Cozzens questions celibacy again

Cozzens questions celibacy again

Fr. Donald Cozzens is at it again, with a new book calling for the end of priestly celibacy. The topic isn’t new for Cozzens who’s become something of a media celebrity since The Scandal broke in 2002. He’s been a reliable source of quotes for reporters on why celibacy is part of the problem, despite all logic to the contrary. (See this entry for more on that.)

It’s the same, old thin gruel rewarmed for another heaping helping.

There were about 42,000 active priests nationwide in 2005, a 29 percent decline from 1965, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. About 3,200 parishes were without a resident priest in 2005, compared with 549 in 1965.

“Many, if not most, of the inactive priests would be serving in our parishes if it were not for the law of celibacy,” Cozzens wrote.

The church discounts celibacy’s responsibility for the shortage, saying an increasingly materialistic culture plays a far bigger role.

First, there are plenty of Protestant churches who allow married clergy who are similarly undergoing clergy shortages and emptying pews. Clearly, the problem has nothing to do with whether Father has a wife.

Blaming celibacy for the problems in the Church is an easy out and a convenient way of advancing an agenda opposed to the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. The underlying premise is that it is unnatural for man to do without sex and is the first objective of those who would eventually expand the argument to include homosexuals and others who won’t or can’t marry.

The article also provides the usual myths, such as the claim that celibacy only became a universal requirement in the 12th century and that priests and bishops were allowed to marry at will before that. This is simply not true and the fact that one must use such myths to advance one’s argument doesn’t speak well for the value of that argument.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
31 comments
  • Look, if he doesn’t want to be a priest anymore, all he has to do is petition the Holy See.  It’s just that simple.  We’re tired of the frauds.

  • Because I think celibacy should be optional does not make me a “bad” Catholic.

    There are more reasons pro celibacy than con.  It has little to do with a desire for sex. 

    It has everything to do with companionship, moral support, and lonlieness.

  • While it is not dogmatic, it is the current teaching of the Church. And you’re right that there are more reasons pro-celibacy than con, most them having to do with the spiritual value of celibacy but also very many practical matters I have discussed quite often on this blog.

  • Dom,

    You are wrong.  Celibacy is not a teaching of the Church. Rather, it is a law of the Latin Rite. It is therefore changeable. But I bet we would agree that a married priesthood, while strictly speaking is legitimate, is not in the best interest of the Church and that those who promote it are almost always doing so to undermine teachings of the faith regarding marriage and sexuality.

  • Then, Kate, if “companionship, moral support, and loneliness” is the problem, and marriage is the cure, then the man doesn’t have a vocation to the priesthood.  He should have married instead. 

    Let him be dismissed from the priesthood with ALL its prerogatives, marry, & have about 12 kids, and that should solve ALL his problems. 

    Happy now?

    [I suspect that this whole issue is just some sort of second-guess whining.  It’s part of our culture. It can be written off for what it is.]

  • No, Matt, I chose my words carefully. It is not a dogma, but the discipline of celibacy is a teaching which is found in canon law. Teaching is not the same as dogma. JP2 taught on the subject of priestly celibacy several times.

  • I should have said there are more reasons con celibacy than pro.

    I don’t think you can dismiss lonlieness, companionship, and moral support so lightly.

    Wouldn’t all these things make a better priest?

  • Again, no.  Priestly celibacy, which I assume is the implied subject, is a discipline of the *Latin-rite* Church.  Canon law also has nothing directly to do with teaching.  It serves an administrative function.  Hence, Catholic priests can and in a growing number are married.  This is happening because of Lutheran and Episcopalian conversions and because its becoming more common again for EC priests to be married.  Not all priests, as the evidence clearly shows, are called to this sort of heroic virtue.

    That this trend is used by wierdo’s to propose that sex is compulsory is unfortunate.  However, you commit the same fallacy when you start defending priestly celibacy by claiming that everyone who opposes it has stepped onto the heresy bus.

