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Therese of Lisieux

Therese of Lisieux called herself a “little flower.” Her flowery language and her child-like images have sometimes invited misunderstanding. She was an enormously strong woman and a profound interpreter of the contemplative life. Without the aid of male spiritual directors or copious male­authored theologies, trusting in her own experi­ence, she found her wholeness in Jesus and in her single-hearted abandon to Love, revealed the one thing necessary to know, God’s unconditional love for us. Paradoxically, she has managed “all the vo­cations.” Though she relinquished the vocation of the priest out of humility, she sounds as though she had the power to become one. She never left home, but is the patron saint of the missions, a doctor of the church, an apostle who travels the world, a prophet who speaks God’s word, a war­rior who fought against the unpardonable sin, and a saint whose death was as painful as any martyr­dom she imagined. If the “spirit groans within us,” it sang within her.

Essay by Mary Jo Weaver and Prayer by Laurel Jurecki



Thea Bowman

From the beginning of her teaching career until the end of her public minisny, mu­sic was the substance of Thea Bowman’s wit­ness to the world. Although her formal re­search for her doctoral degree dealt with Ren­aissance literature and philosophy, her endur­ing contribution to scholarship within the Ro­man Catholic Church and within the fields of Africana Studies, is her reliance on the wisdom and redemptive power of Black Sacred Song to teach, inspire, correct, challenge and transform all who would seek to “walk together” on the journey from here to heaven. At the time of her last great public perform­ance – at the 1989 summer meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops – she began her remarks by singing, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” That song was her prophetic challenge to the rhetorical question, “what does it mean to be Black and Catholic?”

Essay and Prayer by Joseph A. Brown, SJ



The Beguines

The witness of the Beguines of Northeastern Europe is the wit­ness of a move­ment of women. In fact some scholars have called the growth of Beguine spirituality, which began in the 12th century and retains some vestiges to this day, “the first women’s movement.” Individual Beguines such as Hadewijch of Brabant, Mechtilde of Magdeburg and Marie D’Oignies gained promi­nence for their scholar­ship, spiritual leadership and ecstatic experiences of God. More striking perhaps is the fact that the Beguine movement provided a way for many European Chris­tian women, poor and wealthy alike, to re­spond to the signs of their times and to their own spiritual needs and calling. They did so in a way that both shaped and threatened the structures that governed women’s religious lives. It was a movement that reflected the growing need among lay people for lives of spiritual meaning and religious action, as well as self-determination. In its far-reaching in­fluence and its struggle can be seen the move­ment of God’s own Spirit.

Essay and Prayer by Barbara Ballenger



Teresa of Avila

Teresa embodies the passionate longing for fullness of life in God. She was a woman, dauntless in the pursuit of Truth, willing to
have her life turned upside-down by the God of her longing. She discovered a totally mutual God who taught her to see reality from a new perspective. As a result, she fired human souls to reach for God in new ways and five hundred years later, she continues to do so through her writing and counsel. Today, Teresa mentors and challenges us to live with depth, with passion, and with purpose so that every moment can be experienced in the center of the soul, God’s s own dwelling.

Essay by Martha Marie Campbell and Prayer by Laurel Jurecki



Sor Juana

This woman of the seventeenth century left the world a comprehensive library of plays, poetry, prose, works of art, ideas and accomplishments. She has been called “the first feminist of the Americas.” Her poem, Satira Filosofica,
(Philosophical Satire) is an excellent example of Sor Juana’s feminist views.

Essay and prayer by Sr. Alicia Alvarado, OP




In four of the six New Testament references to them, Prisca is named before her husband Aquila, which is highly unusual. Since women were rarely named at all in ancient texts let alone named before their husbands, the only possible explanation is that Prisca was thought to be the more important of the two. Since she is identified as a tentmaker who worked manu­ally side by side with her husband (Acts 18:3), she does not meet secular criteria for prominence hav­ing neither greater social status nor independent wealth. The only remaining explanation is that she was considered more important because of her work in the Church. To quote Jerome Murphy O’Connor: “The public acknowledgement of Prisca’s promi­nent role in the church, implicit in the reversal of the secular form of naming the husband before his wife underlines how radically egalitarian the Pauline communities were.”

Essay and prayer by Christine Schenk, CSJ



Mary of Nazareth

Feminist thinkers have long said that unconscious sexism in doctrinal development led to an over-idealization of the concept of woman in the abstract at the expense of dealing with flesh and blood women. Ann Carr believes that ”the theology of Mary and her image in the Church may ulti­mately tell us more about the Church than about Mary.” Thus it has been possible to glorify Mary as ever virgin/ ever-Mother and hold her up as an impossible feminine model, while at the same time ignoring the oppression of real women.

Essay and prayer by Christine Schenk, CSJ



A Brief History Celibacy in the Roman Church

First Century

Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men. The New Testament implies that women presided at eucharistic meals in the early church.

Second and Third Century

Age of Gnosticism: light and spirit are good, darkness and material things are evil. A person cannot be married and be perfect. However, most priests were married.

Fourth Century

306-Council of Elvira, Spain, decree #43: a priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job.
325-Council of Nicea: decreed that after ordination a priest could not marry. Proclaimed the Nicene Creed.
352-Council of Laodicea: women are not to be ordained. This suggests that before this time there was ordination of women.
385-Pope Siricius left his wife in order to become pope. Decreed that priests may no longer sleep with their wives.

