When the average person hears about “married priests” and the “Catholic Church” they usually understand these two concepts as being opposed to each other.
Priests in the Catholic Church are supposed to be celibate. That is, unless the priest is a member of the Anglican Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI to allow married Protestant clergy to enter into the Catholic Church and seek ordination as a Catholic priest, while at the same time being married.
The confusion is, many assume the Roman Catholic (Latin rite) is the entire Catholic Church. No, it is just a component of the Catholic Church if you like.
While the Latin rite of the Church has celibacy as the normative discipline for priests, the same cannot be said for the other side of the Catholic Church—the six Eastern rites comprised of twenty-three sui iuris or self-governing churches.
It is important to note that some Catholic priests belonging to the Latin Rite are already married or were married like in the case of Ghana’s first Catholic Priest. Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism while married are almost routinely accepted by Rome for re-ordination as Catholic priests.
They are not alone. Priests in Eastern Rite Catholic churches may also marry prior to ordination. Research suggests that roughly half of the Catholic priests of the Maronite church of Lebanon elect to marry.
Eastern Rite Catholics like the Maronites and Melkites are following rules that would be familiar to any Greek Orthodox Christian group. Priests may marry prior to ordination, but not after. If their spouse should die, they may not remarry. Furthermore, bishops are chosen from the ranks of celibate clergy.
However, the Roman Catholics follow the Western or Latin Rite. These Western Rite Catholics have not been served by married clergy — except for Anglican converts — for a very long time.
It is important to note that this practice was not always so. Priests in Anglo-Saxon England were allowed to marry, though the practice was stopped after the Norman invasion of 1066. The Norman ban on clerical marriage was reinforced in 1139, when the Second Lateran Council declared priestly marriage invalid throughout the entire Catholic Church.
Of course, there were people, then as now, who broke the rule of celibacy. But the rule itself was clear. No celibacy, no priestly ordination.