The imposition of celibacy on the Catholic clergy in the light of Scripture


The Roman Catholic Church imposes celibacy on its priests and deacons. Here is what the Code of Canon Law affirms: ‘An unmarried candidate for the permanent diaconate and a candidate for the presbyterate are not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless they have assumed the obligation of celibacy in the prescribed rite publicly before God and the Church or have made perpetual vows in a religious institute.’ (Can. 1037), ‘Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.’ (Can. 277 §1).

The following biblical passages are cited to support the imposition of celibacy on the clergy: Jeremiah 16:1-2; Luke 23:28-29; and 1 Corinthians 7:32-33

A brief history of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church

In the early Church celibacy was not imposed on bishops or deacons; rather one of the necessary qualifications both for the position of a bishop and the position of a deacon was that the candidate had to be the husband of one wife and had to rule his own house well. However, inasmuch as with the passing of time within the Church many people accepted the doctrine according to which the Lord’s Supper was the repetition of the sacrifice of Christ, and thus the belief that when the presbyters celebrated the Lord’s Supper they offered to God the immolated victim (the body of Christ) for their own sins and for the sins of the people, the Church began to teach that the married presbyters had to abstain from having sexual intercourse with their wives so that they might be pure at the Lord’s Supper. This teaching was supported with the example of the Levitical priests under the Old Testament, who were not allowed to go near the holy things while they had uncleanness upon them, as it is written: “Say unto them, Whosoever he be of all your seed among your generations, that goeth unto the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow unto the LORD, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from my presence: I am the LORD. …. The soul which hath touched any such shall be unclean until even, and shall not eat of the holy things, unless he wash his flesh with water. And when the sun is down, he shall be clean, and shall afterward eat of the holy things; because it is his food.” (Leviticus 22:3, 6-7). It is evident that when the Lord’s Supper began to be celebrated every day, the Church ended by forbidding the presbyters who were married to have sexual intercourse with their wives. This is evident from two canons (can. 18 and can. 33) of the Council of Elvira which took place in Spain around 306. Afterward pope Gregory VII imposed celibacy on the clergy in 1073. However, it must be said that Gregory VII did not impose celibacy for theological reasons but for economic and financial reasons, that is to say, for he did not want the priests to leave the Church lands to their wives and children.

The first written law forbidding the clergy to marry was finally handed down at the first Lateran Council (1123), which stated: ‘We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons, and monks to have concubines or to contract marriage. We decree in accordance with the definitions of the sacred canons, that marriages already contracted by such persons must be dissolved, and that the persons be condemned to do penance’ (Canon 21). The Second Lateran Council in 1139 confirmed this law. And about four centuries later the Council of Trent stated as follows: “If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is no thing 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” (Council of Trent, Session 24, Canon IX)

The imposition of celibacy on the clergy was confirmed by pope Paul VI through the encyclical Sacerdotalis coelibatus (June 1967), and by the late John Paul II on many occasions.


Celibacy is a gift of God, thus it cannot be imposed

Paul said to Timothy: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons]; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry…..” (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

Therefore the doctrine which forbids the bishops, the priests and the deacons, to marry is a doctrine of demons. Why? Because celibacy is a gift of God and not something which some men are allowed to impose on other men, for Jesus said: “Not everyone can accept this teaching”, – that is, the teaching which says that it is better not to marry – “but only those to whom it has been given” (Matthew 19:11 – NIV), and Paul said: “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Corinthians 7:7 – NKJV).

What is the result of the imposition of celibacy on the roman catholic priests? This, that the priests give themselves over to uncleanness and fornication, offending thus people. On the other hand, Paul said very clearly why a man must get married: “Because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife …..” (1 Corinthians 7:2 – NKJV). No wonder then that those on whom celibacy is imposed give themselves to uncleanness and fornication. We have come to this conclusion, that since Paul says to the unmarried: “If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9 – NKJV), for the Roman Catholic Church it is better to burn than to marry! (Bear in mind that a Roman Catholic priest who commits fornication is not considered a good priest, yet he can continue to fulfil his office within the roman catholic church; however should he marry he can no longer be a priest). As you can see, the roman catholic church contradicts the truth!

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on celibacy is contradictory, for on the one hand the Catholic Church affirms that celibacy is a gift of God (they call it the gift of chastity), but on the other hand it affirms that the Church requires the gift of chastity from all those who want to become priests and have entered the priesthood. But if celibacy is a gift why do they impose it? Why don’t they consider it optional? To impose a gift of God on someone, as the roman curia does with its sophisms, is an absurdity; it is like saying to someone who has not the gift of working miracles that he must work miracles!! It is like saying that a believer who does not have the gift of prophecy must prophesy for this is a gift of God! However Paul said to the Romans: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith ….” (Romans 12:6 – NKJV), therefore if we don’t have the gift of prophecy we can’t prophesy! Likewise, if one has the gift of celibacy let him not marry, but if he does not have this gift let him marry lest he commit fornication.

