Fr. Richard P. McBrien is a Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is a syndicated columnist. McBrien’s column is regularly published in the National Catholic Reporter where he recently reviewed a book, Freeing Celibacy by Fr. Donald Cozzins who teaches religious studies at John Carroll University at Cleveland.
McBrien points out that the Catholic Church had a married priesthood and even married popes during the first one thousand years of its existence. It wasn’t until 1074 that Pope Gregory VII decided that anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy. It was during that same century that Pope Boniface IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry. Then In 1089 Pope Urban II, the pope who first preached for a crusade, went so far as to decree: "Married priests who ignore the delibacy laws should be imprisoned for the good of their souls and their wives and children to be sold into slavery." But, before these man made rules were imposed by autocratic popes, McBrien points out there were married popes. The last married pope was Adrian II (867) and two popes, Anastasius and Hormisdas were succeeded by their sons as popes. McBrien reminds us that Jesus disciples, including the chief disciple, Peter, were married and that Jesus did not require them to be unmarried to be disciples. McBrien notes that celibacy is only imposed by the Roman rite of the Catholic Church. Non Roman rites within the church allow married priests and are in full communion with the Church. Celibacy is not required for thousands of priests in the various non Roman branches. The fact they have wives, children and grandchildren has not hindered them from acting as Catholic priests. In addition, McBrien notes, even the Roman rite allows former Anglican and Protestant married clergy, who convert to the Roman Catholic Church to be ordained as priests. McBrien observes "Unfortunately, the Church is running out of priests and the apparent determination to ‘stay the course’ in effect, places a human made rule above the sacramental needs of the church." He goes on to say "Catholics of the first Christian millennium would have been stunned if confronted with the same situation, and then simply appalled." Stubborn refusal by the Popes to reconsider a man made rule which can be changed while Catholics are without priests along with a growing need for more priests makes no sense. One also wonders what improvements in Church might occur if Church leaders were married instead of life long bachelors. By the way, Fr. McBrien’s column used to appear in the Catholic Northwest Progress until one day it no longer was published without explanation. Presumably, Archbishop Alex Brunett found his writings too "liberal."