Volume > Issue > Why a Married Priesthood Won't Remedy the Priest Shortage

Why a Married Priesthood Won’t Remedy the Priest Shortage

THE WIFE OF A FORMER PROTESTANT PASTOR SPEAKS OUT

By Patricia Dixon | January 1999
Patricia Dixon is a freelance writer and the mother of four. Her husband was a Protestant pastor before the family entered the Catholic Church.

Would the Church be better served if priests were married? Those who propose lifting the celibacy requirement claim that this change would bring about a great increase in vocations, would provide parishes with priests who better understand the problems of family life, would make the priests themselves happier, and would generally improve the Church all around. It sounds lovely. But the advocates of a married clergy need to give a little more thought to the real consequences of their blithe slogans. Perhaps they will listen to a wife who has been there.

Let us consider a typical, moderately large parish in an affluent American community, in which three priests live in a rectory that also houses the parish office. What changes would have to be made if the priests of this parish were married?

First, there would have to be many more priests at the parish. A celibate man can give all his time to the parish; a married man must give priority to his family. So these three priests must become five or six, leaving the “priest shortage” right where it was, even if the removal of the celibacy rule doubles the number of priests in America.

But that’s only the beginning. The stipend of a priest is nowhere near enough to support a family; it’s not even half enough. The salary of a married priest would have to be about three times the current stipend in order to keep a priest’s family above the federal poverty line. (Would young men flock to the priesthood so they can support their families in near-poverty?) If the parish does not want the priest and his family to be the poorest family in the neighborhood, probably unable to afford even to send their children to the parish school, the salary would have to be higher still. Now figure in health insurance premiums for a wife and several children per priest.

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