This House would remove the requirement for Catholic Priests to take a vow of celibacy

One of the requirements set by the Roman Catholic Church for priests is that they remain celibate. Celibacy is the renunciation of sex and marriage for the more perfect observance of chastity. This vow of celibacy has been propelled to the forefront of public discussion by the recent accusations that the church conspired to protect priests accused of child molestation. The vow of celibacy is seen by some as a cause of the paedophilia that seems to be rampant within the Catholic Church in America. The Vatican has not changed its stance on celibacy in the wake of the controversy, but some within the church have called for the elimination of the vow of celibacy.

Priest have not always been celibate

While celibacy had been encouraged since the beginning of the church, until the beginning of the twelfth century, when it was banned by the Lateran Councils of 1123 and 1139, Priests in the Western church were permitted to marry.[1] The Bible does not mandate celibacy and, in fact, St Peter, the first pope, was married. Even today within the Catholic Church celibacy is not universal as Eastern Rite Catholics can marry and it is the norm that they do,[2] and there are some Lutheran and Episcopalian ministers who have converted to Catholicism.[3] The true history and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church include the option for priests to marry or at least for married men to become priests.

[1] Parish, Helen, Clerical Celibacy in the West: c.1100-1700, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham, 2010, pp103-4,

[2] Brom, Robert H., Bishop of San Diego, ‘Celibacy and the Priesthood’,, 10 August 2004,

[3] Johnston, George Sim, ‘The Case for Priestly Celibacy’, Catholic News Agency,


The earliest church fathers, including St Augustine, supported the celibate priesthood. In the fourth century, church councils enacted legislation forbidding married men who were ordained from having conjugal relations with their wives. We do not know if any of the apostles, other than Peter, were married, but we do know that they gave up everything to follow Jesus. More importantly, Jesus himself led a celibate life.

Celibacy reduces the pool of people wanting to become priests

The number of priests in developed countries is on the decline. In Ireland in 2007 160 priests died but only nine were ordained to replace them. It is expected that the number of priests in Ireland will fall from 4758 in 2008 to 1500 by 2028.[1] As a result almost 50,000 parishes worldwide are without a priest despite the number of parishes not having risen with the increase in numbers of Catholics.[2]  The prohibition on marriage pushes some men away from the priesthood. The requirement of celibacy drastically reduces the pool from which the church can select priests and means that the church is not always getting the “best and the brightest”. As a result even many within the church believe the demand for celibacy should be ended.[3]

[1] McDonald, Henry, ‘Psychological vetting of would-be priests exacerbates decline’, The Guardian, 11 September 2008,

[2] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, ‘Frequently Requested Church Statistics’, 2011,

[3] Staff reporter, ‘European theologians call for end to priestly celibacy’,, 7 February 2011,


Protestant churches, which do not require celibacy, are also having problems recruiting clergy. Worldwide, the number of new priests is increasing. Only the developed world has seen a decline in priestly vocations, although even here devout countries such as Poland buck the trend. A recent study showed that vocations were on the rise in dioceses in the USA that were loyal to the teachings of the church, including priestly celibacy.

Celibacy is outdated

Priestly celibacy is out-dated. It sets the priest apart from the modern world and the experiences of his parishioners. Originally, around 1100 the Gregorian Reform movement in the church was keen to enforce celibacy for fear that too many married priests would leave church property and benefices to their children, or create local priestly dynasties.[1] At the time these fears were reasonable and necessary to maintain the property and discipline of the church, but today they are utterly unnecessary.

[1] Thurston, Hernert, Celibacy of the Clergy Second Period, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol.3, Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1908,


The priest is set apart from the world. He has a unique role: he represents Christ to his parishioners. Just as Jesus led a life of chastity dedicated to God, so a priest must offer his life to God’s people.

Celibacy draws sexually dysfunctional men into the priesthood

The prospect of celibacy draws sexually dysfunctional men to the priesthood. They hope that by totally denying their sexuality, they will not engage in deviant acts, but unfortunately they often cannot overcome their deviant desires. Permitting priests to marry would bring men with healthy sexual desires to the priesthood.


Celibacy and paedophilia are not connected. Sexual abuse also occurs in religions where clergy are permitted to marry. Studies have shown that sexual abusers account for less than 2% of Roman Catholic clergy, a figure comparable to clergy in other denominations, or even less than in the wider male population as a whole.[1]

Sexual abuse in the church is undoubtedly a serious problem to be addressed, but not one that is linked to the issue of celibacy.

