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Cardinal O’Brien gives his backing to idea of married priests

By on Friday, 22 February 2013

Cardinal O'Brien (Photo: PA)

Cardinal O'Brien (Photo: PA)

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has told the BBC that he would be “very happy” if married men had the option of entering the priesthood.

The cardinal, the only churchman from Great Britain eligible to attend the conclave, said: “There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the Church – in some branches of the Catholic Church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine origin and it could get discussed again.

“In my time there was no choice and you didn’t really consider it too much, it was part of being a priest. When I was a young boy, the priest didn’t get married and that was it.

“I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.”

  • Benedict Carter

    It is implicit in every word he said. 

  • Parasum

    “Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has told the BBC that he would be “very happy” if married men had the option of entering the priesthood.”

    ## Darn – that’s his prospects of election down the pan.

  • Parasum

    You’re still missing the point. What matters is that clerical celibacy is the law for the clergy of the Roman Rite. It is the law – and it has binding force. The Cardinal  undertook to defend this law: “‘I further state that I accept and intend to defend the law on ecclesiastical celibacy as it is proposed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.’”

    Not “proposed by the canons of the of the Catholic Church”, but “proposed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church” – so this is a matter of doctrine that he “state[d] that [he] accept[ed] and intend[ed] to defend”; it is not a purely legal matter; it is a doctrinal matter as well.

    In view of his words on becoming a cardinal, his words now do not make sense. So his critics are right to mention this contradiction; for he is contradicting a doctrine; even if we leave aside the legal aspect of that law.  That a law might be changed, does not mean it should not be observed while it is in force.

  • Parasum

    Discussing certain things in public – like this issue – risks causing scandal or confusion or unsettlement of souls, or even all three.

    “Silly” ? I think not. Catholic, quite possibly.

  • Ronk

     It’s very worrying that a man who is so astonishingly ignorant of the history of the Church, has risen to the rank of Cardinal and will shortly vote in the election of the next pope. Never in any branch of the Church, east or west, Catholic or Orthodox, have the rules ever allowed priests (or even deacons) to marry after ordination. This fact is very widely known but apparently not to the Cardinal. It’s hard to believe that this was merely a momentary brain explosion or an extended slip of the tongue. Does the cardinal actually not know the facts?  Is he deliberately distorting them? The mind boggles.

  • Parasum

    It may be significant that this was before his call. Cf. St. Matthew 8:

        14 When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever.15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him.16 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”

    & St.Matthew 19:   

     27 Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”
    28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
    29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother
    or children or farms
    for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
    30 “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.

    Cf. St. Luke:

    18:24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
    18:25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
    18:26 And they that heard [it] said, Who then can be saved?
    18:27 And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
    18:28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
    18:29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
    18:30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s actually as a response to various gross scandals of clerical nepotism in the 12th to 16th centuries, whereby Church properties were treated as family possessions by married clergy, who passed them on from generation to generation.

    I’m not sure if such scandals would still be possible in the 21st century …

  • JabbaPapa


    I’m not the one insulting the catholicity of a Prince of the Church.

  • JabbaPapa

    How can I be “missing” an interpretation of yours that I am in open, disagreement with ?

  • Prof. Plumb

    A dog and a hot water bottle helps. And they’re much less argumentative.

  • No more NO!

    Bishops in the Orthodox Church are not allowed to be married.  Apparently, If an Orthodox Priest is married, then he will never be able to be ordained Bishop.   I think the quotation of Christ of “giving up everything to follow Him is very relevant to the topic of “Married Clergy. In the Book of the Apocalypse, it is stated that around the Throne of God stand those who remained Celibate for the Kingdom.  There is a good essay on the Scriptural basis for Priestly Celibacy here………

  • Breff

    Let’s not make too much of this. In my opinion this was the cardinal’s way of signalling to his brother cardinals that he was not to be considered a serious candidate at the forthcoming conclave.

