Rorate Caeli

The Electors - the men who will choose the next Pope
I - Cardinal O'Brien

Cardinal-Elector Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of Edinburgh, Scotland:

"For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry - Jesus didn't say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church - in some branches of the Catholic church - priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again." (BBC, Feb. 22, 2013)

As is well known, priests can never get married in the Catholic Church, unless they are have been "laicized" (removed from ordained ministry). Married men may be ordained to the priesthood in Eastern Churches and, as an exception that is not to be perpetuated, in the Latin Church in the case of those who exercised a priestly-like ministry in some historic Western "ecclesial communities". After priestly ordination, as established from time immemorial, no priest can ever "get married". (Cf. Sacerdotalis caelibatus, 40) And, of course, Our Lord had something to say about this: "For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it." (Cf. Mt. xix)


  1. Patrick5:23 PM

    The matter of priestly celibacy is a hot potato especially with us of a more conservative, traditional mindset, but there ARE married Roman Catholic priests who exercise the fullness of the priesthood and the earth has not split in two. What I find amusing is the whole silliness of "permanent deacons" and "transitional deacons." After all, there isn't a class of "permanent priests" and "transitional priests" (i.e., those who can be consecrated bishops). ANY deacon, married or not presumably is eligible for ordination to the priesthood except for current canon law restrictions which could be changed in the blink of an eye with a papal signature. The next pontificate will be interesting.

  2. Never in Church history could an ordained priest marry after ordination.

    An excellent article on the history of priestly celibacy is "Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church" by Roman Cholij, and an excellent book is Card. Stickler's The Case for Clerical Celibacy: Its Historical Development and Theological Foundations.

  3. I am no fan of Cardinal O'Brien or of married priests. That being said, isn't he technically correct? Although celibacy has been required for most of Church history, it seems that Pope Gregory VII's legislation in the 11th century was the determining factor. In short, isn't priestly celibacy a discipline (which can be changed by legislation) as opposed to dogma (which can't)? I freely admit not being in possession of the "big picture", perhaps someone can inform me. Thank you.

  4. Apropos of Patrick's comment, the question seems to be whether His Eminence Cardinal O'Brien is merely speaking inarticulately by saying "priests got married" (in that he means "married men were ordained"), or whether he is unaware or ignorant of the actual tradition, of which everyone is aware.

    One could charitably view him merely as being inarticulate. But surely a predilection to speak with such imprecision is not a sought-after quality.

  5. That's not what he said. The current discipline in the Church really isn't that difficult to explain.

  6. It sounds like Cd. O'Brien is Jane Kramer's kind of cardinal. She has an...energetic piece up at The New Yorker today going on at some length about these injust exclusions from the priesthood. She also has some charitable things to say about the SSPX:

    What is “deviant”? Most of us would consider the Holocaust-denying followers of the late Marcel LeFebvre deviant. LeFebvre was a French cardinal so frighteningly racist that he and the four “bishops” he had illegally appointed were excommunicated by John Paul II. But Benedict reversed the excommunication of those bishops—on condition that they kept their views on the Holocaust to themselves. (Their silence was equivocal, given that you could read those views in the books and pamphlets they continued to sell, along with cakes and honey, in their monastery-churches.) It seems that in any reasonable church they would be considered more “deviant,” theologically, than a Leonardo Boff or a Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Peruvian liberation theologian who lived with the poor, practicing theology “from below.”


    Anyway, I figured everyone needed a good laugh today.

  7. Allan, do you see your comment here? Well, goodbye, then.

  8. Bootach6:48 PM

    This is an important point -- the sacramental theology here, along with the relevant discipline, is not that subtle. Married men can be ordained to the priesthood, and are in the East. Priests and deacons, once ordained, cannot marry. The order matters (if you'll excuse the pun) and it's not a difficult point to grasp.

    What's worrisome is that someone who is charged with electing the next pope, and therefore someone who is among those typically chosen to be the next pope, can't get a handle on this not-so-subtle point. What happens when an issue comes up that is genuinely subtle? I, for my part, am deeply troubled at the thought that such an unsophisticated person could be at the helm.

