Understanding married priesthood

It may be one of the most bewildering and confusing issues in the Church these days, and Our Sunday Visitor this week takes a long look at it:

There are widened eyes, some confused looks and questions.

Many knowledgeable, faithful Catholics are taken aback for the first time when they meet a Catholic priest — and his wife.

“For some, it’s a surprise. For others, I think, there is a sense that this is something they have thought is a direction the Church should head in,” said Father John Lipscomb, a former Episcopalian bishop who entered the Catholic Church five years ago with his wife of 44 years.

“I think people see this as something very positive in the life of the Church,” said Father Lipscomb, 62, the spiritual director of the Bethany Retreat Center in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Father Lipscomb is one of about 70 married Catholic priests in the United States. Most of them were ordained priests in the Episcopal Church, but eventually left that denomination and were allowed to become priests in the Catholic Church, thanks to a 1980 pastoral provision approved by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Earlier this year, the Vatican expanded the provision by creating ordinariates — similar to dioceses — where entire Anglican parishes can enter into communion with the Catholic Church. In the United States and Canada, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter includes 18 parish communities.

For the most part, with some exceptions, married priests who have entered the Church under the pastoral provision are not permitted to exercise the “primary care of souls” as pastors, though they carry out many of the same pastoral duties.

Several married Catholic priests such as Father Paul Sullins, a sociologist at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., hold down regular jobs and earn a salary they use to pay a mortgage and support their families.

“The laity has been very supportive. They seem to like the fact that I feel the same pressures they do, and some of the same marital challenges. It helps us to relate to one another better,” Father Sullins told Our Sunday Visitor.

The fact that he is married with three children leads some parishioners to believe he is more approachable and down to earth.

“That’s the perception anyway,” Father Sullins said.

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