Pope Francis’s new number two, Archbishop Pietro Paolin, made headlines last week for saying that priestly celibacy could, in theory, be changed. While this idea isn’t new—priestly celibacy wasn’t mandated until the eleventh century and it’s certainly not church dogma—it’s got the several well-known Catholic priests talking.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, James Martin, SJ, contributing editor at America, said that Archbishop Paolin making the comments “is itself is an indication of change,” and speculated that the 8 super-cardinals would probably discuss the topic when they gather in Rome this week. “Look, change does happen,” he said, “If anyone can effect change, not on a dogmatic level, Pope Francis can.”

On Fox News, Fr. Jonathan Morris said that “there are pros and cons to both options, honestly.” He said that “there needs to be more dialogue about it. Talk about the pros and cons.” He speculated that there are “a lot of people out there, I think, who could be very good priests who don’t feel the call to celibacy. And I hope there is more discussion on this.”

On Twitter, CNN contributor Fr. Edward Beck replied to a younger priest who said he didn’t know of any peers who were interested in married life:

Before he was elected Pope, Francis addressed the topic, too, saying that clerical celibacy is “a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change.”

Categories: Culture, Institutions

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on BustedHalo.com, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


  1. There is only one question to ask: Is mandating celibacy good for God or for individual priests? Given that Catholic churches are closing all over the world, sacraments and God’s word are being lost for lack of priests, churches in poor areas are closing disproportionately, and the sad state of the world today, God certainly needs more priests in the world much more than any sacrifice of human sexuality. And it is not even a sacrifice or show of love for God if mandated. Coercing sexuality of priests is not healthy or holy…What would Jesus do? Jesus never ever mandated celibacy.

    • How on earth–or in heaven or hell–can celibacy be considered good for priests or anyone else? What does it have to do with the priesthood. It was unwisely mandated to protect property, no other reason. And because it is such a violation of nature–God’s nature–it has caused grave problems ever since.

      We have all known priests we now realize were not the healthiest when it came to mental-emotional conditions. How much did their efforts to ignore nature and the Godly creation of sex, love, and family have to do with their problems?

      One other thing to consider very seriously. Amidst all the hubbub of the infiltration of the clergy by homosexuals that was a part, a hidden part, of the requirement of celibacy. When homosexual men were troubled about their orientation, many considered that God made them thus because He wanted them “for Himself” as clergy. A natural conclusion within the theology of the church. It was only with the “gay freedom” movement that the gay clergy also became free in practicing their sexuality just as so many of their heterosexual confreres were practicing theirs.

      What earthly good can come from a prohibition against healthy and wholesome sex–and the results of that sex–like family? We are witnessing the awful problems. The question remains, what good is a requirement of celibacy for the priesthood?

  2. Why should it take all this, all this scandal, all this shortage of the work of clergy for lay people, all the sad history that has accompanied the demand of celibacy to qualify for ordination to the priesthood or that women should be excluded from the clergy?

    Why should it take all these problems, all these challenges to religion and religious life and growth to obtain simple corrections for sharing the message and work of Jesus? Shouldn’t conditions like these be up to the church at large, including lay people, and not left to one man or one small group of men?

    A good example is Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland, OH. After he made a mess as auxiliary to Cardinal Law in Boston, he was sent to Cleveland, OH, There he repeated his arrogant catastrophe of closing down parishes with no genuine consultation with the lay people. Lennon, obviously considers himself above his clergy, unreachably far above the lay people who pay all the bills, including his salary. And Lennon boldly lied when he claimed to some leaders trying to save churches and parishes that it had nothing to do with any priest shortage, that there was no priest shortage.

    These are the lone men, with no business training, making business decisions that absolutely should include the lay people in each parish and each diocese, honest lay people chosen by the people of God, not by a closed clericalist circle. We cannot afford the complicit, corrupt, lying thieves with whom Tony Pilla aligned himself when he preceded Lennon in Cleveland. Pilla “resigned” when the Cleveland church waters became unnavigable, thanks to him, his super-arrogant auxiliary Jimmy Quinn and their crooked gang.

    The obvious problem is “men” trained in theology, with no understanding of business, trying to run a business. That is made worse by the refusal of the church to allow dioceses and parishes to be open in all respects to the lay people of God who pay all the bills and should have at least co-ownership of all real and religious circumstances. Much still needs to be learned from the Reformation and its causes.

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