Let me say another thing concerning the gift of celibacy. This gift is not given to some people because they have asked God for it, but apart from their will because God has determined that they must not marry. However, let us suppose that one asks God for the gift of celibacy, who can affirm that God will surely give him this gift? The Scripture says that “this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15 – NKJV). Therefore, even if a believer asks God for the gift of celibacy, his prayer will be answered if this is the will of God for him. However, the Roman Catholic Church does not teach so, for it affirms that God won’t refuse him the gift of celibacy. However the falsehood of this statement is evident, for the catholic priests have entered the priesthood thinking that they had the gift of celibacy for God had given it to them in order to fulfil their priestly tasks, and afterward they have realized that they did not have this gift. That proves that what the roman catholic church teaches on celibacy is untrue.

In the Church of God the bishops and deacons must be married

Now let us examine in the light of the Scriptures what the roman catholic church affirms in order to support the imposition of celibacy on the clergy. The catholic church affirms that the priests need to be unmarried or rather they must be unmarried in order to serve God faithfully and saintly.

First of all I want to say that the roman catholic priests don’t serve God for they teach heresies and are idolaters and superstitious. Secondly, I want to say that the Scripture teaches that not only unmarried people but also married people can serve God in the Church in a manner worthy of the Gospel. If married people were not able to serve God faithfully and saintly in the Church, Paul would not have said to Timothy that both bishops and deacons must be the husbands of one wife and must rule their own houses well (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2,4,12 – so they must be married). But there is another thing to be said: Paul said to Titus that a bishop (or an elder) must be not only the husband of one wife but also just, holy and self-controlled (cf. Titus 1:6,8); that means that marriage does not keep a bishop from being just, holy and self-controlled. Undoubtedly, if a bishop were to be unmarried in order to be just, holy and self-controlled, Paul would not have said those things to Titus. To confirm what I have just said I remember you that when Paul mentions the qualifications of a bishop and of a deacon he says: “But let these also [the candidates for the diaconate] first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless” (1 Timothy 3:10 – NKJV), which means that the (married) candidates for the presbyterate and for the diaconate, after they have been tested for a certain period of time, can be found blameless, even though they are married and have children. What Paul says makes it clear that marriage does not distract a believer to the point that he can’t live a just, holy and self-controlled life and consequently he can’t become a bishop or a deacon in the Church of God, for as we have seen if the (married) candidates are found blameless after they have been tested they can serve as bishops and as deacons in the Church of the living God. Furthermore the apostles also (except Paul and Barnabas) were married, for Paul says to the Corinthians: “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5 – NKJV) That Peter was married is confirmed by Matthew when he says: “Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her.” (Matthew 8:14-15 – NKJV). Yet the apostles were holy men who perfected holiness in the fear of God and gave no offense in anything!

Many holy men of God under the Old Testament were married

Now I want to speak of some people who lived under the Old Testament in order to confirm that one can be a married person and at the same time he can be a faithful and holy servant of God.

Noah, whom Peter calls “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), was “a just man, perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9 – NKJV); yet he was married and had some children.

Moses, who was a prophet and of whom the Scripture says that he “was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward” (Hebrews 3:5 – NKJV), was married and had some children.

Aaron, the high priest, was married, as it is written: “Aaron took to himself Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Nahson, as wife; and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar” (Exodus 6:23 – NKJV).

The prophet Isaiah was married, for it is written: “Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son” (Isaiah 8:3 – NKJV).

The prophet Hosea also was married, for it is written: “When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: ‘Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry ….” (Hosea 1:2 – NKJV).

The prophet Ezekiel was married, as it is written: “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died ….” (Ezekiel 24:18 – NKJV).

Let me say also this: the Curia affirms that the roman catholic priests are in a certain sense like the Levitical priests under the Old Testament, but they wilfully forget that the Levitical priests also, who offered sacrifices for the people, were married and were allowed to marry. Concerning the levitical priests, I remember you that Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest of the division of Abijah, and his wife Elizabeth was of the daughters of Aaron, and “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6 – NKJV). As you can see, he was a priest under the Old Testament, he was married, yet he walked in all the commandments of God blameless.

Some biblical passages cited by the Curia to support the imposition of celibacy explained

Now let me explain to you some biblical passages quoted by the Curia to support the imposition of celibacy.

● God said to Jeremiah: “Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place.” (Jeremiah 16:2).

First of all it must be said that it was God who forbade Jeremiah to marry, and not the high priest of the temple or someone else; and secondly it must be said that God gave him that specific commandment for the following reason: “For thus saith the LORD concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bare them, and concerning their fathers that begat them in this land; They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.” (Jeremiah 16:3-4). Therefore God commanded Jeremiah not to marry nor to have children for He wanted to spare him many afflictions.

● Jesus said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” (Luke 23:28-29).

By those words Jesus did not forbid the virgins to marry nor did He call blessed those women who were barren, for according to the law the woman was free to marry and any woman who was barren was not blessed. Jesus simply meant that when Jerusalem would be destroyed by the roman army, since those women who had borne children would lose their children, those women who were barren would be called blessed for they would not lose their children.

● Paul said to the Corinthians: “He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33 – NKJV).

