Interested in becoming a married Catholic priest?

My blogging neighbor, Father Dwight Longenecker, is one, and has a few words of advice for anyone who thinks he might be called:

I am now receiving a good number of phone calls from men all over the world who wish to also be a “married Catholic priest.” There are, however, certain rules of eligibility so after I have listened to their conversion story I stop and ask them these questions. If you’re thinking that you want to be a married Catholic priest. Here’s the list:

  1. What denomination do you belong to now? If you’re other than Anglican or Lutheran your chances of being considered for ordination to the priesthood are not impossible, but slim. If you are a member of a small independent Anglican denomination and were ordained into that group your chances are not so good.
  2. What is your educational background? If you went to Podunck Bible College for two years and then completed a degree in underwater basket weaving your formation will probably be considered to be lacking.
  3. What is your work background? Experience in the church matters. Being a part time Anglican priest for six months while you worked at Home Depot is not best.
  4. Were you baptized as a Catholic? If you were baptized as a Catholic, then left to become a Protestant, then you are formally guilty of apostasy or schism. This usually presents an obstacle to ordination. So you Catholic guys who want to leave, become Episcopalian, get married, get ordained then come home to Rome. Sorry. It won’t work.
  5. Were you ever received into the Catholic Church then left? Same thing as number 3. Being guilty of formal schism or apostasy is an impediment to ordination.
  6. Were you or your wife married before, and is that former spouse still living? If you are in an irregular marriage your application will not be approved. It is possible that you might be approved if you go through the process to seek a decree of nullity for the former marriage from the Catholic Tribunal, but it’s complicated. An annulment from an Anglican diocese or some other authority doesn’t count.
  7. Were you ordained as a Catholic priest then left to get married? The pastoral provision does not provide for men in this situation.

In most situations the advice is, “If you are called to the Catholic Church, then obey the call and become a Catholic. The call to be a priest is a different call which must be discerned once you are in the Catholic Church. Come on home and buckle your seat belt. You may soon be experiencing some turbulence.”

Read it all.

  • Larry Smith

    Deacon Greg:
    The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will ordain its first married priest this May, when Deacon Scott Snider will be ordained to the presbyterate. Deacon Scott was a pastor of a Congregationalist parish when he came into full communion with the Catholic Church. I know him, as he was in the first year of lay ministry studies (which was recommended for candidates for the permanent diaconate) with a group of us. Now, nearly nine years later, he will, God willing, be ordained. He’s a good man and will be a wonderful priest; we are blessed to have him in our diocese.

  • Dan S

    Hmm, i wonder about item #4. Perhaps Dr. Peters can weigh in on this, but that doesn’t seem quite obvious that it is a formal defection, or that it would be apostasy.

  • http://www.canonlaw.info Ed Peters

    Wow. I came here to post a quibble (well, a correction) on exactly that point. It’s not apostasy. And formal defection (whatever that used to be) does not really figure here either. Other than that, it seems okay, except, I dunno, it gives the impression (unintended, I am sure) that seeking ordination is, for married men, like enlisting int he Army—a big step, yes, but basically a career path than you might wanna think about. I felt uneasy with how it read, as I am sure that is not what was intended.

  • Will

    To me, the rules (okay for some but not others) do not make sense. As Father has said, there are pros and cons to having married priests. None of the pros and cons I can think of relate to the rules above.

  • http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com Maggie Duffy

    I’m not sure how you can say “(whatever that used to be)” about formal defection. I would think that formal reception into a Protestant denomination or other religion would qualify as “formal defection”. A friend of mine was formally received into the Presbyterian church (a ceremony I refused to attend). That would seem to qualify.

  • http://www.canonlaw.info Ed Peters

    I can say it, because I spent a lot of time studying the law of formal defection. Short story, it was very unusual legislation, subjected to very unusual interpretation. Anyway, the f.d. Gordian knot was simply cut a few years back, to no one’s great satisfaction, so it’s moot now. But as for your friend’s case, it would NOT have qualified as f.d. FWIW.

  • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

    I can tell you from experience that #4 is incorrect. I was baptized Catholic, wandered away, was formally received into the Episcopal Church, and then received a call to come home. I contacted the chancellor of our diocese, a canonist and now our auxiliary bishop, and was told that since I had not publicly renounced Catholicism or otherwise declared defection—reception into the Anglican Communion does not involve making such a renunciation, as in the Episcopal Church you can take it with you :) —I was considered a formal heretic; this confirmed what my own looking into canon law had . Returning to the Church required confession and a profession of faith, which I was happy to make.

    Overall, I too have difficulty with the tone of the piece, which seems to belittle the genuine curiosity behind the questions Fr Longenecker has received. That he is one of a tiny minority of Roman Catholic priests who is privileged to live all 7 sacraments (a gift, as is any calling, not a set of credentials upon which to pride oneself) does not justify elitism when it comes to other people’s educational backgrounds and ministerial experience. Maybe this was intended to be humorous and I simply didn’t have the chops to get it.

  • Deacon Norb

    Joanne said:

    “That he is one of a tiny minority of Roman Catholic priests who is privileged to live all 7 sacraments (a gift, as is any calling, not a set of credentials upon which to pride oneself) does not justify elitism. . . . .”

    Elitism ? I think not. I would bet, if the truth were known, that maybe a solid one-third of the total of 17,000+ permanently ordained married deacons in the United States have already received the “Sacrament of the Sick” — bringing them up to seven. I know I have and can name two other married deacons out of nine in my rural county who also have seven under their belt.

    Newer, NEVER has that ever been raised as a point of arrogance or elitism. The only time it ever came up in my ministry was when I was interviewing a junior-high school aged student prior to Confirmation. That was his personal spiritual goal, to obtain all seven. Interesting!

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    I’m reminded of a story (which may be apocryphal) that supposedly happened during a confirmation homily.

    The bishop strolled among the candidates for confirmation, peppering them with questions. He asked one of the kids, “Do you know how many sacraments there are?” and the kid replied, without missing a beat: “Yes. Six for girls and seven for boys.”

    Dcn. G.

  • friscoeddie

    8. If you are one of the 17,000 married Catholic deacons who has served loyally for years….
    fagettaboutit.

  • Fiergenholt

    Lutherans and Anglicans almost exclusively ? Well, maybe. Those two traditions, however, have the longest track-record of success and for MANY years the only married clergy from other denominations who became married Catholic priests were Lutheran. I’ve lost the exact date but way back in the early 1970′s, Pope Paul VI personally approved four such Lutheran — from Europe, not the US — pastors to process down that path. For many years, they were the only ones.

    At this point, however, it is far easier for an Anglican to travel this path than a Lutheran. IMHO the only REASON why this is true is that the Anglican folks specifically requested the formation of both a process and a prelature. The Lutheran Community have not yet done this.

  • http://www.canonlaw.info Ed Peters

    LOL.

  • Deacon Steve

    This actually happened at my parish, but it was during the interview with the Pastor as they were in the final stages of preparation for Confirmation. I know it has happened a few times.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    There are married Catholic priests all over the Middle East and Eastern Europe–They are as Catholic as any Latin Church priest. In fact I was once told by some Eastern Catholic clergy that if I were willing, as a married deacon, to go to Lebanon to study, I could eventually be ordained a Catholic priest of the Maronite Church. And, though noone apparently wants to talk about it, some married Eastern Catholic priests are quietly serving Eastern Catholic parishes in our country–and Rome has been satisfied to let this progress forward where in the past Rome squelched such actions. One city over from where I live, the administrator of a Ukrainian Catholic parish is a married Catholic priest who was once a Latin.
    What I find upsetting is the total lack of consciousness of the very existence of the 20 or 30 Million Eastern Catholics in the world and their married Catholic clergy.

