Elephant in the Living Room – Part 2

This is the Second Part of the Three Part Discussion. In this Post we want to have an open discussion and ask these questions:

  1. Should priests be allowed to marry
  2. If so, why?
  3. What are the advantages to having a celibate pastor?
  4. What are the disadvantages of having a celibate pastor?
  5. Do you believe there is any relationship between  mandatory celibacy and the sexual misconduct that has been unfolded in the Church today?
Before answering these questions, you might want to read the rest of this post. It may be helpful to have the following information

A Brief History of Celibacy in the Catholic Church

First Century
Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men. The New Testament implies that women presided at eucharistic meals in the early church.

Second and Third Century
Age of Gnosticism: light and spirit are good, darkness and material things are evil. A person cannot be married and be perfect. However, most priests were married.

Fourth Century
306-Council of Elvira, Spain, decree #43: a priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job.
325-Council of Nicea: decreed that after ordination a priest could not marry. Proclaimed the Nicene Creed.
352-Council of Laodicea: women are not to be ordained. This suggests that before this time there was ordination of women.
385-Pope Siricius left his wife in order to become pope. Decreed that priests may no longer sleep with their wives.

Fifth Century
401-St. Augustine wrote, “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.”

Sixth Century
567-2nd Council of Tours: any cleric found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated for a year and reduced to the lay state.
580-Pope Pelagius II: his policy was not to bother married priests as long as they did not hand over church property to wives or children.
590-604-Pope Gregory “the Great” said that all sexual desire is sinful in itself (meaning that sexual desire is intrinsically evil?).

Seventh Century
France: documents show that the majority of priest were married.

Eighth Century
St. Boniface reported to the pope that in Germany almost no bishop or priest was celibate.

Ninth Century
836-Council of Aix-la-Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up activities of uncelibate clerics.
St. Ulrich, a holy bishop, argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry.

Eleventh Century
1045– Benedict IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry.
1074-Pope Gregory VII said anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy: ‘priests [must] first escape from the clutches of their wives.’
1095-Pope Urban II had priests’ wives sold into slavery, children were abandoned.

Twelfth Century
1123-Pope Calistus II: First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid.
1139-Pope Innocent II: Second Lateran Council confirmed the previous council’s decree.

Fourteenth Century
Bishop Pelagio complains that women are still ordained and hearing confessions.

Fifteenth Century
Transition; 50% of priests are married and accepted by the people.

Sixteenth Century
1545-63-Council of Trent states that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage.
1517-Martin Luther.
1530-Henry VIII.

Seventeenth Century
Inquisition. Galileo. Newton.

Eighteenth Century
1776-American Declaration of Independence.
1789-French Revolution.

Nineteenth Century
1847-Marx, Communist Manifesto.
1869-First Vatican Council; infallibility of pope.

Twentieth Century
1930-Pope Pius XI: sex can be good and holy.
1951-Pope Pius XII: married Lutheran pastor ordained catholic priest in Germany.
1962-Pope John XXIII: Vatican Council II; vernacular; marriage is equal to virginity.
1966-Pope Paul VI: celibacy dispensations.
1970s-Ludmilla Javorova and several other Czech women ordained to serve needs of women imprisoned by Communists.
1978-Pope John Paul II: puts a freeze on dispensations.
1983-New Canon Law.
1980-Married Anglican/Episcopal pastors are ordained as catholic priests in the U.S.; also in Canada and England in 1994.

Popes who were married

St. Peter, Apostle
St. Felix III 483-492 (2 children)
St. Hormidas 514-523 (1 son)
St. Silverus (Antonia) 536-537
Hadrian II 867-872 (1 daughter)
Clement IV 1265-1268 (2 daughters)
Felix V 1439-1449 (1 son)

Popes who were the sons of other popes, other clergy

Name of Pope Papacy Son of
St. Damascus I 366-348 St. Lorenzo, priest
St. Innocent I 401-417 Anastasius I
Boniface 418-422 son of a priest
St. Felix 483-492 son of a priest
Anastasius II 496-498 son of a priest
St. Agapitus I 535-536 Gordiaous, priest
St. Silverus 536-537 St. Homidas, pope
Deusdedit 882-884 son of a priest
Boniface VI 896-896 Hadrian, bishop
John XI 931-935 Pope Sergius III
John XV 989-996 Leo, priest


