Why can’t priests date and get married?

In the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church priesthood and celibacy have gone together for a very long time. At the Second Lateran Council (1139) celibacy was introduced as a rule. In 1563, the Council of Trent reaffirmed this tradition of celibacy and this rule has held until the present day. It’s a high ideal and many priests down the centuries have been exemplary in living it out. It should be noted, though, that it is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It is a rule that can be relaxed in certain circumstances. A notable instance of this was Pope Benedict accepting married Anglican priests into the Roman Catholic Church in 2011.

There are also ‘mystical’ reasons for priestly celibacy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that celibacy signifies giving one’s life entirely to God and to others. If celibacy is “accepted with a joyous heart”, it remarks, it “radiantly proclaims the Reign of God”.

Priests are configured to Christ in a special way, and so they imitate His celibacy and His ‘undivided heart’ in their total dedication to God and to the service of God’s people. It is a choice they freely make so as to be more fully available for their ministry.

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