  • AlanP

    You can defend a law if required to do so, while at the same time suggesting that the law should be changed.  It’s a bit like collective responsibility in government; we all know that not every minister supports every policy, and they occasionally express their views about it.  It doesn’t bring the whole house down.

  • No more NO!


    those of you who are interested.  EWTN
    broadcast a very good lecture given by Fr Brian Austin of the Priestly
    Fraternity of St Peter, …the Priesthood created by JPII commonly known as The FSSP 

    The lecture discusses the Liturgical Reforms of Pope Benedict. Fr. Austin discusses the terrible struggles that His Holiness has had in re-establishing the Traditional Catholic Mass to the Church.
    PS If you need more information, the FSSP
    are an Order of Traditionally trained Priests, trained at special Seminaries opened in the 1980′s by Pope Blessed John Paul II when he discovered that illicit teaching was taking place in the Seminaries.  The FSSP are now fully operating globally, (not in Spain) and are fully trained in the Tridentine Rite like the SPPX – only THESE are trained under the leadership of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI

    Here is a link to the website of the FSSP.

  • John

    1 Corinthians 9:5 seems to say not only that the majority of the apostles took wives but also that Saint Paul, even after receiving the apostolic office, thought he had every right to do likewise.

  • Steve D’Arcy

    So what do you call the male who was your biological progenitor?

  • licjjs

    If Benedict Carter is around: I think we have seen ample evidence this week of the ‘council of the media’ the Pope was referring to with the Cardinal of Edinburgh and the Cardinal of Westminster using the media to tout their wares – one for married priests the other for contraception.  I have come to the conclusion that Christ’s whole message in some quarters has been reduced to these matters. 

  • chris

    I concur wth Benedict Carter here.Cardinal O’Brien views are best said to reflect his private personal thinking. I don’t think they should be aired over the media as they could cause misundestanding as they already are.

    Yes, celibacy is part of the Western Church. It is something we as part of the Western Church should be proud of. Seems that western-minded Catholics are too pre-occupied with sexualty issues. This is stark contrast to non-Western Catholics.

    The actions of Cardinal O’Brien will only give fodder to progressive, liberal Catholics. Lord help us.

  • licjjs


    The problem is that when you quote the Gospel, people say that Jesus ‘didn’t mean that’!  I have heard this myself in sermons.  Some people cannot grasp that Christ called the Apostles AWAY from their families to a life of evangelising and martyrdom.  Given that some Bishops in the USA and elsewhere are openly talking about martyrdom today, one would have thought that rousing people up to have the spiritual courage to face it would have been a more appropriate subject for Cardinal O’Brien.  It is interesting that just this week I was looking at a video about Mount Athos.  Some monks are trying to renovate a property there that had fallen into ruin.  The first monk was joined by his brother who became a monk and then by their father who also became a monk, with the agreement of his wife – who, of course, can never visit Athos.  Some time ago, I heard of a woman of about sixty in Italy who became a Carmelite nun with the blessing of her husband and then there was a South American man ordained a priest, leaving his wife to do so with her blessing.  Who can forget the renewal of the Cistercians when St Bernard turned up with a crowd of men, some of whom were married?  All through the history of the Church this has happened.  Poor Cornelia Connelly is a prime modern example, suffering so much for it.

  • celtictaff

    Do you think that allowing married priests from the Ordinariate, has compromised the Church in some way, and has already given the Liberals a lever to pile on the pressure?

  • licjjs

    Benedict, see my point above.

  • Matt McG

    Winter is coming.

  • Peter

    Married priests do not contradict Church doctrine in the way that women priests do.

    Having said that there is a practical reason why priest should stay celibate.

    I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that the Roman Church would not be the truly global church of nearly one and a quarter billion souls spread right across the world if priest had always been able to marry.

    Instead marriage and its responsibilities would have led clergy to look inwards instead of outwards, resulting in a far more regionalised church.

    This would then overturn St Paul’s prophetic words to the Romans which underscore the veracity of Catholic truth:

    “First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed all over the world”  (Romans 1:8)

  • Benedict Carter

    Agreed. They are like street-walkers trailing their skirts. Absolutely appalling it is too.

