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Why Priestly Celibacy?

Return to Priests & Vctns. Sectn. | Click Here For Printable Flier

St. John Vianney, the Curé D'Ars (patron saint of priests)

Why Priestly Celibacy? 

Warning: May contain some graphic language

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"An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 7:32-34) 



Unfortunately, many people today fail to realize the great importance of priestly celibacy. Not only are there excellent reasons for the imposition of priestly celibacy, but having celibate priests brings immeasurable benefits both to the Church and to souls. It is truly a precious treasure.

Reasons For Priestly Celibacy

Some Biblical Reasons For Priestly Celibacy:

  • In Old Testament, the priest would only give the holy bread to David and his men if they had abstained from women (see below). Since a Catholic priest handles the true Holy Bread daily - the Body of Christ - such abstinence should be perpetual - in fact, this fact alone may be considered to necessitate priestly celibacy.

"David went to Ahimelech, the priest of Nob, who came trembling to meet him and asked, 'Why are you alone? Is there no one with you?' David answered the priest: 'The king gave me a commission and told me to let no one know anything about the business on which he sent me or the commission he gave me. For that reason I have arranged a meeting place with my men. Now what have you on hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever you can find.' But the priest replied to David, 'I have no ordinary bread on hand, only holy bread; if the men have abstained from women, you may eat some of that.' David answered the priest: 'We have indeed been segregated from women as on previous occasions. Whenever I go on a journey, all the young men are consecrated - even for a secular journey. All the more so today, when they are consecrated at arms!' So the priest gave him holy bread, for no other bread was on hand except the showbread which had been removed from the LORD'S presence and replaced by fresh bread when it was taken away." (1 Sam. 21:2-7, emphasis added)

In fact, the Catechism of the Council of Trent reminds us that even lay married couples should abstain prior to receiving Holy Communion.

"The dignity of so great a Sacrament [as the Holy Eucharist] also demands that married persons abstain from the marriage debt for some days previous to Communion. This observance is recommended by the example of David, who, when about to receive the show-bread from the hands of the priest, declared that he and his servants had been clean from women for three days." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

We also know that the priests of the Old Law were required to abstain from women when they performed sacred functions.

"In the Old Law, Moses in the name of God commanded Aaron and his sons to remain within the Tabernacle, and so to keep continent, during the seven days in which they were exercising their sacred functions. But the Christian priesthood, being much superior to that of the Old Law, demanded a still greater purity." (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

"Consider again that sacred ministers do not renounce marriage solely on account of their apostolic ministry, but also by reason of their service at the altar. For, if even the priests of the Old Testament had to abstain from the use of marriage during the period of their service in the Temple, for fear of being declared impure by the Law just as other men, is it not much more fitting that the ministers of Jesus Christ, who offer every day the Eucharistic Sacrifice, possess perfect chastity? St. Peter Damian, exhorting priests to perfect continence, asks: 'If Our Redeemer so loved the flower of unimpaired modesty that not only was He born from a virginal womb, but was also cared for by a virgin nurse even when He was still an infant crying in the cradle, by whom, I ask, does He wish His body to be handled now that He reigns, limitless, in heaven?'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Why does [the Lord] forewarn those to whom the holies of holies were to be entrusted saying: Be ye holy, because I your Lord God am holy [Lev. 20:7, 1 Pt. 1:16]? Why also were the priests ordered to dwell in the temple at a distance from their homes in the year of their turn? Evidently for this reason that they might not be able to practice carnal intercourse with their wives, so that shining with purity of conscience they might offer an acceptable gift to God... Therefore also the Lord Jesus, when He had enlightened us by His coming, testifies in the Gospel, that he came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it [Mt. 5:17]. And so He has wished the beauty of the Church, whose spouse He is, to radiate with the splendor of chastity, so that on the day of judgment, when He will have come again, He may be able to find her without spot or wrinkle [Eph. 5:27] as He instituted her through His Apostle. All priests and levites are bound by the indissoluble law of these sanctions, so that from the day of our ordination, we give up both our hearts and our bodies to continence and chastity, provided only that through all things we may please our God in these [Holy Masses] which we daily offer. 'But those who are in the flesh,' as the vessel of election says, 'cannot please God' [Rom. 8:8]." (Pope St. Siricius, "Directa ad decessorem", 385 A.D., emphasis added)

  • In the New Testament, both Jesus and St. Paul recommend celibacy as a rule of life. 

"[Jesus] said to them, 'Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.' (His) disciples said to him, 'If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.' [Jesus] answered, 'Not all can accept (this) word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.'" (Mt. 19:8-12, emphasis added)

"Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am [that is, celibate], but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 7:7, emphasis added)

"I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and if a critical moment has come and so it has to be, let him do as he wishes. He is committing no sin; let them get married. The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under compulsion but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to keep his virgin, will be doing well. So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whomever she wishes, provided that it be in the Lord. She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 7:32-40, emphasis added)

As Pope Pius XI states in "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii":

"For the Divine Master showed such high esteem for chastity, and exalted it as something beyond the common power; He Himself was the Son of a Virgin Mother, Florem Matris Virginis, and was brought up in the virgin family of Joseph and Mary; He showed special love for pure souls such as the two Johns - the Baptist and the Evangelist. The great Apostle Paul, faithful interpreter of the New Law and of the mind of Christ, preached the inestimable value of virginity, in view of a more fervent service of God, and gave the reason when he said: 'He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God.'" (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

  • Also, in the New Testament, we are told that everything must take second place to following the Lord.

"If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Our Lord Jesus Christ, Lk. 14:26, emphasis added)

  • Scripture further tells us that only the virgins follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

"Then I looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They were singing (what seemed to be) a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth. These are they who were not defiled with women; they are virgins and these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the firstfruits of the human race for God and the Lamb. On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished." (Rv. 14:1-5, emphasis added)

Other Reasons For / Benefits of / Facts Regarding Priestly Celibacy:

  • Priestly celibacy is a source of grace for the Church which has contributed much both to her growth and to the salvation of souls.

  • Priestly celibacy is necessary due to the tireless work of a priest.

  • Priestly celibacy is admired by the flock - and those outside the flock. It sets a good example of chastity, so necessary in today's world.

"Virginity fully deserves the name of angelic virtue, which St. Cyprian writing to virgins affirms: 'What we are to be, you have already commenced to be. You already possess in this world the glory of the resurrection; you pass through the world without suffering its contagion. In preserving virgin chastity, you are the equals of the angels of God.' To souls, restless for a purer life or inflamed with the desire to possess the kingdom of heaven, virginity offers itself as 'a pearl of great price,' for which one 'sells all that he has, and buys it.' Married people and even those who are captives of vice, at the contact of virgin souls, often admire the splendor of their transparent purity, and feel themselves moved to rise above the pleasures of sense. When St. Thomas states 'that to virginity is awarded the tribute of the highest beauty,' it is because its example is captivating; and, besides, by their perfect chastity do not all these men and women give a striking proof that the mastery of the spirit over the body is the result of a divine assistance and the sign of proven virtue?" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy enables priests to be free for missionary activity - so necessary for the salvation of souls.

