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Good morning Father Angelo,

I have two questions for you, and I rely on your authoritative explanations to have my doubts dispelled.  

The first relates to clerical celibacy. Is clerical celibacy a norm of ecclesiastical discipline ratified by the Church with the assistance of the Holy Ghost? Or is it a dogma of faith? Would it be possible to change the law about celibacy avoiding allegations of heresy or schism?

My second question concerns the ordination of women to priestly office. Saint John Paul II declared authoritatively that the Church cannot change the ecclesiastical law that reserves priestly ordination to men (viri) alone. In this case, given that there is neither a dogmatic declaration nor a clear provision in the Sacred Scripture on this matter, do we have to consider John Paul’s affirmation to be inspired by the Holy Ghost? Is it immutable or not?

Thank you



Dear José,

1. Clerical celibacy is not a dogma of faith. This is clearly shown by the fact that in the Catholic Church there are married priests (for example in the Byzantine Catholic Church). Nonetheless, it is not a mere disciplinary rule either.

2. Here is what the renowned book about Church History by Bihlmeyer and Tuechle states regarding the establishment of the Church in the first three centuries [t.n.: I was unable to find an English version of the book, therefore the lines that follow are my own unofficial translation attempt. I apologize to the readers. Translator Alessandra]:

Clerical celibacy was not a requirement.. In the first three centuries there was neither any ecclesiastical law nor any apostolic regulation on the matter.  Married men who were ordained to the priesthood were allowed to keep their wives.  Nevertheless, such freedom was granted only to those who had entered marriage before priestly ordination. According to a very ancient custom, members of the higher clergy (namely bishops, priests, and deacons) could not get married after ordination, unless they renounced their role (except for deacons who had reserved the right to take a wife previous to ordination: Synod of Ancyra, 314 AD., 10th canon). However, according to the explicit words of the Sacred Scripture (both the Lord’s and Saint Paul’s: 1Cor 7:7–25), celibacy is more perfect than marriage and makes people more suitable for the service of God. Therefore, many Christians voluntarily resolved to abstain from marriage, and obviously clerics were chosen preferentially among these unmarried Christians. So, celibacy began to be practiced quite early on, because it was considered a more suitable state of life for bishops and priests. In Spain, celibacy ended up being required by law. As a matter of fact, the Synod of Elvira, around 306 A.D. (canon 33) strictly forbade marriage to all the clerics who ministered at the altar, from deacons on up, under penalty of dismissal.  

3. As for the value of John Paul II’s judgment about the admission of women to priesthood, I will quote the text first and then expound its doctrinal value.

Here is the text:

Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. (Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 22.5.1994).

4. What is the meaning of the expression «it is to be definitively held»?

It is worthwhile to remember that sometimes the Church sends forth truths that are divinely revealed, while other times it enunciates truths that are to be held definitively.

Doctrines sent forth by the Church as divinely revealed «can be defined solemnly by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks ‘ex cathedra’, or by the College of Bishops gathered in council».

Whoever denies a divinely revealed truth is a heretic.

Although infallible, truths that are to be held definitively are not defined solemnly by a solemn pronouncement. Whoever rejects a teaching that the Church has sent forth to be held definitively is at fault, but cannot be regarded as a heretic, because he has not denied a truth which is divinely revealed.

5. The apostolic letter issued motu proprio by pope John Paul II on May 18th, 1998 Ad tuendam fidem reminds that the assent of faith required by divinely revealed truths and by teachings to be held definitively is identical. Therefore, the latters do not have a lesser degree of certitude than the firsts. The difference between these two kinds of teachings is this: the firsts rest directly on the Word of God, whereas the seconds lie on the Magisterium of the Church, which is assisted by the Holy Spirit.

6. Here is a quote from the apostolic letter Ad tuendam fidem:

With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).[Cf. Ad tuendam fidem, n. 8]

I wish you all the best, I entrust you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo

Translated by Alessandra N.

Verified by Sara B.