Married priest: ‘Single clergy better placed to serve God’


A married Roman Catholic priest from Burnley has said he believes the church is correct to prefer single celibate clergy in their parishes.

Father Paul Blackburn is the most recently ordained priest into the Salford Diocese.

He is married with three children.

A former Anglican minister, Father Paul embraced Catholicism after growing dissatisfied with the direction the Church of England was taking on some moral issues.

He said single priests are better placed to serve God by giving their entire life to his ministry.

“Whatever the church decides about the future shape of ministry there will always be a need for celibate priests,” Father Paul told BBC Radio Lancashire.

God’s will

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that its priests be both single and celibate claiming it is God’s will.

They say it has apostolic authority and back up the argument with biblical references.

Critics, amongst them some practising clergy in the church, say laws of celibacy are a more earthly ruling and did not apply in the early days of the church.

Saint Peter, the first pope, was married and so were some subsequent popes and bishops.

The rule of clerical celibacy is a church law and not a doctrine, thus the Pope can alter the ruling at any time.

The current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, is staunchly in favour of the status quo. However, he can and does allow former married Anglican minsters to become Catholic priests with each case being viewed on an individual basis.

In recent times this was seen as a gift from the Pope and is also now part of the ordinariate as some Anglicans struggle to remain in the Church of England.

Many Catholics believe that a married priest is a more rounded priest whose experiences can help deal with family issues better than his single colleagues.

Father Paul disagrees.

“A celibate priest can give so much more,” he said. “They can give themselves and everything about them. They can give to the church and to the service of God. I can give what I give but a proportion of my time will always go to my family.”

Father Paul Blackburn was born in Burnley where he attended Ivy Bank School.

Whilst a parishioner in his early twenties at St. Catherine’s in the town he was accepted for training at the prestigious College of the Resurrection in the West Yorkshire village of Mirfield.

He was ordained into the Blackburn Diocese and then moved to the East Midlands to take his ministry to at a city parish in Derby.

‘Protecting the belief’

It was there, towards the end of the nineties, that Father Paul began to have worries about the future direction of the Anglican Church.

“I will always be grateful to the Church of England, but I began to have serious doubts about the direction the church was going. It was the ethical dilemmas that worried me, particularly about medical issues like abortion. I felt more and more that the Church of England wasn’t protecting the belief that life should be upheld from conception.”

“For me personally, I felt the Catholic Church upholds that conviction about all human life however it presents itself to us.” he continued.

Father Paul’s first role as a Roman Catholic priest was to join the chaplaincy team at Blackburn Royal Infirmary. “I have met some lovely people at the hospital, both staff and patients, and it is a privilege to minister to them,” he said.

He is one of two priests ordained into the Salford Diocese this year – the average number of new priests per diocese, and a statistic that worries many Catholics.

Even though the church is struggling to find enough priests to cover its parishes, Father Paul still isn’t in favour of relaxing the church rules to accept vocations from priests who wish to marry.

“The world around us is changing and there are less and less people going to mass,” he said.

“It is almost as if the culture has forgotten that we are a Christian country. Less people are going to church but the people who are there are there because they are committed.”

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