  9. Benedict Carter6:48 PM

    Those who do not see the importance of this question must try to understand.

    If the Modernists can get clerical celibacy overturned, then they will turn their sights onto their next target - overturning Humanae Vitae, or chipping away at the dogma of Our lady's Perpetual Virginity or something else.

    It would be a great victory for them and they must be resisted.

  10. Benedict Carter7:06 PM

    NC, exactly right. There is no stopping them UNTIL the Church returns seriously to the use of dogmatic language instead of the very human but nevertheless dangerous imprecision of "pastoral language" (and that doesn't mean talk about haystacks).

    A very good post in another place on this question reads as follows:

    "Cardinal Keith O'Brien was required to make a Profession of Faith before flying off to Rome to receive his red hat. This Profession of Faith, made in St Mary's Cathedral Edinburgh in 2003, included the following:

    'I further state that I accept and intend to defend the law on ecclesiastical celibacy as it is proposed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.'

    He must have changed his mind. These days, not even a Profession of Faith made by a cardinal designate counts for much, once the red hat is obtained."

  11. Bootach, that is exactly right.

    Benedict, it is amazing to notice that some of our readers, informed Catholics and all, have a difficult time grasping the great evil this incrementalism has inflicted upon our Church. The revolutionaries could not care LESS about what is discipline, or doctrine, or tradition, or dogmatic. or the needs of the clergy and the faithful - they merely want to keep the Church in permanent instability, to make clear to themselves and the world that nothing is really certain, sacred, or permanent.

  12. Its depressing is it not? His Eminence fails to mention of course that even eastern catholics admit that priestly celibacy dates from the very earliest days of the Church and that either it or perpetual continence was expected in priests.

  13. Please purchase and read, The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, by Christian Cochini, S.J. and inoculate your own selves against the temptations to surrender a married priesthood, this most unholy temptation.

    In reading that well-documented study, one will learn that Pope Siricius (380s A.D.) promulgated his "Directa" and "Cum in Unum" reminding all Priests of their DUTY to observe the perpetual continence that is of Apostolic Origins and which continence was anchored in the strictures of Bible, Tradition, and Ecclesiastical Legislation and followed the practice of those serving in the Temple who had to live apart from their wives - with no sexual congress - while they offered sacrifice in the Temple.

    Who cares what the Eastern Rite Churches do? They are NOT a model for we Latins. Our model is Jesus, The Bible, Tradition and continuous Orthodox Ecclesiastical Praxis and I'd just love to see somebody engaged in agitprop for this most unholy change to claim is is part of the hermeneutic of continuity.

  14. The Church in its wisdom has decided that celibacy is required of its priests. The ordained Catholic priest acts “in persona Christi” during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and otherwise bears a grave responsibility for the direction of his congregation towards eternal salvation.

    To share these duties with the care and love of a family is asking too much of any man.

    There are exceptions, such as already married priest within the Ordinariate, but that carries a penalty, and as such, must remain an exception.

    Church of England and Protestant ministers are often popular with their followers, making good and popular social and activity leaders - but then that is what they are. They are not priests.

    The Church in the West must re-form after the disastrous Faith, liturgical, and numerical collapse of the last forty years, but that married priests are part of a solution, is an illusion.

  15. Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien on celibacy as heard on BBC Scotland
    "It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own."
    After a Friday Lenten fast the last thing I had expected to hear from my own Cardinal Archbishop was this statement, although, God forgive me I was after reflexion, very sadly not surprised!
    The timing of the statement prior to his leaving for Rome worried me even more.
    It is a free world? How simplistic is that. I am a married practicing Roman Catholic with four grow up children and like many of my peers I at times have found it very difficult to cope with married life not to mention children!
    The priesthood seems at times to be in a mess however I shudder to think of married priest with wives and families, it is not hard to see where the next scandals are coming from! We are truly blessed in having a celibate priesthood why replace it with something which ultimately with only be second best. The modernists will never stop trying to destroy the church.
    I am even more concerned that we as Roman Catholics from the diocese of. St Andrews and Edinburgh are sending the Cardinal to elect a new Pope. Domine ora pro nobis

  16. Tony from Oz11:36 PM

    Here, here Jacobi! Not to mention the bleedingly obvious factoid that married priesthood would be an insuperable burden for increasingly parishionerless parishes at least in the west. One also, with little imagination, can see headlines down the track to the sacred ministry for divorced and remarried clergy'.

