Elephant in the room


I’m stepping out of line here, but I believe someone has to put words to what the Holy Spirit has been telling us for years:  married priesthood needs to be reinstated.

The arguments against marriage for priests do not sit well with history or the majority of priests who claim they don’t cope with celibacy.

Paul states that the apostles’ wives accompanied their husbands in their ministry, this including Peter’s wife who worked with her husband in Rome. (1 Corinth.9:5)

The argument that the apostles left their wives to follow Jesus, has no substance. If that was so, who were all the women who followed Jesus and the disciples and provided for them?

The early church had married priests, bishops, popes.

There were problems when church property was passed on to the families of clergy, but I believe enforced celibacy creates greater problems.

Some of those are now seriously affecting us.

Let’s look at the healing that could come if marriage was an option for priests:


We all know fine young men who would be in the seminary now, if they could have a wife and family.

To say marriage would detract from their vocation is not true, and it dishonours Orthodox churches which have always had married priests.

In America, approximately 50% of ordained Catholic priests have left- mainly to marry. I don’t know what the figure is for New Zealand, but if married men could come back, what a difference that would make.


There are two victims in the tragedy of sexual abuse– the abused and the abuser.

We need to be clear-sighted about this epidemic. If we walk away from Nature, it will pursue us. The priests concerned were not bad men. Deprivation can cause distorted behaviour.

Getting real about marriage

I don’t think we can fully understand something we haven’t experienced.

There is a tendency for lay people to idealise priests and for priests to idealise marriage.

This can create unrealistic expectations, and surely does nothing to ease the loneliness and depression that affects some priests. Wouldn’t it be a relief if we all got real about the way we are made?

Working with women

When priests are allowed to marry, the church will also be relaxed about women working in ministry in the parish. Women find it demeaning to be treated as something foreign and slightly dangerous.

Image of God

In Catholic teaching, procreation in marriage is important. In Judaism, it’s about two people made in the image of God.

This comes from the creation story (Genesis 1:27) and the understanding that man is not in the image of God and woman is not in the image of God. It is man and woman together who are made in this image. Which is why it is said, “If a man cannot pray he should seek God in the arms of his wife.”

At a deeply spiritual level, this is what it means to be pro-life.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
  • Image: Stuff.co.nz

News category: Opinion.

  • Donna Te Amo

    Totally agree with Joy Cowley -well said.

  • RobertoGill

    I have heard it said that there is no shortage of priests where the faith is strong. This surprised me when I first heard this at the time as I thought the problem was occurring in virtually every country in the world. I have since heard, though, that not all places have a declining priesthood.

    The Lincoln Diocese in Nebraska, USA, has plenty of priests, which some observers put down to the orthodox approach of its local bishops and priests. Nearer to home, the Wagga Wagga Diocese in Australia can claim similar success. More information on these
    successes can be googled.

    I’m a great believer in not re-inventing the wheel, so I’m surprised that others not doing so well in attracting men to the priesthood don’t adopt strategies from those having success.

    Allowing married priests will certainly help to reduce our priest shortage, but let’s look also in cashing in on the success of those places that don’t have an issue.
    Bob Gill

  • Katalin Ajzner

    This topic is hardly an elephant in the room – the idea and the arguments are part of the liberal canon. The idea that having sex can be a spiritual experience is not new either (which is what I think the last paragraph is saying).

    No such arguments have been offered so far that are able to convince those who think otherwise. The counter-arguments are equally well known. I will just say some parish priests might find it demeaning to be thought of as potentially deprived to the point of child abuse. Men who live their vocations faithfully should not be tarred with the same brush as those who went into the priesthood to conceal their proclivities and to avoid questions about ever delayed matrimony.

    The Anglican Communion have married clergy. This has so far not stopped the steady decline in their numbers.

    This article is delivered in a way as if there was a real consensus in this question. Parts of it are composed in the first person plural and the reader is pulled into a theoretical “we” which agrees that married clergy should be reinstated immediately.

    I am a Catholic laywoman and I disagree.

    Finally, stating that this idea comes from the Holy Spirit does not guarantee that it is truly so.

  • Maria

    There is a lot in this opinion piece. Thanks for having a deep care and concern for the welfare of our priests and also for the high regard for marriage.

    Married clergy in the Eastern Rite are within a very different culture. There is often a monastery of celibate monks (or nuns I presume) who are the spiritual heart of the people, the married clergy being mostly sacramentally serving…the Bishops of course are celibate not married.

    The Latin Rite has required celibacy and regardless of interpretations of the early Church it has prospered. We don’t need to replicate a purer notion by returning to arrangements patterned even prior to the great dogmas of Christology being settled.

    I am a bit concerned at the imago Dei being recognised as only belonging to the spousal couple alone and not as distinct persons. I am confused as a woman that I must be in a nuptial union in order to be imago Dei. That isn’t so and I think reduces the God given created blessing of each person if this is the case…which it isn’t. It also implies women must marry in order to attain this spiritual bestowal of imago Dei? The imago Dei and marriage is a great topic and some in the medieval Church looked for the imago Trinitas in the human family (I think Richard of St Victor? Not sure). Cardinal Ouellet has a great interest in the topic try ‘Mystery and Sacrament of Love’.

    However, we are each truly created imago Dei in order to, and by nature, be able to become imago Christi . Through the redeeming work of Christ we might then attain our embodied spiritual final and absolute end in glory – communion and worship imago Trinitas.

    Try Wisdom 2:23 ‘For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity…”

    Woman is enobled in her own right as person through Christ and not through any created man. There is also no marriage in heaven and for that reason the celibacy of priests has an eschatological value – as is consecrated virginity. This rather confounds the world which seems to only find value in sexual union. But Christ seems to have this effect?

    Out of interest, Antonia Fraser makes a good argument in her historical study of women in the century following the Reformation in England. That women’s options and status were reduced and marriage their only preferred path. Single women were viewed with suspicion and there was a rise in accusations of witchcraft. Fraser proposes Mary Ward (the founder of the Loreto order which gave us Mother Teresa) as one who swam against the tide. Though this pertains to women and not the subject of married priests per se I think there is insight here that the Catholic Church in her call for celibacy and virginity as well as marriage created a freer society as witnessed by the reduction of the status of women once Anglicanism took hold.

    The Catholic Church in all its nuptial mystery and reality of being is truly the only, I repeat the only, religion or creed which holds the truth of human persons and enobles both men and women in their createdness and their final deification. This is in danger of being lost if we fall into the world and don’t realise the immense gift of grace which makes all things possible.

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