Marriage in the Catholic Clergy: Background information when reading Priestdaddy

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A Memoir

by Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood X
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 352 pages
    May 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Marriage in the Catholic Clergy

This article relates to Priestdaddy

Print Review

While Catholic priests are not permitted to be married, exceptions are made for those who convert after marriage, as was the case with Lockwood's father. This loophole was established in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, and as a result there are roughly 120 married Catholic priests in the United States. Celibacy in the Church is a longstanding tradition with both historical and Biblical roots, but many would like to see the strictures relaxed. In March 2017, Pope Francis made comments to a German newspaper that opened a door for the possibility of further exceptions to the rule.

Rosary, Bible and crucifix The scriptural origins of celibacy largely involve emulating Jesus Christ who, according to biblical doctrine, was unmarried. In Matthew 22:30, Jesus says, "'At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given marriage but are like the angels in heaven.'" The intention of the rule is for priests to be focused on their work and their faith, and to serve their congregation as the epitome of purity in the world. Scholars believe that the marriage ban comes from the Middle Ages, when it was put into practice to prevent nepotism, it being a common practice for Catholic priests to promote their sons into high positions in the Church. As such, the marriage ban is classified as Church tradition rather than official dogma, meaning the Pope could make changes to the policy at any time.

The Pope's recent comments on the matter, and the most prevalent reason for proposing a change to the position, concern the dwindling number of Catholic priests as the number of lay members of the faith continues to rise. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported 37,192 Catholic priests in America in 2016, down from 59,192 in 1970, and in Latin America, the problem is even worse. There is a worldwide Catholic to priest ratio of 2,896 to one. Permitting married men to serve as priests could cause an influx of vastly needed clergy.

In his statement to the German paper, Pope Francis said, "We have to think about whether viri probati are a possibility. Then we must also determine what tasks they can take, for example, in remote communities." "Viri probati" means "tested men," and refers to married men with an exemplary history of service and devotion. The possibility is currently being discussed as an option for a diocese in the Brazilian rainforest where a congregation of 700,000 is served by just 27 priests. If a rule change is permitted in that region, it would likely be the first step toward a more widespread reversal of the ban.

Some argue that marriage could distract priests from their vocation, and point out that raising a family on the donations that make up a priest's salary is prohibitive, however the already married exceptions to the rule show the positive aspects. The Lockwoods have five children and a seemingly very solid marriage. Another married priest, speaking to the L.A. Times about the benefits stated, "If I have some difficulties or struggles in my vocation, I can come home and have a sounding board that's going to give me honest advice."

Article by Lisa Butts

This "beyond the book article" relates to Priestdaddy. It originally ran in June 2017 and has been updated for the May 2018 paperback edition.

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