Those who argue against priestly celibacy are often unaware of two facts:
1. Priestly celibacy is not a matter of dogma or doctrine (as is the case with the ministerial priesthood being limited only to men) but, rather, of Church discipline – it could potentially change.
2. While the norm in the Latin (or Roman) rite of the the Church is that priests are celibate, it is often not the norm in the eastern rites.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry (CCC 1580).
The Apostles were Married
Therefore, arguing that Peter’s wife was still alive (Matt 8:14) when Jesus called him to be an apostle, or that the apostles, apart from St. Paul, may have been married (1 Cor 9:5) is no more an argument against priestly celibacy than pointing to validly ordained, married priests in the easter rites of the Church.
Sometimes people reference 1 Tim 3:5 as an argument against priestly celibacy:
“Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:2-5).
Using this verse as an argument that priests (or at least Bishops) should be married leads to obvious absurdities. “For one, if ‘the husband of one wife’ really meant that a bishop had to be married, then by the same logic ‘keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way’ would mean that he had to have children. Childless husbands (or even fathers of only one child, since Paul uses the plural) would not qualify.
In fact, following this style of interpretation to its final absurdity, since Paul speaks of bishops meeting these requirements (not of their having met them, or of candidates for bishop meeting them), it would even follow that an ordained bishop whose wife or children died would become unqualified for ministry! Clearly such excessive literalism must be rejected” .
The Church has good grounds for priestly celibacy. Our Lord not only lived it but affirmed it, saying:
[T]here are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Matt 19:12).
Some of those who argue against priestly celibacy seem to be asserting the exact opposite: “Those who can receive it should not.” or, “No one can accept it -it’s unnatural-so no one should accept it.”
Similarly, St. Paul affirmed the celibate state as objectively superior, saying that he who marries “does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38). Paul argues that “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife.” (1 Cor 7: 32-33).
Again, some of those who argue against priestly celibacy appear to be saying something contrary to paul, such as, “He who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage is – not quite right, perhaps oppressed.”
So while priestly celibacy could potentially change, it is unlikely. Catholics wish to remain faithful to Christ, who said of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, “he who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” The Church is right in inviting men and women to imitate Christ in forsaking all for the kingdom of heaven.
Notice also, that those who are called to the priesthood, are called to the priesthood. No one is imposing celibacy on anybody. The Catechism explains:
“Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” [Priests] give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God” (CCC 1579)
For a fully treatment of this issue, see our tract “Celibacy and the Priesthood”