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Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Married Priesthood?

In my last job, I worked with a man who was an Evangelical Pastor - part time.

He had once had his own community, of which he was the Pastor, and was very candid with me with regard to some of the struggles he and his family endured.  At the time of these conversations, I was in the beginning of my conversion back to the Church, had fallen in love with Christ, and was happy to have a friend with whom I could speak of theological and spiritual things.  He had been raised Catholic himself, but had left the Church in favor of an Evangelical belief system, and still had a great deal of respect for the Catholic Church. Of course, he clearly disagreed with many of the teachings, especially that of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist, but supported a celibate clergy.


In the Catholic worldview, it comes down to the meaning of Vocation, and, in the Latin Church, the discipline of a celibate clergy.  There are many who take the position that ending this discipline would also end the "vocations crisis".  I've said it before and I'll say it again;  the bigger crisis is that of catechesis and, even more greatly still...logic.   

My friend described to me why he was no longer in full-time ministry.  He loved his wife. He loved his family;  he was vowed to them and dedicated to them.  Yet, as Pastor, he was also dedicated to his church.  His flock needed him, often at all hours of the night.  It put a strain on his family, it put a strain on him, and  finally he realized he had to make a choice between being a Pastor to his flock, or being a Father to his family.

He chose his family. In the Roman (Latin) Catholic world, we explain it thus:  Marriage and family is his Vocation.  Everything is secondary to that.   

He disagreed with that assessment, of course, but it's all semantics.  After all, he was Evangelical.  If he agreed, he would have returned to the Catholic Church. 

But I digress.  This afternoon, Fr. Pelletier directs us to an article written by Patricia Dixon,  now Catholic, but writing to us from her perspective of her time as a Protestant Pastor's wife.  She doesn't just address the oft-cited financial considerations, but the spiritual and emotional impact as well.  

I suspect that the issues she addresses would have my friend nodding right along, and perhaps even our Eastern Rite Catholic brothers and sisters might agree.  If I have any Eastern Catholic readers, especially clergy, I'd love their take on Mrs. Dixon's words. 

Here is an excerpt from her article: 

On top of this, a pastor's wife and children are themselves without pastoral care. No man, however talented or dedicated, can be pastor and husband or father to the same people. The objectivity required of the pastoral role is missing. But the minister's family cannot seek spiritual direction and sustenance elsewhere; loyalty and the need to avoid the appearance of a split in the family require that they remain at his church. When the father's career and the family's spiritual life are one and the same, the spiritual life suffers badly.

A priest or minister is seldom off duty. Any family activity is likely to be interrupted, often for the most trivial of reasons. A vacation at home is impossible for a clergyman's family; if he's around, he's assumed to be available to his flock. The bum-out rate among Protestant pastors is very high. If relaxing the celibacy rule increases the number of priests, it will have to increase it enough to make up for the large number who will leave the priesthood when they, like so many of their Protestant colleagues, find the toll it takes on the families impossible to accept.

Now, I will address one thing, because if I don't, guaranteed it will come up in the combox:   she takes a parish that is non-typical as her example, no doubt to be able to provide for the most obvious and most difficult situation, although under the premise that it is already an affluent parish.   I actually attend a parish that matches her scenario to some degrees, (affluency...not too sure about that. Not in my city),  and as I know that only 49-51% of ALL REGISTERED FAMILIES actually contribute to the parish...the prospects of providing for a married Priesthood gives me shivers. 

If we allow a married priesthood, we can kiss all of our beloved parish homes goodbye. 

Please read her article, ESPECIALLY if you are in the camp that thinks a married priesthood is the way to go.  Please consider the words of a woman who has been there, look beyond the political view you might hold, and see the reality of the impact upon the priest, the family, and the parish if the Church were to drop the discipline of celibacy. 

If we truly love our priests, if we truly pray for them, then we should be desiring their good, as they desire ours. It seems to me that a married priesthood as the norm would be destructive to us all.

