Mandatory Celibacy

Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)

February 2002
Revised January 2006


Lately the news has been telling us about Roman Catholic priests who sexually molested children. Apparently these men were unable to handle mandatory celibacy.

The early Church did not require celibacy. We know that the Apostle Peter was married because Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law when she had a fever. (See Matthew 8:14-15 and Mark 1:30-31). We know that bishops were married, because Paul gave them the guideline that they should only have one wife. (1 Timonthy 3:2) Paul mentions that Peter, other apostles, and Jesus’ brothers were married. (1 Corinthians 9:5)

Even now, priests in the Eastern Rite Church (a branch of the Roman Catholic Church) are allowed to marry. I have personally known Byzantine Melchite (Eastern Rite) priests who were married.

There are some Roman Catholic priests who are legally married. When married Protestant ministers convert to Catholicism and become ordained as Catholic priests, they can keep their wives.

Some priests are secretly married. When I was a Catholic I had a regular confessor, a priest I met with every week to mentor me and instruct me on issues of faith and morals. Years later I was shocked to learn that, while he was my confessor, he was secretly married. (Eventually he left the Catholic Church and openly married his wife. Years later, he left his wife and children, went back to the Catholic Church, and was reinstated as a priest.)

When I was a nun, we were taught that the purpose of celibacy was to enable us to be more totally dedicated to God. The Apostle Paul said,

“But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33)

This shows that celibacy is a valid calling which can help people be more fully devoted to God. When God calls, He equips. I have known precious celibates (both Catholic and Protestant) whose devotion to God is inspiring.

But what about requiring people to be celibate? Earlier in the same chapter, Paul said,

“But I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9, emphasis added)

While discussing celibacy, Paul said that God has given people different gifts. It is good for a person who has been given the gift of celibacy to be celibate. But if they do not have that gift, then it is better for them to marry.

In spite of Paul’s admonition, the Roman Catholic Church requires that priests, nuns, and monks be celibate. How did that happen?

Pope Gregory VII reigned from 1073 to 1085. At the time, most Catholic priests were married. Married men want to financially support their wives and children. Kings and nobles donated property to the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for the faithful service of priests. Some priests tried to leave this property to their heirs. In addition, they had loyalty to the nobles who provided them with homes. Pope Gregory wanted to protect Church property, and to ensure that the loyalty of the priests went to the Pope and not to secular rulers. And he wanted to prevent laymen from “interfering” with the Catholic Church. He made this clear when he said, “The church cannot escape from the clutches of the laity unless priests first escape from the clutches of their wives.” Pope Gregory abolished clerical marriage. He passed laws requiring that priests be celibate, and he got rid of married priests. [Note 1]

By passing a decree, the ninth Council of Toledo (655 A.D.) turned the children of married priests into Church property. They immediately became the permanent slaves of the Catholic Church. By passing a decree, the Synod of Melfi under Pope Urban II (1089) turned the wives of married priests into property. The priests were put into prison and their wives were sold into slavery. Their children were either sold into slavery or else abandoned. [Note 2]

There is a web site for modern priests who are struggling with celibacy. There is an online support group for priests and nuns who are involved in “romantic relationships”. There are also support groups for children who were fathered by Catholic priests. [Note 3]

The emotional and spiritual consequences of clerical sexual abuse are immense. The financial consequences are also significant. In the United States, as of 2002, legal expenses resulting from lawsuits cost the Catholic Church $64 million. As of 2005, costs for psychological counselling for priests with sexual problems was projected to be between $2 billion and $3 billion. [Note 4]

The Orthodox Church does not have such problems. It allows its priests to marry. [Note 5]


I encourage you to link to this article. You have permission to quote from this article, as long as you do it fairly and accurately. You have permission to make copies of this article for friends and for use in classes.


1. Peter de Rosa, “Vicars of Christ,” pages 406-407. (The quotation from Pope Gregory VII is on page 406.) Hans Kung, “The Catholic Church: A Brief History,” pages 92-93. Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 141-142. Anthony P. Kowalski, “Married Catholic Priests,” pages 3-36.

John Schuster, “39 Popes Were Married” (cassette tape, 1998). You can buy this at the “Rent A Priest” website. (These are Catholic priests who left the priesthood to get married, but claim that they can still perform the sacraments.)


2. Peter de Rosa, page 407. Hans Kung, page 92. Anthony P. Kowalski, pages 34-35.

3. These support groups can be contacted through the Married Priests website.


4. Louise Haggett, “The Bingo Report: Mandatory Celibacy and Clergy Sexual Abuse,” pages 189-190.

5. “Mating and Dating Among Eastern Rite Priests,” “The National Catholic Reporter,” April 16, 2004. This article shows that early priests (and even popes) were allowed to marry. Four married popes are canonized saints. The Eastern Rite branch of the Catholic Church has married priests.