  • Priestly celibacy shows the world one's faith.

"Finally, virginity consecrated to Christ is in itself such an evidence of faith in the kingdom of heaven, such a proof of love for our Divine Redeemer, that there is little wonder if it bears abundant fruits of sanctity. Innumerable are the virgins and apostles vowed to perfect chastity who are the honor of the Church by the lofty sanctity of their lives. In truth, virginity gives souls a force of spirit capable of leading them even to martyrdom, if needs be: such is the clear lesson of history which proposes a whole host of virgins to our admiration, from Agnes of Rome to Maria Goretti." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

  • Priestly celibacy gives the priest more time for his flock.

  • Priestly celibacy prevents a man from being torn between his wife and the Church.

  • Consecrated virginity brings countless benefits to mankind.

"We feel the deepest joy at the thought of the innumerable army of virgins and apostles who, from the first centuries of the Church up to our own day, have given up marriage to devote themselves more easily and fully to the salvation of their neighbor for the love of Christ, and have thus been enabled to undertake and carry through admirable works of religion and charity... Who can ever praise enough the missionaries who toil for the conversion of the pagan multitudes, exiles from their native country, or the nuns who render them indispensable assistance?' To each and every one [as applicable] We gladly apply these words of Our Apostolic Exhortation, 'Menti Nostrae:' '...by this law of celibacy the priest not only does not abdicate his paternity, but increases it immensely, for he begets not for an earthly and transitory life but for the heavenly and eternal one.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Those who so bind themselves by the vows of religion, far from having suffered a loss of liberty, enjoy that fuller and freer kind, that liberty, namely, by which Christ hath made us free. And this further view of theirs, namely, that the religious life is either entirely useless or of little service to the Church, besides being injurious to the religious orders cannot be the opinion of anyone who has read the annals of the Church. Did not your country, the United States, derive the beginnings both of faith and of culture from the children of these religious families? to one of whom but very lately, a thing greatly to your praise, you have decreed that a statue be publicly erected. And even at the present time wherever the religious families are found, how speedy and yet how fruitful a harvest of good works do they not bring forth! How very many leave home and seek strange lands to impart the truth of the gospel and to widen the bounds of civilization; and this they do with the greatest cheerfulness amid manifold dangers! Out of their number not less, indeed, than from the rest of the clergy, the Christian world finds the preachers of God's word, the directors of conscience, the teachers of youth and the Church itself the examples of all sanctity. Nor should any difference of praise be made between those who follow the active state of life and those others who, charmed with solitude, give themselves to prayer and bodily mortification. And how much, indeed, of good report these have merited, and do merit, is known surely to all who do not forget that the 'continual prayer of the just man' avails to placate and to bring down the blessings of heaven when to such prayers bodily mortification is added." (Pope Leo XIII, "Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae", 1899 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy, a continual act of self-denial which "frees the priest from the flesh" and from temporal concerns, may help advance the priest in sanctity.

"There is yet another reason why souls desirous of a total consecration to the service of God and neighbor embrace the state of virginity. It is, as the holy Fathers have abundantly illustrated, the numerous advantages for advancement in spiritual life which derive from a complete renouncement of all sexual pleasure. It is not to be thought that such pleasure, when it arises from lawful marriage, is reprehensible in itself; on the contrary, the chaste use of marriage is ennobled and sanctified by a special sacrament, as the Fathers themselves have clearly remarked. Nevertheless, it must be equally admitted that as a consequence of the fall of Adam the lower faculties of human nature are no longer obedient to right reason, and may involve man in dishonorable actions. As the Angelic Doctor has it, the use of marriage 'keeps the soul from full abandon to the service of God.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy maintains a priest's purity - so necessary since he daily handles the Holy Eucharist - the Body of Christ.

"We are no less assured by St. John Chrysostom's treatise on the priesthood, which is still a fruitful subject for reflection. Intent on throwing light on the harmony which must exist between the private life of him who ministers at the altar and the dignity of the order to which his sacred duties belong, he affirmed: '...it is becoming that he who accepts the priesthood be as pure as if he were in heaven.'" (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

"Show me the man who is able to explain or understand the value and excellence of purity, a virtue beyond all the common laws of nature. It is on earth a perfect type, and a lively picture of the virginal purity which reigns in heaven. It is that which has passed through air, clouds, and stars, and which, soaring above the angels, has found the Divine Word in the bosom of His Father, and has drawn Him to earth to be united to it in an inexpressible manner. Now, after having been so fortunate as to find a pearl of so great a price, on what plea can we allow it to be lost? Nevertheless, it is not I, but the Son of God Himself, who assures us that the pure and chaste will be like unto the angels in heaven; and at this we need not be astonished if such souls are placed in the rank of angels, souls who have for their spouse the King and Lord of angels." (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church, emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy frees the priest from many duties and obligations that would otherwise interfere with his priestly ministry.

  • In times of persecution, priestly celibacy prevents a priest from being torn between competing loyalties.

  • Priests simply don't have time for a wife and children. 

  • Virginity is angelic.

"In other sciences men have devised certain practical methods for cultivating the particular subject; and so, I take it, virginity is the practical method in the science of the divine life, furnishing men with the power of assimilating themselves with spiritual natures." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 4th century A.D.)

"Our Lord and Master has said that 'in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.' In the world of man, so deeply involved in earthly concerns and too often enslaved by the desires of the flesh, the precious and almost divine gift of perfect continence for the kingdom of heaven stands out precisely as 'a special token of the rewards of heaven'; it proclaims the presence on earth of the final stages of salvation with the arrival of a new world, and in a way it anticipates the fulfillment of the kingdom as it sets forth its supreme values which will one day shine forth in all the children of God." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

  • Virginity is Christ-like. Christ gave an example of celibacy, recommended celibacy, and was born of a Virgin into a chaste home.

