Pope Francis continues to shake things up in the Catholic church to the chagrin of traditionalists. This week he announced that he’s going to look into the possibility of allowing priests to marry (see stories below).
There appears to have been some prejudice against married clergy for centuries before 1075 when pope Gregory VII officially barred married priests from ministry. It was argued that celibate priests practiced a higher form of spirituality and were able to concentrate on their priestly duties more effectively. Probably even more troubling to the hierarchy were concerns about married priests and church finances. A few decades previous, Pope Benedict VIII issued a ruling prohibiting the children of priests from inheriting property.
But a celibate clergy soon created all kinds of problems for the church. It was once reported that Rome had the highest number of prostitutes per capita among major European cities. Many popes, cardinals, and bishops kept secret (and not so secret) mistresses. Illegitimate sons of the church’s princes were often awarded high offices within the church bureaucracy. Human nature being what it is, “celibate” priests preyed upon married and unmarried women within their parishes. The church’s rule of clerical celibacy also attracted sexual deviates and social misfits. The scandal of clerical pedophilia and the subsequent cover-up by the hierarchy has rocked the church to its foundations over the last twenty years.
But Francis is being pragmatic. The Catholic church has experienced a significant decline in priests in the last fifty years. There were 60,000 priests in the U.S. in 1965 but that number has shrunk to 37,000 in 2015 and many of those men are elderly. Parishes are closing or consolidating because of the shortage of priests (and declining attendance). Now that priests are no longer venerated in Catholic society anywhere near the degree they were fifty years ago, there is little that attracts warm-blooded, young Catholic men to a celibate lifestyle. Conservative Catholics will fight this change just as they are fighting Francis’ “Amoris” encyclical allowing communion to remarrieds. This switch to married clergy will take some time but by floating this balloon we can see that Francis is greasing the skids.
From an evangelical point of view, it’s very clear from God’s Word that a mediating priesthood and sacrifice for sin were done away with by the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Bible also warns against religious leaders who forbid marriage. Roman Catholics claim their church is “Semper eadem,” never changing, but even a casual student of history knows the Catholic church has changed its teachings and disciplines rather frequently.
Thank you, Lord, for freeing me from man-made doctrines and precepts. Thank you for opening my eyes to the glorious “Good News” of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Jesus Christ, the Perfect Priest
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