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.
Most popular questions
- I feel I have a specific charism to youth outreach. Can I live this charism out as a priest, or must I follow the charism of the order I join?
- If I request information about joining a religious organisation, will I be pressured into joining?
- Can I become a bishop or cardinal and not a priest?
- I read stories of religious communities merging or closing down. Are religious organisations dying out?
- I do not consider myself to be exceptionally holy, I try to pray every day and follow the commandments. I have always been very interested in the priesthood but I have never felt a burning passion for it. Could I still be called to the priesthood?
- Why are there so many different religious orders?
- If I take a vow of celibacy, will I get very lonely?
- What can I do as a priest that I cannot do as a layperson working for a charity or NGO?
- Can a gay man become a priest?
- If I become a priest can I decide where I go and what I do?