  • So, according to your definitions, real priests are rare.  So be it.  I won’t go to a married one and neither will many other people.  Period.  Take the news however you want.

  • Kate.  Nope.  A priest more dedicated to God who doesn’t spend his life whining like a pissy little kid over the fact he doesn’t want to keep his promises would be a better priest.

  • Nick,

    Well said, but the truth remains that we need to be continent in some way at certain times in our lives even in marriage. Celibate chastity is possible for all.  While chastity is essential for sanctity, celibate chastity is not strictly essential to being a priest. That being said, I do think celibacy has tremendous value and should be supported.  If men are unwilling to make this sacrifice to be priests, are they really the priests we want to serve us.

    Also, have these VOTF-types considered the administrative nightmare of instituting a married priesthood?  The Archdiocese is broke as is and has little money to pay the pensions of our current priests.  How do they expect the archdiocese to support families and put the pastor’s kids through college?

  • In this sex-drenched age, I think one of the best witnesses to the possibility of chastity is our faithful, celibate priests.  As my children enter adulthood, I can encourage them—but I am married.  The witness of the priests they know is much, much more powerful.  If priests need companionship and moral support in the face of declining numbers, then surely it is partly up to us, the laity, to welcome them and give them our friendship?  I actually think the situation is hardest for older (50+?) priests, because they came into the priesthood with different expectations as to their support system, and therefore may have a harder time developing friendships within their parishes.

  • I don’t think you can dismiss lonlieness, companionship, and moral support so lightly.

    There are many ways to foster companionship and moral support. Merely being married doesn’t mean that you won’t be lonely, and merely being celibate doesn’t mean that you will.

    Marriage presents its own problems. If a man believes he is called to the Priesthood, he will be given the grace to face the difficulties of celibacy. If a man is called to marriage, he will be given the grace to face the difficulties of marriage. I’m not married, but I don’t imagine it’s easy waking up every day, going to work, having to provide for a wife and children, having to stay up late nights when someone is sick. Strictly speaking, would life be easier if marriage didn’t come with all these challenges? Sure, but does, celibacy has its own challenges. If a man is willing and faithful, he will have what he needs to live his vocation.

  • I had the misfortune of having to listen to Fr. Cozzens give a talk at my seminary pre-Scandal.  It was clear that he was a burned-out progressive priest who had no business being the rector of a seminary.  Things apparently haven’t gotten better since then.

    His low-energy low-substance talk depressed even the progressive priests in attendance who could have been expected to agree with the nature of his comments.

  • I’ve yet to see/hear this topic debated without name-calling, which is ridiculous when you consider that we have had married saints, priests and Apostles. No sooner do folks admit that MANDATORY priestly celibacy is a discipline, and that a chaste celibate life for the Kingdom is a charism, then they tend to bash anyone who claims to have been called to both the priesthood and marriage. And oddly, the people who derail over this issue (i’m not referring to anyone on this thread) are either “happily” married men who once considered the priesthood or “happily” celibate priests. This does lead me to wonder how happy they truly are, for when we are happy, do we begrudge others any way of life that is not sinful? (ie, it sounds like “If I had to choose between the two vocations, so do they. Forever and ever. Amen.”)
    All the practical pros and cons and any results due to change or lack of change don’t answer the question that is being asked now, which is a question deeply disputed hundreds of years ago: Does God’s gift to Adam apply to everyman’s freedom to marry (a woman) if he chooses or if he feels called to do so? And is it in fact essential to his identity as a man that he believes he may choose?
    It is easy to say that every priest has chosen. But “If you are called to the priesthood, you must be called to celibacy” doesn’t reflect that choice.
    I look forward to the day when these questions are answered honestly, reasonably and without anger by the Church, no matter what the answers may be. I will be happy when I can read Genesis without feeling accused by it. And, I admit, I do pray for the day when our married priests are reconciled to the Church. Not through protest, or organizations, or Archbishop Milingo, but by the Holy Father simply inviting them home to serve in some capacity.

