of Trinitarian Love where all love is completed and perfected (see Rev 19:7-10).
Conclusion and Opinion
If there is to be a change in the discipline of mandatory celibacy, the Lord will unfold it through those whom he has chosen to lead His Church.
I personally believe there is room in the Catholic Church for a both celibate and a married clergy. Both consecrated celibacy and consecrated Christian marriage are a response to the universal call to holiness. They are also a gift to the whole Church because they both participate in the one nuptial or spousal mystery, fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
Will the Catholic Church ordain mature, proven married men to Priesthood? Time alone will tell. If the Church did, it would not mean a diminution in the cherished role of consecrated or clerical celibacy in the Church. I wish the world’s press would understand this.
For a longer version of this article that includes much more evidence, see Deacon Keith’s article at Catholic Online.