In the e-mail: “I’m a father but I’ve never married. Can I become a Catholic priest?”

I got this e-mail this morning from Kampala, Uganda:

I am a Ugandan Catholic, aged 30. I am a father to a 6-year-old girl. However, I’ve never married and I am currently single, living a more or less celibate life.  Is it possible for me to become a Catholic priest?

Well, as someone once said, nothing is impossible with God.

I’m reminded of Thomas Merton, who fathered a child when he was in college in England. He was rejected by the Franciscans for that reason before ultimately being accepted by the Trappists.  The rest is history.

Anyway…as I told this writer: according to Canon Law, fathering a child out of wedlock is not technically an impediment to receiving Holy Orders, but there are a lot of issues that will have to be explored. Those include:  the circumstances surrounding the child’s conception, birth and upbringing; any financial obligations the father might have; the spiritual and psychological character of the father, etc.

Every case is different. The ultimate decision will rest with the local bishop.

Canon 1029 notes:

 Only those are to be promoted to orders who, in the prudent judgment of their own bishop or of the competent major superior, all things considered, have integral faith, are moved by the right intention, have the requisite knowledge, possess a good reputation, and are endowed with integral morals and proven virtues and the other physical and psychic qualities in keeping with the order to be received.

Beyond that, there are these restrictions: 

Can.  1041 The following are irregular for receiving orders:

1/ a person who labors under some form of amentia or other psychic illness due to which, after experts have been consulted, he is judged unqualified to fulfill the ministry properly;

2/ a person who has committed the delict of apostasy, heresy, or schism;

3/ a person who has attempted marriage, even only civilly, while either impeded personally from entering marriage by a matrimonial bond, sacred orders, or a public perpetual vow of chastity, or with a woman bound by a valid marriage or restricted by the same type of vow;

4/ a person who has committed voluntary homicide or procured a completed abortion and all those who positively cooperated in either;

5/ a person who has mutilated himself or another gravely and maliciously or who has attempted suicide;

6/ a person who has placed an act of orders reserved to those in the order of episcopate or presbyterate while either lacking that order or prohibited from its exercise by some declared or imposed canonical penalty.

Can.  1042 The following are simply impeded from receiving orders:

1/ a man who has a wife, unless he is legitimately destined to the permanent diaconate;

2/ a person who exercises an office or administration forbidden to clerics according to the norm of cann.  285 and  286 for which he must render an account, until he becomes free by having relinquished the office or administration and rendered the account;

3/ a neophyte unless he has been proven sufficiently in the judgment of the ordinary.

Can.  1043 If the Christian faithful are aware of impediments to sacred orders, they are obliged to reveal them to the ordinary or pastor before the ordination.