  • These questions have been answered time after time. People just don’t want the answer they’ve been given. Celibacy is not necessary for the sacrament of orders obviously, but what has been taught, including most recently by JP2, is that becoming “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” is a higher path. Christ said, St. Paul preached it.

    That doesn’t devalue marriage.

    Incidentally, it is not up to the man to decide that he has been called to the priesthood. That vocation is discerned by the Church. As long as the Church’s normative discipline for the Latin rite is that, barring exceptional circumstances already described, priests and bishops will be celibate, then any man claiming he has a vocation to both needs to discern some more.

    The Holy Spirit expresses itself through the Church, even in her disciplines and laws.

  • Whiny pissy priests are of course a tragedy of gigantic proportions.  I might point out that if they are allowed to be married that doesn’t make them whiny and pissy.  It just means they’re married.  If you chose not to go to them simply because they are married I’d say that is more of a defect on your part then an assumed loyal priest. 

    But that’s the problem.  There’s such a visceral reaction to this that the conservative section bites off the hands of those that aren’t whining and have a problem with the discipline as such, not with the church, homosexuality, or the crusades (thrown in for good measure).  I have no doubt that the Father mentioned above would turn my stomach, but he would do so because he rejects dogma and the church he purports to serve, not because he’s for allowing priests to marry in accordance with *established* and *continuing* tradition (that is with an indult or prior to ordination).

  • Nick.  Whatever.  The Church, in her wisdom, says no priests in the Latin Rite can marry. 

    If and when it is changed, then we can talk again. 

    I doubt that it will be, however.  Logistically, it would be too difficult for the Church—birth control, divorce, live-ins, affairs, etc etc.  What a nightmare.

  • I’m having a hard time organizing my thoughts, but here goes:

    I have often thought that the priesthood is kinda like the military. Your life is not truly your own, you can be called upon 24/7/365, and your family (if you have one) makes a lot of sacrifices when you are called away; whether it be around the world or around the corner doesn’t matter all that much if you are missing an important event.

    My husband is not a priest, of course, but he is coming up on 20 years of service to his country this May. I have seen many strong military families, but far more families that struggle under the strain of the feeling of coming second to the career (at best). The military loses a lot of people when soldiers learn that either they are not cut out for military service or, even if they are, that their family simply cannot endure it and remain intact. The divorce and adultery rates are very high. Not all of this is because of the challenges that I mentioned in the first paragraph, but that has got to be a contributing factor.

    And I am proud of my husband, supportive of him, and think that he’s doing a great job, but there are times when I resent the military, quite honestly, and I really wish sometimes that he would retire and get a “normal” job so that we can have a “normal” life. What would it do to my faith to feel that way about the Church or about God?

    In the military, you can retire after 20 years of service and it’s unusual to stay in even as long as 30. There is no “early retirement” from the priesthood. Are we prepared to deal with the problems that there will be when families are “done” with dealing with this sort of thing?

    I really believe that a primarily married priesthood causes many more problems than it solves.

  • Thanks to all who have commented here reiterating that I, as a conservative, faithful, devout Catholic AM NOT a heretic for having the opinion that ordaining married men would be good for the church.

    I love JPII, our present Pope, and all the traditions of the Catholic Church.

    Let us all turn to prayer and God with the full belief in His wisdom.

  • There is a long documented trail on clerical celibacy in the Church. At the end of the Roman persecutions, there were regional Councils of Bishops and celibacy was discussed. About 310ad, a Council in Spain declared of celibacy “What the Apostles taught and antiquity practiced,let us endeavor to keep”. Subsequent Councils and papal correspondence held to the same line. If a man converted and was subsequently ordained while married, yhey had to live as “brother and sister”. If not , he was removed from the altar. The history is fascinating and the theological understanding of the priesthood from the Old to New and Eternal covenant beautiful. The celibate priesthood is seen as a great charism,gift of God but then He never forces us to accept Him or His graces.

