Thursday, December 14, 2017

Married priests: a disaster

Lately there's been talk about the pope allowing married men to be ordained as priests. This topic comes up from time to time, but now it seems like the idea may actually be under consideration.

Now, before we go any further, Take careful note of what we're talking about: married men being ordained as priests. This is not the same as, "priests getting married." Get that? These things are not the same. What's the difference? The only question under consideration is whether, in addition to single men being ordained priests, we will now allow men who are already married to do so, as well. LISTEN: no one is considering allowing men who are already ordained, to be married. Get that? This sequence is awfully important, as will shortly become clear...

The current situation is: if you are a Catholic man, and you think you want to be a priest, you know: if you choose that path, you do not get married. That's how it is, right now.

So what's being talked about is, well, how about we open the door to men being married, first -- and then they can train to be priests. Won't that mean more priests?


In fact, it will collapse vocations. It will destroy them.

Wow, that's harsh. How can I say that?

Right now there are about 60 or so men training for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Most of them are young, in their 20s or 30s; a few older. They entered the seminary knowing that if they go forward, they are foregoing marriage. They can be a priest, or they can be married. They can't do both.

And -- remember what I said in the second paragraph -- they know that once they are ordained a priest, there will never be an option for a priest to be married. Why? Because there never has been, and no one in the Church is proposing changing that.

So imagine the pope announces: we're changing it; now you can be married first, then ordained. Or even, we're looking at it.

How many of those 60 men starts thinking: you know what? This means I can get married, first -- and then be ordained later! Why not do that? The pope just said, married priests are great; so why shouldn't I be a married priest?

Fast-forward, the decision is made: now married men will be accepted as candidates for orders. And here I am, in Russia, Ohio, promoting the priesthood. And here's the conversation I have with a high school boy:

Fox: "You should think about being a priest. You're dedicated to prayer, you love the Mass, you help people -- you'd be a great priest."

H.S. boy: "Thanks Father, but I don't know, I think about being married. Didn't the pope say I could do both?"

Fox: "Well, yes he did."

H.S. boy: "And, didn't he say I have to marry first? Right?"

Fox: "That's right."

H.S. boy: "Well, OK then, I think I'll wait."

And why shouldn't he? Why should any young man not wait and see if marriage works out, first? He can always go to the seminary later, right? But if he goes first, then no marriage.

Please tell me why this change wouldn't empty out our seminaries, as lots of young men decide they will see how marriage works out -- and either, if it doesn't, then they can enter; or else, if they do get married, they can pursue the priesthood after things settle down in their marriage. Say, when they are 50 or so.

I know what you're thinking. Oh, but instead of all those 20 year olds, you'll get eager 50 year olds. First, why assume it will be a 1:1 trade -- that is, for every 20 year old we lose, we'll gain an older guy? You get married, you raise kids, you have a job, career, business; and you're going to drop all that to enter the seminary? C'mon. It is precisely when you are single that you can maybe do this; and speaking as someone who was single in my 20s and in my 30s, 40s and 50s, it just gets harder to do things like this as you get older. You get tied down, even without a wife and children. Do you really think it's easy for a man who is married and has children -- maybe grandchildren -- to say, OK, now I'm entering the seminary?

It won't be a 1:1 ratio, but even if it were, it needs to be about a 1:5 ratio. That is, for every 20-something young man we lose, we need to pick up at least 5 older men. Why? Because a man who is ordained at 26 will be a priest for a whole lot longer than a man ordained at 46 or 56. And a man who is celibate is going to be full time; a married man, a father and grandfather, is far less likely to be.

Oh, and by the way: once you announce men can both marry, and become a priest, what inference will there be about men who skip marriage to enter the seminary? You don't think people will ask: "gee, I wonder why Father didn't marry -- he could have, after all? Hmm..." I'm sure those men who pursue the traditional path will just love that, don't you think? One more disincentive to enter the seminary early.

And we can dig into the other problems later: married priests mean priests with family problems, divorced priests, and the priest's family problems become parish problems.

There are more problems I can foresee, but the main one is this. If you decree that married men can be priests, then lots and lots of men thinking about priesthood will switch to thinking about marriage first. And that empties seminaries that are still only half-full.


Paul said...

good points. In the states, you're right. married priests wouldn't work out.
However, in other countries, with different cultures, bishops might be forced to consider this. But, when you make a change out of desperation, the outcome may not what was hoped for.
There's a lot to consider about this.

Katie Winant said...

I understand your argument Fr. Fox. But it is true that celibacy is a discipline that can be changed. I would suspect that there would be an initial flood of theologically trained men interested. Clearly it would mean drastic changes in how men are trained for the priesthood - but that can be dealt with. That being said, it opens up a Pandora’s box of other complicated (and expensive) issues. Salary? Housing? Family insurance? Sooo - I’m not advocating for one or the othe - both present their own set of challenges. I just thought the conversation needed to be broadened. I thought you shut down the married option too quickly. Frankly I believe both can be important, valued and respected. It is also possible some folks would have the opposite reaction to the one you suggest - particularly with our history - that being - “why wasn’t Father so and so strong enough to commit to celibacy. Again, a challenging and complicated issue. Bottom line - I don’t believe Pope Francis will actually make a change - so it will all be moot. Thanks for challenging us Fr. Fox!

Fr Martin Fox said...


Absolutely, no one is claiming celibacy for priests is unchangeable. But that doesn't mean such a change would be a good idea, or wouldn't be -- as I believe -- really awful one.

I've thought about this subject for a long time. And it's only recently that I concluded that this would be disastrous, for the reasons I spelled out.