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DALLAS (ChurchMilitant.com) - A married Catholic priest is speaking up in favor of keeping a celibate clergy.
Father Joshua Whitfield, pastor of St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas, Texas, is married and has four children. "Now you might be surprised to know most married Catholic priests are staunch advocates of clerical celibacy," he said in his Tuesday editorial. "I, for one, don't think the Church should change its discipline here. In fact, I think it would be a very bad idea."
Like many married men who were allowed by the Vatican to be ordained priests, he and his wife are converts from Anglicanism. Certain Eastern Rites, including Byzantine Catholic, Ukrainian Greek Catholic and others have always allowed married men to be ordained to the priesthood. They stipulate, however, that those men can never go on to be consecrated bishops.
His response comes on the heels of an interview Pope Francis gave to a German newspaper on March 9. In a discussion on the shortage of priests, he was asked if the ordination of married men would be an answer. He responded, "We have to give a thought to whether viri probati [men of proven virtue] are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in isolated areas."
After the pope's remarks, people inside and outside the Catholic Church began anew the debate on priestly celibacy. Some critics maintain that celibate men cannot understand the difficulties of married life or dealing with children.
Whitfield answers, "Laity who have no real idea of what priesthood entails and even some priests who have no real idea of what married family life entails both assume normalizing married priesthood would bring about a new, better age for the Catholic Church."
He calls it "an assumption with little supporting evidence" to think that opening ordination to married men would help to bolster the number of priests. Citing his experience as a Protestant, he notes a married clergy has not helped to "bring about a spiritual renaissance" in their congregations.
Whitfield further asserts that people wanting to change the discipline of priestly celibacy are "either ignorant or forgetful of what the Church calls the 'spiritual fruit' of celibacy, something largely incomprehensible in this libertine age, but which is nonetheless still true and essential to the work of the Church."
He adds that marriage has helped his priestly ministry, giving him "insights and sympathies gained as both husband and father" but that it calls "into question the good of clerical celibacy or what my celibate colleagues bring to their ministry."
Another married priest, Fr. Steve Anderson, reaffirmed Whitfield's sentiments: "But the fact that I'm a parent doesn't automatically make me an expert on parenting. A celibate priest can have more gifts in the area than someone married with several children."
In the fourth century, the Council of Carthage formally declared that all men in Holy Orders, including deacons, priests and bishops, "should be continent altogether, by which they would be able with singleness of heart to ask what they sought from the Lord: so that what the apostles taught and antiquity kept, that we might also keep."
The Catholic Code of Canon Law follows the Holy Scriptures when it describes celibacy as "a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity."
Saint Paul taught, "He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided."