This week’s query:
was there ever a pope that was married?
It turns out 39 popes of the past had tied the knot, but all of those marriages happened before they became popes and the last one was Felix V, elected in 1439.
Why priests can’t marry and still remain priests is more interesting to ponder. Married ex-priest John Shuster explains why. It has to do with the Roman habit of abstaining from sex prior to major events (battles or sports) and the assumption that priests ought to avoid their wives before Mass, too.
The resultant message was that sexuality and marriage were no longer holy.
Celibacy became yet another political opportunity in the hands of ambitious priests and bishops. They used the celibate lifestyle as a political tool to lessen the influence of the married priests. A negative attitude towards women and sexuality began to emerge from the hierarchy that stood in stark contrast to the healthy family perspective that was central to the early Church.12 This established celibacy as the highest state of holiness and the eventual suppression of the married priesthood.
In 366, Pope Damasus told all his priests that they could marry but they still couldn’t have any sex. That idea was completely rejected. In 385, Siricius went one step further by abandoning his entire family before taking on the Pope role and then decreed that priests couldn’t be married at all. That edict was equally unpopular and ignored.
Over the next 1,000 years, an unnatural sexual ethic emerged in the Church’s developing theology. This new legalistic preoccupation with sexuality was antagonistic to normal human relationships and out of step with the natural order of life as established by God. It continued to be very derogatory towards women.
In 401, St. Augustine wrote that “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.”15 The evolving attitude against sexuality and women was designed to control the intimate aspects of people’s lives, and this dynamic continues to the present day. Because they were family men, married priests could see the political agenda behind the hierarchy’s obsession with sexuality. Married priests stood in solidarity with the people and did their best to stave off the Roman hierarchy’s continued efforts to gain power and control over them and their families.
So what happened? Power struggles and abuse of authority.
In the year 1075, Pope Gregory VII declared that nobody could judge a pope except God. Introducing the concept of infallibility, he was the first pope to decree that Rome can never be in error. He had statues made in his likeness and placed them in churches throughout Europe. He insisted that everyone must obey the pope, and that all popes are saints by virtue of their association with St. Peter
Greg demanded finally that anyone who wanted to be a priest had to be single. And now that he could claim he was infallible, he couldn’t possibly be wrong about how evil women were. And Urban, who came after, took things even further by selling priests’ wives and children into slavery and putting the money made on that venture into church coffers.
Shuster claims that as many as one out of every three Catholic priests in the States is married. Not practicing in churches anymore, maybe, but married. And he writes that polls suggest 70% of Catholic parishioners would like to see these guys be allowed to do their jobs regardless of that.
Mandatory celibacy is truly a man-made rule, a discipline, just like the old rule forbidding altar girls. These disciplinary practices are not necessary to our faith as Roman Catholics. Such rules can and have been changed. Today we are faced with parish closures because of the celibacy rule. With the stroke of a pen, the Vatican could lift the mandatory celibacy discipline for all of the priests. In doing so, they could mobilize over 110,000 married Catholic priest couples worldwide and re-open every parish they have been forced to close.
And maybe some of these married boys could take over in parishes where sick child molesters have been hanging out and letting it all hang out…