Code of Canon Law spells out requirement
by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo
Photo Caption: Pope Adrian II was the last married pope, and died in 872. in 1018, priests were forbidden to marry by POpe Benedict VIII ( wikipedia.org )
Pope Francis is open to considering the ordination of married men as priests in remote communities without relaxing the strict rules of celibacy for the Latin rite clergy. I hope the media do not misinterpret this possibility, and it is no wonder that the Pope immediately stressed that removing the obligation of celibacy is not the answer to the Catholic Church’s shortage of priests, and that this innovation would be applicable only to married men of holy and proven faith (known as Viri Probati).
Celibacy is the state of perfect continence that is practised by priests and bishops, of whom St. Paul required absolute dedication to God’s service: “I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but a married man is busy with this world’s demands and occupied with pleasing his wife,” (1 Cor.7:32).
Although celibacy is supported by a multi-secular tradition, it is not a dogmatic imposition, but rather an ecclesiastic obligation. All the ordained priests of the Latin Church are chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” (Mt.19:12).
Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated. Accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the reign of God.
In the Eastern Church a different discipline has been in force for many centuries. While bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate.
In the East, as in the West, a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry. Despite the Catholic Church’s longstanding prohibition on married men becoming priests, Pope
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Francis said he will study the possibility of ordaining married men.
This does not change the law of the Latin clergy and this new possible disposition will be applied in certain circumstances, and only to the so-called Viri Probati – i.e. those who are already involved in the life of the Roman Catholic Church and with a proven history of a holy and pious life.
The Holy Father is doing so to favour communities in rural and remote areas who are deprived of priests and so do not have the possibility of receiving the Holy Eucharist. The Pope said: “We must consider if Viri Probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities.”
Secular priests will continue to observe their celibate life faithfully until death. The requirement of chastity is spelled out in our Code of Canon Law: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity,” (canon 277 §1).
But abstaining from marriage hasn’t always been a requirement for the sacrament of Holy Orders. Jesus himself was not married, but biblical scholars assume that most of his disciples were, since the Judaism of the time frowned upon bachelorhood. There is good reason to believe that the majority of priests and bishops during the first four centuries of Christianity were married, and so were many popes, the last of whom was Adrian II in the ninth century.
One reason that celibacy eventually became the rule for clerics was early Christianity’s puritanical view of sex, even within marriage. At the same time as this austere view took root, the Church saw the growth of monastic communities for men and women in which chastity, along with poverty and obedience, was regarded as a virtue essential to those who would give their lives to God.
At the urging of popes and councils, monastic austerity was gradually forced upon the clergy as a whole. Pope Benedict VIII in 1018 formally forbade priestly marriage and the prohibition was solemnly extended by the First Lateran Council in 1123. The rule, however, was not easy to enforce. After Protestantism rejected celibacy as unnatural and unnecessary for the ministry, the Council of Trent declared it an “objectively superior state of life” and imposed excommunication on priests or nuns who violated the canon laws prohibiting marriage.
The Church also has allowed some exceptions to the rule. Priests in the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church are permitted to be married, and married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism may keep their wives, but if they become widowers, they cannot remarry.