Celibacy, the Debacle; Annulments

(Warning – Sexual Content, Parental Guidance recommended for children)

I recently edited this older post with a few updates so I am sticking this post to the front page for a little while.

Celibacy is required for only one Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic Church. And it wasn’t required for the first thousand years of the church. In 1139 the Roman Catholic Church banned priest marriages. In fact, at that time Pope Innocent II voided all priest marriages and required new priests to divorce their wives. Before this time priests could have multiple wives and concubines.

The issue was not purity, holiness, or any other noble matter. The issue was ownership of property. If priests had heirs, then they had potential claims against church property. It really is that worldly.  The Roman Catholic Church instituted a ban on priest marriages to stop claims by the heirs of priests on properties that the priests had use of.

Catholic celibacy is a debacle. The Church’s claim that only men with a gift of celibacy are ordained is both a joke and a tragedy. The age that some young people begin the process of entering the seminary or other religious vocation training is high school which starts in the early teen years when sexual attraction is just developing.

I remember priests and nuns coming to give vocational talks, I think they were in the sixth, seventh, eighth grades or so, but they were definitely grade school. Like a lot of vocational talks, they were inspiring and I remember saying so. I remember being approached individually in an office setting about taking the pre-seminary course in Catholic high school if I was considering the priesthood, and that had to be around the seventh grade. I remember it was more than one meeting because I didn’t decide at first to do the pre-seminary curriculum.

People, those ages are either prepubescent, or just entering puberty for a lot of people.  Young men really don’t know that they can live without the lure of sex when they start the process of becoming a priest. Then later, some leave the priesthood to get married. The tragedy comes in the sexual abuse that permeates this culture where men desire sex and their outlet turns to the opportunities they have to be alone with young boys or young girls. It is a moral fiasco, yet the Catholic Church refuses to give ground on this issue. Articles on sexual abuse by priests are all too common. The following is a sample.

Pope apologises for church sexual abuse in Australia
“I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured,” the pontiff said in a homily in Sydney.
“These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation,” he said. “Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.”
Victims of church abuse in Australia have been calling on the pope to issue a public apology during his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day, July 15-20.
Broken Rites, which represents abuse victims in Australia, has a list of 107 convictions for church abuse, but says there could be thousands of victims as only a few cases go to court.
The pope confronted the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States during a visit to Washington in April, meeting victims and vowing to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.” [i]

This article is a shame. Yes, the pope apologized. But the Catholic Church is not going to change a thing in this area.[ii] Priests are going to continue to molest young boys and girls, and the church is going to continue to require celibacy for men to be ordained.

The facts are hard to dispute. While there is sexual misconduct among clergy of groups where ministers are married the overwhelming blemish in this area is the Catholic priesthood where the incidence of stories of sexual abuse by priests far exceeds the problem by clerics in other organizations.

(While the preponderance of abuse comes from the male side, there are cases of abuse by females so this issue is not exclusively concerned about just young men. Young women likewise need to be aware of the issue.)

Despite the fact that an estimated 100,000 priests are married (that have left the Roman Catholic Church, or are in denominations that allow marriage), the Vatican is committed to perpetuating the unbiblical, spiritually destructive practice of requiring celibacy from its ordained ministers.

The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife. (1Ti 3:2)

Do you see that?  The bishop is married! Marriage is an option for Christian ministers according to scripture. But, despite the reference in 1 Timothy that bishops should be the husband of one wife, the Vatican uses semantics to say that celibacy is a gift and that only celibates can serve as ministers. That is a distortion of the truth. Some people can be celibate, and some of these can serve well as ministers. Others cannot, and the forbidding of marriage is distinctly talked about in Tim 4:3:

But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving (1Ti 4:1-3)

This is such a strong warning. You see the term “forbidding to marry”? Do you see that it is described with the term “doctrine of demons (or devils)”?  Do you see that Paul prophesied that it would be one of the tactics used by seducing spirits? Do you see that it says this doctrine is promoted through the hypocrisy of men who speak lies? This isn’t something that I made up.  I’m just reading scripture here.  That’s what the scripture says!

