Childless by vocation: a valid choice?

As I watched the naming of our new pope on the TV in the church office with our pastor and other members of our liturgy committee this morning, I got to thinking about people whose vocations require them to give up marriage and children. Whatever our new pope, Francis I, may be, he is not a biological father (although when he was a priest, people called him “Father.”) About 50 years ago, when he was a young man, he took vows that required him to remain single and celibate for the rest of his life. Catholic nuns and brothers take the same vows. The idea behind this is that they can’t devote themselves fully to both the church and the families they might have.

One might argue (I often do) that women should be allowed to be priests, and that priests should be allowed to be married. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and I do see some logic in total devotion to the church. In fact, a female Episcopal priest I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book is allowed to be married but says she decided she couldn’t be effective as a priest if she was torn between church and family.

We’re not all Catholic, of course, but let’s think about giving up family for vocation. When priests or nuns vow to be celibate, nobody calls them selfish or deluded as they do with us lay people who announce that we’re not having children. Nobody speculates about their fertility. Religion isn’t the only vocation where it’s hard to do one’s work and raise a family, too. I know of many people in the arts and sciences, for example, who have decided to devote themselves to work rather than having children. When I had other people to take care of in my own life, I always felt torn between their needs and my desire to focus on work.

Until modern times, a woman’s only acceptable role was to be a mother, but things have changed. The jobs of priest or pope may be not be open to us, but most other careers are and they might not mesh with motherhood. Is it valid to decide to give up family and focus completely on work? What do you think? Do know anyone who has done this?

There’s a great photo collection on Pinterest of childless/childfree women who have achieved great things. Click here to see it.

8 thoughts on “Childless by vocation: a valid choice?

  1. Of perhaps interest? A number of Catholic priests ARE now married. Due to a recent influx of Church of England priests who converted. It's a little known piece of trivia but those who were already married and some had children too were allowed to keep their families AND to be Catholic priests. Interesting, yes?


  2. It is interesting, Millicent. Now that you bring it up, I remembering hearing something about that. We also have a local priest who became a priest in his 50s whose wife had died, and he had children with her. So he's a father in both senses of the word. The question remains: can one be effective at both at the same time?


  3. All choices are valid. Everyone is entitled to make their own choices (assuming they don't harm others). The lack of choice in involuntary childlessness is one of the things that makes it so hard to bear.


  4. I do not understand why Americans keep questioning if priests should be allowed to marry in the Catholic Church. Christians in the Latin rite are often mistaken as being the entire Church. People forget — or do not know –that there is an Eastern rite, too, where priests do marry and competently carry out their Christian vocations.

    Sue, with your gift for communication, I hope that you can find a way to help people understand this better.


  5. Indeed there are married priests in many branches of religion, including the Eastern Catholic rites. Perhaps someday the Latin side of the church will join them, but certainly not in our lifetimes. Meanwhile the question remains: Can a person devote himself fully to his work and be a good parent, too? Perhaps for some people, it's a good combination while for others, it's just too much to juggle.


  6. Just as an aside here: I've been volunteering for 2-1/2 years as an office volunteer at a free clinic begun in my small town in 1997 by two sisters (a Dominican and a Franciscan). While they are religiously vowed, they obviously LOVE children and enjoy them. Bunches of photos of children born to patient moms on the walls! I dearly love volunteering there and feel I *am* making a contribution to life in general. It helps me to feel useful and a part of something way bigger than myself. On the other hand, we've all seen people devoting themselves half-baked to their work and half-baked to their children but way way more “baked” to their hobbies.
    To Jade Ormerod re: All choices are valid. Everyone is entitled to make their own choices (assuming they don't harm others). ” The lack of choice in involuntary childlessness is one of the things that makes it so hard to bear.”
    To Sue Fagalde Lick re: “When you desperately want a child and can't ever make that happen, it's a pain most people can't even imagine. “-still Anonymous from the land of I know they naturally want to talk about their children/grandchildren, but friendly bonding chats about gynecological malformations and anomalies (me) AIN'T going to happen !


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