Questioning Celibacy: VOTF calls for a debate

Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), the grass-roots Catholic group that sprang up after the sexual abuse scandal, has always focused its mission on “structural change” and largely avoided hot-button doctrinal disputes. But VOTF is now raising the issue of priestly celibacy. In a letter to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, VOTF calls for a “serious ecclesial review of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests.”
The letter cites the 60 percent drop in vocations to the priesthood during the past 40 years and notes that for many young men “the requirement of celibacy is a major obstacle preventing them from responding to a call to the priesthood.” It adds, “Recruiting non-native priests from poor countries, substituting communion services for Mass, lowering standards for admission to seminaries,” and an increase in parish closings and the use of one priest to serve as pastor for multiple parishes fail to address the root of the problem.
Is VOTF going outside its mandate? Not necessarily. Many bishops and church leaders have called for a similar review, and priestly celibacy is, as Pope Benedict XVI himself has noted, a church law that can be changed. Promoting optional celibacy–certainly retaining the beautiful and longstanding option of a celibate vocation–could be seen as a constructive structural change for the church.
The priest is central to the eucharist, and the eucharist is the “summit and source” of the church’s sacramental life. Cannot such policy change bolster a spiritual renewal?

Comments read comments(26)
post a comment

posted September 23, 2008 at 9:31 am

And then overworked, over-stressed priests who already have one or more parishes to look after can add to it by looking after a wife and kids of their own?
That can’t be good.
Priests need to be free from the obligations of family-life. What happens when a parishioner has a crisis, but so dies the priest’s wife? The Church starts coming in second place.

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 10:38 am

The church has banned the use of condoms–so how many kids are there going to be in their families ? Nine ? Ten ? And if they don’t get married, and start fooling around ? How many bastards can the church afford ?
Or, will they allow the use of condoms, and have lots of playboys on their hands ?
If they allow priests to marry, does that mean that the pope will also marry. What will his wife be called, Popette ?
The church is caught in a catch 22, and it’s fun to watch.

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 11:23 am

While you’re at it, how about ordaining women too?

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 11:50 am

I don’t really have strong feelings either way about the issue of celibacy, but I would point out the following things:
1. There is no connection between sexual abuse and celibacy. The best evidence available suggests that the rate of pedophilia is about the same in Protestant churches where pastors may marry. It has been less talked about in the media since offenders in the more centralized Catholic Church can be “tracked” better; whereas in other churches, with a decentralized congregational model, it is harder to assess numbers of pedophiles. In any case, plenty of pedophiles are married. The point is, allowing priests to marry is no solution to pedophilia or other sex abuse issues.
2. There has actually been a deline in pastors ordained in Protestant churches and rabbis ordained in Judaism over the last few decades. Here’s an example from the Presbyterian Church, but you can Google it and get similar statistics on other denominations. It seems that decline in vocations is connected with broader, less-understood factors than just whether pastors may marry or not.
3. The Episcopal Church ordains married men and women, and its number of communicants is in precipitous decline. I’m not using this as an argument against ordaining married men or women, but pointing out that doing so would not necessarily produce spiritual revival.
4. Finally, having married priests with children would necessitate a vast alteration in the structures in place right now–a priest certainly couldn’t support a family on the current salaries.
Regarding Lionel, no Christian should take delight in the real problems of any church of his fellow Christians, whether he belongs to or agrees with that church or not.

report abuse

Greg Bullough

posted September 23, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Protestant ministers manage to meet the requirements of a family
while tending their flocks quite nicely, thank you. Of course the
presence of a family to support means that Protestant congregations
have to compensate their clergy with a just and living wage, rather
than the peanuts which Roman clergy make.
Indeed, wouldn’t most of the catechism argue that a supportive and
loving family returns more energy to a father and husband than it
takes. Perhaps one of the reasons so many of our priests go off
the deep end in one way or another is their lack of a loving support
system to come home to each night.
Better to come home to a caring relationship and wonderful children
than to loneliness and a bottle.

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 4:41 pm

I think in some cases it might be OK to let Priest to ge Married,
only in special cases let this happen.

