John-Henry Westen

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There is a legitimate way forward for married priests: Continence

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October 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In this episode of The John-Henry Westen Show, I speak with Father Anthony Pillari, JCL, about priestly celibacy. Fr. Pillari, a canon lawyer, discusses the roots of priestly celibacy and why it is a fundamental aspect of the priesthood.  

According to Fr. Pillari, the fact that priestly celibacy is being questioned is a serious concern and “the Church is facing a very serious risk of very serious damage being done to the Church.” He goes on to quote Cardinal Alfons Stickler: “It's only through faith that is constantly and consciously sustained that the supernatural reasons underlying the commitment to celibacy can be truly understood. When this faith grows weak the determination to persevere in celibacy fades. When faith dies so does continence.” 

“Essentially the faith rises or falls with celibacy. There is a very intimate link,” Fr. Pillari says.  

Priestly celibacy comes from the apostles themselves, as we can see in numerous early Church documents. The Council of Carthage, which occurred in 390 AD, declared, “Those who are in the service of the divine sacraments [that is, deacons, priests, and bishops] observe perfect continence. So that they may obtain in all simplicity what they're asking from God. What the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep.”  

Fr. Pillari points out that there have been married priests in history, including St. Peter; however, from the moment these married men were ordained priests they practiced perfect perpetual continence. Men who were married and took Holy Orders would leave their wives to become missionaries, or would live with their wives as brother and sister.  

He points out that this may be a way forward for the Church to accept married men as priests if they, along with their wives, agreed to practice perfect continence.  

Fr. Pillari continues, “There is something extremely helpful for your prayer in observing continence and that's why it was seen as essential if you're going to be actively playing a very active role in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in the most important prayer we have on the earth. You needed to observe this total consecration to God in this way so that your body, and even more your soul, could be more fully dedicated to the prayer that you're being offered.”  

The diaconate, priesthood, and bishops are all one order, the Sacrament of Holy Orders, but three degrees of that order. For this reason, there is great debate surrounding the permanent diaconate established by John Paul II and if it requires continence. Some of the drafts of the canon on the permanent deaconate explicitly stated that permanent deacons could father children. However, John Paul II deliberately removed this statement. Canon law 277 states, “Clerics [this includes deacons] are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence.” 

Fr. Pillari points out that there has never been an official authoritative interpretation by the Church on the continence of the diaconate, but he argues there is no reason not to expect deacons to practice perfect continence.  

Fr. Pillari discusses the many graces of the priesthood, but also the prayer, fasting, and sacrifices that are needed to be a good, holy priest. He goes on to encourage young men who are concerned with the idea of perpetual celibacy, but feel drawn to the priesthood, not to be afraid. He shares that the graces and “little helps,” such as the daily office, frequent confession, constant prayer, and retreats, help sustain priests in their vocation.  

The idea of married priests is not completely against the teachings of the Church; however, as Fr. Pillari pointed out on today’s show, a married priest must be celibate.  

The John-Henry Westen Show is available by video on the show’s YouTube channel and right here on my LifeSite blog.

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You can send me feedback, or ideas for show topics by emailing [email protected].

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John-Henry Westen

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John-Henry is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com. He and his wife Dianne and their eight children live in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada.

He has spoken at conferences and retreats, and appeared on radio and television throughout North America, Europe and Asia. John-Henry founded the Rome Life Forum an annual strategy meeting for pro-life leaders worldwide. He co-founded Voice of the Family and serves on the executive of the Canadian National March for Life Committee, and the annual National Pro-Life Youth Conference.  

He is a consultant to Canada’s largest pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition, and serves on the executive of the Ontario branch of the organization.  He has run three times for political office in the province of Ontario representing the Family Coalition Party.  

John-Henry earned an MA from the University of Toronto in School and Child Clinical Psychology and an Honours BA from York University in Psychology.