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Home » Archives » April 2005 » The framework required for arguing for a married priesthood

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04/26/2005: "The framework required for arguing for a married priesthood"

As I mentioned in my post at that I copied below in the hat tip, I think any argument for the married priesthood must satisfy two criteria:

1. What has changed and why we either shouldn't or can't change that back.
2. Why that change justifies a call for a married priesthood.

I believe this is the case because the Catholic Church has been very successful with a celibate priesthood over the 1000 years it has been mandatory. Anytime someone suggests that we change it, I think they are obligated to show why we need to abandon such a proud history of success. They need to show what has changed and how that can be solved by a married priesthood. Without such a strong argument, we're turning our back on our past without good cause.

In any case, I wanted to post a few examples of how someone could present an argument using this framework and how, in these examples, they fail to argue successfully. The first is the "shortage of priests" argument. Here is how it would fit into my framework:

1. We now have a shortage of priests.
2. By allowing married priests we can solve that shortage.

The obligation of the person arguing this case needs to show that we can't "change that back". Said differently, that there is no reasonable way we can get more priests without the married priesthood. I would argue that by making a concerted effort to present this option to teenagers and ask them, through retreats and other prayerful methods, to seriously consider the priesthood, we could encourage a significant increase in vocations. The person arguing this case would have to show that none of these types of alternatives are reasonable. The second thing they'd have to argue is that married priests would solve this problem and do so without counter-balancing effects. I would argue that while we may see a short-term increase in the number of priests, that the long-term situation would not improve unless we address the underlying issue of a lack of vocations and devotion to God. I would also argue that there are so many negative effects of a married priesthood that even if we did have more priests, it would likely still be a negative change for the Church.

The next one to fit in my framework is the "Celibacy leads to child abuse":

1. There has been an increase in the number of priests who abuse children.
2. Married priests would be less likely to abuse children.

Again, this argument needs to show that this problem can't be solved by other means. Can't we do a better job of forming our priests in seminary? Can't we do a better job of eliminating those who are likely to do this from the priesthood? Someone arguing this case would have to show that there is no reasonable alternative besides a married priesthood. Second, and more importantly in this case, they would need to show how married priests would solve the problem. There are many reasons to believe that our problem would be just as severe with a married priesthood. To this argument's credit, it does suggest that the change to a married priesthood would, in the opinion of the arguer, intrinsically help the Church. What it fails to do is show that it is the only reasonable way to do so or even that it would actually solve the problem.

So, there you have a couple of examples. Here is where I throw down the gauntlet! I challenge anyone to find an argument or even a combination of arguments using my framework that successfully argue for a married priesthood. Post your arguments as comments and forward this challenge on to your friends and family who you think argue strongly for a married priesthood. I am confident that it can not be done.

Replies: 2 Comments

Ken Crawford :

Greg, sorry it took so long to reply to your comment. Last week I was prepping for a big regatta this past weekend and I wanted to make sure I carefully considered your comment before replying.

First of all, I think one can make a better argument that my framework is unreasonable than that married Priest should be allowed using my framework.

What I would say in defense of my framework is that we've successfully used the celibate priesthood for over 1000 years. That's a long time and a long time in which it has been successful. So I guess I could add an alternate method one could to argue for married priests that would allow for a different possibility. If they could show that indeed because of their argument, that the celibate priesthood has been a failure, or at least significantly compromised, for the 1000 year history of it I think that could be a compelling argument as well. I think it would be similarly as difficult to argue this angle as to meet my already proposed framework.

Yes, the celibate priesthood is a man-made restriction, one that the Church could decide to undo at any point. I also think it is healthy and good that there is an intelligent discussion amongst those who understand the issue (i.e. not the "the Church needs to get with the times" bozos) regarding the married priesthood. But much of what the Church does is based on man-made traditions and I don't see that as a bad thing particularly when those traditions are successful. I would argue that the celibate priesthood has indeed been VERY succesful and any argument against it must show how either it has not been successful (my new addition/concession) or that it will no longer be successful (i.e. something has changed).

05.03.05 @ 01:37 PM PST

GregK :

Ken -- I disagree with the premise that we have to demonstrate that something has changed. Limiting the priesthood to those who have chosen a celibate life is a man-made law, and therefore it is possibly ill-advised. Why do we have to give it such a high level of deference?

I would argue against mandatory celibacy this way. Some people are called to the celibate life. Some men are called to the priesthood. There is no reason to assume that all those who are called to the priesthood are also called to the celibate life. Therefore the church has erected an artificial barrier against a divine calling.

I'm not arguing that such a change would solve the problem of a shortage of priests. I'm saying that it's unfair to men who are both called to marriage and to the priesthood.

04.28.05 @ 06:14 AM PST [homepage]

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Other blogs I read:
Jimmy Akin
Crowhill's blog
Amy Welborn's 'open book' blog
Secondhand Smoke-Wesley Smith
Envoy Encore
Dale Price's blog
Mark Shea (On sabatical)

The Church I participate in:
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US Conference of Bishops
Sacramento Diocese
SS Peter and Paul Parish

Good Catholic Websites:
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Zenit Catholic News
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