Since priests were not originally expected to be celibate, many must have been married when celibacy was first introduced. So what happened to the wives during this time when the institution started?

  • I think the married priests had a sexually abstinent relationship with their wives, so being unmarried or refraining from engaging in intercourse would be no difference to them.
    – Double U
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 13:20
  • 2
    @Anonymous if they were sexually abstinent in the way you suggest that would violate the command not to abstain from marital relations because of temptation so I do not think that is the case.
    – user4060
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 15:06
  • You seem to suggest that dedicating one's life to the church is a temptation, steering a married person to "adultery"/"fornication" with the church.
    – Double U
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 15:13
  • @Anonymous: he's referring to 1 Corinthians 7.
    – Ryan Frame
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 0:20

1 Answer 1


The women all died. That was about a thousand years ago, after all.

When the edict went out, the ruling was that married men would no longer be ordained, not that the priests who were married would get rid of their wives. Eventually, this meant that all of the women married to priests would either become widows or the priests would become widowers.

Below I was asked for a citation, so I'll go ahead and add this as an amendment. It was apparent that celibacy was highly preferred in the West by the time of the Quinisext Council, which mentions that the East does not have such a preference (a case of an exception proving that the rule exists). During the 11th century, Gregory VIII took dramatic and active efforts to eliminate all future married clergymen, and the Second Lateran Council forbid married clergymen completely. But by that time it had already been two generations since bishops were forbidden from ordaining married men anyway.

  • 1
    Citation? How do you know this?
    – Double U
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 22:29
  • I don't have the source on this, but I've heard the same thing from a history professor at some point. Canon 33 from the Council of Evira suggests that married men did not have to divorce, but were expected to be celibate in marriage, as does Canon 3 from the Council of Carthage. Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 3:36
  • This is probably right, although a citation would be awesome. It's not as mind blowing as the question makes it out to be, but the same discipline that had been applied to priests 1000 years ago seems to be the one the Church applies in dioceses where, at the Bishops request there is to be a permemant deaconate.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jun 24, 2013 at 5:12

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