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Pope Francis asked to consider mature married men for priesthood

The Church may soon consider again considering married men for ordination to the priesthood. In some areas, the demand for sacraments is greater than the number of priests available to administer them.

Historically, the Catholic Church has ordained married men to the diaconate and the priesthood. The decision for celibacy is made before the first ordination to the diaconate and cannot be changed once the man is ordained. It wasn’t until the second millennium that candidates were restricted to only consecrated celibate men in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Church, there has been an unbroken practice of ordaining both married and celibate men.

Former Episcopal priests who joined the Catholic Church, under certain circumstances, have already been accepted for ordination to the priesthood. Reports now indicate that this question of whether or not to ordain married men may be taken up by the bishops of the Church in the next synod, expected sometime in 2018 or 2019.

While married men are not considered for ordination to the priesthood in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, they can already be ordained and serve as deacons. This order of clergy is ordained not to the priesthood but “unto the ministry.”

In the Acts of the Apostles 14:23, St. Paul and Barnabas, Bishops of the Church, ordained elders who would serve the people in their absence. It is from the Greek word for elder which we derive the word priest. Those ordained to the priesthood then became an extension of the Bishops. The Church today could likewise again determine to consider married men who demonstrate the maturity to handle the responsibility for the priesthood for such a role.

The ancient practice of choosing only consecrated celibates for the office of priesthood has several practical reasons, one of which is to avoid distraction and keep the priest more available for his service to the Church. Celibate priests are, in a sense, married to the Church and are expected to devote their entire being to the service of the bride of Christ. However, a married man is also expected to serve his wife and family. This may create difficult choices for a married man who is also a priest. However, the experience of the Church has also shown that married men of mature years can, and in fact already do, serve as priests with fidelity and integrity.

The proposal to ordain mature married men to the priesthood is one suggestion that the Church may consider at the next synod. Globally, there is a shortage of priests. The shortage has many reasons which vary according to place. At the same time, the Church continues to grow. These two pressures mean priests are spread thinly in some places. There is concern that many people will go without sacraments if the problem continues to worsen.

The fact that a suggestion such as this has been mentioned does not mean any changes will be made. None should assume that Pope Francis and the bishops will accept the idea. Vocations to the priesthood are still badly needed and this proposal is one of many options the Church will consider. Nor does it mean that celibacy, the voluntary choice to remain unmarried for Christ and His Church, will diminish.

Consecrated celibacy has been considered a beautiful vocation which prophetically reflects the Kingdom of God. It still is a prophetic vocation and includes not only ordained priests, but men and women in religious orders and communities. Finally, there is no suggestion that the order of Bishop would be opened to married men. The practice of ordaining Bishops only from the ranks of celibate clergy is an ancient practice in both the Eastern and Western Catholic and Orthodox Church.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)



  1. John Cook Reply

    I am a 63 year old widower is it possible for me to become a priest?

    1. Benjamin Rosado Reply

      I recommend contacting your diocesan vocation director of you feel a call to priestly ministry, there are seminaries that train older men for the priesthood. There is one in New Jersey.

  2. Reply

    Am 23 years old,my only issue is that i missed the required grade to join seminary,is it possible to get a sponsor to sponsor my education to enable me achieve my dream of being a priest

  3. Anthony Reply

    This article is very misleading and deceptive. It states, “Historically, the Catholic Church has ordained married men to the diaconate and the priesthood”. While this is partially true, what the author of the article doesn’t tell you is that the candidate for the priesthood, and his wife, had to agree to live in perpetual continence before ordination. That’s right, you heard me correctly, both the husband and wife had to agree to refrain from conjugal relations in perpetuity. So both celibate and married clergy were required to live in perpetual continence. Even among the Eastern Churches this was the normative practice since apostolic times. It wasn’t until the Council of Trullo that the East broke with the apsotic tradtion in the late 7th century. Prior to this however, clerical celibacy was the norm in the Catholic Church (in both East and West). So the author is incorrect when he asserts, “In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Church, there has been an unbroken practice of ordaining both married and celibate men.” – this is in fact blatantly untrue; and the earliest Church documents and witness of the Church Fathers during the first seven centuries prove it.

    St. Clement of Alexandria

    “Even Paul did not hesitate in one letter to address his consort. The only reason why he did not take her about with him was that it would have been an inconvenience for his ministry. Accordingly he says in a letter: “Have we not a right to take about with us a wife that is a sister like the other apostles?” But the latter, in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction, and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused (Stromata 3:6:53 [AD 202]).

