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By Deacon Keith Fournier

2/25/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Clerical celibacy chosen for the Kingdom of Heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere

Cardinal Keith O'Brien was not the right man to raise the issues which a full, historic and proper discussion of the mandatory nature of this ancient and revered discipline of mandatory clerical celibacy for priests deserves.Given the challenges Christ's Church faces, and the necessary purification which she is undergoing, I doubt the question the question of mandatory celibacy in the Latin or Western Catholic Church is high on the agenda.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien was not the right man to raise the issues which a full, historic and proper discussion of the mandatory nature of this ancient and revered discipline of mandatory clerical celibacy for priests deserves.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien was not the right man to raise the issues which a full, historic and proper discussion of the mandatory nature of this ancient and revered discipline of mandatory clerical celibacy for priests deserves.


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

2/25/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: celibacy, mandatory celibacy, chastity, chaste marriage, priesthood, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, married clerics, ordinariate, byzantine, married priests, Deacon Keith Fournier

EDINBURH, Scotland (Catholic Online) - Pope Benedict XVI's resignation of his office and the call for a papal conclave where his successor will be elected have brought a myriad of press reports, opinion pieces and editorials concerning the Catholic Church. Among the media's preoccupations is an old one, clerical celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church.

The most recent venture into that matter involved an interview by the BBC with Cardinal Keith O'Brien. I originally used that article to weigh in on the issue it raised, whether the Latin or Western Catholic Church practice regarding mandatory celbiacy among the men it calls to the order of priest might ever be relaxed to allow both celibate and married candidates in the discernment process.

Sadly, within a day, allegations regarding Cardinal O'Briens allegedly immoral behavior some thirty years ago emerged. I do not know the Cardinal. So, as I do with all thosewho are in ordered service to the Lord and His Catholic Church, especially Bishops, I presumed the best about him.

Further, given his recent strong defense of marriage as between only one man and one woman, I wondered whether he was being singled out by some who seek to remake the Church into their own image. There is no doubt that there are those - both within the contemporary culture and within the Catholic Church - who seek to argue that homosexual practice be given a moral and legal equivalence with true marriage and the family and society founded upon it.

Next, an announcement was made that the Cardinal denied the allegations and had sought legal counsel. My hopes continued. Finally, came the news on Monday February 25, 2013 that the Cardinal had sumitted his resignation. The timing was certainly of interest. My prayers are with him, with those making the allegations, and with the Church, and perhaps civil tribunal, which must judge them. These are trying times.

The Cardinal indicated he submitted his resignation in accordance with the requirements of his office on his 75th birthday, February 18, 2013 and that it was only accepted by the Holy Father on Monday Feb. 25, 2013. Of course, the details surrounding these allegations and this entire incident cast a cloud on his comments to the BBC. This turn of events, along with what I presumed was his inarticulate expression of his position, also renders him a less than helpful proponent of the issue.

However, I believe that the issue still merits discussion. The ancient practice of choosing celibate or married men for priestly ordination is still the norm in the Eastern Catholic Churches (Byzantine). The decision for marriage or consecrated celibacy is made prior to the first clerical ordination to the diaconate. Both married and celibate men can then be considered for ordination to the priesthood from the ranks of deacons. Bishops are always celibate and monastic. Even in the instances of married men ordained, as deacons or priests, those ordained clerics pledge not to remarry should their spouse die.

Rather than rely on one of the many secondary scholarly sources which surround the discussion of this matter - both for an against - I undergird my claim with a reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It should settle the truth of the observation for most, except perhaps a  few traditionalist brethren who simply do not like the practice and may still be suspect of the Catechism. These paragraphs are taken from the treatment of Holy orders in Article Six of the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church. I commend this entire section to all who want to understand the issues surrounding the gift of ordained service to the whole Church.

The Catechism text contains important footnotes to sources of authority, drawn from the Scriptures and the Sacred tradition, which are well worth studying. Remember, if you want to know what the Catholic Church REALLY teaches, go first to the Scriptures and to the Catechism. In an age which reflects a decreasing respect for the Church, this task is essential! In addition, even in the ranks of those who are faithful Catholics, opinions can often be confused with official teachings of the Church.Here are the words of the Catechism:

"Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination." The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. "

"No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God's call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift. "

"All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the
Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God."

"In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry." (CCC #1577 - 1579)

Now, to another aspect of this topic which some Catholics do not know, there are already married clerics in the Western or Latin Rite Catholic Church. First, there are married clerics in the Order of Deacons. The restoration of the Order was promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Its ranks are open to both married and celibate men. Remember, married men become clerics when they are ordained as deacons. They are no longer laymen. Thus the oxymoron "lay deacons" reflects a lack of good teaching and is just plain wrong.
The adjective permanent, often used to describe married deacons, does not change the nature of the ordination or what is sacramentally conferred with the imposition of the Bishops hands on the ordinand. A deacon is a deacon. Rather, it denotes the intention of the deacon to remain in that rank of ordered service.  A transitional deacon intends to be considered for ordination to the priesthood.

