Are Married Priests a Thing of the Future for the Catholic Church?
As the Catholic church continues to see a clergy shortage, especially in certain areas of the world, the more open Catholic leaders are to considering allowing married men to become priests.
Not everyone is lucky enough to see their priest every week. In many towns in Brazil, for example, a priest will only visit two to three times a year.
Due to the lack of priests in the region, priests often have to travel hours to visit some communities. With that in mind, Catholic leaders in the Amazon are considering letting married men become priests in certain cases.
“The Vatican is contending with a shortage of clergy to serve isolated communities in the region, as well as a growing challenge from evangelical Protestantism, which allows married ministers. Pope Francis has said the “door is always open” to married priests, though recent predecessors have rejected the idea,” writes the Wall Street Journal. “Around the world, the ratio of Catholics to priests has risen sharply in recent decades, to 3,100-to-1 in 2015 from 1,900-to-1 in 1980, according to Vatican statistics. It is especially high in South America—7,100-to-1, almost four times as high as in North America.”
The local communities rely on deacons, but they can’t celebrate mass or hear confessions. Without the consistent priest conducted masses, Catholics often don’t even go to church.
“Many in our community wait for a priest and if the priest doesn´t come, they don´t go to the church,” said Idelfonso Pedrosa Guedes, a married father of six in Bananal who is training to be a deacon.
Could allowing married men be the solution for these specific areas?
“Proponents of allowing married men to serve as priests under certain circumstances support ordaining so-called viri probati—Latin for “proven men”—who are community leaders,” writes WSJ. “Ordaining viri probati could help resolve a “sacramental emergency” the church is experiencing due to a lack of priests in remote areas such as the Amazon, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, the Vatican’s top official for clergy, said in a January interview with an Italian journalist.”
Although celibacy became the rule in the Latin Church in the 16th Century long after early Christianity, critics argue that Catholic priests are celibate for a reason.
“A married priesthood alters one of the underlying symbolic systems of the Catholic priesthood,” said Father Dwight Longenecker, a married priest, wrote in the New York Times in 2014. “The Catholic priest is ‘married to the Church.’ Having a wife undermines that essential and traditional symbolism.”
He also points out the practical concern that the community would then be forced to support a married priest and his potentially large family.
“Catholics may think it nice and easy to support a married man with two children,” writes Longenecker. “But if the man and his wife are young and fertile, can Catholics support a large clerical family? Do they want to build bigger rectories, pay for Catholic education, the orthodontist, the college fees and all the rest? Are those Catholics who are enthusiastic about having married priests willing to cough up an extra $10 or $20 a week to support them? Children are not really cheaper by the dozen.”
Next year, bishops will be gathering at the Vatican to discuss this issue in detail.
Pope Francis announced last year that the Amazon region would be discussed specifically;
“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” said Pope Francis to Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.
The priest shortage isn’t only an issue in the Amazon region, 3,600 of the 17,200 U.S. parishes were without a resident priest last year, according to the Center for Applied Research.
Author’s note: This would be a major cultural change in the Catholic Church, but allowing married priests would likely only be permitted in areas lacking these leaders. The number of gay priests is amazingly high (many of which aren’t practicing celibacy) and allowing married priest would encourage more straight males to join the clergy. This could lead to a major revival for the church, but would certainly be met with backlash.