Today is the world day of prayer for Vocations. Pray.

If we want more priests, the answer is not to change the discipline, but to pray, fast, and sacrifice for those who may have a Vocation to answer that call so that they may offer the Sacrifice of the Mass on our behalf.  

Pope John Paul II's Prayer for Vocations

Holy and provident Father, You are the Lord of the vineyard and the harvest and You give each a just reward for their work. In your design of love You call men and women to work with You for the salvation of the world. We thank You for Jesus Christ, your living word, who has redeemed us from our sins and is among us to assist us in our poverty. Guide the flock to which You have promised possession of the kingdom. Send new workers into your harvest and set in the hearts of pastors faithfulness to your plan of salvation, perseverance in their vocation and holiness of life.

Christ Jesus, who on the shores of the Sea of Galilee called the Apostles and made them the foundation of the Church and bearers of your Gospel, in our day, sustain your people on its journey. Give courage to those whom You call to follow You in the priesthood and the consecrated life, so that they may enrich God's field with wisdom of your Word. Make them docile instruments of your love in everyday service of their brothers and sisters.

Spirit of holiness, who pour out your gifts on all believers and, especially, on those called to be Christ's ministers, help young people to discover the beauty of the divine call. Teach them the true way of prayer, which is nourished by the Word of God. Help them to read the signs of the times, so as to be faithful interpreters of your Gospel and bearers of salvation.

Mary, Virgin who listened and Virgin of the Word of God made flesh in your womb, help us to be open to the Word of the Lord, so that, having been welcomed and meditated upon, it may grow in our hearts. Help us to live like You the beatitudes of believers and to dedicate ourselves with unceasing charity to evangelizing all those who seek your Son. Grant that we may serve every person, becoming servants of the Word we have heard, so that remaining faithful to it we may find our happiness in living it.



Anonymous said...

Well said. It is important for people to remember that the Church doesn't force a Catholic Priest to live a celibate life, Priests choose that life for themselves.

Adoro said...

Anon ~ Thanks for your comment. Indeed. The men entering the seminaries today know fully that they are going to live a celibate life. And if they don't think they can manage that, they are fully allowed to leave, and no shame in that. St. Paul never shamed people who thought they could not live celibately, and the Church has ALWAYS embraced families!

I have to admit...I find a celibate priesthood FAR more inspirational than a married one. Their witness to celibate holiness gives me hope, and an example to follow. Even as a woman.

Maria Raphael said...

My great-grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher, and it was really difficult on the family, especially since there were eight children! (And then he died young, and my great-grandma was left raising the family by herself back in the days before social security...times were harder back then.) As I was growing up, one of my best friends was the daughter of our pastor (again, Southern Baptist) and it was hard on their family. Her mother was an absolute pillar of strength. It takes real courage to be a preacher's wife.

So I wholeheartedly agree that the Catholic clergy is better off remaining celibate and single!

My RCIA teachers were a bit surprised to hear my opinion (they favor married clergy), but all of us who were converting from Protestant churches pretty much had the same story. Married clergy is a nice idea in theory but there are real problems when you put it into practice. Although we have some very good deacons in our city who do a wonderful job helping our priests, but as for the priesthood itself, we really need men who can devote themselves fulltime to the Lord.

Adoro said...

Maria ~ Thank you for your perspective. I remember friends from my childhood and even growing up, who were children of "Preachers", and they ranked right up there with the children of cops....bad news.

Her article gives me perspective; they were probably rebelling not against their parents, but against an expectation of OTHERS to be what other children were not expected to be.

I don't know that I've ever spoken with Protestant friends about their opinion on this, for the most part. Perhaps I should. Then again, if they're anything like most Catholics, they don't think of their shepherds, but of their own opinions.

It takes the witness like that of Mrs. Dixon to readjust our perspective.

Melody K said...