[1] Oddie, William, ‘Now we have real evidence – sexual abuse is not a ‘Catholic problem’, Catholic Herald, 9 August 2010,

Celibacy grants an understanding of self-control

The celibate priest has a unique understanding of the power of self-control and the giving of self, which are key ideas in marriage. The celibate priest is in a very good position to counsel people on how to keep the marital vows such as fidelity as they have experience of keeping the much stricter vow of celibacy.[1] The priest is married to the church and can counsel couples and families using that knowledge.

[1] ‘5 Arguments Against Priestly Celibacy and How to Refute Them’,,


Celibate priests can never experience the intimate and complicated marital relationship. They lack credibility when conducting marriage and family counselling. Married priests can better serve their parishioners because of their marital and family experiences.

Principles should be maintained even when it is convenient to change them

The Catholic church should not bend its principles for the sake of expediency. Many more issues divide Roman Catholicism from other churches (e.g. the authority of the Pope, the nature of the sacrament, even the wording of the creed). If the church accepted this change for the sake of convenience, where would it stop? Should women also be allowed to become priests? What about practising homosexuals? More likely such a compromise would see a further split in the church, as those who upheld traditional Catholic teaching rejected the change.

Look how the Episcopal (Anglican) church is falling apart over the ordination of gay priests and women bishops, including some bishops leaving the Anglican for Catholic Church.[1] In any case, allowing priests to marry would undoubtedly lead to a two-class priesthood, with many good Catholics continuing to feel that clergy who continue to choose celibacy are superior to those who reject it. That would hardly be a healthy development for the unity of the church or for the authority of the priesthood.

[1] Butt, Riazat, ‘Archbishop of Canterbury accepts resignation of Anglican bishops’,, 8 November 2011,


The insistence on priestly celibacy is one of the major stumbling blocks to church unity. Discussions with the Orthodox church (which has always allowed married priests) and protestant denominations such as the Episcopal (Anglican) church often founder on the different conception of priesthood held by the Catholic church. Yet there is a precedent for allowing married priests - in the 1990s when British Anglican priests who could not accept women priests left the Church of England to become Catholics, they were allowed to serve as Catholic priests despite being married. Changing the rule more generally would make ecumenical dialogue more possible and open the way to the healing of historic schisms in the body of Christ.

Celibacy allows a priest to devote himself entirely to his vocation

A celibate priest can devote all his time to his parishioners. A married priest must spend time with his family. Protestant clergy have balanced their work for the church with their family responsibilities only with difficulty. Many wives and families of Protestant clergy report feeling second to the congregation.


Protestant clergy, for example in the Episcopal church which has similar parish structures to Roman Catholicism, successfully balance their work in the church and their families. Were priests permitted to marry and have families, their families could serve as examples to others. In addition, marriage can provide a priest with increased social support and intimacy. Too many priests burn out through overwork and stress, having no one at home to support them and tell them its time to stop working.


Brom, Robert H., Bishop of San Diego, ‘Celibacy and the Priesthood’,, 10 August 2004,

Butt, Riazat, ‘Archbishop of Canterbury accepts resignation of Anglican bishops’,, 8 November 2011,

‘5 Arguments Against Priestly Celibacy and How to Refute Them’,,

Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, ‘Frequently Requested Church Statistics’, 2011,

Hudson, Deal.  ‘How to Refute Arguments Against Priestly Celibacy’. CatholiCity.

Johnston, George Sim, ‘The Case for Priestly Celibacy’, Catholic News Agency,

McDonald, Henry, ‘Psychological vetting of would-be priests exacerbates decline’, The Guardian, 11 September 2008,

McManaman, Dough. ‘The importance of priestly celibacy’. Catholic Insight.

Oddie, William, ‘Now we have real evidence – sexual abuse is not a ‘Catholic problem’, Catholic Herald, 9 August 2010,

Parish, Helen, Clerical Celibacy in the West: c.1100-1700, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham, 2010, pp103-4,

Staff reporter, ‘European theologians call for end to priestly celibacy’,, 7 February 2011,

Thurston, Hernert, Celibacy of the Clergy Second Period, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol.3, Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1908,