  • Deacon Norb

    John:

    “And, though noone apparently wants to talk about it, some married Eastern Catholic priests are quietly serving Eastern Catholic parishes in our country.”

    You may be a bit behind the times here. This has been going on certainly since the time JPII became pope. We have several Eastern Rite Catholic parishes in my area of the Midwest; everyone knows where they are; everyone knows they are Catholic; and everyone knows the pastors are married priests. In fact, one of those parishes has a “Speakers Bureau” and if your Latin-rite parishes wants someone to talk about Eastern Rite Catholicism for a special program, it is easily arranged.

    They are not “flaunting” it but it certainly is not hidden

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    True enough, John.

    We Latin Rite Catholics seem to think we are the alpha and the omega of the Church. There’s a much wider Catholic world out there.

    Dcn. G.

  • John

    I just have to wonder….what kind of statement is our church making when they will accept married men from other faith traditions to become priests, when at the same time, they won’t accept married men who have been faithful Catholics all their lives?

  • Drake

    The rules about celibacy and married priests are demonstrably legalism for the sake of legalism. There is no reason why cradle Catholics are being denied what is offered as an inducement to converts.

  • John

    Not to muddy the waters..I do believe that there is a lot to be said for the celibate priesthood. A celibate is much freer to go where mother church needs him or her. A married man with children does not have that same freedom. And ordained ministry can be tough on a marriage. The divorce rate for protestant clergy is significantly higher than for others.
    That being said, I believe that a good, faith filled man in a good marriage has many gifts to bring to ministry that perhaps someone who has never been married would not.

  • friscoeddie

    John you say.. “..I do believe that there is a lot to be said for the celibate priesthood.’
    Sure and but it should be optional… no one, no where is forcing a priest to marry. Celibates priests like the poor will always be with us.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    Deacon Norb — I was referring to general Catholic and media consciousness of married Eastern Catholic priests. If there is a great deal of general consciousness on the topic in your area, I think it is an anomaly. Almost every article in the media, the Catholic press, on the talk radio, or in general talk that I have seen or heard– even today– on the celibate priesthood constantly mentions, for example, Anglican priests becoming Catholic priests. I have hardly ever seen a “tip of the hat” in the direction of Eastern Catholic married priests–even in the article and the comments we are discussing here.
    As for married priests in the Latin Church::With married deacons now members of the Latin ordained clergy I really think we should have some patience and see how our grand diaconal experiment works. And since deacons are frequently given the ministries that involve families–like marriage, baptisms etc. and the preparation classes that go with them, and can counsel people to help them in sacramental and spiritual areas– dare I say that if the Latin Church fuilly utilizes married deacons in the everyday running of the Church and lets celibate priests concentrate on the Mass and other deeply spiritual matters, then wasn’t that why deacons were originally ordained according to the Bible (though right away St. Stephen got stoned to death for his preaching and St. Phillip baptized the Ethiopian –without a long drawn out–intimidating to some- RCIA program.

  • Melody

    I’ve wondered that myself.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    As I understand it, the statement the Church is trying to make is that a man does not have to give up his livelihood in order to become a Catholic. I don’t think people should turn that around and make what is an act of compassion toward a group of married men with families to support into a negative.

  • Catholic Dad

    While I am not opposed to the Church requiring a vow of celibacy, you make a good point. It is hard to reconcile the two positions. In fact, it seems like a political maneuver that places a premium on siphoning Lutherans and Anglicans. What are the unforeseen consequences of this 30, 40, 50 years down the road? Why would a young Catholic man consider the priesthood and a celibate life when a growing portion of the clergy are married and have families? Will this influence his decision to remain celibate after taking the vow, and if not doesn’t this make a mockery of the vow itself?

    I don’t profess to know the answer to these questions, but there is a clear contradiction at play here and I do not believe there are easy answers.

  • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

    I specifically said “married Roman Catholic priests” because of course married deacons form a much larger cohort of full-spectrum sacramental participants. :) And I have never known a deacon to be arrogant or elitist about it, but those are the impressions I get from Father’s post.