For the most part I agree with Mrs. Dixon's article. It should be noted, however, that even at present there are exceptions made to the celibacy rule, in that a certain number of ordinations of married men have been permitted. These are mostly, or all, men who have been Protestant ministers who converted to Catholicism. There are canonical restrictions on the scope of their ministry; I don't believe they can be named as pastor of a parish. As with deacons, the consent of their wives is required, and if their wives die, they cannot remarry. I think it is possible in the future that in remote areas with few priests ordination of married deacons may be permitted. On a case-by-case basis some wives may be willing to put their own interests second to their husbands' calling. Certainly the situation would be far from ideal, and the numbers would not be enough to answer the shortage of priests; it would pretty much be a stop-gap measure. As you say, we need to pray for vocations.

Adoro said...

Melody ~ for some reason, I was thinking I addressd that issue somehow in this post, but in rereading it, I have not. Thank you for bringing it up.

I did not mean to exclude those who have converted, for theirs are special cases, and truly, their wives need to be considered if they are to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood. There ARE special cases. I meant to specify that this post applies to the norm, not to the exceptions, which are few and far between.

And I maintain; I would NOT want to be the wife of a priest, and if I were a wife of a Protestant Pastor converting to the Catholic Faith and seeking the priesthood, I would oppose it for the good of the family, for the good of us all.

Yet I will not deny that there may be some whom God still calls, and I would give in to that Call in that case.

Again, not the norm.

Let us always pray for Vocations to the Priesthood.

Kurt H said...

I think there are some people who view the essential necessity of the priesthood as being one of sacramental service. Not all of the priests in a parish need to have the same duties as the pastor. If the problems caused by a shortage of priests is not "Where can I go to get pastoral care," but rather "Where will we get the priests to say mass and hear confessions," then the married priest could have limited faculties and would not necessarily need to be supported by the parish. I happen to think that it's a bad idea, but I'll need to knock it around in my head for a while before I can clearly formulate my arguments against it.

Adoro said...

Kurt ~ One issue is that what you propose hesitatingly would render the priesthood to be a job, not a Vocation. "Limited faculties" would make it not so much something to which someone is called by God, but a function much like a telemarketer who needs to provide a service to help others.

The idea that limited faculties would be provided is taking the moderist view, not recognizing what the Church is about. Not recognizing the scriptural basis of Vocations (which is HIGHLY present in scripture).

Hmm... thanks for your comment. You're helping me write two different papers for two different classes. :-) Due in 2 weeks!

Potamiaena said...

We Catholic families need to live our faith and practice our faith. Then we will have more vocations. Vocations are the fruit for living our faith.

paramedicgirl said...

It is a very strange thing to sit through a homily where a married Catholic priest is talking about his wife and family. Father Jack, in small town, Alberta, who used to be an Anglican priest and is married with a wife and children, had a conversion to Catholicism and became a Catholic priest. He now preaches about his family in his homilies. I find it strange indeed. I much prefer a priest whose main focus is the Church and his flock, the parishioners.

It is with much wisdom that the Church has celibate priests to tend to its faithful. Anyone who has a family knows how difficult it is to divide your attention elsewhere, and priests are in charge of so many souls, who would come first if they were family men also?

Anonymous said...


Yesterday my priest, Father Erik, gave five Masses on Sunday. He usually does four but we had an extra first Communion service.

I taught and went to two Masses that day--and an after Communion party--I was tired! How does Father do FIVE MASSES!!?

Looking around the room at the second Mass, I thought, "how does Father take care of all these people's needs, plus all the people at the other four Masses, and the people at the Saturday night Mass?" You could only do that with God's help.

Looking around the room, I felt a bit guilty, because Father Erik, besides being just my priest--is also my friend, and sometimes I ask too much of his time--oy, could you imagine if he was married!?

Rivqah said...