  • Apostolic

    I am traditional in my views and treasure greatly the normative Latin discipline of priestly celibacy. I think  it is unfortunate that Cardinal O’Brien has aired his views on this at this time. 

    However, I do wish my fellow Latins were more aware of our Eastern Catholic brethren, who are no less Catholic than we are, many of whose secular clergy (but not bishops) are married and no less valid or Catholic than those in the Latin rite. It is nonsense therefore to equate the Latin tradition regarding this with Humanae Vitae or women’s ordination. Indeed, to do so would be to accept the Tabletistas’ argument that these are equally changeable. They are not. They are wholly separate issues. There is a precedent, and a continuing one in our Eastern rites, for married secular clergy, but there is no precedent for women priests.

  • Benedict Carter

    No, because it is a special case and any future priests in the Ordinariate have to comply with the ordinary rules on clerical celibacy pertaining in the Latin Church. So it’s a one-generation issue only for even the Ordinariate. 

  • Benedict Carter

    I prefer fruit salad. Prat.

  • Benedict Carter

    I am talking about the process of INCREMENTALISM which typifies not only the Cardinal’s comments but the entire modern Church’s approach to theology. 

    The US Bishops strong-arm JPII into an “occasional” use of altar girls and now it’s global. There are more of them than altar boys.

    Now do you get the point being made?

  • Peter

    Oh, and another thing..

    If you allowed married priests, then sooner or later monks will want to be married, and if monks are allowed to marry, then why not nuns?

    But if nuns can marry, they will on theological grounds no longer emulate the Blessed Virgin, and on practical grounds be greatly restricted in the priceless works of mercy they do around the world.

  • Deesis

    Perhaps the issue is fidelity. Many say “Oh if only I was married then my problems would be solved!” This is untrue being married requires faithfulness. Those clergy that whore after whatever they think they are missing are simply thinking the grass is greener. Well it isn’t just grass over the fence.
    We know the custom in both East and West is no marriegae after Ordination.
    In the East Wives must give their assent to their husbands Ordination. Bishops cannot ever have been married. If a wife dies or there is a divorce there can be no remarriage.
    It is about making a promise and keeping it. Fidelity and again those that cant keep celebacy can’t cope with wives saying “no”.
    Cardinal Stickler has written a book on celebacy and priesthood.
    The issue is really about not being lonely. St Augustine did it by living with his clergy in community.

  • Deesis

     1 Cor 4:14-15, where Paul says: “I do not
    write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For
    though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For
    I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

  • Deesis

    The poor Cardinal does not understand the practicalities of married clergy. Divorce is an issue as is adultery and the pressure some wives of clergy bring on their husbands. Our local ammried priest had his wife take his child back to Ukraine because he wasn’t getting enough pay. The wives want consumer goods, don’t want them going out on sick call at 1.00am and withhold conjugal relations.

  • Deesis

    I hope the good Cardinal informs his married clergy no conjugal relations on the day they celebrate Mass. That is the eastern custom. It is in accord with the custom of the levites in the Old Testament. Isn’t mass offered daily es cept for Good Friday?

  • Deesis

    Cardinal O’Brien cherry picks what he likes. What he doesn’t like he calls unholy but likes holy. Well he lives in a Presbyterian country? Didn’t John Lnox marry a 17 year old at the age of 50?

  • Cassandra

    St Paul did not marry but women supported him and ministered to his physical needs.

  • Lee Leyton

    A bewildered Cardinal who seems to forget the behighting he made when he became Archbishop of Glasgow !

  • Lee Leyton

    When he was becoming Cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews *

  • licjjs

    Don’t worry – we have more than enough scandals of our own!

  • Jonathan

    In which branches of the Catholic Church can priests get married?  How can a Cardinal be so ignorant of the Church and the priesthood?