Popes who had illegitimate children after 1139

Innocent VIII 1484-1492 several children
Alexander VI 1492-1503 several children
Julius 1503-1513 3 daughters
Paul III 1534-1549 3 sons, 1 daughter
Pius IV 1559-1565 3 sons
Gregory XIII 1572-1585 1 son


History sources:
Oxford Dictionary of Popes; H.C. Lea History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church 1957; E. Schillebeeckx The Church with a Human Face 1985; J. McSorley Outline History of the Church by Centuries 1957; F.A.Foy (Ed.) 1990 Catholic Almanac 1989; D.L. Carmody The Double Cross – Ordination, Abortion and Catholic Feminism 1986; P.K. Jewtt The Ordination of Women 1980; A.F. Ide God’s Girls – Ordination of Women in the Early Christian & Gnostic Churches 1986; E. Schüssler Fiorenza In Memory of Her 1984; P. DeRosa Vicars of Christ 1988.


Myths and Facts

Myth: All priests take a vow of celibacy.
Fact: Most priests do not take a vow. It is a promise made before the bishop.

Myth: Celibacy is not the reason for the vocation shortage.
Fact: A 1983 survey of Protestant churches shows a surplus of clergy; the Catholic church alone has a shortage.

Myth: Clerical celibacy has been the norm since the Second Lateran Council in 1139.
Fact: Priests and even popes still continued to marry and have children for several hundred years after that date. In fact, the Eastern Catholic Church still has married priests.

In the Latin Church, one may be a married priest if:

  • one is a Protestant pastor first; or
  • if one is a life-long Catholic but promises never again to have sexual relations with one’s wife.

Myth: The vocation shortage is due to materialism and lack of faith.
Fact: Research (1985 Lilly endowment): “there is no evidence to support loss of faith for less vocations…youth volunteer and campus ministry is rising.”

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8 Responses to Elephant in the Living Room – Part 2

  1. sue day says:

    I have to agree with Deacon Greg comment about he and Barb. I think and know that Deacon Glen and I see things with a different “twist” because we are partners ” in God’s eyes” together. Instead of one of us saying< "he said or she said" we sit calmly and discuss any topic. An yes there have been times when we may not agree on every topic, but being the partners we are makes things eaisier to handle!!

  2. Hidden from perception.. additional observations from a blind woman…

    Do you recall the oft told ancient story of the elephant and the 6 blind men assigned by the King to describe the elephant to him?

    In various versions of the tale, these men touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

    In some versions, they walk away certain that they are correct, in some then escalate into conflict, and in some versions they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to “see” the full elephant.

    In one version, the King finds that they are all correct, in their own subjective way of examining the part of the elephant they touched, and he brings harmony to the conflict. In Christian understanding, of course, the King is Jesus Christ, who gives us directives about unity, Union, the nature of marital bonds, and leaving the judgment to God as we look at the plank of sin in our own eye rather than what is in the eye of my sister or brother. How clearly can celibate men see?

    Extrapolation? Yes, yet It fits with regard to taking on the authority to mandate the behavior of others, and how that comes about. In one analysis of this tale that relates to blindness even among the sighted, there is wisdom that can be readily applied to the issue of celibacy mandated by those who do not share the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, celibate men.

    Theirs is one legitimate, subjective view, fully right for those called to celibacy. However, another analysis of this tale reads, When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, they also learn they are blind. While one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. If the sighted man was deaf, he would not hear the elephant bellow. Denying something you cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for your limitations.
    I offer these thoughts from the perspective of the blind woman, in that spirit, of Truth and full sightedness related to the question of mandatory celibacy for those called to the sacrament of Holy Orders.

    (1) Who decides… and how?

