When Priests Marry

Gary Coronado/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Father Alberto Cutié, who left the Catholic Church and married in 2009, with his wife, stepson, and infant daughter, Biscayne Park, Florida, 2011

Last year in a Pew poll, most American Catholics (72 percent) said they want their priests to be married. I don’t know how many saying this realize that there are already married priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Probably not many—and this is no accident, as the priest-sociologist D. Paul Sullins writes in Keeping the Vow. The married priests are advised not to draw attention to themselves. Their most direct contact with the laity, as pastors of a parish, was for a long time forbidden. A concentration of more than two of them in one diocese was discouraged, so they were spread around to keep them exceptional, not the norm. Eastern Rite churches were forbidden until the time of Pope Francis to ordain married priests in the West.1

Roman Catholic married priests come in two sorts, one by long historical circumstance, the other by recent deliberate action. The former group, “Uniates,” is made up of priests from Eastern Rite churches that maintained union (hence their name) with the papacy. They were allowed to keep their wives, a normal practice in the Eastern church, in order to protect the papal tie. The second group, called “Pastoral Provision” priests, is made up of married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism and are ordained again in the Roman church while keeping their wives. It is surprising, at first glance, that this privilege was granted by the very conservative Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, in 1980, and it was broadened by his equally conservative successor, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, in 2011 (for England) and 2012 (for the United States). This looks odd because any Catholic loosening of the celibacy requirement is supposed to come from the left.

It has sometimes been suggested by naïfs that this would help the ecumenical movement by bringing Anglicans and Catholics closer together. But that was far from the actual effect and papal intent. The aim was a divisive one, to widen a rift among Anglicans and solidify Catholic opposition to Anglicans. To see why this is so, consider both terms used of Anglican conversion to the Catholic Church.


Truly ecumenical actions do not stress conversion. An example of this was the Second Vatican Council’s confession of Catholic sins against the Jews. That was effected by a formidable number of Catholic priest-theologians from Jewish families. They pushed for passage of the document Nostra aetate, which recognized the eternal validity of the Jewish covenant.2 The official church no longer claimed that Christianity had superseded the Jewish religion. Some of the Catholic priests who worked for this long-overdue development did not refer to themselves as converts from Judaism. Like Saint Paul, they said they were still and always Jews.…

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