Could I Be A Married Catholic Priest?

Some time ago a woman from New Jersey was visiting the parish and over a cup of coffee in the parish center said, “Father, I hear you have four children. How did that happen?”

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:

  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 4. 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. 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.
  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.”

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.

 

  • vladyk

    Father you’re forgetting rule #8:
    Join one of the Eastern Catholic Churches that are fully recognized by the Pope but which have married priests. Switching rites if you’re Roman Catholic is always possible. Given that this is a normal way for married men to become priests in the Catholic Church shouldn’t this really be rule #1?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Changing rites for this purpose is discouraged, and in the USA I believe a good number of the Eastern Rite Churches also do not allow the ordination of married men.

      • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

        All ‘allow’ it but some are reluctant- and do it on a ‘case by case basis, sort of giving up their sui iuris status and just leaving it to Rome (like the Ruthenian Catholics)

      • Jack

        The Melkite Church I attend has a married priest.

        There are several other married Eastern Catholic priests in my American city, as well as at least one married Latin priestr.

      • Ben

        In the past 20 years the Eastern Catholic Churches in the US have been changing regarding the issue of married priests. For many years, the idea that a celibate priesthood was the better practice was promoted (part of the latinization of the Eastern Catholic Churches) and even mandated by law outside of their traditional “canonical territories.” In the past few years, however, the Catholic Church has affirmed that the Eastern tradition of a married clergy is equal in honor as the tradition of celibacy in the Western Church. As it stands now, in countries where the Latin Rite Bishops do not object, Eastern Catholic Bishops can ordain married men to the priesthood after getting a dispensation from Rome. The Ukrainian Catholics in Canada and the US have the most married priests these days. The Melkites are catching up. It’s not clear, however, if a married man has transferred from the Latin Rite to an Eastern Church if that might present a problem for his receiving a dispensation from Rome or not. Of course, dispensations are not needed if the ordination takes place in the “canonical territory” of the Eastern Church — such as Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

      • http://www.bishopleland.org Most Rev. Leland Lannoye

        If I were to speak my mind your server might crash. Don’t know why anyone would wish to get involved with the rats’ nest of conundra that lurk within the Vatican’s vocational mismanagement and false promises. I had a ruined adolescence over the conflict between desire and self-serving agenda (This word is plural, the singular is agendum).

        Whenever I sign correspondence with any Roman Catholic priest or prelate I always add “the boy thrown away” because that is exactly what they did.

    • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

      Vladyk- http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com/2012/02/quaeritur-can-i-change-rite-become.html I suppose if a man is called to change rites FIRST- but many bishops frown on this ‘tactic’- a man should discern celibacy or marriage first and then go from there- the tradition of his rite will determine the next possibility

  • Vladyk

    Father,

    Sure it’s discouraged, but you don’t have to explicilty state that as being the sole reason. Still it’s the only realistic way of going about becoming a married Catholic preist. The Melkites have recently, in fact, started ordaining men to the priesthood citing lack of vocations as the reaosn.

    I do have a question about the Anglican ordinariates though; have they formulated(officially or unofficially) any concrete rules concerning ordaining married men in the future? I know that Anglicanorum Coetibus states that it will be decided on a case by case basis. That sounds very vague. Has anything more definite been said?

    • savvy

      You cannot join the Eastern rite unless you like their spirituality. They are theologically quite different from the Latin rite, such as no filioque, purgatory, different teaching on original sin etc. You have to also spend a year attending an Eastern Catholic church.

      • Vladyk

        I know. I even know people who’ve done it.(not so that they could be married and ordained to the priesthood though).

        Another plus of the Eastern rites besides married priests is that their liturgies tend to be much prettier than what you tend to get at your local Roman parish(i’ve never seen a Byzantine-rite church that looked like a 1980s talk show set), and if you like ethnic food(e.g. slavic, middle eastern) then it’s a match made in Heaven.