    The Church is limited by her denial of and inexperience with the God-given capacity of two living as One, in Union with Christ who makes that Union possible to sustain and who uses it to accomplish what one cannot do alone. Those who live in a holy state of matrimony as intended, the two living as one, know the challenge is impossible without God, difficult with Him unless there develops a sacrificial relationship that is not different in nature from the Oneness with Christ we seek.

    The men of the Church have placed celibacy above all other forms of sexuality for those called to ordained ministry. I suggest that this might equate to blindness, established by those (men) who have not lived in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony – from St. Augustine, to St. Paul, to Popes and their trusted servants down throughout the ages. Let us consider HOW the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, lived out with commitment, deepens the surrender and sacrificial life for those called to both ordination and marriage.

    Let us take seriously the lives of priests who are married live in the full storm of life, the sacrament of Holy Matrimony empowered by the grace of God, gives to a married priest a reservoir of experience to live in and to draw upon when guiding his people in their own living out of this sacrament.

    The challenge is no different than family life is for anyone, balance and unity are challenging to come by, and sometimes the best intentions go badly, and in one of faith, these challenges deepen humility, empathy, and faithful reliance on God… held in this way, marriage for a priest provides him with a fullness of heart and mind that is most clearly found in efforts to live interdependently with others… to be Christ-like in the challenge.

    As one who seeks daily to live out the holiness and union of marriage (and knows how impossible it is to do without God), I suggest that had Adam and Eve both put God first, and held the protection of one another from the forces of danger as a primary commitment, in God’s economy there might well have been no apple eaten, which brings me to the second elephant, the view of women as held by celibate men of the Church.

    (2) Woman as “temptress”, and escaping from her “grasp” and darkness of sexuality

    Believe me, I don’t even want to go down this path. It tires me out. Butd for as long as there is blindness on the part of male-only perception, we need women with their hands on the elephant to describe what they see, and men to listen no less than women and men need to listen to one another, if the Truth is to be discovered.

    Even in this brief history presented here, women are “other” (grasping, seducing in the darkness, reason for a priest’s excommunication at worst and exclusion from celebrating the Mass at best) by the fourth century priests were forbidden to marry; by the fifth century St. Augustine proclaims, “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.”

    Oh my goodness. US vs. THEM reaches extreme proportions, the very kind of separation Jesus refused to live in, in truth he sought to include anyone called “other” by those in power.

    DO YOU THINK maybe this might have been the experience of a celibate man with his hands on the elephant, speaking for his experience, and correct… about his experience??
    Could it be that the imposition of celibacy on the naturally strong nature of male sexuality is the problem for exploration?

    Are we really to believe that WOMEN, because the majority of men are drawn to women, are the PROBLEM? Are we really to believe that?

    If so, challenge those beliefs.

    It fits in the list of beliefs with that women are “(justifiably?”) assaulted sexually because they are attractive or dressed in revealing ways.
    It goes with the idea that alcohol causes alcoholism so.. get rid of the alcohol rather than deal with the desire that is insatiable for an alcoholic.
    Are we to really believe that limiting the size of soda’s one can purchase and putting an extra tax on “junk” foods will eliminate the epidemic of obesity?
    Can we mandate heart change in others by removing objects of desire?
    So far, it has not worked on anything I am aware of. In God’s order, we are called work to work spiritually from the inside out, by his grace diminishing the roots of desire that can obscure the Spirit within not to pretend we can remove desire by removing the object.


    God gave us brains created in his image, and the unique among mammals ability to analyze our direct experience, and his Spirit of discernment to use. Forgive my bluntness, but really… let’s step up here to our God-given capacities.

    Is another view of the Elephant coming into view in the hands of this woman? I pray so.

    Whatever the excess of the Women’s movement in its effort to be heard, it is this kind of false attribution that spawned it… and the elimination of women from full participation in the life of human beings, by the joint understanding of men in power. The Church is still living this out, in spades, and in dire consequences from a declining number of vocations, to the across the board determination that no Woman could possibly be called to ordained ministry. If She thinks so, let us eliminate her so that we are not caught in her “grasp.”

    If only there were not women, and God forbid, women who put their hands on the Elephant and describe their experience, WE men would all be ok. Is this true? What is our experience?

