The End of Celibate Priests?

Commentators debate the implications of admitting married Anglican priests into the Catholic fold

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Tuesday, the Atlantic Wire covered the astonished reaction to the Vatican's announcement of a proposed amnesty of sorts for Anglicans. Pope Benedict XVI has decided that Anglicans wishing to rejoin the Catholic church after 475 years of estrangement are welcome to do so, and will be free to keep many of their Anglican traditions and modes of worship. This includes, most notably, married priests. Anglican priests who are already married will be welcomed back into the fold, and Benedict may yet decide that Anglican-Catholic priests who wish to marry in the future may do so.

Commentators are falling over themselves to figure out the implications of the move. How do Catholic priests feel about being denied a sex life while their Anglican brethren indulge? Will this bid to gain members lead to a loosening of one of Catholicism's oldest strictures? Here are the leading opinions:

  • Is This Hypocritical?  "Non-celibate former Anglican priests," the Catholic Andrew Sullivan points out, have been crossing over to Catholicism for a while. What this new move confirms "is that the Vatican does not believe--who could?--that a married priest cannot serve his flock as well as a celibate one." So "[w]hy would the Vatican make an exception for Anglicans but not for, you know, Catholics?"
  • Yes: Expect Trouble Over It  The Los Angeles Times' Michael McGough points out that "some moderate Catholics are likely to grouse over the fact that cradle Catholics can't become priests and be married, but Anglican arrivistes can."
  • No Trouble: This Gives Marriage-Happy Catholics an Out  On NPR, the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen on NPR asks whether, "the Vatican, without intending to, [has] created a loophole big enough to drive a Mac truck through, on the discipline of priestly celibacy." Perhaps, he explains, the Vatican will decide it's not just current Anglican ministers who can be married and ordained as Catholic priests, but future candidates for the priesthood" as well. In that case, we might "see a growing number of young Catholic men who will says, Well, geez, I'd like to be a priest and I'd like to be married. Maybe I can sign up for one of these new structures and do it that way."
  • No Kidding  "Heck," says The New Republic's Michelle Cottle, taking this one step further, "if I were a godly young Catholic looking to join the priesthood but put off by that whole no-sex business, I'd switch to Anglicanism for however many years it took me to earn my collar and snag me a hot wife, then jump back to the mother church and enjoy the best of all worlds." Her conclusion: "What message exactly are we to take from this move? Celibacy is absolutely crucial to the clerical calling--except when it's not."
  • How About Ditching Celibacy Already?  Dan Rodricks at The Baltimore Sun concurs entirely with Cottle on that last point. He points out, like Sullivan, that none of this is new: "Since the early 1980s, dozens of former Episcopal priests, a good many married with children, have become Catholic priests in the United States." The takeaway, in his mind, is clear:
Celibacy is the elephant in the room when Catholics discuss the sex abuse scandal and the shortage of priests. It remains on the books. But, for the sake of the future church, which now appears likely to include many Anglican converts and their married priests, it's time to drop it and see what good might come.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.