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Until Catholics can give up their false image that a priest is central to god or the eucharist or “summit of the eucharist”, church members will remain easy prey for their leaders to expolit and alienated from the truth. Because the worst problem the church faces today is that regardless of married or not…..bishops won’t come clean about child sex crimes period (this debate on celibacy is just a distraction and diverts from what most important)…….Narcisistic and deceptive religious leaders actions speak louder than their words.
Anyone can say Lord Lord.
Had parishes with predator been a group of day care centers, this conversation of how to fill position wouldn’t even be happening because they would have already been closed down, including their headquarters.
Sadly, kids are just plain out of luck of protection in the church while those they trust are more concerned about keeping an image of a priest or their church alive than living with the truth and protecting kids.

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 8:17 pm

This includes whether women should be able to be priests.
As long as you have a corrupt heirarchy, one that welcomes pedophiles by hiding their crimes, you’ll just get more predators regardless of whether they are male, female, married or single.
Have mercy on our kids and shut the doors of those intitutions, like the Catholic Church, that choose to harbor these criminals. Catholics themselves should be the ones to do it if our US prosecutors won’t

report abuse

James J. Cuddy

posted September 23, 2008 at 8:31 pm

Re: Optional Celibacy
The current practice of mandatory celibacy needs changing
for the common good of the church. More parishes will be closed
with insufficient priests. The fewer current priests will become aged and in need of retirement housing.
Let the people have input into this issue because they will
become a mandatory-celibacy-at-all-costs-church or a church-with-
optional-celibacy and so sufficient priests to share the Eucharist.
John’s gospel/chapter 6 bears reading on the importance of the Eucharist for all the people of the church.
The topic of women priests will have to be discussed with
the people of God sooner or later. My hope and prayer are
that Catholics can diologue without spin, violent words, lack of charity. Jesus would expect as much from all church members. We
can resolve practical issues: fair family wage etc. JIM CUDDY

report abuse

Little Bear

posted September 23, 2008 at 8:41 pm

First of all, as mentioned in Greg Bullough’s response, Protestant ministers have cared for their families and congregations for centuries. And they certainly have a realistic understanding of married life—being married themselves. They are not talking from theory.
Secondly, Catholic priests of the Eastern Rites in Europe have been permitted to marry and have children since the beginning of Christianity.
Thirdly, Catholic parishes would have to contribute more to support the priests and their families. Since most women work today–the priests’ wives would also be working and helping to suppliment the families income.
And yes, maybe the Church might consider calling back those priest who married and left—and maybe they would be willing to return to serve parishes as well. As far as ordaining women—they do a tremendous amount of work in the Church already. Why not? We are into the third century of Christianity—Jesus would do it. He had women disciples when others wouldn’t even think of doing this. Yes, it is time.

report abuse


posted September 23, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Jesus didn’t dialogue too much when he saw his father’s house turned into a den of theives. At least that how the story goes in the bible that I think Catholics say they believe in.
Jesus was rarely seen in a church, wasn’t even welcomed there, so I must debate the point of belief of what would Jesus do in the Catholic Church today.
If the story is true as recorded in the bible then I’m more apt to believe that he’d be carrying a millstone with him into the church and turning over more than money changer tables. He found a place of fraud and unaccountability, so I don’t buy the forgiveness card church officials love to tout when rationalizing keeping predators in ministry (which I anticipate the argument of forgiveness as another angle to the other bible teachings). Forgiveness and accountability are two separate things. It’s not about having your cake and eating it too.
Pharisee/Saducce/Bishop/CEO….what’s the difference when you turn a so called house of god into a business that harbors pedophile fiefdoms.
I’m sad for those faithful Catholics who truly want to do good, but are facing the “call” of leaving and/or passing on the donation basket when passed around in mass. I wonder if they will ever drop their belonging and follow the truth…..If the tax collectors could do it for Jesus, what more should Catholics be doing for kids.