Second, we have a growing body of married men who have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood. For these men the discipline of celibacy was dispensed by the Church prior to ordination. Most come from other Christian communities. The most visible and fastest growing of these priests are coming to us as a gift, through the Ordinariates established for groups of former Anglicans coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Sadly, many Press reports, opinion pieces and editorials often pose the question this way, "Should priests be allowed to marry?" That reveals either a complete misunderstanding of the issues and the history or an agenda. The real issue is whether already married men should be allowed to discern a vocation to the priesthood and, if chosen by the Church, to be ordained?

Consecrated celibacy is a prophetic sign and a gift to the whole Church which was instituted and lived by Jesus, demonstrated in the lives of many of the Apostles, confirmed in the earliest witness of the ancient Church and confirmed in the unbroken tradition of the Church. (See, e.g., Matt. 19:12)

Consecrated Christian marriage is also a prophetic sign and a gift to the whole Church, especially in an age which is so preoccupied with rejecting marriage at its own peril and replacing it with profane counterfeits. At the foundation of both chaste, consecrated celibacy and chaste, sacramental marriage is a call to live the nuptial or spousal mystery in which they both participate.

The consecrated celibate does so in an immediate and prophetic way, while the married man does so in a mediated way, through his chaste love with one woman and the couple's openness to life. Both responses have a prophetic dimension as well as a pastoral one. After all, when love is perfected and complete in the Resurrection there will be no marriage.

The teaching of Jesus on this is quite clear. In heaven there will be no marriage. (See, e.g, Mt. 22:30, Mk. 12:25) We will all be married to the Lamb and live in the eternal communion of Trinitarian Love where all love is completed and perfected. (See, Rev 19:7-10)

To use an old cliché some of my best friends are priests, both celibate and married. They are living their vocation to the priesthood with dignity and holiness. Within that community of celibate and married priests, there are different expressions in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ.

The Eastern Church, both Catholic and Orthodox, often assigns married priests to different types of ministry than celibate priests. Similarly, in the Latin rite, married men ordained to the priesthood serve in a manner that reflects and respects their state in life and offers its pastoral witness as a gift to the whole Church.

In the Eastern Catholic Church where there has been an unbroken tradition and practice of admitting both celibate and married men to the order of deacon and priest, the men must have married before ordination as deacons. In the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches we read:

"Clerical celibacy chosen for the Kingdom of Heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor."

"Clerics, celibate or married, are to excel in the virtue of chastity; it is for the particular law to establish suitable means for pursuing this end. In leading family life and in educating children married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful." (Canons # 373-375)

For the Press who may be reading this opinion piece and looking for some news, Catholics already have married clergy, deacons and priests.  For Catholic Christians, we must learn from this fact and trust that the Lord is behind it. We must also trust that his plan for its placement in the one mission of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Caththe Church is just that, His plan.He will unfold it through those whom he has chosen to lead His Church. 

The prophetic witness of consecrated celibacy has endured beyond the ranks of celibate clergy. It is also preserved in the inspired vowed life of monastic orders, the sacrificial witness of religious men and women, and the increasing new ecclesial associations of lay men and woman, who have chosen it, not to avoid marriage, but to enter more fully into the very nuptial or spousal mystery that marriage also reveals, but in a unique and prophetic way.

When I was invited to Holy Orders as a deacon, I knew that it was a vocation. As a Married man I pledged to embrace celibacy if my wife should predecease me. My wife gave her consent. I soon came to understand the theology I had studied and have studied since; there truly is an ontological change which occurs at ordination. My life was turned upside down and has never been the same.

I personally believe there is room in the Catholic Church, East and West, for a both celibate and a married clergy, deacons and priests. Both consecrated celibacy and consecrated Christian marriage are a response to the universal call to holiness. They are also a gift to the whole Church because they both participate in the one nuptial or spousal mystery revealed in Jesus Christ.

However, what I personally believe is not the issue. It is what the Holy Spirit reveals in guiding the whole Catholic Church in this the Third Christian Millennium. For that, I look to the teaching office, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. 

Clearly, Cardinal Keith O'Brien was not the right man to raise the issues which a full, historic and proper discussion of the mandatory nature of this ancient and revered discipline of mandatory clerical celibacy for priests deserves.Given the challenges Christ's Church faces, and the necessary purification which she is undergoing, I doubt the question the question of mandatory celibacy in the Latin or Western Catholic Church is high on the agenda.


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