Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Can't Catholic Bishops Marry?

Q - I was reading about the Anglican bishops who recently ordained Catholic priests. In the article, it said that they could not be ordained Catholic bishops for doctrinal reasons. This is a much stronger statement than that it is a discipline, as is the norm for Catholic priests being married (though there are exceptions that allow for married priests). I know that even in the Eastern Catholic Churches priests can marry but bishops may not. Why is this a matter of doctrine if some of the early bishops were married?

A - Good question. Thanks for bringing it up. Let us first look at what Scripture says about celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God:
**"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." -Matthew 19:12

**"At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven." -Matthew 22:30

**"Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife." -1 Corinthians 7:27

**"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." -1 Corinthians 7:32-33
We can see that the consensus from Scripture is that celibacy is a good thing that is preferred for those who are ordained. But, marriage is not prohibited in all circumstances. As you referred to above, there are situations where the discipline of celibacy is relaxed.

Celibacy is a very good thing and here are some reasons why:
  1. It is the model of Christ and the 12 Apostles. Even though 11 of the 12 were probably married at some time (John being the exception), the early Church affirms that they remained continent (inactive sexually). The early Church Fathers also echo this preference for celibacy. Thus, it is historical.
  2. It is preferred as an objectively higher state of living, as affirmed by Scripture.
  3. It frees up the priest/Bishop to live a life totally dedicated to the Church.
  4. It is a greater way of being a sacrament (sign) of Christ and conforms the man more perfectly to Him.
  5. Celibacy shows the great gift of marriage. A cleric gives up the right to marry and have children. Through his celibacy he "marries" the Church and looks to the time of heaven where all of us will be celibate and married to Christ. This foreshadowing of heaven shows the great dignity that marriage has, being in the image of Christ and the Church.
With that in mind, in all of the Catholic Churches (including Eastern Catholics) as well as the Orthodox Churches, there are no married men who are elevated to the episcopal office (Bishop). Why is this and is it a doctrine?

I think there is still a debate whether it is doctrinal or not. In order to be a doctrine, it must have been a rule given by Christ and handed to the Apostles. There is certainly clear evidence that it is a preferred state of life, but was no universal prohibition on married clergy either. There is strong evidence that even early married priests/bishops were asked to live a continent marriage (without sex) and there is some evidence to this. This gave rise to the prohibition of ordaining married priests to the episcopacy later on.

But, we have to remember that doctrine can develop over time, even if it does not change. Doctrinal development means that our understanding of that truth grows, even if the core of that truth stays the same.

In other words, the question is still somewhat open until the Church definitively rules on it. If they do, my guess is that it is declared a doctrine. But, this is merely my guess and I have been known to be wrong before - just ask my wife or my Bishop.

I hope this helps.


celledoor said...

Of all the Scripture quoted you didn't address 1 Tim 3:2.

Ragamuffin said...

Even though 11 of the 12 were probably married at some time (John being the exception), the early Church affirms that they remained continent (inactive sexually).

This is the first I've heard of this. You mean that the 11 Apostles that were married stopped having sex with their wives after becoming Apostles?

And if so, how does this not contradict the Scriptural directive for husbands and wives not to withhold themselves sexually from one another except for short periods of time like a dedicated period of fasting and prayer?

Marcel said...

Ragamuffin said...

Interesting. I don't have an issue with celibacy in the priesthood, and neither do I have any problem with married people voluntarily giving up their marital rights to join the monastic life. It does seem odd to me to make it a binding directive though. Seems to place a lot more emphasis on this stuff than Christ himself or the Apostles did in any of the Scriptural writings.

I realize that Catholics don't hold to a view of Scripture and doctrine that Protestants do and that alone may be the source of our impasse (I'm Anglican). I have a great deal of respect for the Catholic Church and can see many advantages and praiseworthy things about priestly celibacy. But sometimes I guess I just don't understand why it gets taken to this extent.