Do popes marry?

Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church has been credited for his humility and modern approach to the papacy, breaking traditions that had been upheld be popes for more than a century. What other rules must members of the church follow?

Tending to over one billion Catholics today it’s no surprise that being Pope comes with an immense bout of responsibility. Most Popes are prepared for this as most are cardinals before they are elected. There are two main simple rules when becoming Pope; number one, you have to be male; number two, you have to be Catholic. But other than this, almost anyone can become Pope. It might surprise people to know that you don’t have to be a certain age, with the youngest Pope to date being Pope John XII, who was 18 years old when he ascended the papacy in 955. However, the rule books when you become Pope are a little stricter. You have to learn multiple languages, attend confession, meet with heads of state, lead mass services, and remain celibate.

This means the simple answer to this article’s question is no, Popes do not marry. However, this hasn’t stopped a few popes throughout history bending the rule books.

The Rules of Celibacy

Although for other Christian denominations and churches, celibacy has become more optional, in the Catholic Church it remains a strict rule. Celibacy by definition means abstaining from marriage and sexual relations. What’s the big deal right? Well considering this is a tradition that’s been upheld by the Catholic Church for over 900 years the answer is very. Before thisit was quite common for clergy to be married, encouraged even. As it says nothing explicitly in the bible about remaining celibate, it was once believed that members of the church should set a good example by marrying and bearing children, work set out by god. At some point in history, this changed and has never been the same since. For many, celibacy is a key part of being a Catholic priest, one who is supposed to devote himself to the Church and not be distracted by what some consider to be worldly concerns like a wife and family.

The History of Celibacy in the Catholic Church

Back in the first century, Popes, such as Peter and the other apostles, were all, for the most part, married men. However, Jesus Christ was unmarried and exercised a single-minded devotion to his beliefs and mission. In the New Testament, virginity, as well as celibacy, were seen as a gift from God to be embraced. Those who forego worldly possession and underwent poverty, chastity, and obedience, including sexual restraint was seen as the pursuit of holiness. Therefore, the Catholic Church’s pope, the purest and most moral member of the religion, were to remain celibate to focus entirely on their beliefs and the task at hand. Priests as well were asked to be celibate back in ancient times although this rule was broken many times throughout history.

Popes who broke this rule

There are plenty of Popes in history who, despite their vow of celibacy, have broken this rule. These include popes who were married, had long-term partners, lovers, and even a few that had children. Some Popes in history have even been known to be the son of previous Popes, who had been moulded into taking over. Hetero and Homosexuality have both been documented, with even abuse from offending Popes. For example, Pope Julius II who took the sacred oath of celibacy soon broke it when he took to having several mistresses and at least one illegitimate daughter.

Modern-day Views

Although the Pope still remains restricted to celibacy, the rule for priests in the Catholic Church is a topic of debate nowadays. With many believers and members of the church believing celibacy should be optional as it is in other Christian churches. Most recently the question of celibacy has arisen due to the proposal to allow married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon. It is a matter that is so important to the Church that former Pope Benedict, who retired in 2013, felt he could not stay silent, breaking his pledge to remain “hidden from the world” following his retirement. He issued a defence of priestly celibacy in a book co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah. His successor, Pope Francis, however, who is known for his more progressive approach, is considering the proposal along with environmental issues and the role of women in the Church. The proposal concerning celibacy arose when South American bishops advocated it in an effort to address the shortage of priests in that region.

Some critics regard the idea of allowing married priests in the Amazon as a pretext to abolishing celibacy altogether. However, this is a big jump for them to make, and we won’t be sure about how the state of celibacy stands in the Church until Pope Francies makes a decision in the coming months.

Related article: How do they choose who will be Pope?

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