Outside of rare circumstances, all priests in the Catholic Church are required to be celibate. You can choose ordination or marriage, but not both. For many, this is a heavy burden to carry, requiring one to either be “heroic” in their denial of the goods of marriage, sacrificing what many want in order to serve the faithful. For many, this burden is simply too much, and is cited as a major reason for the lack of priests in the modern world.
And maybe it is. Maybe some who are married should be allowed to be ordained as well. Being that clerical celibacy is a discipline of the Church and not a doctrine or dogma, it’s conceivable that we could see a change in the future.
But that is a question for someone else. For me, the more interesting question is not whether those who are married should be allowed ordination, but why the practice was instituted in the first place and what benefit has the Church seen in it for centuries. Time and time again people have questioned it, and time and time again the Church has maintained it. Why? What’s so important about it?
After taking a course called Ordained Ministries, and with the help of Msgr. Paul McPartlan, esteemed member of the Catholic University of America faculty, I want to suggest something rarely stated on the matter: celibacy is a gift to the priest and the people of God. That’s right: a gift. While the idea of going one’s entire life without getting married or experiencing the joy of having kids is certainly difficult for some, the idea that celibacy is simply a “means to an end” and that it has no merit in itself lacks vision, imagination, and an understanding of the reason for the practice in the first place.
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