The priest – husband of one Wife – for life
According to the Catechism (CCC 1579), priestly celibacy is a discipline found in the Western Church for those who are “called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to ‘the affairs of the Lord’” (1 Cor 7:32). Eastern Catholic churches maintain a tradition that allows for married priests, but, as is also the custom in the Western Church, those who hold the office of bishop must be unmarried. Since it is a discipline that was introduced later in Church history by the Church’s authority, the presence of married clergy in Scripture does not refute it.
This discipline is also not an arbitrary one but follows Paul’s teaching that a married man is anxious about pleasing his wife whereas the unmarried man is anxious about pleasing the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-34). In fact, both Saint Paul and Jesus practiced celibacy, so taking vows of celibacy would follow Saint Paul’s command to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Some Protestant apologists, however, claim Paul condemned celibacy, calling it a part of the “doctrines of demons” taught by those who “forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods” (1Tim 4:1,3). In fact, Paul said that “a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2), which means, according to Todd Baker (author of Exodus from Rome: A Biblical and Historical Critique of Roman Catholicism), “Rome blatantly contradicts Scripture by demanding their bishops and priests must be unmarried celibates.”
The Catholic Church does not teach that marriage or eating meat is evil. In fact, it is because these things are good and pleasurable that it is praiseworthy when someone abstains from them to serve the Church for a season (such as during a Lenten fast) or for the remainder of an entire lifetime as in the case of clerical celibacy. The fact that Paul desired that all could be celibate like him (1 Cor 7:7) makes it highly implausible that he would have condemned voluntary vows of celibacy.
Baker dredges up the canard that priestly celibacy is responsible for the clergy sex abuse crisis that took place in the late 20th century.
The actions of the small number of priests who abused children, as well as the decisions of some bishops to transfer those priests and rely on psychological treatments instead of criminal prosecution, have caused great harm to innocent lives and great scandal to the Church. But these sinful acts do not prove that celibacy is sinful or that it was a motivating factor in the recent clerical abuse scandal.
Excerpt from Chapter 7, “The Priesthood” (pp. 153-57) in the recently released book, The Case for Catholicism: Answers to Classic and Contemporary Protestant Objections, by Trent Horn (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017). www.ignatius.com
TRENT HORN, a convert to Catholicism, earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Arizona State University, then a master’s degree in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is a regular guest on the popular radio program “Catholic Answers LIVE,” and nationwide lecturer on the Catholic faith. Additionally he is author of Answering Atheism, Persuasive Pro-Life, and Hard Sayings.