"This is what makes the choice of celibacy desirable and worthwhile to those called by our Lord Jesus. Thus they intend not only to participate in His priestly office, but also to share with Him His very condition of living." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

"In the community of the faithful committed to his charge, the priest represents Christ. Thus, it is most fitting that in all things he should reproduce the image of Christ and in particular follow His example, both in his personal and in his apostolic life. To his children in Christ, the priest is a sign and a pledge of that sublime and new reality which is the kingdom of God; he dispenses it and he possesses it to a more perfect degree. Thus he nourishes the faith and hope of all Christians, who, as such, are bound to observe chastity according to their proper state of life." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

"And so priestly celibacy should not be considered just as a legal norm or as a totally external condition for admission to ordination, but rather as a value that is profoundly connected with ordination, whereby a man takes on the likeness of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd and spouse of the Church, and therefore as a choice of a greater and undivided love for Christ and his Church, as a full and joyful availability in his heart for the pastoral ministry. Celibacy is to be considered as a special grace, as a gift, for 'not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given' (Mt. 19:11)." (Pope John Paul II, emphasis added)

"It is especially important that the priest understand the theological motivation of the Church's law on celibacy. Inasmuch as it is a law, it expresses the Church's will, even before the will of the subject expressed by his readiness. But the will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church. The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self in and with Christ to his Church and expresses the priest's service to the Church in and with the Lord." (Pope John Paul II, emphasis added)

"The consecrated celibacy of the sacred ministers actually manifests the virginal love of Christ for the Church, and the virginal and supernatural fecundity of this marriage, by which the children of God are born, 'not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh.' The priest dedicates himself to the service of the Lord Jesus and of His Mystical Body with complete liberty, which is made easier by his total offering, and thus he depicts more fully the unity and harmony of the priestly life. His ability for listening to the word of God and for prayer increases. Indeed, the word of God, as preserved by the Church, stirs up vibrant and profound echoes in the priest who daily meditates on it, lives it and preaches it to the faithful. Like Christ Himself, His minister is wholly and solely intent on the things of God and the Church, and he imitates the great High priest who lives ever in the presence of God in order to intercede in our favor." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

"As for those men 'who were not defiled with women, being virgins,' the Apostle John asserts that, 'they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.' Let us meditate, then, on the exhortation Augustine gives to all men of this class: 'You follow the Lamb because the body of the Lamb is indeed virginal... Rightly do you follow Him in virginity of heart and body wherever He goes. For what does following mean but imitation? Christ has suffered for us, leaving us an example, as the Apostle Peter says 'that we should follow in his footsteps'.' Hence all these disciples and spouses of Christ embraced the state of virginity, as St. Bonaventure says, 'in order to become like unto Christ the spouse, for that state makes virgins like unto Him.' It would hardly satisfy their burning love for Christ to be united with Him by the bonds of affection, but this love had perforce to express itself by the imitation of His virtues, and especially by conformity to His way of life, which was lived completely for the benefit and salvation of the human race. If priests, religious men and women, and others who in any way have vowed themselves to the divine service, cultivate perfect chastity, it is certainly for the reason that their Divine Master remained all His life a virgin. St. Fulgentius exclaims: 'This is the only-begotten Son of God, the only-begotten Son of a virgin also, the only spouse of all holy virgins, the fruit, the glory, the gift of holy virginity, whom holy virginity brought forth physically, to whom holy virginity is wedded spiritually, by whom holy virginity is made fruitful and kept inviolate, by whom she is adorned, to remain ever beautiful, by whom she is crowned, to reign forever glorious.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy allows the priest to focus on God and service to the Church.

  • Priestly celibacy helps keep a priest's thoughts chaste.

  • Virginity brings a priest nearer to God and pleases Him.

"If our Redeemer so loved the flower of unimpaired modesty that not only was He born from a virginal womb, but was also cared for by a virgin nurse even when He was still an infant crying in the cradle, by whom, I ask, does He wish his Body to be handled now that He reigns immense, in heaven?" (St. Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church)

"Virginity brings us nearer to God. It seeks for a model in God Himself, says St. Ambrose, for the eternal Father is virgin and Father. God, also wishing to become Incarnate, willed that He should be born of a virgin. God has also an extraordinary love and tenderness for pure souls; it is to these, in particular, that He confers or reveals His secrets, or on whom He deigns to bestow His favors. Jesus Christ bestowed many graces on Peter on account of his zeal; but it was the virgin St. John who was permitted to lean on the breast and heart of Jesus; it was he who had the privilege of entering His divine sanctuary, and it was he from whom He hid none of His most important secrets. Confessors, martyrs, and apostles have great privileges; but it appears that to virgins only He has entrusted the privilege of following the Lamb (Rv. 14:4)... Virginity is that precious treasure to guard which so many generous souls have sacrificed their lives. The preservation of this treasure is difficult, but the loss of it is irreparable; one may recover grace when lost by sin, but virginity once lost can never be restored. Nevertheless, nothing is more easy to lose, and we so readily expose ourselves to lose this treasure, nay, it seems to me that we seek to lose it, and we even make a merit of losing that which ought to be a subject of the most poignant grief." (St. Astere, emphasis added)

  • Consecrated virginity is a sacrifice of love for God and for our neighbor.

"Are not consecrated virgins, who dedicate their lives to the service of the poor and the sick, without making any distinction as to race, social rank, or religion, are not these virgins united intimately with their miseries and sorrows, and affectionately drawn to them, as though they were their mothers? And does not the priest likewise, moved by the example of his Divine Master, perform the function of a good shepherd, who knows his flock and calls them by name? Indeed it is from that perfect chastity which they cultivate that priests and religious men and women find the motive for giving themselves to all, and love all men with the love of Christ." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy frees priests from many temporal cares.

"It is that they may acquire this spiritual liberty of body and soul, and that they may be freed from temporal cares, that the Latin Church demands of her sacred ministers that they voluntarily oblige themselves to observe perfect chastity." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Christ, the only Son of the Father, by the power of the Incarnation itself was made Mediator between heaven and earth, between the Father and the human race. Wholly in accord with this mission, Christ remained throughout His whole life in the state of celibacy, which signified His total dedication to the service of God and men. This deep concern between celibacy and the priesthood of Christ is reflected in those whose fortune it is to share in the dignity and mission of the Mediator and eternal Priest; this sharing will be more perfect the freer the sacred minister is from the bonds of flesh and blood." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

"Thus the Catholic priest is freed from the bonds of a family and of self-interest - the chief bonds which could bind him too closely to earth. Thus freed, his heart will more readily take flame from that heavenly fire that burns in the Heart of Jesus; that fire that seeks only to inflame apostolic hearts and through them 'cast fire on all the earth.' This is the fire of zeal. Like the zeal of Jesus described in Holy Scripture, the zeal of the priest for the glory of God and the salvation of souls ought to consume him. It should make him forget himself and all earthly things. It should powerfully urge him to dedicate himself utterly to his sublime work, and to search out means ever more effective for an apostolate ever wider and ever better." (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D., emphasis added)

"The priest has as the proper field of his activity everything that pertains to the supernatural life, since it is he who promotes the increase of this supernatural life and communicates it to the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Consequently, it is necessary that he renounce 'the things of the world,' in order to have care only for 'the things of the Lord'. And it is precisely because he should be free from preoccupation with worldly things to dedicate himself entirely to the divine service, that the Church has established the law of celibacy, thus making it ever more manifest to all peoples that the priest is a minister of God and the father of souls. By his law of celibacy, the priest, so far from losing the gift and duties of fatherhood, rather increases them immeasurably, for, although he does not beget progeny for this passing life of earth, he begets children for that life which is heavenly and eternal." (Pope Pius XII, "Menti Nostrae", 1950 A.D.)