    Let me say it again: had Adam and Eve both put God first, and held the protection of one another from the forces of danger as a primary commitment, in God’s economy there might have been no apple eaten!

    Let me say in addition, men are wondrously created beings, capable of sexual fidelity to celibacy or marriage, no matter what women are moving about around them; let us not buy into this insulting view of men that hides underneath the decision to eliminate women so that men are “safe” from their sexuality. As has been mentioned in question 5, that’s not working so well anyway.

    And let me say in one final thought, WHERE IS GOD in this discernment of mandatory celibacy? Weren’t the apostles celibate? Perhaps, it is likely our Lord would have expected no less of his followers while ‘on the road’ when outside the realm of their marital union, or if like St. Paul, they were not called to marital union.

    Where is the King… and to what kind of unity in truth and discernment does he call us
    Where is God in that mandate?
    Did Jesus choose his apostles because they were celibate or require that? No, although celibacy would be expected as sexual morality while travelling with him since they were either unmarried, or married and living outside of their marital union. Let us not forget context here. The scriptures are otherwise silent about how family and ministry were woven together by His closest followers, other than by St. Paul who describes himself as utterly uncalled to marital union. So be it. Let us not forget context here either, regarding his nature.

    Do you sense another few parts of the Elephant coming into view?

    “Denying something you cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for your limitations.”

    Thank you for joining with us in this dialogue, all who are willing to come, are welcome and there is hope for Truth to emerge..

  3. Deacon Greg says:

    I believe the story of creation shows us that God does not want us to live alone. Our spouses and partners bring a uniting spirit to our lives that can sometime be lost when we are by ourselves. I know that when I was alone before I met and married Barbara my life and ideas where only a one sided reflection of my personality. I was an incomplete person. No middle ground. I believe that priests who are married are a joy to God because it is through their union that two separate lives can become one; the one being so much stronger than the sum of the two by themselves.
    I agree with Randy that it must be a joint ‘yoking’ to Christ by both parties. Too much conflict might occur if one spouse doesn’t fully accept the calling of the other.

    • Bishop Ed says:

      Deacon Greg, certainly there were exceptions, but for the most part it would seem that Jesus preferred people who were yoked to another to be his apostles. And if that is true, and I believe it is, then maybe this Pauline concept of being married only “if you burn” is not to be applied universally. Maybe, just maybe, having another at your side in ministry is the preferred course of action and living by oneself is not nearly as desirable. Whatta ya think?

      • Bishop Ed says:

        And maybe that’s why he called his apostles to go out and heal the sick and drive out demons, yoked to another apostle. Mom used to say, “Two heads are better than one.”

  4. JohnS says:

    Sorry for my bluntness, but the absurd requirements of the Roman Catholic priesthood are the primary reasons it attracts/creates/encourages so many sexual predators. And the real reason for them being instituted in the first place was originally financial: illegitimate children of priests were suing the (old) church for support, therefore the church outlawed marriage and sex for its priests. The (Roman) Catholic church is a sick sick organization. Again sorry for my bluntness but it’s way past time these creeps were put under control.

  5. Randy Rogers says:

    I believe celibacy is a gift bestowed to select people. Those without this spiritual gift are left yearning for some level of physical intimacy in their lives.

    Priests/Pastors who choose to remain unmarried (celibate) are able to devote themselves fully to the work of God — without being pulled away due to important family matters. They don’t feel the tension of having to balance their ministry with family responsibilities.

    For pastors (or anyone in the discerning process) who are already married, I strongly believe the spouse must fully support the ministry. It becomes, in effect, their ministry. Years ago, I felt the tug — though my wife at the time was not in favor of the idea. This made me question the call, since I believed that God would not call me into ministry without the support of my wife. That marriage, unfortunately, ended years ago.

    St Paul tells us it is better to marry than to burn in the flesh. Should married people serve? Yes, provided their spouse prayerfully supports the ministry — and binds themselves to the yoke of Christ.

    St Paul also encourages people to remain unmarried as he was (Paul was not likely widowed). St Paul’s missionary work would have made raising a family extremely difficult. I think the answer is different to those that earnestly seek it.


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