        • savvy

          Yes, the liturgies have a sense of the sacramental, that the Western liberals worked to get rid off. Hence causing the current confusion on thinking the sacraments can be subject to one’s opinions.

  • Don

    Just a quick response about Eastern Catholic theology. Catholic theology is Catholic theology – there are not two separate Churches (i.e. Latin/Western Catholic and Eastern Catholic). The doctrines in the Catholic Catechism are held by all rites of the Catholic Church, as they could not be in communion with the Holy See otherwise. A Ukrainian Catholic, Maronite Catholic etc believes in purgatory, although they may sometimes use the phrase “final purification” or similar phrase. As well, the Eastern Catholics do not emphasize the idea of temporal time in purgatory as Latin Rite Catholics have sometimes had a tendency to do. It’s true that at Divine Liturgies the Nicene Creed does not include the filoque, but as they are in communion with Rome it must therefore be theologically alright.

    • savvy

      Don,

      They don’t have a different dogma. But, the differences can be confusing if someone does not understand the different approaches to theology, in the East and West.

      The Eastern Orthodox for instance keep insisting that Rome adopt the exact Eastern view on these issues.

      • Fr. John

        That is one of the main differences between us (the Orthodox) and the Eastern Catholics. There are very real theological differences between us and the Roman Catholic Church.

        The Eastern Catholics cannot have any theological differences with Rome, but only differences of terminology.

  • http://CatholicLeft.blogspot.com CatholicLeftwinger

    Actually Father, this is rather too simplistic. If point 3 is true, then Monsignor Broadhurst (former Bishop of Fulham) and at least 2 OLW priests would not have been ordained. If you were baptised a Catholic but left as a youngster, perhaps due to your parents, then you can be considered for Ordination.
    As for point 6, my best mate had to go through an annulment process for his wife’s first marriage before he was received 6 years ago. He was ordained into the Ordinariate last year.
    Simple isn’t always right Father.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Quickly read is not always best. If you had read point 4 (not actually point 3 as you said) I wrote that apostasy “usually” presents an obstacle to ordination. I had Fr Broadhurst and others like him in mind. Your second point is correct and I have clarified the fact that an irregular marriage needs to be put right even before the person is received.

  • http://CatholicLeft.blogspot.com CatholicLeftwinger

    I of course meant point 4. I still think it needs spelling out better Father. I didn’t read it quickly, I read it with my ‘what would most people thought it meant’ head on.
    That aside – we met when you lived over here in the UK and I have used your books on dialogue with Evangelicals as a teaching tool – I still enjoy rereading the dialogue.

  • Ken Jones

    Well, anyway, we’re glad youre here.

  • http://CatholicLeft.blogspot.com CatholicLeftwinger

    I would be interested in knowing what the “real theological differences” are as, beyond the filoque and questions of marriage/remarriage, I am not sure. It seems to me that both Rome and Constantinople have theoligised (awful word) political differences.

    • Fr. John

      Theological differences would include:

      1) A very real difference over the filioque (“from the Father, through the Son” or “from the Father and the Son as from one principle”?).

      2)A difference understanding of authority and primacy in the Church.

      3) The essence/energies distinction. The Orthodox patrisitic understanding of this issue is at odds with the Thomistic understanding in several key ways:
      a) Aquinas makes no distinction between God’s essence and His energies, whereas for the Orthodox, the distinction is of prime importance.
      b) Aquinas (and the whole Catholic teaching of the “beatific vision”) says that, after death, the blessed will see God *in His essence*, which we would say is impossible for any created being.
      c) Aquinas denies the possibility of real knowledge of God in this life, because he says that our bodies hinder us from such knowledge. For the Orthodox, there is no distinction between this life and the next life in terms of ability to know God, and our physical bodies (and physical eyes) participate in the deification that God gives freely and become sanctified.