The Roman Catholic Church’s culpability in this area is widespread and has resulted in big settlements in many locales.  NPR reported that the Church has paid three billion dollars in America alone!  ConsumerSafety.org has a watchdog page (link opens in new tab) that lists recent settlements, sexual abuse legalities in numerous states and links to more resources.

And you see the term “branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron”?   The King James version says it this way, “having their conscience seared with a hot iron”. It means to have your conscience rendered completely insensitive. The Pope and leadership of the Catholic Church have their consciences seared, and rendered insensitive, to this issue. Yes, they are apologizing, only after finally admitting to massive abuse, only after being forced to by lawsuits that they fought for years, finally having to pay settlements. But, they are insensitive to the issue, insisting that they are right and that required celibacy is the way to go.

I know it’s hard to imagine that this institution that is beloved by so many could fall into this category of being a church that has fallen away from the faith and giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. But that’s what we’re looking at here.

And, don’t kid yourself that the Roman Catholic Church didn’t forbid to marry.  In fact, when they instituted the ban they voided all the marriages of priests married at that time.  That shows the utter disregard that the Roman Catholic Church has for Scripture and their elevated estimation of what the church is empowered to do. Look at this:

For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mar 10:7-9 WEB)

This verse says that when a man and a woman are united in marriage God joins them into one flesh. We are only supposed to do what we see the Father do, just as Jesus does.

Jesus therefore answered them, “Most certainly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things he does, these the Son also does likewise. (Joh 5:19 WEB)

So, up above, we see that the way that the father does marriage is that once a couple is joined, they are to be married for life, nobody is supposed to undo that. That’s the way the Father does it. That’s the way the body of Christ does it.

Furthermore, the joining is done in the sex act. Look at this scripture about men who join with a harlot (prostitute).

Or don’t you know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body? For, “The two”, he says, “will become one flesh.” (1Co 6:16 WEB)

So, once the marriage is consummated it’s a done deal. We can’t undo that joining.  Yet that is what the Roman Catholic Church has been wrongly doing over and over again.

There is no voiding of marriages. There is no annulling of marriages. Once the marriage is consummated, “a man…joined to his wife” the union is made and there’s no undoing it. Unless one of the other of them breaks their bond by cheating with someone else it’s til death do they part. If one cheats, the person who was cheated on can be free of the bond. But the person who cheats is just an adulterer. Annulment is another doctrine of devils. I had a friend once whose father went to the Roman Catholic Church and had his marriage to his mother annulled like they were never married. He was hurt by that. How cruel, how devilish.

I had to make the decision many years ago whether or not I wanted to be a part of an institution that told me if I wanted to be a priest I had no choice but to “choose” celibacy. And, believe me, that is exactly what they did.  That is what this verse is talking about when it talks about the “hypocrisy of men that speak lies”. I’m speaking from experience. I was pre-seminary in high school. Both priests and nuns talked to me about how I needed to “choose” celibacy or I couldn’t be a priest. They made it sound like it wasn’t that hard for them so I could do it too.  Basically, they said that with discipline anyone could do it. Unlike Scripture, Catholic doctrine appears to be that anyone can choose to be celibate, and free of sexual temptation.
Now there were certainly people who said they understood.  But some things that really surprised me were the number and kinds of unsupportive comments that I got from people that knew that I was considering the priesthood and expressed their disappointment because they couldn’t understand when I said I realized I didn’t have the gift of celibacy. It was as if somehow I was turning my back on the faith, or just not accepting a winnable challenge.  I had never committed to becoming a priest. I had made no vows. I had maintained that I was investigating the possibility of joining the priesthood. I said I “may” have the calling, not that I was sure of it. In fact, I remember asking people how you could be sure if you had a calling. But there were people who were telling me that I must’ve had a calling just because I was expressing an interest. There were people, in fact, who talked about how great it was that they already knew someone who was going to be a priest and how I could be their priest. In fact, when I started to date there were some who questioned how I could be dating. And, they were so disappointed when I realized that I liked dating and definitely saw marriage now as something I both needed and wanted in my life at some point. It was like they just couldn’t hear it.
This false Catholic doctrine of celibacy as an individual decision rather than a God-given gift seemed to be everywhere.  But, look at this verse.