I'm a Lutheran pastor's kid (RCIA class of 2003!), and I'll chime right in with Mrs. Dixon. Being a PK was really not a bad way to grow up, all things considered - I was blessed to grow up positively marinated in Scripture and liturgy and great hymns, and it was a good foundation. But when I'd hear Dad talking to someone about "the kids", it seemed like 80% of the time he was talking about the youth group rather than me and my siblings. And the bit about the pastor's family being without pastoral care hits home. Even before I became Catholic, I was reluctant to go to my dad with the really heavy-duty spiritual stuff that comes up when you're in your teens/early twenties. I didn't want to disappoint him by showing weakness, as if that weakness might reflect on the way he raised me. A lot of that, of course, was probably immaturity on my part. But it was/is still a lot easier to go to someone who is outside and can be more objective!

Adoro said...

paramedicgirl ~ Yeah, that's what I would think, too. I certainly would never want to be the wife of a priest. Or the child of one.

Tara ~ Exactly. The demands of the priesthood simply would not allow them to live a proper family life. I don't know how they do it as it is, add a family into the mix... oy!

Rivqah ~ Thanks for your comment and your insight! I hadn't thought about it from that perspective either, of "showing weakness". Yet, we do have to show weakness when those topics come up, don't we?

And welcome Home! :-)

Fr. V said...

I was think of my first year as a priest as I am expecting soon a newly ordained here at S.S. Back then we were allowed to take a vacation our first year - but had come almost to the end of the first year and realized I had not taken a vacation and so decided to take a week off and hang out - no responsibilities save for getting my life in order - catch up in reading - visit. It lasted half a day. Despite great efforts of warding off people every ten minutes there was, 'I know you are vacationing this week but this will a) only take a second b) is very important c) is an emergency d) fill in your own excuse here.

Within half a day I stomped through the house and said, "I am back! This is NOT my vacation (I ended up not taking one that year) Bring it on!"

This is not by way of complaining. I learned that if I wanted any down time - even on my "day off" I had to leave the presmises (darn cell phones!) I can't even imagine what it would be like having a wife and a few kids! Could we have a quiet dinner? Could we play catch out on the lawn? Would I be able to mininster to them after ministering all day? When my marriage is facing troubles can I ditch the parish for a day? "Sorry - no emergencies today." Could I do the converse? "Sorry, I can't come to your game/concert, there is a pot luck dinner at the parish that night."

I suppose we would make accomidations and get used to it. But like a super mom that is wife, mother, student, businesswoman, and house keeper, at least I would want to do it.

SIDE NOTE: Few people remember that if the disciplin were changed tomorrow that does NOT mean that those who left the priesthood to get married would return. Remember, even in those rites that allow for a married priesthood they must be married BEFORE they are ordained and then are NOT to remarry.

John Parker said...

It would seem to me, that the hardest part would be discerning who truely had a dual vocation to marriage and priesthood. I would think that those whom God had called to dual vocations would find the necessary support, but those that had believed they were called to dual vocations and their families would suffer all the ills mentioned above and more. The Church has admitted that some men appear to have the dual vocation by ordaining some married men and allowing the ordination of married men in the Easter Rite.

I am not suggesting that it is preferred or should be normal, but if we admit that such a dual vocation is possible, some thought and care ought to be put into consideration of what that means.

Anonymous said...

My mother's parish priest is married and just this morning we were discussing how his family comes first and he does not carry out his priestly obligations, as in visiting the sick in hospitals for confession and Holy Communion, changes weekly mass schedule to suit his children's schedule.He needs a better salary with more perks. He takes a month off to visit family in Europe with his wife and kids. He is the only priest in the parish and he is an Eastern Rite priest. This parish has had at least 3 married priest and she does not think it works out well for anyone. You cannot have 2 vocations that each on its own takes a full commitment.

Adoro said...

Fr. V. ~ So glad to hear from you again, and so glad you're finally getting an Associate! I miss your comments as you always bring such a great perspective.

