How did celibacy become mandatory for priests?

Priestly celibacy, or rather the lack of it, is in the news. There have been allegations of sex orgies, prostitution and pornography against Catholic clerics in Italy. On March 8, Pope Francis suggested, in an interview with a German newspaper, Die Zeit, that the Catholic Church should discuss the tradition of celibacy in light of an increasing scarcity of priests in rural areas, especially in South America.

Although some headlines have suggested that the pope’s latest comments signal a new openness to priestly marriage, neither of these recent developments – the allegations of sex scandals nor the debate about the tradition of priestly celibacy – should be surprising.

Celibate Christians, both monks and clergy, have a long history with scandal. As a scholar of early Christianity, I think it’s important to highlight the fact that Catholic priestly celibacy has never been practiced uniformly and is, in fact, a late development in church practice.

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