Yet I wish that all men were like me. However each man has his own gift from God, one of this kind, and another of that kind. But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry. For it’s better to marry than to burn. (1Co 7:7-9 WEB)

“Each man has his own gift from God” means that there are some who can live without a sexual relationship, and there are some who can’t. If you can’t, and I fall into that category, then this verse says I need to be married “But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry. For it’s better to marry than to burn” says just that.

The pervasive examples of sexual abuse by the “celibate” Catholic clergy are proof that not everyone can or even should choose to be celibate their whole lives. I put the word “celibate” in quotes because Catholic clergy that are abusing people sexually are not being celibate, to say the least.

The Catholic Church has a sophisticated system of teaching about celibacy that is way outside of Scripture on point after point. They make claims like:

    • The Levites did not practice sexual relations when they were serving in the temple. This is true but the mere fact that the Levites had children is proof that they maintained a sexual relationship with their wives outside of temple service. This is therefore another “speaking lies in hypocrisy” example.  The teaching in the New Testament is that there are times when married people need to act as though they are not married, i.e., for whatever reason, within the church, they minister to the other members of the body of Christ, temporarily, for example, like Peter on a missionary journey. Peter was married too, but spent time away from his wife in service. That in no way says that he became permanently celibate.

“But I say this, brothers: the time is short, that from now on, both those who have wives may be as though they had none;  (1Co 7:29 WEB)

  • The point of the above verse is that there are times when it is time to minister and the family duties have to take a back seat, not that marriage is wrong for ministers or worse, that, ministers should get divorced and stay single (celibate).  Scripture interpretation is never taking one point of scripture and lording it over others.  “It is better to marry than to burn” always applies!
  • The modern Roman Catholic church does not address the abominable decree of the second Lateran Council that voided priestly marriages and forbade priests from marrying in perpetuity.
  • The Pope has stated that “celibacy is a gift for the church”.[iia] There is no place in Scripture that says this. He doesn’t talk about how celibacy is a gift given to individuals. The place in Scripture that talks about celibacy as a gift refers to it being a gift to a specific person in enabling that person to not need to be in a sexually intimate relationship, “each man has his own gift from God”. And the place that talks about how certain individuals have the gift of celibacy in no way ties lifetime celibacy to godly service.
  • The Pope is on a campaign that is promoting celibacy and how with friends and a close prayer life priests can successfully live the celibate life. That is totally ignoring the scripture that says that not all people can be celibate.
  • In reality, the whole idea of the Roman Catholic priest as a continuation of the Levitical priesthood into the New Testament church is a violation of church doctrine that the law is fulfilled and no longer in effect. There are no Levitical priests in the Christian church. In fact, the book of 1 Peter declares that we all are a royal priesthood.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: (1Pe 2:9 WEB)

The reason why enforced celibacy in the Catholic Church is so hypocritical is that the decision to enforce celibacy back around the time of the second Lateran Council had less to do with holiness and more to stop the claims of heirs on church properties.   While the Roman Catholic Church pushes the idea that its focus on celibacy is that celibates serve better in the church, the reality is the church does not want any challenges or claims to its immense land and property holdings,  and in the process makes void the Scriptures that talk about how bishops need to be the husband of one wife, and have their children in subjection thus showing a scriptural model that depicts priests and bishops as spouses and parents.

Not everyone can remain celibate all their lives. If they can, great, but if not, let them marry and that includes ministers.  That’s what 1 Cor 7:7-9 is saying!