  • Priestly celibacy sets priests apart from the world.

  • Celibate priests may merit higher respect than married priests.

  • Priestly celibacy allows men to dedicate themselves completely to God and to the Church.

"This then is the primary purpose, this the central idea of Christian virginity: to aim only at the divine, to turn thereto the whole mind and soul; to want to please God in everything, to think of Him continually, to consecrate body and soul completely to Him. This is the way the Fathers of the Church have always interpreted the words of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles; for from the very earliest days of the Church they have considered virginity a consecration of body and soul offered to God." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy gives priests more freedom.

"[T]his complete renunciation of marriage frees men from its grave duties and obligations." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Those who so bind themselves by the vows of religion, far from having suffered a loss of liberty, enjoy that fuller and freer kind, that liberty, namely, by which Christ hath made us free." (Pope Leo XIII, "Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae", 1899 A.D.)

"Can. 277 §1 Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbor." (1983 Code of Canon Law, emphasis added)

"The consecration to Christ under an additional and lofty title like celibacy evidently gives to the priest, even in the practical field, the maximum efficiency and the best disposition of mind, mentally and emotionally, for the continuous exercise of a perfect charity. This charity will permit him to spend himself wholly for the welfare of all, in a fuller and more concrete way. It also obviously guarantees him a greater freedom and flexibility in the pastoral ministry, in his active and living presence in the world, to which Christ has sent him so that he may pay fully to all the children of God the debt due to them." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

"For the duty of the married life to which they are bound clearly demands: 'They shall be two in one flesh.' For spouses are to be bound to each other by mutual bonds both in joy and in sorrow. It is easy to see, therefore, why persons who desire to consecrate themselves to God's service embrace the state of virginity as a liberation, in order to be more entirely at God's disposition and devoted to the good of their neighbor. How, for example, could a missionary such as the wonderful St. Francis Xavier, a father of the poor such as the merciful St. Vincent de Paul, a zealous educator of youth like St. John Bosco, a tireless 'mother of emigrants' like St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, have accomplished such gigantic and painful labors, if each had to look after the corporal and spiritual needs of a wife or husband and children?" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy is fitting.

"What hast thou to do with women, thou that speakest familiarly with God at the altar?" (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"It is impossible to treat of the piety of a Catholic priest without being drawn on to speak, too, of another most precious treasure of the Catholic priesthood, that is, of chastity; for from piety springs the meaning and the beauty of chastity. A certain connection between this virtue and the sacerdotal ministry can be seen even by the light of reason alone: since 'God is a Spirit,' it is only fitting that he who dedicates and consecrates himself to God's service should in some way 'divest himself of the body.'" (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D., emphasis added)

"In short the very height, or, to use St. Epiphanius' phrase, 'the incredible honor and dignity' of the Christian priesthood...shows how becoming is clerical celibacy and the law which enjoins it. Priests have a duty which, in a certain way, is higher than that of the most pure spirits 'who stand before the Lord.' Is it not right, then, that he live an all but angelic life? A priest is one who should be totally dedicated to the things of the Lord. Is it not right, then, that he be entirely detached from the things of the world, and have his conversation in Heaven? A priest's charge is to be solicitous for the eternal salvation of souls, continuing in their regard the work of the Redeemer. Is it not, then, fitting that he keep himself free from the cares of a family, which would absorb a great part of his energies?" (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D., emphasis added)

"Indeed celibacy has a many faceted suitability for the priesthood. For the whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through His Spirit in the world and which has its origin 'not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God' (Jn. 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to Him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in Him and through Him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to His Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ. In this way they profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them - namely, to commit themselves faithfully... and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse. They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives." (Second Vatican Council)

  • Virginity is superior to marriage.

"So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 7:38)

"[V]irginity should be esteemed as something more perfect than marriage" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Both solid reason and the authority of Holy Writ show that neither is marriage sinful, nor is it to be equaled to the good of virginal continence or even to that of widowhood." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

"If any one saith that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or in celibacy than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

"That virginity is good I do agree. But that it is even better than marriage, this I do confess. And if you wish, I will add that it is as much better than marriage as heaven is better than earth, as much better than the angels are better than men. And if there were any other way in which I could say it even more emphatically, I would do so." (St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, c. 391 A.D.)

"Virginity, the conduct of the angels, is the property of all incorporeal nature. We do not say this as speaking ill of marriage, perish the thought! For we know that the Lord blessed marriage by His presence, and we know the saying, 'Marriage is honorable and its bed undefiled.' But we say this by way of recognizing that however good marriage may be, virginity is better." (St. John of Damascene, Doctor of the Church, c. 8th century A.D., emphasis added)

"[H]oly virginity surpasses marriage in excellence. Our Divine Redeemer had already given it to His disciples as a counsel for a more perfect life. St. Paul, after having said that the father who gives his daughter in marriage 'does well,' adds immediately 'and he that gives her not, does better.' Several times in the course of his comparison between marriage and virginity the Apostle reveals his mind, and especially in these words: 'for I would that all men were even as myself... But I say to the unmarried and to widows: it is good for them if they so continue, even as I.' Virginity is preferable to marriage then, as We have said, above all else because it has a higher aim: that is to say, it is a very efficacious means for devoting oneself wholly to the service of God, while the heart of married persons will remain more or less 'divided.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

"According to Jerome (Adversus Jovinianum i) the error of Jovinian consisted in holding virginity not to be preferable to marriage. This error is refuted above all by the example of Christ Who both chose a virgin for His mother, and remained Himself a virgin, and by the teaching of the Apostle who (1 Cor. 7) counsels virginity as the greater good. It is also refuted by reason, both because a Divine good takes precedence of a human good, and because the good of the soul is preferable to the good of the body, and again because the good of the contemplative life is better than that of the active life. Now virginity is directed to the good of the soul in respect of the contemplative life, which consists in thinking 'on the things of the Lord', whereas marriage is directed to the good of the body, namely the bodily increase of the human race, and belongs to the active life, since the man and woman who embrace the married life have to think 'on the things of the world,' as the Apostle says (1 Cor. 7:34). Without doubt therefore virginity is preferable to conjugal continence." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church", emphasis added)

