Gasp! Married Catholic priest! (updated)

It’s been quite a while since I offered readers an episode of WWRNOD?

Well, it’s time.

If you know anything about the history of religion news in the mainstream press, then you know the name Richard N. Ostling. During his four-plus decades on the beat — primarily with Time and the Associated Press — Ostling was a pro’s pro who was known for meticulous accuracy, balance, fairness and all of those other old-school journalistic values. He is still active in news projects as a consultant and reporter.

During the “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion” project, I leaned on Ostling quite a bit in my “Getting It Right” chapter on ways for newsrooms to improve their work on this oh-so-complicated beat.

But some things are not that complicated.

I asked Ostling early on to name an example of a basic error — a sin of omission or commission — that he kept seeing in the news that really got under his skin. So what did the trick? He was very tired of seeing news reports stating that the Church of Rome does not ordain married men.

“It would be accurate,” noted Ostling, “to say that the overwhelming majority of men ordained as Catholic priests are not married. It would even be accurate to say that ‘almost all’ priests are not married. But what about Eastern Rite Catholicism, where you have married priests? Then there are the married men who have been ordained in the Anglican Rite, who used to be Episcopal priests. You have a few Lutherans, too.

“Now some people would say that little mistakes like this do not matter all that much. Well, they matter to the people who read the story and know that what they are reading is wrong. What does this say about our journalistic standards?”

OK, now that you have read that, try to make sense out of this chunk of an Associated Press report that is sending ripples through the world of online news.

BERLIN – In a rare move that needed the pope’s approval, a Lutheran convert is being ordained as a Catholic priest in Germany and is being allowed to remain married to his wife — who has already become a nun.

The Cologne archdiocese said 61-year-old Harm Klueting is to be ordained as a Catholic priest Tuesday. Pope Benedict XVI gave him a special permission to remain married to his wife Edeltraut Klueting, who became a Catholic Carmelite nun in 2004. The couple has two grown children.

Stop right there. Anyone want to bet that the wife is a lay sister in a Third Order relationship with a Carmelite order? In other word, she has not taken the full vows to be a nun. Back to the AP report:

Klueting and his wife were both Lutherans when they married in 1977 and both converted to Catholicism several years ago.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, says the exception is rare but there have been similar cases. He says “it doesn’t happen every day.”

Similar cases? Like most of the priests in the Eastern Rite? Like the Anglicans entering Catholicism in England? How old is this exemption law anyway? Isn’t it half a century or so?

It that doesn’t ring your bell, check out this strange story in The Daily, the new iPad newspaper. Here’s the link. Now here’s the lede:

After 34 years of marriage, is celibacy so hard anyway?

I think that’s quite enough. Read it all if you want to laugh or cry.

UPDATE: The quite precise Father John Zuhlsdorf — a convert from Lutheranism — does a total take down on the AP piece.

Photo: Priest, wife, family, ordination celebration.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Ben

    “Rare” seems like a reasonable word and a decent antonym for “overwhelming majority” or “almost all.”

  • Passing By

    Mr. Ostling’s attention to detail is admirable, but there is no “Anglican Rite” in the Catholic Church. There is an “Anglican Use” within the Latin Rite. Furthermore, the structure for receiving former Anglicans (and, apparently former Lutherans) will not be a separate rite.

  • melxiopp

    PHOTO: A Divine Liturgy in an Eastern Rite Catholic parish.

    Important correction: this is a photo of a Divine Liturgy served by the late Orthodox Patriarch of Serbia, Pavle. That is, this is not a photo of Eastern Rite Catholics.

  • Bain Wellington

    And reports that do mention the tradition of married priests in Orthodoxy and in the Oriental Churches might consider noting that these traditions are at one with the Roman Church in not permitting priests to marry (or re-marry), and in rejecting a married episcopate.

    In the context of, say, 400,000 celibate priests, the married Lutheran and Anglican priests ordained into the Catholic priesthood (who number only in their hundreds) are indeed rare and not very visible either to the vast majority of the laity because they are generally not given parishes to run. It seems that less than 100 US Episcopalian married priests have been ordained pursuant to the pastoral Provision of 1980

    Until Anglicanorum coetibus, married Anglican priests who were ordained in England numbered 200 or 300 (in the period 1982 to 1992 when the Church of England was debating the issue of ordaining women to the priesthood). Add a few German and USA Lutherans and Anglicans from outside England. I would guess the total is around 500.

    The point Fr. Lombardi was probably making is that Fr. Klueting’s ordination was not pursuant to any existing scheme (such as the Pastoral Provision in the USA or Anglicanorum coetibus) let alone pursuant to an ancient tradition such as obtains in the Oriental Churches, but as a special and personal dispensation granted ad hominem by the Holy Father.

  • Bain Wellington

    correction: “at one with the Latin Church in not permitting etc.”

  • melxiopp

    Regarding the photo, according to the website of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren (i.e., Kosovo, Metohija and the Raska region in Southern Serbia) this photo is of:

    Patriarch pavle (center) together with Bishop Artemije of Kosovo (right) and Bishop Atanasije of Hercegovina, praying before the holy altar (Gracanica Monastery, 1999).