  • Why is it these days when discussing the priesthood it is usually always from the idea of human limitations?  Rather, in outlook, it must be set apart since there is a differentiating eternal indelible marking.  Now, men have molded the idea of the priesthood according to the challenges of the times throughout history – just as Moses was forced to allow divorce due to the hardness of hearts, but not according to what was intended “from the beginning”.  I believe that it is also the case with what was intended by Christ in what we have as proof of His desire in the words of scripture – of giving everything up for the sake of the kingdom … a pointing by this special calling to the concentration on the World to come.  It’s just that people don’t differentiate between the two worlds much nowadays.  Since it is called an acting In Persona Christi, it involves just those crosses and great sacrifices as its Creator and Master.  Now, there’s the challenge.  Even with those who may have been in the married state back then at the time of the Calling, it is stated that they gave up every attachment…the ideal.  That is why Mother Angelica insisted that any man choosing the priesthood must have had to give up the other real choice of marriage, seriously considering it, before he enters.  It has to have been the sacrifice made BEFORE his decision; that putting the hand to the plow and never looking back.  Granted, it is harder these days for such sacrifice, but we are seeing the same taking place for all other faithful callings in the life of Christians or even for any trying to adhere to an abiding moral law today.  Why just pick on the priesthood – perhaps because they are the main doorways to getting the rest of the flock!  It’s mainly considered in terms these days as a “discipline” of celibacy because of man’s own moldings to his own likeness.  Any man who would expect himself to turn into an angel or to live with those hardships easily has not been prepared, in the true Spirit, for such an awesome calling.  And those who do not give moral courage to or pray for the priests today in their struggles – perhaps during one of the hardest times for them ever – are only adding to those hardships and also harming the faithful’s own spiritual and moral foundations.  Some may call this only idealism, but there have been too many great examples of this ideal to want to settle for less, or only concentrate on the doubts that will always be there.  Anyone can say what this priest says and get applause – so what!  The unseen sacrifices will get what is gratefully intended, though not necessarily in the here and now.

  • A couple points to ponder…

    What is the average salary of a Catholic priest today?  $10,000?  Aren’t Catholics notorious for their poor financial giving?  Are the proponents of married priesthood ready to fork over the cash to support the wife and children?

    Building on Stacey’s point, a Protestant woman once asked a parishioner of our parish, “Why don’t Catholic priests get married and have families?”  The Catholic woman answered, “WE are his family.”  Great answer!

  • If attention to the mandatory celibacy issue does no good except to cause us to examine our consciences, that will at least be a worthwhile effect. We have three (at least) beautiful and mysterious blueprints for priest:church: Bridegroom:Bride, Father:children, and Shepherd:sheep. We continually rate our priests accordingly, but how often do we rate ourselves? Currently, in my perspective, we as Bride and children tend to be neglectful, exploitive, and abusive. As sheep we are either rebellious or idolatrous. (Remember that i’m speaking in general. My perspective is painted by the words that come from the mouths of parishioners locally and via the blogosphere, mostly.)
    I do think that while we must stop denying serious wrongs committed by priests who are our friends,
    we must also take our own attitudes and actions into account more frequently. Except in cases where a priest is mentally ill and/or downright cruel (and proportionally, these cases are few) we are partially responsible for the morale of our priests.
    Inasmuch as our priests stand In Persona Christ, to the extent that we forget there’s a MAN in there, we trivialize the humanity of Jesus Christ.
    He came not as an angel or a Eucharistic vending machine, but as a man with the basic, humble needs of a man. If He came tomorrow as a priest, would we even feed Him? Or would we treat Him as the Pharisees treated Him? Scary question…

  • I look forward to the day when these questions are answered honestly, reasonably and without anger by the Church, no matter what the answers may be. I will be happy when I can read Genesis without feeling accused by it. And, I admit, I do pray for the day when our married priests are reconciled to the Church. Not through protest, or organizations, or Archbishop Milingo, but by the Holy Father simply inviting them home to serve in some capacity.