This is a case of poor scriptural interpretation.  Basically, the Roman Catholic Church is just ignoring Scripture here and pushing its own reasoning. It’s twisting the concept of the gift of God that’s discussed. And it’s doing it purely for the sake of money because they don’t want any heirs of priests to lay claim to any precious church property. I repeat what I wrote above: In 1139 the Roman Catholic Church banned priest marriages. In fact, at that time Pope Innocent II voided all priest marriages and required new priests to divorce their wives. Before this time priests could have multiple wives and concubines.

Men and women who feel the pull of sexual attraction need to heed Paul’s warning that it is better to marry than to burn. Young people, especially teenagers and younger, who express an interest in becoming a priest, monk, brother, nun, or any other religious order that requires celibacy need to be very honest with themselves. I’m warning them that the devilish doctrine of required celibacy could be their downfall if they don’t have the gift of celibacy. And the good news is that ministers are married in Scripture so if your church is telling you that you can’t get married to serve then you are in the wrong church, so find one that aligns with scripture.

The Vatican is not going to change.[ii] It is pure hypocrisy to call the enforced celibacy of priests a choice. It is a devilish doctrine.

There are very few celibates proportionally, in fact, the vast majority of people don’t have the gift of celibacy. One study I read said that less than 20% of women and less than 10% of men in the general population are celibate long-term.[iii]

If you are in this dilemma of wanting to serve but are desirous of sexual fulfillment, you need to change and be part of a community where the marriage of ministers is embraced. Kudos to those who have made this realization and acted on it.

Hopefully, by now, you see that the doctrine of forced celibacy is not godly.  I say this to any person who has been deceived by this doctrine of devils and is struggling with forced celibacy. The very term that it is a “doctrine of demons (or devils)” means that it is a wicked or evil way, it is not godly. Forced celibacy is never godly. If you have committed to being celibate in a religious order and have realized that you do have not the gift of celibacy from God then you have been tricked into following the evil ways of the seducing spirits that are behind this doctrine. Here are some words for you.

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2Ch 7:14 WEB)

I Tim 4:1-3 calls “forbidding to marry” a doctrine of devils. That makes people following celibacy because they are forbidden to marry following an evil practice or way. Yahweh does not want you to continue in evil ways.  He wants us to turn from any way that is evil.  It doesn’t mean that you yourself aren’t well-intentioned or are a bad person. You’ve been deceived. I’m sorry to have to be so forceful in saying this. But you need to stop being under this devilish doctrine.

It is just like if you had committed to doing a diet, say, one of the many diets that have sprung up and later found to be in not as healthy as first imagined.  Maybe your healthcare professional wanted you to go on the macrobiotic diet years ago, or the Paleo diet.  So, you committed to doing one of those because it came recommended, maybe the Paleo diet.  But it didn’t work for you. In fact, it was unhealthy. You didn’t lose the weight you wanted, and your cholesterol went up. You had to come to the conclusion at some point that it wasn’t worth it.  So, you stopped and did something else.

I know that committing to a life of religious service is more than committing to a diet, but the principle is similar.  If the commitment is not a healthy one to begin with or a righteous one in the case of Christianity then God doesn’t want you to keep it.  “It is better to marry than to burn”. Despite all the well-intentioned people telling you otherwise, I’m telling you to get out of the celibate lifestyle if celibacy is not a gift you have been given. I’m not underestimating how hard the decision is and what the fallout will be for some people. Certainly, pray about it. Certainly, learn the Scripture like you never have before. Certainly, find a well-chosen partner to marry. But find a place you can serve without the burden of forced celibacy.

You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (Joh 8:32 WEB)

[i] http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSYD41034
[ii] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-plane-celibacy/pope-says-he-will-not-change-priest-celibacy-rules-idUSKCN1PM1BO

[iia] Pope: Celibacy is a gift for the Church, at https://cne.news/article/705-pope-celibacy-is-a-gift-for-the-church

[iii] How does celibacy affect your health? at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326518

Mark W Smith © copyright 2009-23 last revised 8/28/2023

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