"This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as We have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Finally, We and Our Predecessors have often expounded it and earnestly advocated it whenever occasion offered. But recent attacks on this traditional doctrine of the Church, the danger they constitute, and the harm they do to the souls of the faithful lead Us, in fulfillment of the duties of Our charge, to take up the matter once again in this Encyclical Letter, and to reprove these errors which are so often propounded under a specious appearance of truth... We feel it opportune, moreover, to touch somewhat briefly here on the error of those who, in order to turn boys and girls away from Seminaries and Religious Institutes, strive to impress upon their minds that the Church today has a greater need of the help and of the profession of Christian virtue on the part of those who, united in marriage, lead a life together with others in the world, than of priests and consecrated virgins, who, because of their vow of chastity, are, as it were, withdrawn from human society. No one can fail to see, Venerable Brothers, how utterly false and harmful is such an opinion. Of course, it is not Our intention to deny that Catholic spouses, because of the example of their Christian life, can, wherever they live and whatever be their circumstances, produce rich and salutary fruits as a witness to their virtue. Yet whoever for this reason argues that it is preferable to live in matrimony than to consecrate oneself completely to God, without doubt perverts the right order." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy is fitting since a priest is already married - to Christ.

"Moreover the Fathers of the Church considered this obligation of perfect chastity as a kind of spiritual marriage, in which the soul is wedded to Christ; so that some go so far as to compare breaking the vow with adultery. Thus, St. Athanasius writes that the Catholic Church has been accustomed to call those who have the virtue of virginity the spouses of Christ. And St. Ambrose, writing succinctly of the consecrated virgin, says, 'She is a virgin who is married to God.' In fact, as is clear from the writings of the same Doctor of Milan, as early as the fourth century the rite of consecration of a virgin was very like the rite the Church uses in our own day in the marriage blessing." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

  • Priestly celibacy prevents a priest from spreading Original Sin.

"It was not possible that Death should cease his works so long as mankind by marriage was working too; he walked the path of life in all generations past; he started with every new-born child and accompanied it to the end; but he found at last in virginity a barrier beyond which he could not pass. Just as in the time of Mary, the Mother of God, the Death who had reigned from Adam until then found, when he came to her and dashed his forces against the fruit of her virginity as a rock, that he was himself shattered against her, so too in every soul that passes through this life in flesh that is protected by virginity, the strength of Death is shattered and annulled, when Death finds no place to fix his sting." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, c. 370 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy may be traced back to the earliest ages of the Church.

"[T]he Virgin Christ and the Virgin Mary have dedicated in themselves the principles of virginity for both sexes. The Apostles were either virgins or remained continent after their marriages. Those persons chosen to be bishops, presbyters, or deacons are either virgins or widowers; or certainly, having once received the priesthood, they remain forever chaste." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, c. 392 A.D.)

  • Priestly celibacy has been recommended and praised by numerous popes, saints, and councils - even recent popes and the Second Vatican Council highly praise celibacy.

"We consider [priestly celibacy] one of the purest glories of the Catholic priesthood" (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

"Holy virginity and that perfect chastity which is consecrated to the service of God is without doubt among the most precious treasures which the Founder of the Church has left in heritage to the society which He established." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Priestly celibacy has been guarded by the Church for centuries as a brilliant jewel, and retains its value undiminished even in our time when the outlook of men and the state of the world have undergone such profound changes." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

"On this Holy Thursday then, dear Brother Priests, how can I fail to address you in order to exhort you to remain faithful to the gift of celibacy which Christ has given us? In it is contained a spiritual treasure which belongs to each of us and to the whole Church." (Pope John Paul II, emphasis added)

"It deeply hurts Us that...anyone can dream that the Church will deliberately or even suitably renounce what from time immemorial has been, and still remains, one of the purest and noblest glories of her priesthood. The law of ecclesiastical celibacy and the efforts necessary to preserve it always recall to mind the struggles of the heroic times when the Church of Christ had to fight for and succeeded in obtaining her threefold glory, always an emblem of victory, that is, the Church of Christ, free, chaste and Catholic." (Pope John XXIII, 1960 A.D.)

"Further, the Fathers of the Church, such as Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and many others, have sung the praises of virginity. And this doctrine of the Fathers, augmented through the course of centuries by the Doctors of the Church and the masters of asceticism, helps greatly either to inspire in the faithful of both sexes the firm resolution of dedicating themselves to God by the practice of perfect chastity and of persevering thus till death, or to strengthen them in the resolution already taken." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"The chastity 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven' (Mt. 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse." (Second Vatican Council, emphasis added)

"For renouncing thereby the companionship of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt. 19:12), they embrace the Lord with an undivided love altogether befitting the new covenant, bear witness to the resurrection of the world to come (cf. Lk. 20:36), and obtain a most suitable aid for the continual exercise of that perfect charity whereby they can become all things to all men in their priestly ministry. Let them deeply realize how gratefully that state ought to be received, not, indeed, only as commanded by ecclesiastical law, but as a precious gift of God for which they should humbly pray. Through the inspiration and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit let them freely and generously hasten to respond to this gift." (Second Vatican Council, emphasis added)

"The greatest glory of virgins is undoubtedly to be the living images of the perfect integrity of the union between the Church and her divine Spouse. For this society founded by Christ it is a profound joy that virgins should be the marvelous sign of its sanctity and fecundity, as St. Cyprian so well expressed it: 'They are the flower of the Church, the beauty and ornament of spiritual grace, a subject of joy, a perfect and unsullied homage of praise and honor, the image of God corresponding to the sanctity of the Lord, the most illustrious portion of Christ's flock. In them the glorious fecundity of our mother, the Church, finds expression and she rejoices; the more the number of virgins increases, the greater is this mother's joy.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

"The history of the Council [of Trent] is marked by attempts to modify the law on celibacy. We know that in a particular way, emperors, kings and princes, as well as representatives of the Church herself, were involved in an attempt at securing a relaxation of or a dispensation from the obligation to celibacy. They had a positive objective; namely to win back those ministers who had left the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, a commission established by the Roman Pontiffs to treat of this question came to the conclusion, on the basis of the ancient tradition, that the commitment to celibacy was to be maintained without compromise. The Church could not reject an obligation which had been valid from the very beginning and which had been constantly repeated and enforced throughout the centuries." (Cardinal Stickler, emphasis added)

  • Priestly celibacy will be rewarded by God.

"Then Peter said to him in reply, 'We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?' Jesus said to them, 'Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life." (Mt. 19:27-29, emphasis added)

"Jesus said, 'Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands...and eternal life in the age to come.'" (Mk. 10:29-30, emphasis added)

"[Jesus] said to them, 'Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive (back) an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.'" (Lk. 18:29-30)

Furthermore, it should be noted that the abolition of priestly celibacy may be detrimental to souls and to the Church at large. Even on a "practical level", it would potentially cause much harm. For example:

  • Should a priest marry, the faithful may find that his family would distract him from his religious obligations and prayer.

