I have been reading some articles concerning former priests/pastors, coming from denominations such as Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, etc, converting to the Roman Catholic Church and becoming Catholic priests(which is absolutely wonderful). I also read in an article that some of the married Catholic priests today are in the Eastern Catholic churches because they were formerly part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which allows priests to marry.
My questions are: 1) If a man who was formerly a priest/pastor in another christian denomination converts to Catholicism and wants to become a priest in the Catholic Church and eventually becomes one, do they have to become celibate like all Catholic priests who were never married or were always Catholic? 2)Was it ALWAYS tradition that priests do not marry or at least stay celibate once they enter priesthood?
and lastly… 3) Do you think that the Catholic Church will always keep the tradition of priests not marrying even if denominations such as Orthodox and Anglican come back home to the Catholic Church and be in communion with the Holy Father?
Thanks for your question. First of all it is important to be correct about wording: In the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches priests do not get married. Rather, a married man can be ordained to major orders (Deacon or Priest.)But if a man is celibate and becomes a priest he cannot marry after ordination.
In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches if a minister from another Christian denomination becomes Catholic and wants to be a priest his marital status is accepted by the Church. He does not have to become celibate. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church most of these ministers who convert to Catholicism serve the Church in various ways as priests but for the most part are not made pastors of parishes although there are some who are pastors of Catholic parishes.
The practice of mandatory celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite did really come into full practice until the second millennium of Christianity. Both East and West ordained married men to the priesthood during the first thousand years of Christianity. However the subject of whether priests should be celibate has always been a consideration in the entire history of the Church. In fact, some scholars believe that since the time of the Apostles once a man was ordained to the priesthood he and his wife had to agree (ahead of time) that they would live as celibates.
I believe that inspite of the fact that the Latin Rite Church accepts married ministers into the Catholic Church and ordains them as Catholic priests in good standing that the Latin Rite will continue to make mandatory celibacy the norm for men being ordained to the priesthood. The Eastern Churches will most likely continue their unbroken tradition of allowing married men to become priests.
This whole subject of celibacy-marriage and the priesthood is actually a very comprehensive one. One thing that must be kept in mind: Celibacy and marriage are NOT diametrically opposed to one another and in fact are two sides of the same coin. They are both ways to love “spousally.” Celibacy actually subsists in marriage (both in married priests and in married laity.) Conversely marriage subsists in celibacy. As John Paul II taught in his theology of the body, the married couple reminds the celibate of the “spousal” dimension of his or her celibacy and the celibate reminds the married couple of the sacramentality of their marriage. Where there is a pratice of married priesthood in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches there has been the rule that a married priest and his wife must abstain from relations on the night prior to the priest celebrating the Eucharist. Furthermore, the married priest and his wife are encouraged to abstain from relations during the fasting periods of the liturgical calendar. This is one of those examples of how celibacy subsists even in the married priesthood. Also, the Eastern Churches which have had an unbroken custom of ordaining married men to the priesthood is the very Church that gave celibacy to the world–monasticism came from the Eastern Churches.
–Fr. Thomas J. Loya, STB, MA.