report abuse

ed gleason

posted September 24, 2008 at 12:03 am

That parishes and seminaries are more and more filled with foreign born priests and seminarians from priest poor countries is a sign of injustice.. a sign of fear of change.. a sign that US money talks. And an unwillingness to read the signs of the times..
The US hierarchy is afraid to press the issue of optional celibacy for Latin Rite diocisan priests in order to keep last century’s Popes wishes alive. This is not leadership; this is cowardness.

report abuse


posted September 24, 2008 at 1:55 am

Sadly, Benedict is being encouraged (intentionally or not) to use celibacy as a bargaining tool (to divert attention away from dealing with the real root cause of the church’s crisis–complict church offials’ refusal to put the flocks safety first.
Perps’ nieghbors and local schools aren’t notified of the church’s unregistered sex offenders because bishops just couldn’t be bothered by picking up the phone and reporting the crime; and it’s too tiring now to provide the public with the secret names, personnel files and whereabouts of the known and accused molesters in their dioceses (most who proably still get a paycheck like Card. Law who is now running the Bassilica in Rome).
I feel sad for clergy sex victims who I believe will again be exploited and used to justify a church cosmetic makeover at the cost of kids safety and the ongoing suffering victims live with many times after a painful/worthless try asking help from their abuser’s enablers, the bishops.

report abuse


posted September 24, 2008 at 4:38 am

Parishioners in American dioceses that are suffering from a decline in priestly vocations are often unaware that the Church worldwide is in the midst of a worldwide vocation boom: the number of seminarians worldwide has increased nearly 80 percent since 1978 (see Catholic World Report’s articles on “Priestly Vocations in America” and “Laborers for the Harvest”). Many American dioceses are taking part in this worldwide boom. It would seem prudent for American dioceses that are not successful in attracting priestly vocations to examine closely the practices of those dioceses at home and abroad that are successful and then to make changes.

report abuse

Michael Higgins

posted September 24, 2008 at 9:51 am

Certainly, VOTF has a right to ask for a dialogue on the requirement of celibacy for diocesan priests. At the same time, it seems to me highly questionable whether such a dialogue would be open and fair. There is such a great prejudice against any form of sexual discipline in American society, that something like celibacy is almost unimaginable. To assert that celibacy can be a positive form of living is contrary to the beliefs of most Americans. I have no doubt that it’s a stumbling block for many, but whether it should be discontinued is another matter.
I understand that many mainline Protestant churches are also having a difficult time finding a sufficient number of good pastors, even though they marry. Could it be that the drive in American society for the accumulation of material goods is so strong that the modest income and high level of commitment required of priests/ministers is an even more serious stumbling block? Perhaps some dialogue about our materialism might be even more revelatory of the real obstacles of serving in the church!

report abuse


posted September 24, 2008 at 11:22 am

in reply to J’s post:
I think you should consider another reason why the priestly vocation is booming in other countries and not now in USA.
Thanks to victims advocate groups in the US (not bishops), pedophiles know that while they are still welcomed in the church by their bishops that survivors in the US and other places like Australia are gaining access to the courts to expose predators and protect kids. Many other countries have absolutely no checks and balances or recourse for victims. Look at Mexico and other vulnerable countries where U.S. pedophile priests flee and are placed in more parishes where kids and victims there have absolutely no voice or rights and kids are there for the taking without question. Inport/Export.

report abuse


posted September 24, 2008 at 11:40 am

If VOTF and Catholics truly want to have a healthy church (I really question whether that is possible when it’s run by a group of criminals that aid and abett predators), then perhaps their time, money and energies would be better spent reaching out to these vulnerable countries where the priesthood is supposedly “boomin” and help traumatized victims to come forward and protect kids from the church’s predators instead of thinking about staffing an already US exposed toxic/criminal institution that refuses to deal with and pull the poisenous root out.

report abuse

John Wirtz

posted September 24, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Discussions about priestly celibacy as far as I have heard is still off the table as far as Rome is concerned. However, my thought on the matter is that Law of celibacy was a mistake in the first place. It was enforced unseccessfully over hundreds of years but finally put in place after many excommunications, interdicts, and other threats. It was inforced to stablize power. Now that this power has become infallible we can discuss this from now to dooms day but those who make the rules are not listening nor will they listen. The power mad authoritarians in Rome as well as the bishops locally will not admit mistakes leastwise correct them.

