Thursday, May 28, 2009

Show me in the Bible where it says priests can't be married

A few weeks ago, a conversation with a co-worker started out with the question listed above. It came out of nowhere and was delivered with a less than charitable tone. The hot topic at that time was a Catholic priest in Miami who was discovered on a beach with his long time lover. For some reason, it seems like I've been doing quite a bit of Catholic Apologetics lately and this question was another one that needed to be addressed.

Had this question come up one year ago, I would have shrugged it off and moved on with the task at hand. However, I felt that it needed to be addressed as this was not the first time this co-worker had asked questions about the Church.

The first thing I stated was that I didn't believe that something had to be written in the Bible to be a belief or practice. Of course this was not well received and I was told that the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” Being the novice apologist, I said “Amen”, I agree completely with that text. However, where does it say in that phrase “Sola Scriptura” or the Bible alone? I was met with a repeat of that same verse and I asked the same question until we moved on to another question.

Not wanting to get into a verse slinging contest, I asked him if he believed in the Trinity. Predictably his answer was “Yes”. I asked him to turn to the page in the Bible that used the word Trinity. Of course, there is no mention of Trinity in the Bible, even though the concept of the Trinity is scattered throughout the Bible. I asked him how he believes in the Trinity if it wasn't in the Bible? He had no answer for that.

I also asked if he had made an “Altar Call” and prayed the sinners prayer in his church. His answer was “Yes”. To which I charitably asked him to show me where that was in the Bible. Again, no answer. While he wasn't convinced that Sola Scriptura was wrong, at least it gave him pause that many of his beliefs, customs & practices are not found in the Bible.

Finally, I asked him if he had read the Gospel of John. Specifically, Chapter 21, verse 25. In that verse, John says “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.” John lays out that many things Christ did were not recorded in writing. Scripture alone, could be debated another day.

At that point, I moved on to the question of priestly celibacy. I explained that celibacy is a discipline of the church and not a dogma. For the first ten centuries of the church, priests were allowed to be married. However, never in the history of the Catholic or Orthodox church was an ordained priest ever allowed to marry. In short, a married man could become a priest, but a priest could never marry. Also, because it is a discipline and not a dogma, you would not expect to find a direct commandment in the Bible. The Church, as well as many Protestant churches, practices many disciplines such as:

Abstinence from meat on Fridays
Praying the Daily Office

While there is no scripture that says priests must live a celibate lifestyle, there are several verses that talk about the benefits of celibacy. A few I mentioned were:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchasity, and marries another, commits adultery. The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”
Matthew 19: 9-12

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
1 Corinthians 7: 7-9

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord but the married man is anxious about wordly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.
1 Corinthians 7: 32-34

The subject of Father Alberto Cutie came up. He was a priest who took the vow of celibacy but found himself in love with a woman. Cutie left the priesthood and recently joined an Episcopal church in order to marry the woman and still participate in ministry. Also, the topic of the child sex abuse scandal came up and my co-worker offered up that celibacy was the cause of that. What I said to that issue is that a priest makes a vow of celibacy, much like a man makes a vow to forsake all others when he is married. You would have to be living under a rock to not know that many married men break their wedding vows. We are broken creatures due to the fall of our first parents, Adam & Eve. Allowing a priest to have a wife is no guarantee that he would remain faithful to that vow either. One only has to look at a sampling of high profiled married Protestant ministers who broke their marriage vows:

Ted Haggard (Homosexual activity while married)
Jimmy Swaggart (Activities with a prostitute while married)
Jim Baker (Jessica Hahn affair while married)

On the topic of the sex abuse scandal, it was and remains a horrible atrocity that took place. The handling of it from the local bishops all the way to the highest levels in Rome was shameful. However, it is disingenuous to blame it on a celibate priesthood. For the previous 2 years, both of us worked online child sexual exploitation crimes. During that time, we executed over 35 search warrants and arrested a similar number of people. Most of these arrests where married men. Clearly, deviant sexual behavior was not eliminated by being married. In addition to my unscientific results, the three leading insurers of protestant churches in the United States reported they receive upwards of 260 sexual abuse cases regarding children under the age of 18 each year. Pedophiles are pedophiles regardless of practicing celibacy, marriage, homosexuality or any combination thereof. (

I believe that the discipline of celibacy has a firm foundation in scripture. Jesus said “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it”. St. Paul wrote “the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” Clearly, not all are able to walk that path. To those unable to exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. The celibate lifestyle is a powerful devotion to our Lord and those who practice it should be admired, not put down.

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