Why do Catholics believe that Priests must be Celibate?

"An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord," St. Paul tells the Corinthians. "But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided" (1 Cor 7:32-34). In light of that observation, the example of our Lord Jesus, and long historical experience, the Church has concluded that the celibate priest may be better able to devote himself single-heartedly both to God and his flock.

We should note that the Church holds celibacy as the disciplinary norm of practice for priests; she allows for some exceptions. Many ancient priests and even bishops had a wife at some point (see 1 Tm 3:2), including the first pope, St. Peter. (Matthew 8:14 speaks of his "mother-in-law.") Today many Catholic priests of the Eastern rite are married. And even in the Roman rite, a handful of married men (usually clergy converts from a non-Catholic Christian tradition) have been given a special dispensation by Rome to be ordained as priests.

The Church doesn't teach as part of the Catholic faith, then, that celibacy is an inherent quality of priesthood--part of its essence. But as St. Paul observes, celibacy has distinct advantages for the many who must give himself wholly to God in ministry to his Church.

Opponents of celibacy often simply assume that such a life is utterly impossible. But St. Paul undeniably teaches the contrary (see 1 Cor 7:7-38), and our Lord speaks without criticism of those who "have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12).

Celibacy is both a matter of personal choice and, on a deeper level, an acceptance of God's calling. St. Paul acknowledges the divine impetus (see 1 Cor 7:7, 20) as well as the free-will initiative of human beings in the matter (see 1 Cor 7:35, 38). If a man is called to celibacy, he will be given both the desire and the ability to carry out this way of life successfully (see Phil 2:13).

Finally, we should note that the Catholic Church does not in any sense reject marriage or sexuality (see 1 Cor 7:38), as long as these remain within the proper biblical and moral guidelines. According to the Catholic faith, marriage and ordination are both sacraments, both positive and wonderful means of God's grace.

Other related scriptures: Sg 1-8; Mt 19:1-12; Lk 2:36-37; Rv 14:1-5

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 922-924/ 1579-1580; 1599; 1619; 1694; 1832; 2338-2350.

*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com

Additional insights at: www.catholic.com