Future of Priestly Ministry
Optional Celibacy
Optional Celibacy Talking Points

We join Cardinals, Bishops and Laity around the world are asking for open discussion of optional celibacy and expanding women's roles.

(see Public Statements by Church Leaders in addition to what is listed below)

  • Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Brazilian Bishops Conference and the Canadian Bishops Conference are just some Church leaders who have called for discussion of optional celibacy over the last 15 years.
  • In 2010, the Bishop of Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, has questioned celibacy for priests and called for an open discussion on the position of women in the Church. The bishop of Hasselt, Patrick
    Hoogmartens, and Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp have also said that married men should not automatically be excluded from the priesthood. (Reuters, 9/22/10)
  • Also in 2010, the head of the German church, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said that the Catholic Church must confront and discuss taboo topics such as sexual morality and the celibacy of priests. (Deutsche Welle, 9/24/10)
  • Eastern orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said Orthodox believers would acclaim the cancellation of celibacy in the western church. (interfax, 9/15/10)
  • In February, 2008, the Indian Bishops’ Conference decided to develop a gender policy with input from all regions and stakeholders. Some specific goals included promoting an “ecclesiology of partnership;” gender justice in theological biblical and canonical studies; and encouraging increased representation of women in all ecclesial bodies. To view the full statement visit the FutureChurch website and click on the Woman and the Word icon.
  • In April 2004, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired Archbishop of Milan, called for a restoration of women deacons. (John Wijngaards in The Tablet August 2004). And in November 2003, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium asked Vatican offices to open the diaconate to women after consultation in his diocese found 86% in support of women deacons. (National Catholic Reporter 11/28/03)
  • In 1991, the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, which represents 26,000 priests from 125 U.S. dioceses, issued a public statement Priestless Parishes: Priests’ Perspective asking for
    discussion of a married priesthood and the ordination of women.

We need to return to the early Church custom of having both a celibate and a married priesthood.

St. Peter was married. St. Paul was celibate and the early church flourished. Since celibacy is a gift from the Holy Spirit, it will not disappear. It is a distortion of the charism of celibacy to demand it of priests who are not called to it. Both married and celibate priests were common until the 12th century when celibacy became mandatory. Both the celibate priesthood and the married priesthood are gifts to the Church.


Catholic laity support married priests and expanded roles for women.

  • A 2005 Gallup Survey found that 68% of all U.S. Catholics are registered at a parish and have some definite opinions about solutions to the priest shortage. Sixty-one percent thought it would be good to ordain celibate women while 54% approved of ordaining married women. Eighty one percent supported the return of priests who have married and 75% favored ordaining married men. Only 20% thought it would be okay if no priest was available to administer the last rites and just 40% thought it was okay to reduce Mass availability to less than once per week. (Study funded by National Catholic Reporter and published 9/30/2005.)
  • A 1997 international study published by Andrew Greeley of the University of Chicago and Michael Hout of U.C.. Berkeley, found wide spread support among Catholic laity for married priests in Spain (79%,), Ireland (82%), USA (69% ), Italy (67%) and Poland (50%). The same study also found significant support (58-70%) for ordaining women in Spain, Ireland, USA and Italy. These findings have been replicated by Gallup, Newsweek and the National Catholic Reporter over the past ten years

The Catholic Church is the only Christian Denomination in the U.S. that has a shortage of Clergy.

Contrary to recent statements made by several Bishops, including U.S. Bishops' Conference president Bishop Wilton Gregory, only the Catholic Church is experiencing a clergy shortage. Gregory has said that a married priesthood will not help the Catholic priest shortage because the Protestant church, which allows a married clergy, also has a shortage. However, a Purdue University study by James D. Davidson reported in the December 1, 2003 issue of America magazine found that since 1981 all Protestant denominations registered an increase in clergy of 3 to 35 %. Only the Catholic Church registered a hefty 22% decrease. (available at https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/462/article/fewer-and-fewer)

We already have married priests and women deacons in the Catholic Church.

The eastern rites of Catholicism permit priests to marry. In the U.S. there are over 200 former Lutheran and Episcopal ministers serving as married priests after converting to Catholicism. Presently the Armenian Church has at least three women deacons. Both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II signed documents recognizing the apostolic succession and validity of Armenian Catholic sacraments. (Zagano, Phyllis: Presentation at FutureChurch July, 2003 see Women Deacons, Why Now?)

The steadily worsening priest shortage requires us to look at other options for preserving our Catholic Eucharistic heritage.

(Get statistics for your diocese).

The laity have a canonical right and obligation to speak about optional celibacy and women's roles.

By the authority vested in us through our baptism and confirmation, we have the duty to explore different ways to ensure the Church remains healthy. Canon 212 tells us we have the right and obligation to make our views known on matters which concern the good of the Church. Church teaching tells us we have the right to receive “the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the Word of God and the sacraments.” (Lumen Gentium, 37).

We need to return to the early Church custom of having women deacons.

In Romans 16 Paul names Phoebe “deacon” (diakonos) of the church at Cenchrae,” not “deaconess” as it it often incorrectly translated. Diakonos is the same word Paul uses to describe himself in Corinthians (1 Cor 3:5, 2 Cor 6:4). The mistaken “deaconess” translation is most likely an anachronistic reading assigning a formal ministerial title of the fourth century (and its corresponding duties) to the more fluid situation of the first century in which deacons were both male and female. There is widespread epigraphical evidence from first century tombstones which have diakonos inscribed as a title for women church leaders. Early ordination rites for women deacons were identical to those used to ordain male deacons to major orders. Vatican offices are trying to say that early female “deaconesses” were not the same as deacons. What goes unsaid, and apparently deliberately so, is that there were both male and female deacons in the first century Church. (Phyllis Zagano, Holy Saturday [Crossroad, 2000] and Presentation at FutureChurch July, 2003; John Wijngaards in The Tablet, August 14, 2004)

This resource was prepared by FutureChurch for the Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be At the Table project.  www.futurechurch.org,  216-228-0869 Permission granted to photocopy upon receipt of emailed or written request to FutureChurch.