The Rev. Tom Reese: Catholics will loosen up on clerical celibacy

RNS asked some of the country’s top faith leaders, scholars and activists to consider what changes the religion landscape will see in 2018. Find all their predictions here.

(RNS) — This is the year the Catholic Church will get serious about discussing the possibility of married priests.

The church has experienced a shortage of priests around the world, especially in developed countries. There are not enough priests to provide the sacraments, celebrate Mass or give pastoral care to the Catholic people.

When asked by bishops for married priests, Pope Francis has told them to go back to their countries and get the bishops’ conference to request it and he will consider it. This year there will be a synod of bishops on youth and vocations, which will provide an opportunity to discuss optional celibacy. In 2019, there will be a synod for the Amazon, where bishops are desperate for priests. There is a good chance this synod will ask for married priests.

The celibacy requirement for Catholic priests is a matter of church law, not doctrine, and can be changed. In fact, for about the first 1,000 years of its existence the church had married priests. Eastern churches, like the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in union with Rome have a married clergy. Some Protestant ministers who have become Catholic have also been allowed to be ordained priests even though they were married. If change occurs, it will probably begin for areas of the world that request it, but it will then spread rapidly.

(The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a senior analyst at RNS and writes its “Signs of the Times” column. Previously, he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter and an associate editor and editor-in-chief at America magazine. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.) 

Read his latest column: Abandoning celibacy won’t stop sexual abuse by priests.

About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.


Click here to post a comment

  • The Catholic lay people are ready for this change. Majorities of Catholics in many countries think married priests would be just fine. In some countries, majorities of Catholics even think women priests would be just fine, but that is another issue.

    I think the Catholic clerical world needs a huge infusion of men and women, single and married, in positions of influence, power, and authority simply to bring into the thinking and actions of the Church the reality of life for the 99% of Catholics who aren’t male clerics. They are way, way out of touch.

    Allowing a married priesthood is an important first step. But it is only a first step. Hope the Church is also getting ready for step 2, step 3, and step 4.

  • Catholicism also needs to come out of the closet and explain the TRUE MEANING of the gospel to the people: Jesus said everything that is HIDDEN will be revealed and this is the time to reveal it: I AM SENT to do just that for the past 25 years, but I am just a voice in the wilderness that is not seen or heard, but I think that is about to change:

    Christianity was never meant to be a “religion” but a PROCESS of becoming ONE with God till the “WORD” is within the heart of the people and the glory of the LORD covers the earth as the ‘waters’ (LIVING) cover the sea (subconscious minds of all people): Here will be “no more sea” or no more SUB-consciousness, but EVERY HEART WILL have made ROOM for the LIGHT (Christ child) to be born through it and this means they don’t need to be taught by any man, because all shall know God from the least to the greatest: Here the ROYAL and HOLY PRIESTHOOD are those in whom the LIGHT is begotten, brought forth, those who Jesus said were HIS MOTHER, his brothers, his sisters, because they did the “WILL” of the Father in heaven: Traditionally one can remain any religion they choose to be but the INNER MAN of the HEART will be THE LORD or the LIGHT within the heart, guiding it, hence a ‘child shall lead them’.
    I Peter 2

    To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,

    Ye also as LIVING stones, are built into a spiritual house, a HOLY PRIESTHOOD, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God BY Jesus Christ. vs 6 goes onto say it is upon the CHIEF corner stone, elect and prescious: He who believes on him will not be confounded: Yet he is a stone of stumbling and offence to them which stumble at THE WORD, being disobedient; Whereonto also they were appointed.

    Yet you are a CHOSEN generation, a ROYAL priesthood, a HOLY NATION, a peculiar people: that you should show FORTH THE PRAISES of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous LIGHT: Which in times past were not a people, but are NOW a people of God: Which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy:

  • Men have years of discernment before ordination. You all know the vocation requires celibacy. Don’t become a priest if you want to screw around, whether it’s women. boys, or each other. If you want to marry, change rites. Leave the Latin rite alone. If you want to marry a same-sex partner, leave the priesthood, go on retreat, and pray God open your eyes to the inherent evil of sodomy. Do you even pray the Liturgy of the Hours? Do you skip it? That’s a sin for you. Do you just mouth or glance over the words? Or do you PRAY it? It’s people like you and James Martin that make the word Jesuit an insult to faithful Catholics.

  • Jesus Christ founded a Church on Peter, gave him and the Church His authority. Its official teachings will never be in error, and it will last until the end of time. Any doubts about that or questions, go here: https://www.catholic.com/tract/pillar-of-fire-pillar-of-truth

    You can get about any question answered at Catholic.com.

    May the peace of Christ reign in your heart as you discover His one and only Church.

  • At 81,I have come to a healthy kind of “child again,” as Jesus requested, and realize that it all comes back to whether God is a creator and Parental figure–in the good sense. Exclusivist religion defines so many people who exclude a loving God from their religion, and sadly thereby Jesus himself from Christianity. Yes, celibacy is a human law–that is obvious.Yes, there is a Priesthood of everyone as both Hebrews and a healthy understanding of the whole Christian Scripture assumes. So many seem to think that because, in their view from the 1950s, that the Catholic Religion has the Truth (CAPITAL T), everyone else is false. God is not just another person up there–an old bearded Guy in the Sky, but as close as the breath breathed into you–and everyone–at birth. (See Genesis) Yes, we need married clergy. Yes, we do not need the clergy for you and me to heal, forgive, give new (spiritual) life, feed one another the “bread which is Life.” People who say things we may disagree with (and the comments suggest that this is happening here) should ask themselves whether the Gospels make them as uncomfortable as reading a Facebook essay. If the Gospels do not call for you to change–then become a pagan, a whale or a corpse. That is what they are there for. This is a good article, and needs to be thoughtfully considered, not “knee-jerkedly” rejected.

  • Fr. Thomas Doyle puts it about as succinctly as possible:

    “Celibacy should ‘absolutely be closely examined’ because it is a “powerful symbol of the elite and exalted nature of the clergy but in actual practice, it is and has been a failure”, he said.

    It “devalues women in a terrible way” and devalues all relationships as “lesser than the solitude of the celibate life”.

    It was a “bizarre, unrealistic and destructive traditional attitude towards human sexuality and sexual expression.”

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.