Vatican: The Battle Over Priestly Celibacy

Source: FSSPX News

Archbishop Charles Scicluna

The Catholic Church has lost many “good priests just because they chose marriage.” The latest remark coming from the Adjunct Secretary for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) is somewhat surprising in the context of the strong controversy surrounding Fiducia Supplicans, which allows giving blessings to irregular or same-sex couples.

It is from Valletta (Malta), in the columns of the Times of Malta, that Archbishop Charles Scicluna made new waves in the media: “Why should we lose a young man who would have made a fine priest, just because he wanted to get married?” the prelate, who is one of the closest colleagues of the Prefect of the DDF, asked on January 7, 2024.

“If it were up to me,” the prelate states bluntly--suggesting a certain amount of opposition to Rome on this point--”I would revise the requirement that priests have to be celibate. Experience has shown me that this is something we need to seriously think about.”

Conscious that his remark was impossible to be indifferent about, the senior Roman official added: “This is probably the first time I’m saying it publicly and it will sound heretical to some people.”

If Archbishop Scicluna thinks that there is “still a place”--or rather, a folding chair--for celibacy in the Church, he also believes this state of celibacy should take into account the fact that priests sometimes fall in love and “must choose between her and priesthood.”

We could almost smile at an argument that suggests dropping the general standard of requirements under the pretext that the majority of people would find it difficult to reach that level: a reasoning that we could believe came directly from the French Ministry of National Education!

Not hesitating to demonstrate historical revisionism, the right-hand man of Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández states that ecclesiastical celibacy was optional during the entire first millenium of the history of the Church: the priests then had, according to him, the option to marry, a faculty that sacred ministers in certain Eastern Churches attached to Rome still possess.

Gross Historical Ignorance

This is a surprising assertion when it is enough to open an even remotely serious study on ecclesiastical celibacy in order to be convinced that this venerable practice goes back to the origins of the Church and that the Church has fought hard to maintain it every time it has been threatened.

This was sometimes the case, especially around the year 1000, which characterizes an era of crisis in the Church, with the appearance of Nicolaitism, or the loss of continence among ecclesiastics through marriage for lower clerics, concubinage for major clerics, up to bishops. The Gregorian reform--of St. Gregory VII--fought vigorously against these abuses.

As for the case of the Eastern Churches, Church history tells us that the marriage of priests appeared in the 7th century by means of an imposture: an Eastern council distorted a counciliar decision of the 4th century in order to allow these marriages. Faced with the falsity of their position, the Eastern bishops claimed that they had the right to make this change...

If Archbishop Scicluna allows himself the liberty of such remarks to the media in a seemingly inopportune moment, it is perhaps because the signals on priestly celibacy coming from Rome are not characterized by excessive clarity: in 2017, the Supreme Pontiff explained that the Church could consider ordaining married men, but in 2021, he dismissed any change to the rule of celibacy...

Until 2023, when Pope Francis mentioned priestly celibacy this time as a “discipline” which “is not eternal” and could be revised. Nevertheless, he feels--as he says in his book El Pastor, published in 2023--that the marriage of priests would not resolve the vocations crisis.