  • Apostolic

    Up to a point. I agree that the Cardinal’s comments contribute to a baneful incrementalism and feel that he should never have introduced the issue, especially in a public forum. I treasure the Latin discipline of priestly celibacy, abhor altar girls and advocates of women’s “ordination” and am strongly in favour of the restoration of the Traditional Mass of 1962. However, I do not think it is helpful to discuss the question of priestly celibacy as though the Eastern rites did not exist or were less Catholic than Latin Rite Catholics.

  • Nat_ons

    True, BC, but not entirely so of Keith Cardinal O’Brien who is one of the few (the very view) British/ Irish clergy worth their salt – let alone a Red Hat.

    Now that is not saying too much, I agree; yet it pays to read past media hype and understand the principle being advanced (if any is involved).

    I suspect His Eminence does not advance a strictly modernist principle – fit in with the age or perish – rather a mere red herring.

    After all, the wonderful – and pre-eminently self-sacrificial – sign of contradiction toward the world that a celibate priesthood represents is a matter of discipline. The church catholic in the West has, customarily, sought to draw its call to leadership from that source: men willingly to forego the pleasure and pain of marriage (to one only woman) for the sake of the Kingdom. For the ‘modernist’ this is a principle (sic) of self-expression alone and never to be seen as a bounden duty in discipleship; to the orthodox Catholic it is a heavenly gift involving an human response in Sacrament; a married man might, of course, add to his worldly cares that of the cure of souls – the Church in the Latin Rite asks only those willing to commit completely to step forward in answer to is call .. Cardinal O’Brien simply reminds us all, it is for the leaders of the church catholic to decide on the form of discipline to be kept.

    The ministry open in the Ordinariates for instance, as with those of the Eastern Rites in communion with Rome, are at times better served in offering a discipline more in keeping with their custom.

    Since their patrimony – the wisdom of their fathers in orthodox catholic Faith – may view the call to serve God’s People from a different but still apt cultural perspective.

    Yet only the pastors in communion with the Chair of Peter at Rome can decide on individual or group cases: that is Sacred Tradition at work.

  • andrew young

    The Maronite Catholics (in full communion with Rome) have a married clergy but bishop’s must remain single. So, the Cardinal is right.

  • andrew young

    Another example of how warped some of our fellow Catholic are when it comes to sex. The sexual act between a husband and wife is the most wonderful expressive gift to be shared between two people; to suggest therefore that a married priest abstain from sex on the day he celebrates Mass is just ridiculous.  And why would this stupid rule just apply to a married priest.  Why discriminate against the married clergy; why not make it applicable to all married Catholics.  I am sure many would have an appropriate, if not, headstrong response to such a stupid statement.

  • MPQ

    As Nero played his lyre, this Cardinal plays his fiddle for married priest’s, all the while souls burn. Priests, Bishops, and even Cardinals are subject to God’s wrath, this Cardinal should remind himself that before he begins another assault on the Church, he should be like Christ and begin to save souls.

  • andrew young

    I agree.  I have many priest friends and we are all of the opinion that while many are called to live a celibate life, there are some who do so faithfully for life, others who struggle and for the most part succeed, and then there are those who constantly have to make and remake their promise of celibacy. But by far the most dangerous person, and there are many,is the priest who as a consequence of struggling to live a celibate life, becomes insular, lonely and incredibly selfish – we have all met one at one time or another.

  • andrew young

    Would someone like to clarify why there ought to be a prohibition on girls serving at the altar. Apart from some sexually repressive reason, mysoginy, or the ‘tainting’ of the sanctuary by a menstruating teenager (sorry for being candid) – WHAT IS THE PROBLEM HERE.?

  • Cassandra

    They should have recognized this in their formation.
    Should have obtained a job, got married and then entered the priesthood.

  • Cassandra

    No! It is the laity which will pay. All the Catholic Church money comes from the laity.
    Deacons can be married but they cannot marry after ordination.

  • Cassandra

    All Eastern Rite catholic Churches allow married men to become priests, not for priests to be married. Meaning once a priest you cannot marry.

  • Msgr7_1999

    A man of true vision for the church