Last week, Pope Francis discussed the possibility of married priests with Infobae, an Argentinian news outlet. The 86-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church hinted that the discipline of celibacy could be reviewed.
Why don’t Catholic priests typically get married? WWL’s Scoot talked with former Notre Dame Seminary rector Father Jim Wehner to talk about the issue.
“Just for clarification, what the pope is talking about is the discussion on married men becoming priests, not the other way around,” Wehner said. “In our 2000-year history, that has never happened where priests get married, because once you’re ordained a priest, you’re then given a flock, you’re given a responsibility. So, time to be meeting a woman, dating, starting having the children. That’s just never been, even as some of the apostles were married.”
However, Pope Francis noted during his Infobae interview that the Eastern Rite of the Catholic church does allow priests to marry. Some other Christian religions, such as the Anglican church, also allow priests to get married, according to the Anglican Compass.
For Catholics, celibacy is not actually “an intrinsic theological requirement for priesthood,” Wehner said. “Rather, it’s a discipline.”
Pope Francis also referred to the practice of celibacy by Catholic priests as a “discipline” in his interview.
“Celibacy in the Western church is a temporary prescription: I don’t know if it is resolved one way or another, but it is provisional in this sense; it is not eternal like priestly ordination, which is forever, whether you like it or not. Whether you leave or not is another matter, but it is forever. Instead celibacy is a discipline,” he said, according to a translation of the article from Spanish to English.
Regarding the question of reviewing marriage for priests, the pontiff said: “Yes. In fact, all of the Eastern Church are married. Or those who want. There they make a choice. Before ordination the option to marry or to be celibate.”
According to the Catholic News Agency, Pope Francis’ answer doesn’t indicate the celibacy discipline will be dropped, but it does “provide an opportunity to ponder the priesthood and celibacy.”
“it’s a legitimate question of discerning if married men could become priests,” said Wehner about the matter.
Scoot also asked about the issue of Catholic priest sex abuse cases.
“I’m not trying to be disrespectful because I think the Catholic Church has changed… but there were some problems with that in the past,” he said.
Drawing on his experience with men entering the seminary, Wehner said that “a healthy priest is a man who is naturally called to be a father, to be a husband, to raise a family. Those are goods. If a seminarian ever said to me, ‘Oh, I don't like women, I would never want to have a family,’ he would not proceed for ordination.”
Wehner also said that psychological screenings are now part of the requirements for people who enter the seminary in an effort to prevent more abuse cases.
“Thankfully, now we see the last 30 years, and that’s been something we’ve been able to address… but celibacy doesn’t turn you into a pervert, you know?” he said.
Listen to the full conversation and learn more here.