It's WOULDN'T be able to be available to your family. No one would allow you that luxury...and it would be a luxury. You wouldn't be able to be so divided.

Remember we talked about this (all of us) last summer, discussing these obvious problems.

I'm STILL waiting for an Eastern Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox to speak to this topic. If it works for them....HOW? I simply don't see it. I see only the problems. You either have to be available to your parish family...or your vowed/biological family. You can't give yourself to either/or.

Adoro said...

Potamiaena ~ Sorry, realized I didn't respond to you. Totally agree!

John Parker ~ I'm not at all convinced that there IS such a thing as a "dual vocation". We are human...we can't give EVERYTHING to both, and by definition, a vocation calls us to dedicate ourselves primarily to one thing on behalf of God. Some are called to be married, for the Church cannot grow if there are no children being born. Some are called to the Priesthood, for the Church could not exist without the Sacraments and the Pastoral Care of Our Lord. Some are called to prayer and service, dedicating their lives to those pursuits, for the married don't have the time to raise children AND care for the poor, the sick, teach, etc.

I realize it HAPPENS in the Eastern Catholic Church, in the Greek and Russian Orthodox, maybe some others, but I question whether they don't have the same problems as Protestant clergy families. At this point, as it applies to them, I know the history of it, but the history is only that...history. How it happened that they have that discipline. It doesn't do anything to convince me that it's a good idea, that it works, that they don't have the same problems as the Protestant clergy. So, for now, I cannot take a position with regard to them.

However, as I am researching this issue in a limited manner for a paper I'm writing, I don't see ANY evidence of a dual vocation. Not scripturally, not theologically. it is a discipline, not a dogma or doctrine, and I don't see that changing status.'s purely a human thing. Theologically it really doesn't make sense. Theologically, the call to celibacy is a more perfect, more freeing, more perfect calling.

And it's the necessary charism for the Priesthood.

Anonymous ~ Thank you. What you're saying is shocking to me...although not so much so. But it DOES address some of the issues in the Eastern Church. Is that the norm, though, or is it just that one priest? Is he acting in a way that is typical, or are his actions in doing all those things considered illicit or frowned upon, etc.? Can you provide any more info?

owenswain said...

I lived it for 20 years. I converted in 2005. Thankfully, I set boundaries and my family today is largely unscathed.

As I am not from a liturgical tradition becoming a RC priest, an already married priest, is not within the realm of possibility. It is a leap wider than the Tiber. This is not speculation this is my bishop's word. Frankly, I am relieved and haven't much more to say on it.

Kurt H said...

I know that you're specifically talking about married PRIESTS, but having rejected the idea of a dual vocation, where does the permanent deacon fit in?

Adoro said...

Owen ~ It must have been really difficult even with those boundaries..and even to set them.

Kurt ~ I really am not equipped to take a position on it. One thing a priest I know told me was that permanent deacons are expected to give primary consideration to their families. Period. That differs greatly from the priesthood, who are called to give EVERYTHING just as Jesus did. It's in His place they stand. Deacons don't.

Elizabeth said...

I'm not Orthodox myself, but I know many who are, including some family members of Orthodox priests. All those I know are very happy with the arrangement. It may make a difference that the Khouria / Matushka (wife of a married priest) has an (admittedly unofficial) role as well, and can take on many of the pastoral, but not liturgical, roles.

Adoro said...

Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth.

I also know someone who WAS Orthodox, and has an opinion on this as well.

I wrote this post in the context of the Roman Catholic discipline, although even Orthodox and Eastern Catholics recognize the importance of celibacy because, although they ordain married men, once men are ordained, they can no longer marry.

In the Roman Catholic deaconate, th same thing applies. Also, those married men in formation to become deacons have to involve their becomes part of her vocation as well.

That said, I am sure there are sacramental graces, and I'd LOVE to sit down and have a conversation with a married Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Priest and his wife/family. It would be fascinating.