Resources
Celibate and Married Clergy
Fr. John Trigilio and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti (both Roman Catholic priests) explain how the West came to have the unique custom of mandatory clerical celibacy in their book Catholicism for Dummies.
 
There are more married Roman Catholic priests in the United States than there are married Eastern Catholic priests, so it is no wonder that the Byzantines in the US returned to their tradition of ordaining married men to the priesthood since Catholicism for Dummies was published. Ironically, the Italian Episcopal Conference announced in 2011 that Romanian Catholic clergy serving Romanian Catholic faithful inside Italy (where they have a large immigrant community) must now be celibate.


Catholicism for Dummies
Rev. John Trigilio, Jr., Ph. D.
and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti
Chapter 14: Standing Firm:
The Church’s Stance on Some Sticky Issues
Pages 220-222
 
Flying solo for life
Celibacy is the formal and solemn oath never to enter the married state. Celibate men and women willingly relinqush their natural right to marry in order to devote themselves completely and totally to God and His Church.
 

ONLY IN THE UNITED STATES

At the turn of the last century, many Eastern European immigrants came to America and brought their clergy with them. Some influential and shortsighted Irish-American bishops feared (with no foundation) that a married priesthood among Eastern Catholics would cause tension and animosity among the Western (Latin) Roman Catholic clergy and laity. So they asked Rome if they could force the Byzantine clergy to mandate celibacy in North America, even though it would remain optional in the rest of the world.
 
Before that, every single Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Melkite, Maronite, Coptic, and Romanian Catholic priest had the option of being celibate or married all over the world. Today, only the United States still pushes mandatory celibacy on the Eastern Catholic clergy.

The Catholic Church doesn’t teach (and never has taught) that all clergy must be celibate. From day one, clergy of the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Byzantine, have consistently and perennially had the option of marrying. Only in the United States was celibacy imposed on the Byzantine Catholic Clergy. (See the sidebar “Only in the United States” for details.)
 
Celibacy isn’t necessary for valid Orders in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a discipline of the church, not a doctrine. The East never made it mandatory. The Western (Latin) Church made it normative in A.D. 306 at the Council of Elvira and mandatory in 1074 by Pope Gregory VII. The Second Lateran Council reaffirmed it in 1139. Although the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches always had an optional celibacy for clergy, both have a celibate episcopacy, meaning that only celibate priests can become bishops. So although they have a married clergy, the upper hierarchy remains celibate and, to a degree, quasi-monastic. (They live and pray more like monks than like parish priests.)
 
A rolling stone gathers no moss
Celibacy is legitimate for both the East and the West, even though it’s optional for the former and mandatory for the latter. But why the difference between the two? Well, politics and culture. Even before East split from West in 1054 and formed the Orthodox Church, the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire operated differently from the Western counterpart. (See Appendix A in this book [Catholicism for Dummies] for more on the history of Catholicism.)
 
In the East, a close association existed between the secular and religious spheres, which was dramatically different from the situation in the West. After Rome fell in A.D. 476, no single, powerful, and influential secular ruler arose until Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in A.D. 800.
 
So from the fifth through the eighth centuries, the most powerful and influential person in the West was the bishop of Rome. As pope and head of the world-wide Catholic Church, he became the icon of stability and power as Western Europe survived the fall of the ancient Roman Empire, the barbarian invasions, and the so-called Dark Ages.
 
Instability in the secular realm meant that the clergy, especially the bishops, took on more than just spiritual leadership, just as the pope wielded more than pastoral power in Rome and around the world. And the West found that celibacy among the clergy was beneficial and helpful because that meant no divided loyalties.
 
Kings, princes, barons, earls, dukes, counts, and other nobility married first to make political alliances and second to establish families. Mandatory celibacy prevented the clergy from getting involved in the intrigue of who marries whom. Mandatory celibacy ensured that the priests were preoccupied with Church work and had no ties or interests in local politics among the fighting factions, which were trying to establish the infant nation states.
 
Priests with families would have been vulnerable to the local nobility, because their extended families would have been under secular dominion. A celibate clergy made for a more independent clergy, free from earthly concerns and corruption, enabling them to serve the people and the hierarchy with full attention and loyalty.