  • Should a priest marry, the faithful may find that they would now come second - since his wife and children would come first. Rare would be the priest that would focus on his flock rather than his family. In fact, should he do so, he would probably be a neglectful husband and father.

  • Should priests marry, they would have less time for good works, visiting the sick, dispensing Sacraments, providing spiritual advice, etc.

  • Celibate priests should consider us - the faithful - their children and treat us accordingly. If priests marry, they will probably have their own children and there will be a distinction between us and their natural children.

  • If priests were married, the faithful may find it difficult to receive critical, live-giving Sacraments if the hour was late, if it was the wife's or child's birthday, if the children or his wife had a special event or were sick, etc. This alone could cause the eternal loss of souls! [Note that even if a priest indicated that he didn't mind interruptions, many persons would still feel uncomfortable bothering him if they knew he was with his family.]

  • It would be impossible for a married priest to be wholly dedicated to his flock and to God.

  • A married priest may discuss difficulties concerning his parishioners or bishop with his wife. She (or his children) may also talk to him regarding difficulties concerning parishioners. In any case, the parishioners may be likely to suffer a loss of privacy.

  • If priests were married, they would require a larger salary to support their wives and children. If the couple was fertile, he, being a good Catholic, would be likely to have numerous children. Not only would this require more financial support, his growing family would require much of his time and dedication.

  • Priests marrying unworthy women might find that they attempt to violate the seal of the confessional, access personal information, gossip about parishioners, etc.

  • Married priests may tend to view the priesthood more as a job than a vocation.

  • If priests were married, numerous "political" or otherwise bothersome matters may arise (e.g. if the priest's wife didn't like someone, if the priest's wife tried to control access to him, if his wife became jealous of his talking with other women, if his in-laws weren't friendly towards parishioners, if his wife was gossipy, if his children caused trouble, if priests' wives talked to each other about parishioners, their husbands, etc.).

  • If priests married, they might involve the Church in numerous scandals. For example:

    • Adultery (him or her)

    • Abuse (him or her)

    • Problems with children or spouse

    • Issues regarding 'divorce' / annulment

    • His family's rejection of or change of faith

    • His family's setting a bad example

    • His wife's rejection of her primary role as mother in favor of her desire to be a 'career woman', leaving his children to be raised by paid caregivers

    • His wife's use of contraception or her seeking of an abortion

    • Etc.

In fact, if you think there's scandal now - just wait! A married priesthood - especially in our wayward age - would likely bring a torrent of scandals to the Church. And, in any event, the loss of celibate priesthood would lead to the loss of grace to the Church, the loss of souls, the weakening of chastity, and it would likely mean that many priests would place "profane" hands on the Holy Eucharist. 

It is clear that all good Catholics should do precisely what the Second Vatican Council calls for: "This holy synod asks not only priests but all the faithful that they might receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their hearts and ask of God that He will always bestow this gift upon His Church." Surely, the loss of this precious gift would be nothing short of dreadful.

Note: Although the Church has made some provision for married priests (e.g. in Eastern Rites), virginity is always esteemed. The above does not intend to disparage married clerics who worthily exercise their ministry with the Church's full approval. As Pope Paul VI stated: "[I]t is by no means futile to observe that in the East only celibate priests are ordained bishops, and priests themselves cannot contract marriage after their ordination to the priesthood. This indicates that these venerable Churches also possess to a certain extent the principle of a celibate priesthood and even of the appropriateness of celibacy for the Christian priesthood, of which the bishops possess the summit and fullness."

Refuting Objections

Although Catholics may see the benefit to celibacy, they often have many legitimate concerns regarding celibate priests or (wrongly) think that relaxing the law of celibacy would bring more vocations or reduce priestly sandals. Such concerns may be easily answered when one examines the facts. One must remember that much misinformation is put out there and promoted by those with an agenda to change the Church to suit their fancy. Unfortunately, such persons may have little concern for the good of souls, for the good of the Church, or for the pleasing of God - in fact, they might seek the very opposite. Those promoting this agenda bring may bring forth various arguments such as those below. Knowledgeable Catholics should be able to easily refute such arguments.

  • Relaxing of celibacy would bring in more vocations. Unfortunately, this argument is often used by this misinformed. What such people do not know is that there has not been a "vocations crisis". It is well known that many good, orthodox men have answered their calling to the priesthood only to be rejected due to their orthodoxy. If the good men were not rejected, there would be enough priests, and there would be no "vocations crisis". God has not left His Church without laborers - instead, those with an agenda to refashion the Church have simply rejected (and even abused) the ones they don't like - the most orthodox of all candidates. Thus, the "vocations crisis" is really a "manufactured crisis". This sad state of affairs has been well-documented. Also, as Pope Paul VI has said, the decrease in vocations may be attributed to a loss of the sense of God. This loss of the sense of God may be especially pronounced since the Second Vatican Council.

"We are not easily led to believe that the abolition of ecclesiastical celibacy would considerably increase the number of priestly vocations: the contemporary experience of [others who allow their 'ministers'] to marry seems to prove the contrary. The causes of the decrease in vocations to the priesthood are to be found elsewhere - for example, in the fact that individuals and families have lost their sense of God and of all that is holy, and their esteem for the Church as the institution of salvation through faith and the sacraments. The problem must be examined at its real source." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

  • The vow of celibacy has led to the priest scandals. This argument is also used by the misinformed who simply believe that if priests could marry there would be no more scandal. What they do not realize is that the majority of the atrocious acts have been committed by homosexuals and many involve adolescents. Obviously, allowing priests to marry would not change this sad state of affairs. In fact, even if there were no longer a celibate priesthood, scandals would still occur (in addition to those which have already been committed by homosexuals and against adolescents, you would likely then have to add adultery to the list of scandals). In fact, it may be argued that it is harder for married persons to obey God than those who take a vow of celibacy. Furthermore, the scandals involving priests vowed to celibacy have been shown to be not out of proportion with those of other persons who are married, and involve only a small amount of all priests. Also, it should be remembered that it is not celibacy that caused the scandals - it is some priests' failure to live up to their vow of celibacy that caused the scandals. It would be an error in logic to say that since something is abused, it is bad! Rather, it is the abuse of a good thing that is bad, not the thing abused! "The value of a thing must not be judged by its abuse." And finally, the failure on the part of some prelates to thwart further problems exacerbated the scandals. These factors cannot rightly be blamed on priestly celibacy.  

  • The Church doesn't have the right to force someone to take a vow of celibacy. This, of course, is true. However, the Church does not force priests to take a vow of celibacy. Although she may require celibacy for admission to the priesthood - and it is in her power to set down requirements for her ministers - the candidate makes this conscious choice on his own. He gives this gift of himself only after full reflection and preparation. It is a fully conscious choice with the realization that he is making a life-long commitment. Since the Church is our loving Mother who knows what is best for us, she seeks to provide her children with the best priests possible - those priests dedicated to God and zealous for our spiritual welfare. Those who are unwilling to vow celibacy are not forced to do so - they are simply considered unsuitable candidates for the priesthood.

  • Ending priestly celibacy would open the priesthood up to many more candidates. While ending the requirement of priestly celibacy may open the priesthood to more candidates, this is not necessarily desirable. First of all, the priesthood is only open to those with a calling. Many who seek to "open up the priesthood to more candidates" may wrongly tend to think of the priesthood as a job rather than a vocation, or a calling. In fact, it is the Church's solemn duty to "close" the priesthood to unworthy candidates. By having serious requirements for the priesthood, the Church automatically gets rid of many unsuitable candidates - candidates that are unwilling to sacrifice themselves for God and their flock. God will continue to call those He desires, and we can be certain that He will not call those who could not live up to His Church's requirements. 

  • By requiring celibacy, the Church appears to reject marriage. Those who make such an accusation would also have to say that Christ and St. Paul rejected marriage, since they both recommended celibacy (see above). This is obviously false, and especially so considering that Christ raised marriage to the dignity of the Sacrament. In the case of the Church, it would be fair to say that the Church is the strongest defender of marriage in the entire world. Not only does she honor it as a Sacrament and rejects practices harmful to it, but she emphatically rejects divorce, holding that marriage is indissoluble until death. 

  • Celibacy goes against nature. If this was true, why would Christ and St. Paul both recommend it? Why did the apostles practice it after they were called by Jesus - even the married ones?

"Virginity is natural and marriage came after the fall." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, 5th century A.D.)

"Considering what contemporary scholarly investigation has ascertained, it is not right to continue repeating that celibacy is against nature because it runs counter to lawful physical, psychic and affective needs, or to claim that a completely mature human personality demands fulfillment of these needs. Man, created to God's image and likeness, is not just flesh and blood; the sexual instinct is not all that he has; man has also, and pre-eminently, understanding, choice, freedom, and thanks to these powers he is, and must remain, the chief work of creation; they give him mastery over his physical, mental and emotional appetites. The true, profound reason for dedicated celibacy is, as We have said, the choice of a closer and more complete relationship with the mystery of Christ and the Church for the good of all mankind: in this choice there is no doubt that those highest human values are able to find their fullest expression. The choice of celibacy does not connote ignorance of or contempt for the sexual instinct and man's capacity for giving himself in love. That would certainly do damage to his physical and psychological balance. On the contrary, it demands clear understanding, careful self-control and a wise elevation of the mind to higher realities. In this way celibacy sets the whole man on a higher level and makes an effective contribution to his perfection." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Celibacy is unhealthy or injures a man's development. Again, if such were true, why would Christ and St. Paul both recommend it? Why have so many celibate and saintly priests been so healthy and "well developed" throughout the 2,000 year history of the Church? Celibacy rather than injure a man's health or development, helps enable his true development towards Christ.

"In any case, the Church of the West cannot weaken her faithful observance of her own tradition. Nor can she be regarded as having followed for centuries a path which instead of favoring the spiritual richness of individual souls and of the [faithful], has in some way compromised it, or of having stifled, with arbitrary juridical prescriptions, the free expansion of the most profound realities of nature and of grace." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

"[I]t is against common sense, which the Church always holds in esteem, to consider the sexual instinct as the most important and the deepest of human tendencies, and to conclude from this that man cannot restrain it for his whole life without danger to his vital nervous system, and consequently without injuring the harmony of his personality. As St. Thomas very rightly observes, the deepest natural instinct is the instinct of self-preservation; the sexual instinct comes second. In addition, it is for the rational inclination, which is the distinguishing privilege of our nature, to regulate these fundamental instincts and by dominating to ennoble them." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"We readily grant that the natural and lawful desire a man has to love a woman and to raise a family is renounced by the celibate in sacred orders; but it cannot be said that marriage and the family are the only way for fully developing the human person. In the priest's heart love is by no means extinct. His charity is drawn from the purest source, practiced in the imitation of God and Christ, and is no less demanding and real than any other genuine love. It gives the priest a limitless horizon, deepens and gives breadth to his sense of responsibility - a mark of mature personality - and inculcates in him, as a sign of a higher and greater fatherhood, a generosity and refinement of heart which offer a superlative enrichment." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

"The virtue of chastity does not mean that we are insensible to the urge of concupiscence, but that we subordinate it to reason and the law of grace, by striving wholeheartedly after what is noblest in human and Christian life. In order to acquire this perfect mastery of the spirit over the senses, it is not enough to refrain from acts directly contrary to chastity, but it is necessary also generously to renounce anything that may offend this virtue nearly or remotely; at such a price will the soul be able to reign fully over the body and lead its spiritual life in peace and liberty. Who then does not see, in the light of Catholic principles, that perfect chastity and virginity, far from harming the normal unfolding of man or woman, on the contrary endow them with the highest moral nobility." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D.)

"Finally, it may not be asserted, as some do, that the 'mutual help,' which is sought in Christian marriage, is a more effective aid in striving for personal sanctity than the solitude of the heart, as they term it, of virgins and celibates. For although all those who have embraced a life of perfect chastity have deprived themselves of the expression of human love permitted in the married state, nonetheless it cannot thereby be affirmed that because of this privation they have diminished and despoiled the human personality. For they receive from the Giver of heavenly gifts something spiritual which far exceeds that 'mutual help' which husband and wife confer on each other. They consecrate themselves to Him Who is their source, and Who shares with them His divine life, and thus personality suffers no loss, but gains immensely. For who, more than the virgin, can apply to himself that marvelous phrase of the Apostle Paul: 'I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.' For this reason the Church has most wisely held that the celibacy of her priests must be retained; she knows it is and will be a source of spiritual graces by which they will be ever more closely united with God." (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)

  • A celibate priest doesn't understand the problems of married life and is therefore less able to help married parishioners. On the contrary, one does not have to be married to understand problems. A priest is a human being who encounters rejection, betrayal, disappointment, arguments, etc. all the time. In addition, he is trained to deal with various problems and has much experience in dealing with the problems of marriage. It may even be argued that since he is celibate, he is looked upon as an even more trustworthy and reliable source of assistance. Furthermore, as a 'neutral' party, he is able to counsel without bias, whereas a married priest may be more likely to have some personal bias.