      Besides that, there are some liturgical and practical differences that would hinder any reunion. While certainly some good things came from Vatican II, the fact that it is now common to see laypeople distributing communion in the Catholic Church (and at hospitals), guitars and Protestant hymns used during mass, the loss of a patristic understanding of ascesis as the work of the Christian, etc are all things that would need to be fixed for meaningful dialogue to occur.

      In Christ,
      Fr. John

  • jeff

    How about my brother and I who were baptized as Anglicans and both converted in our 20s? We are both now married (currently in our 30s), have been Catholics for the past 8 years, and are interested in the Ordinariate when it gets established in Australia. I, for one, do not have a vocation at this time (my family is young and growing as is my brother’s) but if in 20 years my children largely keep the faith (as the Bible mamdates) and I feel a call then what about then?

    I would appreciate your thoughts.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The default setting for the Anglican Ordinariate is still celibacy for priests. However already married and ordained men may be given permission to be ordained for service in the Ordinariate after the convert to the Catholic faith. If you are married but not ordained you will not be eligible for ordination.

      • jeff

        Have another read of Ang Coet. There is one paragraph that talks about married Anglican priests seeking ordination in the Ordinariate and then there is a different paragraph talking about the possibility of the ordination (on a case-by-case basis of course) of married candidates to the priesthood, with no mention of their being Vicars before swimming the Tiber.

        It would seem that Mother Church has opened up the possibility of priesthood as a married man to me and accordingly I should humbly discern my response in the face of that. It is not something I have tried to snatch but an option that lies before me.

        That is, unless there’s something I’ve completely missed….

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          You are correct that the possibility is there, but we will have to see how it pans out. Some think it would be used only in rare circumstances–for example a married man who is already in the process of Anglican ordination and converts….

          • JG

            Fr. Daniel Lloyd, ordained this weekend in the UK along with Fr. James Bradley, is close to a test case, in that he was a married Anglican deacon, but not a priest, before leaving CoE and entering the Ordinariate.

            Msgr. Keith Newton in La Stampa: “There is within the Apostolic Constitution a wonderful passage which says that ‘the ordinary may petition a derogation’ to ordain a person who is married but has never been an Anglican priest, according to the particular criteria that have been agreed with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We haven’t done that yet, but there is a possibility. It won’t be used very often but there is a possibility that it can happen. There is one person who was never ordained but who was in an Anglican theological college: I think he’s got a good basis for petitioning for ordination, as he was going to college and preparing for ordination before the Apostolic Constitution came out.”

            http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage/world-news/detail/articolo/anglicani-anglicans-anglicanos-united-kingdom-gran-bretana-gran-bretagna-13118//pag/1/

  • jeff

    If you were to change Rites you would have to do it because you love the spirituality of that Rite. You would have to take to it like a duck to water–deeply imbibing the liturgy, devotions, and major spiritual and theological writers first before a vocation as a married would be thinkable.

    Jesus doesn’t simple call guys to leave the Latin Rite for the purposes of ordination in an Eastern Rite. He doesn’t call people to cop out. He won’t call you to cop out of the Latin Rite discipline of priestly celibacy. You would have to have so changed your outlook, spiritual posture and dynamic such that any married priestly call were made to the very beating heart of everything that that Rite is and embodies.

    Also, if there where any whiff of a rumour that you had changed rites just to circumvent the Latin celibate priesthood rule your application would be roundly rejected–as it bloody well should be!

  • Conor Dugan

    Dear Fr John,

    I was wondering if you can suggesting any good readings that delve into the differences you mention. Specifically this quoted part:

    “3) The essence/energies distinction. The Orthodox patrisitic understanding of this issue is at odds with the Thomistic understanding in several key ways:
    a) Aquinas makes no distinction between God’s essence and His energies, whereas for the Orthodox, the distinction is of prime importance.
    b) Aquinas (and the whole Catholic teaching of the “beatific vision”) says that, after death, the blessed will see God *in His essence*, which we would say is impossible for any created being.
    c) Aquinas denies the possibility of real knowledge of God in this life, because he says that our bodies hinder us from such knowledge. For the Orthodox, there is no distinction between this life and the next life in terms of ability to know God, and our physical bodies (and physical eyes) participate in the deification that God gives freely and become sanctified.”