By these words Paul simply meant that he who is unmarried is without all those cares which on the contrary any married person has, and thus he can dedicate more time to the things of the Lord, not having a wife and children to take care of. That’s why he counselled the unmarried to remain as they were: for he wanted believers to be without care. Now let me explain to you what it means to be without care. For instance, a preacher who is unmarried when he takes a journey because of the Gospel is more free than a preacher who has got a wife and some children; and when he is persecuted he must not worry about his wife and his children; however this difference does not make an unmarried man holier or more happy than a married man. Paul counselled the unmarried to remain unmarried for this reason also: he wanted to spare them trouble in the flesh, for he said: “Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you” (1 Corinthians 7:27-28 – NKJV). However it must be said that the trouble in the flesh which the married people have does not make marriage less important than celibacy. Far be it from us to think that marriage is to be despised because it causes married people to have trouble in the flesh or because “he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:33 – NKJV), for it is also written: “Marriage should be honored by all …” (Hebrews 13:4 – NIV). Therefore also the marriage of God’s ministers, of bishops and of deacons, should be honored by all. To conclude, the point is that Paul does not impose celibacy on anybody, but he tells those who have received the gift of celibacy not to marry, and he tells those who burn with passion and feel that they don’t have the gift of celibacy to marry assuring them that by so doing they will not commit any sin, as it is written: “But even if you do marry, you have not sinned” (1 Corinthians 7:28 – NKJV).

The true reasons why celibacy is imposed on the clergy

Last of all, it must be said that the celibacy of the clergy has always been a subject for discussion within the roman catholic church, for not all think that it should be imposed. There are many prelates who would like the pope to make celibacy optional. However till now the position of the pope on celibacy has not changed, even though the imposition of celibacy has caused all kinds of scandals within the roman church. So what do many priests do, who are forced to live unmarried against their will? They ask for the dispensation in order to marry, choosing rather to marry and thus to leave the catholic priesthood than to continue to give themselves over to fornication and uncleanness. Between 1963 and 1969, during the papacy of Paul VI, more than eight thousand priests asked for dispensation from their vows, while about three thousand priests left the priesthood without waiting for the dispensation. Also during the papacy of John Paul II many priests have left the priesthood in order to marry. In the past 25 years, 110,000 priests throughout the world left the priesthood to marry.

Now why does the Curia continue to impose celibacy, in spite of all the offences caused by the priests (many of them have a concubine) and in spite of the fact that every year many priests ask for dispensation from their vows and many others leave the priesthood without asking for dispensation from their priestly vows? Is not this attitude of the Curia harmful to the Roman Catholic Church? Of course it is, but you should not forget that through the imposition of celibacy the Roman Catholic Church defends its economic and financial interests. Have you ever wondered why the roman catholic church tolerates a priest who lives with a concubine allowing him to continue to be a priest, but it does not allow a priest who marries to continue to be a priest? The reason is that the concubine of a priest cannot inherit what belongs to the priest, while his wife and his children can. Therefore the roman catholic church forbids the priests to marry in order to keep the priests from leaving what they have to their wives or their children. When one looks at the history of celibacy in the Catholic Church, it soon becomes apparent that this state of life became mandatory due to financial considerations, not because priests were supposed to emulate Christ by remaining single. In other words, it was the concern of the loss of Church lands to heirs of priests, and not the desire that the priests should be consecrated wholly to their office, which led to the imposition of the celibacy rule. There is another reason why the Curia imposes celibacy on the clergy, which is this: the papacy, being a absolutist system, needs obedient subjects wholly submissive to their superiors, and celibacy assures that unconditioned obedience the pope requires from the priests. In other words, an unmarried priest can be controlled more easily than a married priest; an unmarried priest is more loyal to the pope than a married priest. Therefore, the fact that the Curia says that priests need to be unmarried so that they might live a holier life is just a pretext, for celibacy is imposed for control reasons.

Giacinto Butindaro

About giacintobutindaro

I am a minister of the Gospel, living and serving God in Italy
This entry was posted in Abominations, Apologetics, Catholicism, heresies, Marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The imposition of celibacy on the Catholic clergy in the light of Scripture

  1. Vincent says:

    A good article. We in India where just 2% christian often asked this question as why priest are not allowed to marry? We as a laymen have no definite theological answer but only tell them that it so because, the priests could whole heartedly devote to their role as priest. The arguements of non-christians becomes more difficult to answer when they cite some cases of sexual abuses by priests. We know church spends a lot on formation of a priest and therefore, they become assets of church. Huge number of priests asking for dispensation should be a matter of concern. Therefore, imposing celibacy on needs to reviewed and now the activities of priests are not limited to saying mass, baptising and so on. Priests are now managing and teaching in school and are engaged in various activities. If a priests wants to mary he should be allowed with certain conditions like that he should be able to support himself and his family financially and in such cases he could be given some other assignments within the church without affecting their status as priests. As in the time of Jesus, married men can also be allowed to become deacon or priest but before allowing this in each case their family circumstances could be properly examined.

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