"If this means that the priest is without a direct personal experience of married life, he nevertheless will be able through his training, his ministry and the grace of his office, to gain even deeper insights into every human yearning. This will allow him to meet problems of this kind at their source and give solid support by his advice and assistance to married persons and Christian families. For the Christian family, the example of the priest who is living his life of celibacy to the full will underscore the spiritual dimension of every love worthy of the name, and his personal sacrifice will merit for the faithful united in the holy bond of matrimony the grace of a true union." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

  • Celibacy forces priests to lead a lonely life. Being "alone" is not the same thing as being "lonely". Even married people may sometimes experience loneliness, even though they are not alone. Although a priest is not married, he is never really "alone", rather he is "filled with God". Furthermore, he may associate with other priests, and, of course, a good priest becomes the "spiritual father" of many children.

"By reason of his celibacy the priest is a man alone: that is true, but his solitude is not meaningless emptiness because it is filled with God and the brimming riches of His kingdom. Moreover, he has prepared himself for this solitude - which should be an internal and external plenitude of charity" (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D.)

"At times loneliness will weigh heavily on the priest, but he will not for that reason regret having generously chosen it. Christ, too, in the most tragic hours of His life was alone - abandoned by the very ones whom He had chosen as witnesses to, and companions of, His life, and whom He had loved 'to the end' - but He stated, 'I am not alone, for the Father is with me.' He who has chosen to belong completely to Christ will find, above all, in intimacy with Him and in His grace, the power of spirit necessary to banish sadness and regret and to triumph over discouragement. He will not be lacking the protection of the Virgin Mother of Jesus nor the motherly solicitude of the Church, to whom he has given himself in service. He will not be without the kindly care of his father in Christ, his bishop; nor will the fraternal companionship of his fellow priests and the love of the entire [faithful] most fruitful of consolations, be lacking to him. And if hostility, lack of confidence and the indifference of his fellow men make his solitude quite painful, he will thus be able to share, with dramatic clarity, the very experience of Christ, as an apostle who must not be 'greater than he who sent him,' as a friend admitted to the most painful and most glorious secret of his divine Friend who has chosen him to bring forth the mysterious fruit of life in his own life, which is only apparently one of death." (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

  • Celibacy is impossible. This argument is easily refuted by the countless souls who have heroically - and successfully - embraced it over the past thousands of years. Further, it should be pointed out that Jesus and St. Paul - both of which were celibate - would not recommend celibacy were it truly impossible. If God calls a man to the priesthood, He will give him the grace to remain celibate.

"If any one saith that clerics constituted in sacred orders or regulars who have solemnly professed chastity are able to contract matrimony, and that being contracted it is valid notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law or vow; and that the contrary is nothing else than to condemn marriage; and that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema: seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does He suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able (1 Cor. 10:13)." (Council of Trent, emphasis added)

"Moreover, the Church cannot and should not fail to realize that the choice of celibacy - provided that it is made with [proper] Christian prudence and responsibility - is governed by grace which, far from destroying or doing violence to nature, elevates it and imparts to it supernatural powers and vigor. God, who has created and redeemed man, knows what He can ask of him and gives him everything necessary to be able to do what his Creator and Redeemer asks of him. St. Augustine, who had fully and painfully experienced in himself the nature of man, exclaimed: 'Grant what You command, and command what You will.''' (Pope Paul VI, 1967 A.D., emphasis added)

"And yet, although chastity pledged to God is a difficult virtue, those who after serious consideration generously answer Christ's invitation and do all in their power to attain it, can perfectly and faithfully preserve it. For since they have eagerly embraced the state of virginity or celibacy they will certainly receive from God that gift of grace through whose help they will be able to carry out their promise. Wherefore, if there are any 'who do not feel they have the gift of chastity even though they have vowed it,' let them not declare they cannot fulfill their obligations in this matter. 'For,' says the Council of Trent, quoting St. Augustine, ' 'God does not command the impossible, but in commanding serves notice that one do what he can, and pray for what he cannot,' and He helps us to accomplish it.' This truth, so full of encouragement, We recall to those also whose will has been weakened by upset nerves and whom some doctors, sometimes even Catholic doctors, are too quick to persuade that they should be freed from such an obligation, advancing the specious reason that they cannot preserve their chastity without suffering some harm to their mental balance. How much more useful and opportune it is to help the infirm of this type to strengthen their will, and to advise them that not even to them is chastity impossible, according to the word of the Apostle: 'God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Sacra Virginitas", 1954 A.D., emphasis added)


In short, there are many reasons for priestly celibacy. Not only is it recommended in Scripture and proven by countless good fruits, but it is clearly of great benefit to the Church and to souls - not to mention to the priests themselves. Since our salvation actually depends on priests - priests who have powers not granted even to the angels - it is highly desirous that they focus solely on the things of God and of his Church. Priestly celibacy helps ensure that the Church has better and holier priests and spares her the many difficulties arising from married clergy. Those who question or attack it are most likely uninformed, misinformed, or are enemies of the Church. Truly, priestly celibacy is a precious treasure.  

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Also See:

Celibacy / Chastity (Reflections)

Virgins / Virginity (Reflections)

Priests / Priesthood (Reflections)

Holiness / Virtue / Purity (Reflections) 

More Reflections

Are You Called to Religious Life?

Top Reasons Why Women Can't Be Priests

Celibacy/Virginity (Topical Scripture)

More Topical Scripture

"Who can doubt the moral and spiritual richness of such a life, consecrated not to any human ideal, no matter how noble, but to Christ and to His work...?" (Pope Paul VI)

"[T]he priest in all his activities seeks nothing beyond the good of souls, and looks toward no one but Christ to Whom he consecrates his energies and his whole self." (Pope Pius XII, "Menti Nostrae", 1950 A.D.)

"May chastity, the choicest ornament of our priesthood, flourish undimmed amongst you; through the splendor of this virtue, by which the priest is made like the angels, the priest wins greater veneration among the Christian flock, and his ministry yields an even greater harvest of holiness." (Pope St. Pius X, "Haerent Animo", 1908 A.D.)

"Now, however, We want you to rally to combat the abominable conspiracy against clerical celibacy. This conspiracy spreads daily and is promoted by profligate philosophers, some even from the clerical order. They have forgotten their person and office, and have been carried away by the enticements of pleasure. They have even dared to make repeated public demands to the princes for the abolition of that most holy discipline. But it is disgusting to dwell on these evil attempts at length. Rather, We ask that you strive with all your might to justify and to defend the law of clerical celibacy as prescribed by the sacred canons, against which the arrows of the lascivious are directed from every side." (Pope Gregory XVI, "Mirari Vos", 1832 A.D.)


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