    I’d really love to know about the Eastern understanding of how we know God.

    Thanks,

    Conor

  • Nigel

    There is at least one case in the UK, and there may be others in the US, where a married Anglican deacon who converted to the Catholic faith is by dispensation now a Roman Rite diocesan priest. Rome will look at these things on a case by case basis.

  • Janet

    First of all, I am overjoyed that you are a part of the Catholic Church! I do have a logistical question about property. I was taught that priests were once married, but because of abuses of priests giving church property to their offspring though their wills that this was discontinued. Can you verify? If so, how does a married priest leave a monetary legacy for their children and/or widow? I know the Diocese takes care of retired priests. What about families of married priests? Thank you so much.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The problem with married priests leaving property to their heirs was that they were leaving church property to their heirs. A married priest may do as he see fit with his own personal property.

  • Father Kevin Lee

    Sorry but all I read here are rules, rules, exclusions, exceptions and more restrictions. Sadly, that sounds all so pharisaic and similar to the Jewish version of religion that our Lord came to overturn! More sad, if you can’t see that. Its no wonder that many people are turning away from this, “I am better than you” religion, especially when I saw your point 2 demeaning Podonck Bible College (I know it doesnt exist) but it is obviously a slight on anyone attending protestant bible schools. The Apostles had no formal education, attended no seminaries yet Jesus (whose church it is) did not hesitate to ordain them priests of His Church at the Last Supper. Surely, the elitism of the Catholic Church that determines who is and isn’t worthy to exercise its esteemed office of clergy based on their ability to appear celibate (except when the numbers drop and we will accept suitably sycophantic married Anglicans willing to be subservient to our strict theological & anal liturgical rigidity). And yes, I am a priest and yes I am married. I came to this site to see how others might become one, but all I see is “Sorry you have no hope.. Na na na na na.. !”

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for visiting the blog and taking time to comment. I am not clear about your situation, but from what you have written I am assuming you are presently a member of a Protestant denomination of some sort. Before you were to consider applying for ordination as a Catholic priest you would need to be received into full communion with the Catholic church. My post was not meant to demean anyone, but to point out the process for those who were considering the possibility of ordination as a Catholic. If you wish to discuss this further, I would be happy to correspond with you by email about it. All blessings to you!

  • Aaron

    I know I’m late to this discussion, but I became Catholic shortly before getting married several years ago now. Even before beginning RCIA I felt drawn to service in the church. When I’m in a Catholic Church I feel home. Even then Protestant church I was brought up in, no longer feels like “home”. I know I could potentially be a Deacon, but after much prayer, I don’t feel that this is the path for me. I have tried to push away the feelings, because it is virtually impossible, but I have from the beginning felt called to the Priesthood. My wife has even joked that it is good that I was not originally a Catholic, because I would probably have entered the Priesthood. I love my wife and my children, but still feel so strongly about the Priesthood. Would it be a sin to pray for these feelings about the Priesthood to stop?

  • Dr. Kyle Gregory

    Dear Father,

    Echoing the comments of Father Kevin Lee, I also did not find the tone of your following comments to be
    constructive, but rather smacked of condescension:

    “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.”

    Can you see how things might be interpreted in this manner? Certainly you could make your essential points
    without conveying airs of superiority. You’ve been fortunate not to attend a two-year seminary or have to work at Home Depot.

    All blessings to you!

    JKG

  • Pat

    Blurring relationships of what are the most sacred known to mankind by allowing priests to be called Father rather than allowing children to distinguish between paternity, and use of those terms for others leaves children open to assault and relationship conflict unnecessary for them, and which leave them open to victim hood.

    Why Nina’s are called sister, while Priests are called Father makes no sense.

  • newenglandsun

    I suppose they could also convert to the Eastern Rite where married Catholic priests are allowed.


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