    Origen, 23rd Homily on Numbers (185-253)

    “I will express what the words of the Apostle mean, but I am afraid that some will be saddened. Do not refuse yourselves to each other, unless through a mutual agreement for a given occasion, so as to free yourselves for prayer, and then come together again; it is therefore certain that perpetual sacrifice is impossible for those who are subject to the obligations of marriage…I therefore conclude that only the one vowed to perpetual chastity can offer the perpetual sacrifice.”

    St. Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelicam I,9 (320 A.D.)

    “It is fitting, according to the Scripture, that a bishop be the husband of an only wife. But this being understood, it behooves consecrated men, and those who are at the service of God’s cult, to abstain thereafter from conjugal intercourse with their wives. As to those who were not judged worthy of such a holy ministry, Scripture grants them [conjugal intercourse] while saying quite clearly to all that marriage is honorable and the nuptial bed is without stain, and that God judges profligates and adulterers.”

    Eusebius here makes it clear that just because Scripture allows a bishop or cleric to have a wife, it does not follow that he is free to exercise his conjugal rights. Notice that Eusebius is an Eastern Father and that presumably this was the discipline in the East in the early 4th century.

    St. Ephrem the Syrian, Carmina Nisibena, (363 A.D.)

    “It is not enough for the priest and his dignity – for it is the living body that he offers – to purify his soul, his tongue, and his hands and to make his whole body clear; he must at all times be absolutely pure, because he takes the places of mediator between God and mankind. Blessed be he who has purified his servants!

    The So-Called Canons of Gregory the Illuminator (Armenia, c. 365)

    “The priest who has taken a wife will have to do penance for seven years outside and then for two years inside the Church. He will not have the right to receive communion for an additional two years, and only then will he be admitted to communion.”

    St. Epiphanius

    “Holy Church respects the dignity of the priesthood to such a point that she does not admit to the diaconate, the priesthood, or the episcopate, no nor even to the subdiaconate, anyone still living in marriage and begetting children. She accepts only him who if married gives up his wife or has lost her by death, especially in those places where the ecclesiastical canons are strictly attended to” (Panarion [AD 374-377]).

    Canon 3 of the Council of Carthage (390)

    “Bishop Genthelius says: As was previously said, it is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites; i.e., those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep.

    The bishops declared unanimously: It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve the altar may keep a perfect chastity.”

    St. Epiphanius of Salamis

    “But the man who continues to live with his wife and sire children is not admitted by the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop, even if he is the husband of an only wife; [only] he who, having been monogamous, observes continence or is a widower; [this is observed] especially where the ecclesiastical canons are exact.”

    “Lacking virgins, [priests are recruited] among the monks; if there are not enough monks for the ministry, [they are recruited] from among men who observe continence with their wives or among the exmonogamists who are widowers; but in her [the Church] admitting a remarried man to the priesthood is not permitted; even if he observes continence or is a widower, he is rejected from the order of bishops, priests, deacons and subdeacons.”

    St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on 1 Timothy, Cap. III, Homily X (c. 397)

    “If then the married man has worldly concerns, and if, on the other hand, a bishop should not have them, how can the Apostle say, “the husband of an only wife”? Some say that we are dealing here with the case of a man who has been freed from his wife [i.e., a widower]; if such is not the case, it is permissible that he be a man having a wife and living as if he did not have one. At that time this was indeed rightly permitted because of the prevailing situation. For it was possible to lead such a life honorably if one wished to do so. Indeed, though it is difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, there have frequently been rich people who did so; the same is true for marriage.”

    Canons 3, of the Seventeenth Council of Carthage (419)

    Can. 3: “Aurelius the bishop said: When at the past council the matter on continence and chastity was considered, those three grades, which by a sort of bond are joined to chastity by their consecration, to wit bishops, presbyters, and deacons, so it seemed that it was becoming that the sacred rulers and priests of God as well as the Levites, or those who served at the divine sacraments, should be continent altogether, by which they would be able with singleness of heart to ask what they sought from the Lord: so that what the apostles taught and antiquity kept, that we might also keep.”

    Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter to Anastasius of Thessalonika (446)

    “Indeed, if those who do not belong to the Order of clerics are free to enjoy carnal relations and beget children, we must, in order to manifest what is the purity of a perfect continence, not permit carnal relations even to the subdeacons, “so that those who have a wife be as if they did not have one” and those who do not have one remain single. If it befits this order – the fourth starting from the top – to observe [continence], how much more so the first, second and third must observe it; let no one be deemed apt for the Levitical or priestly dignity or for the supreme dignity of the episcopate if it is found that he has not yet put an end to conjugal pleasure.”

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