I said, “Well, when a man and a woman really love each other…”
Seriously. I have a wife and four children. And I’m a Catholic priest. “Whaaat? How did you do that?” is the first response.
In the 1970′s a group of Episcopalian priests wrote to Rome asking if they could be ordained as Catholic priests even though they were married. They were aware that a precedent had been set in the 1950s when a small group of Swedish Lutheran pastors converted and were ordained. By the early 1980s the Pastoral Provision had been set up. This was a mechanism whereby a local bishop could apply to Rome for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy for suitably qualified former Anglican priests.
The Pastoral Provision continues its work for men who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church and be ordained. Since then the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter has been erected here in the United States. This follows on from the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus which provided for the Anglican Ordinariate. This is a new structure which allows Christians from the Anglican tradition to have their own churches, their own liturgy, even their own seminaries and religious orders. Their pastor is called an ‘Ordinary’ because he may be a married former Anglican priest. He is not ordained as a bishop although he can wear episcopal regalia. Married former Anglican priests may also be ordained by their local Latin rite bishop for service in the Ordinariate. They will then be incardinated to the Ordinariate.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Were you ever received into the Catholic Church then left? Same thing as number 4. Being guilty of formal schism or apostasy is an impediment to ordination.
- 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. In fact, you’ll have to have the marriage sorted out before you are received into the Catholic Church. 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.
- 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.”
What kind of turbulence? There are lots of problems. Many Catholic bishops still don’t know about the Pastoral Provision. They’re worried that they won’t be able to support a married man with children. They can hardly keep up with all the different stripes of Catholic–much less know about all the many different Protestant groupings. The bishop might be liberal and suspect the convert is a dangerous conservative, or the bishop might be conservative and be opposed to the idea of married priests. There may be delays with paperwork, personality clashes, financial insecurities.
I waited ten years before the door opened for ordination. If you’re thinking of going this route be prepared for a bumpy ride.