report abuse


posted September 25, 2008 at 3:51 pm

J writes, “Many American dioceses are taking part in this worldwide boom (of vocations).”
Many American dioceses? We’d all be most interested in a list of these dioceses. (I have a feeling that list will be VERY short or non-existent.)

report abuse

Norma Villarreal

posted September 28, 2008 at 9:38 am

Promoting optional celibacy for Catholic priests can be a healthy structural change within the Catholic church. It may encourage a few more men to choose this vocation, yet it is not the answer to clergy sexual abuse. Those in power aid predators in an effort to protect the name of the church. How many men are willing to enter a vocation that has such a tainted reputation?

report abuse

Joe T

posted October 2, 2008 at 11:27 am

I think the issue of celibacy may have played a role in the recent sex abuse scandal in the Church but not in the way that most would think.
I was taught by many fine priests for 8 years in Catholic High School and University and I taught side by side with other fine priests as a teacher in a Catholic High School. I also taught with several priests who were dismissed because of the scandal.
I think it is pretty clear that a number of men entered the seminary before and during Vatican II with the hope that sometime soon, the rule of celibacy would be removed. When Vatican II did not remove this rule, many disappointed priests left the priesthood. I can’t say they all left because of celibacy. It was the sixties and the seventies and those years had their own dynamic. But many priests did leave whatever the reason.
I believe that, in reaction to that, the Church panicked. I believe the Church allowed men into the priesthood that they otherwise would never have allowed in. Maybe the lowering of standards also had something to do with the zeitgeist of the sixties and seventies as well. I don’t know.
I believe that most (not all) of the priestly problems came from this time period. I believe that standards have been raised now and I believe that the bulk of the priests with these problems have been dealt with. I do understand that the problems (personal on the part of the victims and financial on the part of the church) caused by the scandals still continue.
I understand and agree with the Church’s stand against the possibility of priestesses. I don’t understand quite as well the Church’s stand against deaconesses but I accept it on faith. The church has never claimed that celibacy was ever anything more than a discipline and the pursuit of an ideal (expressed by St Paul as well as by others). In other words, there was never a theological reason that strictly dictated against the notion that priests could marry. So, I agree that making celibacy optional would be a good and healthy step by the Church.
Though I do support optional celibacy, I don’t think it will greatly increase the number of vocations (our Episopal brethren who allow married priests, priestesses and gay and lesbian clergy as well) don’t seem to be faring any better) and I don’t think that celibacy was ever anything more than an indirect cause of the sex abuse scandals.
I am fairly confident that the direct causes of those abuses have been dealt with and I am happy that the Bishops have finally agreed to face the consequences of their failures as pastors overseeing the health of their flocks, even if they were dragged kicking and screaming to facing those consequences. Most of the guilty have been discovered and punished and unfortunatley a few innocent priests have been dragged through the mud as part of that process.
I hope that the victims of those abuses will find healing but I also hope that the Church does not foolishly agree to extend the statute of limitations to satisfy the greed of some lawyers. The statute exists for a reason. Memories get increasingly vague over time and I have no faith at all at memories “recovered” by hypnosis or other therapies after many years.

report abuse

William Mullins

posted October 9, 2008 at 8:12 am

It is interesting that in most debates about celibacy discussion seems to presume that a decision once made gains primacy of standing thereafter. Not everything can be justified from tradition and no prevailing human construct should be presumed beyond obsolescence.
Since Darwin provided a natural notion of how some change occurs, it would seem appropriate to ask in the case of celebacy, what if it is simply an adaption to a particular time (more than a thousand years ago) that has become maladaptive in current circumstances?
From where I sit, the burden of continued justification for mandatory celibacy and an all male priesthood demands an answer to the question: If it is the “right” thing to do, why is it failing the faithful so badly?
If persuasive defenders are not forthcoming; then its time to try an adaptive change. I don’t find “just let the nominal Church shrink into an enclave of Middle Age wisdom” is a particularly winning notion. But then that’s just me.
Bill M

report abuse


posted October 9, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Wasn’t St. Peter, the first pope, married. His mother-in-law is mentioned in the New Testament.