  • http://themightyambivalentcatholic.blogspot.com/ Steve

    Deacon John, I wonder if that IS actually the reasoning–or not. I frequently read that the priesthood is a vocation, not a livelihood, not a job. So it gives me pause to consider that the church is possibly just regarding an Anglican priest convert (for instance) as needing a continued livelihood, so the church decides he can be considered for ordination as a Catholic priest despite his married state.

    For the life of me, it does not make much sense that cradle Catholics who are married are somehow bad candidates for ordination to the priesthood, but married converts are considered prime contenders. And no, I’m not interested in the priesthood myself. But there are many, many married cradle Catholics who could make excellent priests–and yet the Vatican says “No, not those guys…but let’s look at that other group of married men over there.”

  • Fiergenholt

    John: “The divorce rate for protestant clergy is significantly higher than for others.”

    Can I ask you to prove that ?

    Furthermore, what implication would it have on married priests and married deacons in the Western Church?

    Somewhere in my files I have the stats of a particular diocese’s diaconal “self-study.” They found that from 1973 (when their first candidates were ordained) until the present, some 400 men worked in that ministry in that diocese (not all ordained locally — some were “incardinated in.”)

    Of those 400 men, TWO wound up being divorced over that almost 40 year period of time.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    Steve– you sort of make the point about the problem of a married priesthood by bringing up the livelihood–vocation situation. A father has to give priority to his family both on the financial front (livelihood) and as far as scheduling his time.
    Spring is the busy time for events like first Holy Communion, public school or Sunday school end of year Masses, etc. In our diaconal program it was hammered into us that, no matter what, our family responsibilities come first. Our vocation is primarily being good fathers and husbands. The big fear was that the divorce rate among married Catholic deacons would become as high as the divorce rate among Protestant ministers.
    Consequently, though I am frequently involved in various education programs, when Spring comes the ceremonies, graduations, etc. my 4 children and 8 grandchildren are in come first (and some live halfway across the country so they can’t be just day trips). That is one reason why I think we should work more at making the married diaconate the major married ordained presence in the Church. A pastor, for example, really shouldn’t be missing from major parish events as ideally he is the father of his parish community. On the other hand it is much more acceptable to a parish for a deacon to be elsewhere with his family–especially if they know it is what a bishop expects of an ordained married deacon.
    Which brings me back to an argument I will continue to make–that although there are situations where married priests are a real plus for the Church– my hope is that the celibate priesthood and married diaconate will eventually, in the Latin Church, be working together in mutual support as, ideally, the celibate bishops and married priests do in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    frisco–Noone forces a man to become a priest. Consequently, no man is forced to take a vow of celibacy.The two, in Latin tradition go together just as so many other vocations have two or 3 mandatory requirements. If a man doesn’t like the requirements– he should stop whining and look for another vocation for this vocation is not his calling
    And according to a number of my Protestant clergy friends–the Protestant culture is such that a minister MUST be married or won’t get a parish position. (Thus celibate clergy are not like the poor) In fact, virtually all congregations that hire their ministers will only hire married ministers, but many ALSO first check out the wife to see if she is willing to do parish work so that the parish gets two workers for the price of one. God help the minister whose spouse wants to spend her time working at her chosen career instead of providing free labor for the church.

  • friscoeddie

    Deacon John B. you are wrong about Protestant culture. ‘ virtually all congregations that hire their ministers will only hire married ministers’ , expand your acquaintances and outlook.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    Not only was I told this by some ministers, but also by a layman who was on his church’s committee to choose a new minister and was disgusted at the fact the committee was more interested in what they could find out about the prospective minister’s wife than about the minister himself. Also, I live in a large city with many churches and am involved in ecumenical activities and have yet to meet an unmarried minister. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “all” since I am sure there are probably some unmarried Protestant pastors somewhere.