    The Church has looked at the question without anger by two of the past Pontiffs (Paul VI and John Paul II) and said “no.”  As for married priests who are no longer active in ministry, I’m not sure what Joanne means by “reconcilied.”  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is always open to them.  If she means that they be welcomed back into active sacerdotal ministry, count me out.  A priest in that situation freely chose Marriage over Holy Orders—we don’t need such men with a lukewarm commitment to his priestly ministry as active priests.  Let them focus on being good husbands and fathers (and grandfathers).

    BTW I’m all for the Pastoral Provision and even for open discussion about a married priesthood in the future—without name calling.  For one thing, it would provide a way to prevent the further lavenderization of the clergy.  I do find it interesting, though, that the most outspoken public advocates of allowing married priests in the Latin Rite (by “public” I mean in the media, not blogland) also have other “issues” with Catholic doctrine.  And the heavy involvement of the “ex-priests” certainly doesn’t help.  And the sabotaging of orthodox vocations (detailed in “Goodbye, Good Men”) needs to stop.

    So when a future Pope wants to reopen discussion on the issue, I’ll put in my two cents.

    In the meantime, time to put off into the deep and help men discover their vocations to the priesthood.

  • Good points, Joanne.  I agree with your assessment that we tend to treat our priests as less than human.

    A priest friend of mine once said that he would like to see a shift toward diocesan priests living communally to counteract the loneliness and isolation.  Made sense to me.

    The problem with the current crop of married priests that you wish to see invited back into the Church is that they dissent on so many other issues, i.e., same-sex “marriage”, artificial contraception, women priests, etc.  They are – first and foremost – disobedient.  How will getting married make that less of a problem?

  • There are as few married priests (or fewer) who speak for dissenting organizations as there are rape victims who are “poster persons” for Planned Parenthood. People with an agenda do and will find their “poster victims.”
    I think it’s encouraging that Archbishop Milingo expected thousands of the estimated 150,000 married priests to join him but only interested a hundred or so. (Thank God for Rev. Moon, in this case! I’m sure his involvement lessened the take.) There is very likely a silently obedient married priest in a pew near you, sometimes hearing himself referred to as a “traitor”, “wimp”, etc.
    I’m not saying that our priests should all be walking around feeling sorry for themselves—i don’t know of one who does. I’m saying that we, as laity, take many of God’s gifts for granted and often expect others, especially priests, to live according to our specifications and desires, rather than God’s.
    Sorry for the confusion re: ‘Church’, Fr Michael. I wasn’t referring to our popes.
    Much as I would like to conform in every way to the vision of our Church (especially, here, our Pope and Bishop)I can not lose the feeling or the sight of something deeply wrong in the way we see and treat our clergy.
    I don’t like bullies. And I despise gangs. I’ve dealt with both too often and I know the sound of them. I am definitely NOT calling my Church or anyone in it a bully. But I can’t turn off my own “bully alarm”, either, and I do think there are both bullies and gangs within our Church. I don’t know who they are, and i’m not going to speculate, but they’re there.

  • I love being a priest.
    I love being celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. (There is a greater purpose at work here.)
    I wish people would ask me for an interview to tell you how fulfilled and awesome the priesthood is.
    The best way to promote vocations…be a happy priest and show people by your lifestyle that you are able to serve in a different capacity through celibacy.
    Lastly, God’s grace is always sufficient for us. Most people don’t trust or believe this and apply human solutions to spiritual problems.
    Get “baptized” in the Holy Spirit and watch real joy come into your life!

  • In my experience, there is no happier person than a happy priest. Thanks for the joy, Fr Jim. Seeing and hearing it (I hear when I read, don’t you?) makes a big difference in our sorrowful, mixed-up world!
    Your voice doesn’t make me any less sensitive to the sound of unhappy priests, but it gives me hope that one day they will sound joyful, too.

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