report abuse


posted October 9, 2008 at 10:49 pm

I believe celibacy should be optional. Already we have at least 100 married priests who have come into the Church from other faiths. The apostles were married. The Bible in Genesis says “It is not good for man to be alone” “Increse and multiply and fill the earth.” A man should not be denied a family in order to serve God. God created man a sexual being. If the Church wants good and faithful priests then marriage and family should be allowed. They would better understand the laity who mostly are married. God did make this law. Man made it.
I do not see any spirituality in this law of celibacy.
As for women, they should be alowed to be deaconess. A deaconess from another faith talked with me and helped alot when my sister was in ICU at death’s door.—-Thank you and God Bless!

report abuse

Jerry Woods

posted October 10, 2008 at 9:42 am

As I think about the refusal of our Church shepherds to discuss mandatory celibacy it is hard for me to not loose heart. I am the lay ecclesial minister for a small mission Church in a county where we are the only Catholic presence. This mission community founded by the Glenmary Home Missioners in the late 1960’s has never had a full time priest. Yet this community has managed over the years to be a viable Catholic presence in the county. At the present time we only have mass twice a month and if something happens to one of our priests that come to us we may not get mass that often. The rest of the time we are forced to have Word and Communion services. We are now faced with the prospect of implementing the revised Sundays Without A Priest which will take our community further form the celebration of the full Eucharist and will treat people who have been loyal leaders in these mission communities more and more like second class Catholic leaders. For me personally I find the interagency of our hierarchy most difficult to understand. I have a certificate in Theological Studies from a respected Jesuit college, I have attend classes on preaching and have completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education just to name some of my training and study, frequently accomplished at my own expense. Yet when it comes to leading the community I have been give to responsibility to care for I can not lead it in the central act of our Catholic Faith Tradition. Why you might ask because I have committed the unforgivable sin of marriage and have raised a family of five children. At this point I can only say, go figure!

report abuse

Your Name

posted March 18, 2009 at 10:05 am

I believe it would greatly advantage today’s Catholic’s to read the history of the church and the Bible. I am so disappointed when I discuss these issues with fellow Catholics and they are totally unaware that the church for many centuries had a married priesthood and we have actually had sons of Popes, go on to be Popes. A married priesthood was the Catholic Church in it’s purest form mirroring what God had created,a family. As a mother of a 13 year old son, I have had a very hard time rationalizing the legacy of rape and molestation that went on knowingly by our church leaders. After much thought I strongly feel this evironment grew after generations of male thought followed by a respect that grew stonger for the lawyers of the church, rather than it’s shepherds. During my son’s recent confirmation I had to worry which Bishop would be sent because one was directly related to overseeing the abuse in Boston. He was given the Rockville Center, Long Island and Cardinal Law was given a Basillica in Rome. I told my son I would not condone him officiating the sacrament. It was 25 years ago that the first Canon lawyers were sent from the Vatican to measure the state of abuse in the church. Because of their choice to conceal evil rather than deal with it, it continues to smolder. Even as late as last week, a story came out of Latin American where a 9 year old girl had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather with an outcome of the “little child” becoming pregnant, I believe with twins. The mother approved an abortion and the Church excommunicated the mother, the doctor, but not the rapist, stating his crime was not equal to the mother and doctors choice. First, I do belive all life is precious and a gift however the Vatican ruling sickens me and firmly reinforces my belief they are still emotionally ignorant to sexual abuse. That stepfathers actions took four lives, the life of the 9 year old that he repeatedly raped, the mother of the girl, and the unborn infants. My grandparents were Irish immigrats who did without to build Catholic Churches and schools I feel I’m at the point that I can no longer support the direction this church has chosed to go. As the declining numbers show I’m not alone.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!   ...

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That ...

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored ...

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, ...

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's ...

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.