  • Donna G

    I just don’t get why married converts can become priests. It seems unfair and illogical. If priests can’t be married, then they can’t be married. Why privilege converts?

  • craog

    It is interesting that anglicans can be priests and be married. Eastern priests can bearried, and yet celibacy is mandatory for everyone else. The pope is a bully and mediocre theologian at best. He betrayed his classmates and friends to climb the ecclesial ladder. His solution to the abuse problem id to use john vianey as amodel for priesthood…sure im sure that will work. I will tru that as a treatment modality.

  • rich

    if i’m not mistaken, those called in the future to the anglican ordinariate if single must remain so! within a few gen. all anglicans will be celibate too! rightly so! total consecration to becoming a priest,set aside, is what it is all about. i don’t want my priest married! and i certainly don’t want to support his wife and kids! this is not the reason we have a shortage of priest. the proof is in the overflowing orders of orthodox latin[western] catholic convents and seminaries! it is authentic catholicism that is real and attractive to these convert and to our young! Don’t worry! the last 50yrs of watered down protestantized catholicism has been a huge fail and i believe it is these converts who r making us wake up to the beautiful treasure our catholic faith is and how we almost lost it!

  • Saint Patrick

    I’m gonna have to throw the bs card on this one. Why on earth the Church thinks it is right to ordain married protestant men but deny married roman catholic men, is asinine. Nobody is “entitled” to the Priesthood. Being a Priest is by no means a “right”. But as the Eastern Churches show us, God can and does call men to both marriage and priesthood. Why would we deny our own? Are faithful Roman Catholic men who are married but feel called to the Priesthood not good enough to be Priests? Are they so poor in spirit that we have to bring in protestants who up until their conversion, were preaching falsehoods and leading people away from Christ? I myself felt strongly called to the Priesthood. My spiritual director and a couple of my local Priests who had been helping me discern, all felt very strongly that I had a call (though that does not by any means guarantee I had a calling). But shortly before I was going to meet with the Bishop about attending the seminary, I met my girlfriend who I am happy to say, will soon be my wife :-) Now I will remain faithful to the Church and obedient to the letter. Though I strongly disagree with this notion of ordaining married protestants to be Catholic Priests when we deny our own, to me (personally) is outrageous. But all the same, I remain obedient (trying to remain humbly obedient). Now in time I will be discerning if perhaps God is calling me to the Diaconate. Maybe I was so focused on the priesthood when I came into the Church that I had not considered the Diaconate. Maybe I am not called to holy orders at all? Discernment and hours of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament will ultimately help me discern this. But I understand the pain for some men whom are married and can’t shake the strong feeling of a potential call to the Priesthood. Many people would just say, “Well become Deacons” but as the Catholics here know, the Permanent Diaconate and the Priesthood are two entirely different vocations. I am not against priestly celibacy. I think it is a good practice. I just feel that the latin rite needs to enforce celibacy on “all” her Priests, or on “none” of them. Because it’s going to cause scandal when we tell our own faithful married Roman Catholic men who feel called to serve the Lord as Priests “NO” and yet ordain a protestant who just a year prior was teaching people that Catholics aren’t Christian and are going to hell because they worship Mary and pray to dead people.

  • Deacon Norb

    Saint Patrick sez:
    “Because it’s going to cause scandal when we tell our own faithful married Roman Catholic men who feel called to serve the Lord as Priests “NO” and yet ordain a protestant who just a year prior was teaching people that Catholics aren’t Christian and are going to hell because they worship Mary and pray to dead people.”

    Tend to hyperbole, do you ? Those protestants who cite those last dogmatic points you use here are not going to want to become Catholic anyway — much less Catholic priests. I am still looking for solid statistics but it is my impression that those married protestant ministers who DO petition to become Catholic Priests are primarily (maybe 90%) Lutheran and Episcopal/Anglican — I do not think one of them was ever a minister in an independant evangelical-dispensationalist-fundamentalist congregation.


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