  • Nicole Neroulias

    Married priests are rare (though not rare enough, especially if you combine them with reports of priests with mistresses, to avoid the obvious “why keep insisting on celibacy?” debate). The ones who are former Lutherans are a minority within the minority. And, rarest of all, would be a Lutheran-turned-Catholic priest married to a nun/lay sister.

    Seems like a fair use of the word, particularly given that this was in a news brief — not a feature story going into the complexities of married Catholic priests.

  • Asshur
  • Asshur

    (Sorry about my botched post above)

    The AP story has a lot more of troubles itself (already “fisked” at Fr. Z’s blog (the sartorial part is almost unbeatable ;-) )

    Frau Dr. Klueting is as of now a tertiary Carmelite (i.e. lay person) but it seems that she has been allowed to become a nun (see more info atDr. Peters’ blog )

  • tmatt

    Sorry about the photo error. I’ll fix that as soon as I get to wifi with my computer.

    My bad. Totally.

  • Mario

    Dr. Peter’s blog does clarify the notion of the Pope “allowing” them to remain married. What is not clear is whether Herr Klueting was a Lutheran minister. That is normally a condition of non-Catholic married men becoming ordained to the priesthood after converting to Catholicism. If he was a Lutheran layman who became a Catholic layman, then the possibly of ordination would not normally be extended to him unless he became a Byzantine Catholic.

    There is also this irony. Martin Luther and a nun left their respective religious vocations to become, well, Lutherans and to marry. Here, a married Lutheran couple becomes Catholic to become a priest and a nun….

    ….just sayin’…

  • Mario

    Oh, ok, he was a minister. So was she, apparently.

  • Marie

    Is Eastern Rite the same as Eastern Orthodox? All my life I have heard categories such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc. Here on GR I read a lot of Rite categorizing (ie Eastern Rite). Are the terms Synonymous? Are the Orthodox titles sub groups within a Rite? Or is Orthodox an incorrect term?

  • melxiopp

    Eastern Orthodox is the term used for the Orthodox Churches of Constantinople, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Jerusalem, Antioch, etc. Some will also include the Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches (e.g., Armenians, Copts) and the Assyrian Church of the East (the ‘Nestorian Church’).

    The national designations (e.g., Greek, Russian) simply refer to the local, self-ruling (autocephalous) Orthodox churches that are in communion with one another. Orthodoxy is organized as a sort of ‘confederation’ of local churches that are in communion, share the same faith, etc. The boundaries of these Orthodox jurisdictions are generally (though far from always) coterminous with national boundaries in the Old World.

    Eastern Rite churches tend to refer to those churches like the ones above that are in communion with Rome, e.g., Melkites, Maronites, Greek Catholics, etc.

    The Eastern Rite can also refer to the liturgical rites of the East as contrasted to the current and past liturgical rites of the (Western) Roman Catholic church (e.g., Roman, Tridentine, Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Sarum, etc.) as well as the more traditional liturgical rites of some(Western) Protestant churches (e.g., Anglican, Lutheran).

    Within Eastern Orthodoxy there is also a small group of ‘Western Rite’ parishes, as well. They use a variety of ‘Western’ liturgical rites, e.g., versions of the Book of Common Prayer and the Tridentine liturgies, the pre-1054 Western rites such as Sarum, etc.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Posting #7 is a bit insultingly snarky with its dig about “reports of priests with mistresses.” When the issue of married clergy in Protestant Churches comes up I don’t recall seeing comments about the adultery rate among Protestant ministers. Yet according to some sources I recall reading ministers have a much higher rate of trashing their marriage vows than priests do of breaking their vows of celibacy.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I Googled “Protestant ministers divorce rate.” According to a large survey done by the Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development almost 40% of ministers surveyed are divorced or in the process of divorcing (another major survey says simply the divorce rate among ministers is 50%).
    Almost 80% surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage. And 40% of minsters surveyed have had extra-marital affairs while in ministry.
    So how come I have never seen any statistics like this or any of the others in the Google listed stories that virtually prove that having a married clergy solves absolutely nothing.
    While Ms.Neroulias is obsessing with celibacy in the Catholic Church–the families of married Protestant clergy are disintegrating all around her.
    Why isn’t this a far bigger story in the media than celibacy among Catholic priests and Orthodox bishops. In fact I have seen absolutely no coverage in the MSM of this horrendous marriage scandal in Protestant churches.
    And considering Catholics are only a tiny minority when compared to all the Protestant churches that have a married clergy, the market for in depth looks at the actual situation of married clergy is much, much larger. So why the constant belaboring of Catholic clergy in the media????

  • bob smietana

    Deacon Bresnahan:

    That Protestant divorce data is based on pastors surveyed at two ministers conferences in California in 2005 and 2006. Looks like there was some overlap in the two years. Not exactly reliable stats.