Fifth Century

401-St. Augustine wrote, Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.

Sixth Century

567-2nd Council of Tours: any cleric found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated for a year and reduced to the lay state.
580-Pope Pelagius II: his policy was not to bother married priests as long as they did not hand over church property to wives or children.
590-604-Pope Gregory the Great said that all sexual desire is sinful in itself (meaning that sexual desire is intrinsically evil?).

Seventh Century

France: documents show that the majority of priest were married.

Eighth Century

St. Boniface reported to the pope that in Germany almost no bishop or priest was celibate.

Ninth Century

836-Council of Aix-la-Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up activities of uncelibate clerics.

St. Ulrich, a holy bishop, argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry.

Eleventh Century

1045-Benedict IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry.
1074-Pope Gregory VII said anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy: priests [must] first escape from the clutches of their wives.
1095-Pope Urban II had priests wives sold into slavery, children were abandoned.

Twelfth Century

1123-Pope Calistus II: First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid.
1139-Pope Innocent II: Second Lateran Council confirmed the previous councils decree.

Fourteenth Century

Bishop Pelagio complains that women are still ordained and hearing confessions.

Fifteenth Century

Transition; 50% of priests are married and accepted by the people.

Sixteenth Century

1545-63-Council of Trent states that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage.
1517-Martin Luther.
1530-Henry VIII.

Seventeenth Century

Inquisition. Galileo. Newton.

Eighteenth Century

1776-American Declaration of Independence.
1789-French Revolution.

Nineteenth Century

1847-Marx, Communist Manifesto.
1869-First Vatican Council; infallibility of pope.

Twentieth Century

1930-Pope Pius XI: sex can be good and holy.
1951-Pope Pius XII: married Lutheran pastor ordained catholic priest in Germany.
1962-Pope John XXIII: Vatican Council II; vernacular; marriage is equal to virginity.
1966-Pope Paul VI: celibacy dispensations.
1970s-Ludmilla Javorova and several other Czech women ordained to serve needs of women imprisoned by Communists.
1978-Pope John Paul II: puts a freeze on dispensations.
1983-New Canon Law.
1980-Married Anglican/Episcopal pastors are ordained as catholic priests in the U.S.; also in Canada and England in 1994.

Popes who were married

St. Peter, Apostle
St. Felix III 483-492 (2 children)
St. Hormidas 514-523 (1 son)
St. Silverus (Antonia) 536-537
Hadrian II 867-872 (1 daughter)
Clement IV 1265-1268 (2 daughters)
Felix V 1439-1449 (1 son)

Popes who were the sons of other popes, other clergy

Name of Pope Papacy Son of
St. Damascus I 366-348 St. Lorenzo, priest
St. Innocent I 401-417 Anastasius I
Boniface 418-422 son of a priest
St. Felix 483-492 son of a priest
Anastasius II 496-498 son of a priest
St. Agapitus I 535-536 Gordiaous, priest
St. Silverus 536-537 St. Homidas, pope
Deusdedit 882-884 son of a priest
Boniface VI 896-896 Hadrian, bishop
John XI 931-935 Pope Sergius III
John XV 989-996 Leo, priest


Popes who had illegitimate children after 1139

Innocent VIII 1484-1492 several children
Alexander VI 1492-1503 several children
Julius 1503-1513 3 daughters
Paul III 1534-1549 3 sons, 1 daughter
Pius IV 1559-1565 3 sons
Gregory XIII 1572-1585 1 son


History sources:
Oxford Dictionary of Popes; H.C. Lea History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church 1957; E. Schillebeeckx The Church with a Human Face 1985; J. McSorley Outline History of the Church by Centuries 1957; F.A.Foy (Ed.) 1990 Catholic Almanac 1989; D.L. Carmody The Double Cross – Ordination, Abortion and Catholic Feminism 1986; P.K. Jewtt The Ordination of Women 1980; A.F. Ide God’s Girls – Ordination of Women in the Early Christian & Gnostic Churches 1986; E. Schüssler Fiorenza In Memory of Her 1984; P. DeRosa Vicars of Christ 1988.

Myths and Facts

Myth: All priests take a vow of celibacy.
Fact: Most priests do not take a vow. It is a promise made before the bishop.

Myth: Celibacy is not the reason for the vocation shortage.
Fact: A 1983 survey of Protestant churches shows a surplus of clergy; the Catholic church alone has a shortage.

Myth: Clerical celibacy has been the norm since the Second Lateran Council in 1139.
Fact: Priests and even popes still continued to marry and have children for several hundred years after that date. In fact, the Eastern Catholic Church still has married priests.

In the Latin Church, one may be a married priest if:

  • one is a Protestant pastor first; or
  • if one is a life-long Catholic but promises never again to have sexual relations with ones wife.

Myth: The vocation shortage is due to materialism and lack of faith.
Fact: Research (1985 Lilly endowment): there is no evidence to support loss of faith for less vocations…youth volunteer and campus ministry is rising.

We believe that priests should be allowed to marry and that
women have an equal right to have their call to ordination
tested along with male candidates.
We believe celibacy is a gift of the Spirit, as is the call to marriage
and the single life. Gifts cannot be mandated, so it is from a deep respect for the gift of celibacy that we request that it be made optional and not forced upon those who do not feel called in this way.


originally developed by Corpus Canada
revision jointly sponsored by Call To Action and FutureChurch