    The pushers of this chaos are invariably those already in breach of their vows who want their cake and to eat it too. A long way away from Christ's invitation for his apostles to leave everything and come follow me. In any case, O'Brien exemplifies the vacuous restlessness of the past 50 years, both in general and as a concrete reality. Poor Edinburgh,!

  17. Mr. Langan:

    I am in the same situation. Married with four children (the last two are almost out of high school). I could never give a career in the priesthood its due as marriage and child rearing are hard work that consume most of one's waking hours not spent at a job. The Church exhibits divine wisdom with respect to the call for celibacy.

  18. Dr Lucas12:38 AM

    As a member of Edinburgh's TLM community, I would like to remind your readers of the immense debt we owe to our beloved Cardinal O'Brien for all he has done to facilitate the celebration of the Old Mass, not just in Edinburgh, where he welcomed the FSSP and gave us the use of a church, but also in several other towns such as St Andrews. He has also been fearless in defending Catholic family values. Edinburgh is one of the very few cities in the UK to have a sung Old Rite Mass on all Sundays and holydays.

  19. Tony from Oz12:45 AM

    Oops, re my post above, that future media headline should read "Priests demand re-entry to the sacred ministry for divorced and remarried clergy"

  20. Dr Lucas can only agree with you, on how fortunate we are in Edinburgh and St Andrews I am blessed to be able to attend Father Emerson"s Mass also, although i must travel from Fife to do so. I personally have thanked the Cardinal for this and the proper stand he has taken on the issue of disordered marriage. However after many years there is as yet no other provision for the Tridentine mass, other that the great service Father Emerson provides and the Society of St Pius X Do we always have to be contented with this situation and dependant in Scotland on the whims of our Bishops and clergy while thousands of our fellow Scottish Roman Catholics are deprived of the blessings of the Mass of all the Ages! The Faith is withering and is been substituted with watered down second best excuse Where will we be in another ten years?

  21. GQ Rep2:31 PM

    Allowing for optionalcelibacy for all Roman Catholic priests (allowing for married priests), would finish the job the Novus Ordo began....we'd finally all be just like the Protestants.

    No thanks.

  22. By far the best response to Card. O'Brien that I have read is this wonderful post at the blog Laodicea:

  23. Anonymous7:12 PM

    Cardinal O'Brien has been up to now a vocal defender of traditional marriage, though unfortunately not interested in the Traditional Mass. By any conceivable standard, he is not among the worst. This says something about the average quality of the august congregation called to elect the next Pope.

    As they say in Italy, "the cleanest has scabies".


  24. Go to Fr. Blake's blog to read his opinion on this miserable fool of a prince of the Church!

    What a nonsense!

  25. Lynda1:27 AM

    It's very disheartening to hear a Cardinal who has been so good on many fundamental issues of faith and morals speak so carelessly and casually about such important matter as the priesthood in such a forum on such an occasion. I am deeply disappointed and worried as to the hsrm done to many people's faith an morals by the, at best, misleading comments. Blessed Michael, come to our protection.

  26. Cardinal O'Brien was named Bigot of the Year by the leading gay charity Stonewall for his opposition to same-sex marriage at the beginning of 2012. Now we have some strange news he is to support marriage of Catholic priests. Today BBC also revealed there were some allegations made against him by three priests and one former priest - he is obviously not gay supporter - so it smells spin to me. I always thought of him as a good shepherd.

  27. Charmaine4:22 PM

    I have to say that if it were not for the presence of the SSPX in Edinburgh then I doubt that Cardinal O'Brian would have been so accommodating to the FSSP. This has been the case in so many places around the world.

  28. Good bye Cardinal O'Brien!


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