    Brad Wright, a sociologist at UConn has blogged some about this question.

    In general — according to the GSSI, people who go to church weekly (which would include ministers) have significantly lower divorce rates that the general public.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Bob–apparently you missed the part of the Schaeffer Institute article that said the survey results I mentioned–and you decide aren’t any good–were a follow-up to research they had been doing since 1989. The part of the article you mention -and gave the statistics I gave–were done to see if their original research still held up. Their conclusion was “Yes!”
    And as far as I know the Scaeffer Institute is a very reliable and reputable Protestant organization. And their conclusions were what I had heard elsewhere before I even googled and saw the Schaeffer survey.

  • Fred

    Thanks for providing the link to Fr Z’s blog. I loved what one of his commenters had to say (and this comment applies to any inept media account of a religious issue, not just this particular one):


    How would the poor, wide-eyed reporter -who has never been inside a stadium before – explain the nuances of a “stolen base”? a “sacrifice bunt”? a “ground rule double”?
    It would make for some interesting reading. But we might not know who won the game.

    end quote

  • Asshur

    BTW the priest on the new photo is Fr. Dwight Longnecker, other well known blogger ofStanding on My Head

  • Donald

    Deacon: The peer-reviewed book alone that Bob links to provides a rather different answer.

    “In our fifteen denominational study, we have both present and “ever-divorced” rates of women and men Protestant clergy. Zikmund, Lummis, and Chang, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling (Westminster/John Knox. 1998, see chart p. 143).

    In doing the analysis of divorce trends — and “ever divorced” is a much better measure of divorce rate than “currently divorced” because remarriage obscures the true divorce rate — the Southern Baptist clergy had among the lowest ever-divorced rates (17% of the women, 4% of the men), and the American Baptists (19% women, 13% men) and Evan. Lutheran Church in America (19% women, 9% men) were about tied. The highest clergy divorce rate is found among the Unitarian Universalists (47% women, 44% men) with the other denominations in between.

    Although as far as I know there are no reliable statistics of lay divorce by denomination, however, the average clergy ever-divorced rate (24% women and 19% men) is comparable to the total lay “ever-divorced” rate most recently reported by the Census (this comparison was provided us by staff at the Associated Press). Or in other words, generally and in most denominations the clergy divorce rate is the same (not double, not half) the lay divorce rate. In those denominations with married clergy where usually or in many parts of this country, divorce spells the end of the pastor’s ministry, such as Southern Baptist, the clergy divorce rate is probably lower than the lay divorce rate.”

    I would have had more confidence in the Schaeffer study if they described the methodology at all and if it wasn’t contradicted by other sources– and, say, also appearing on the top 10 hits of the Google search for your keywords–which suggest that the Schaeffer Institute’s figures are off. Perhaps it caters to an unrepresentative demographic?

    “And considering Catholics are only a tiny minority when compared to all the Protestant churches that have a married clergy, the market for in depth looks at the actual situation of married clergy is much, much larger. ”

    I’m not sure what you mean. Inasmuch as the Roman Catholic Church is far and away the largest denomination in the United States with four times the recorded membership of the Southern Baptist Convention, coupled with strong transnational links and a very well-elaborated and ancient history as a single institution, concentrating on the RCC isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. Certainly it’s the largest denomination in the US where its priests must be celibate!

  • Conchúr


    Sarum is a post 1054 usage of the Roman Rite. It was/is a variant of the Roman Rite as celebrated in Normandy in the 11th-12th Centuries, thus it it developed in England after 1066.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Donald–I agree that there are disparities between various surveys. I tend to agree with the Schaeffer resuilts for a number of reasons.
    First, that it goes along with what I have heard from some Protestant ministers and some situations in my hometown.
    And second, because one of the surveys that had good divorce results for ministers mentioned that in many parts of America Protestant ministers usually get fired upon getting a divorce. That would, of course, gurantee a very good low divorce rate among sitting ministers.
    But, as a member of the Catholic Church’s married clergy, my intention was not to attack the concept of a married clergy, but to point out to the commenter on here who seemed to revel in attacking Catholic priests and celibacy, that there is no clerical nirvana to be obtained by throwing out the witness of total comittment to God and neighbor that ideally celibacy is.
    Married clergy and celibate clergy are all sinners in need of constantly emulating the publican who beat his breast in the temple and prayed “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

  • Passing By

    The interesting statistic would be the divorce rate among married Catholic priests, but the numbers are too small for a meaningful comparison. I do know of one divorce, however, and other problems that don’t happen with celibate clergy.

    The welcome of married priests varies from diocese to diocese. The largest parish in the diocese here is pastored by a married ex-Episcopalian (who’s previous job was chancellor of the diocese) and was originally built by a married ex-Episcopalian. Other married priests pastor large parishes here and in the next diocese and do other work in the dioceses. My own parish has thrived under one of these men.

    That said, celibacy is a discipline that has served the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church well. It doesn’t fit well in a sexually obsessed society (as reflected in its news and entertainment media), but as they say, that’s a feature, not a bug.