Being a Catholic Priest—and Married

Fr Richard Cipolla:

My experience as a married Catholic priest for 28 years brings to mind several thoughts, both practical and spiritual. First, the church must support new priests’ families financially. During my first years as a married Catholic priest, there were times when we could not pay the heating bill. When I was ordained, it was made quite clear to me that I should not look to the church as my main source of income but rather to a full-time job outside of the church. My parish duties have thus always been secondary.

Secondly, the new priests must be prepared for the spiritual struggles that come with the territory of being a married priest in the Catholic Church. It is difficult for children of priests to hear everyone call their father, “Father.” It is one of my regrets that I could never be a “normal Dad” who was able to attend school functions and sporting events. Priests’ wives often bear the brunt of this special status, for they must allow their husbands to be “priest” at a real cost to themselves and their children…

Despite my situation—which is similar to that of other married clergy who have entered the Catholic ranks since the 1980s—I am a firm supporter of the celibacy of the Catholic clergy. Its basis is not found in councils or popes but rather in the person of Jesus Christ. The heart of the Catholic priesthood is sacrifice, and celibacy, in imitation of Christ, frees the priest to give himself totally to the church and its people.

Though many priests do live this life of sacrifice, it is also obvious that celibacy is used by all too many priests to live a life that is selfish and closed off. The sexual scandals of the past decade are a glaring example of the perversion of celibacy.

And the very structures of a parish priest’s life often prevent him from achieving the freedom that should be the fruit of celibacy. The lack of deep spiritual friendship between priests; the unreal world they inhabit, at least from the viewpoint of a typical American family; the careerism that is the noxious fruit of the bureaucratic world of the chancery—all this works against the priest using his celibacy to be free for his people.

Reform of the priesthood is sorely needed today. The answer is not married priests. The answer is priests who understand the sacrifice that is at the center of their lives—whether they are married or not…

The rest in the Wall Street Journal here.


3 thoughts on “Being a Catholic Priest—and Married

    1. No, I don’t think so. I understand that what he is saying is that while the Catholic Church allows married priests in certain instances, the celibate priesthood should be the norm. And we know too that if the wife of a married priest dies, it is then that celibacy applies to that priest also.

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