Can a priest adopt children?
Anon wrote, “FG, this is a question from my 11yo son. He knows a priest cannot marry, but wondered if that meant he could also not adopt children. He pointed out that taking the vow of celibacy refers to marriage and a relationship with a woman, and it does not imply anything about adoption. This was a serious question. He was not looking for a replacement for his two wonderful parents. I guess he stumped me on this one”. I have only heard of one priest who adopted a child: a priest from Chicago who received special permission from the Pope to adopt.
My understanding of why, in ordinary circumstances, a priest cannot adopt a child is because the celibate priest possesses no one person or thing. I recognize that there are married priests (former Protestant ministers who have become Catholic) with children; they present a different situation. But, the discipline of clerical celibacy, which dates back to apostolic times, is in place so that the priest is free to give his time, attention, energy, and love to ALL of God’s children who are under his care. The celibate priest is to love everyone the same; in other words, he is to love as God loves.
I recently came upon an article written by a woman who presents clerical celibacy as a tradition that dates back to apostolic times. Here are some excerpts:
“The Ancient Tradition of Clerical Celibacy”
By Mary R. Schneider
“The roots of clerical celibacy can be found, of course, in Scripture. Jesus, who never married, exhorted those who could accept it to renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 19:12). Many early Christians eagerly responded to Christ’s invitation and in the early Church, ‘even before the beginnings of monasticism in the 4th century, celibacy accepted for the Kingdom of God appears as the perfection of Christian holiness, second only to martyrdom’ (H. Crouzel, 1972)…
The first known legislation on clerical continence can be found in the decrees of the Council of Elvira (305)…The Council of Arles (314) also required clerics to observe prefect continence, citing ritual purity as the reason…Several popes of the patristic era also issued decrees upholding clerical continence…The Fathers of the Church also insisted that clerics remain chaste…Church laws and writings of this era not only affirm the requirement of clerical continence, even if it was not always followed in practice, they also reflect a sophisticated theology of the priesthood…
Although celibacy is not intrinsic to the priesthood, it is an ancient discipline with deep roots in the history, law, and practice of the Latin Church. Because it is clearly a part of the Church’s tradition, something that has been handed down from the age of the Church Fathers, it should not and must not be discarded just because it is unpopular or because it does not reflect modern sensibilities.
There are, in fact, good practical reasons for the Church to retain this venerable discipline. However, the theological reasons for doing so are even more important. Celibacy marks priest as a man consecrated to the service of Christ and the Church. It shows in a concrete way that he is not merely someone who exercises a set of functions or who holds a certain office but that he has been changed on an ontological level by his reception of the sacrament of Orders.
Celibacy configures the priest more closely to Christ, the great High Priest, who forsook earthly marriage for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of uniting himself more perfectly to his heavenly Bride, the Church. Moreover, it is fitting that the priest who offers this same Jesus in sacrifice to the Father, show in his person (albeit to an imperfect degree) the purity and holiness of his unspotted Victim. Finally, celibacy has an eschatological aspect, pointing to the coming of the Kingdom when marriage will no longer exist. If the Latin Rite of the Church were to abandon clerical celibacy, it would have to sacrifice much of the sophisticated theology of the priesthood that has developed over the last seventeen hundred years as a result of this discipline…”