Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I feel that I am in a unique position to comment on married priests in the Catholic Church. I had for fourteen years a parochial vicar in Augusta who was married. We have them and we always have had them. The Eastern Rite of the Church has them to this day, but of course one has to be married first, prior to being ordained a priest. The Eastern Rite also has celibate priests usually monastics. There is a 2000 year tradition of married priests and the same for monastics.

Pope Pius XII allowed Lutheran ministers in Sweden to become married Catholic priests there, but it was an exception.

Pope Saint John Paul II allowed the "pastoral provision" in which disaffected Anglican/Episcopal married ministers could be ordained Catholic priests.

Augusta, Georgia in my diocese has been ground zero for married priests. We have a small Greek Catholic parish there (Eastern Rite/Byzantine). Their current priest is married. Their previous priest now in Atlanta was married and their previous priest to them was married (now deceased, Fr. Daniel Munn).

Fr. Daniel Munn was a former Episcopal minister. He was one of the first ordained under the Pastoral Provision. After being ordained for our diocese, he was allowed to become bi-ritual. Thus he became the pastor of the Greek Catholic Church, but also remained the Parochial Vicar of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. I served with him almost 14 years.

I use to get upset that those Episcopalians, Lutherans and even Methodists who were married ministers could become married Catholic priests under this provision.

Why, you ask? Because technically, the only valid sacraments they have received are Baptism and Holy Matrimony. Their confirmation was invalid as was their ordinations in these separated denominations.  They were inquirers into the Full Communion of the Church and thus not only did they have to make a Profession of Faith as Catholics, they had to be re-Confirmed, make their First Holy Communion and then be ordained a deacon and then a priest after receiving the ministries of acolyte and lector and candidacy.

However, married Catholic men, completely initiated into the Church since childhood do not have the same pastoral provision which could and should be extended to them, perhaps men in the permanent diaconate.

So that's where I stand. Augusta still has two married Catholic priests, one a parochial vicar at our largest parish and the other bi-ritual, pastor of the Byzantine parish, but also a fill-in priest in the other parishes in Augusta. No one blinks an eye about it and it has enhanced the presbyterate in Augusta.


James said...

I agree with this entirely, especially the idea of opening up the priesthood to permanent deacons. I'm sure we've all known many deacons who would make excellent priests, and who would really help to relieve the pressures that many priests are currently under.

Another idea worth borrowing from the Anglicans is that of non-stipendiary ministers. There are plenty of priests who currently have a day job different to that of the average parish priest (the priest who married us spent 10 years as manager of a Catholic publishing firm before returning to parish work). So why not extend this principle by opening up the priesthood to men who work in different day jobs, and are willing and eager to minister for free in their spare time, or on a part time basis? Most vocations these days, I suspect, are men who have already worked in another field before their thoughts have turned to the priesthood; it ought to be possible for them to pursue both at the same time.

Either way, the solution to the vocations crisis seems to lie in encouraging middle-aged men to become priests, rather than in trying to recruit younger men (the pool just isn't large enough any more).

John Nolan said...

One problem is the priest in the photograph parading his wife and children still wearing the chasuble, a vestment which should only be worn for Mass. I would not be against the idea of married 'viri probati' of mature age and of higher education being ordained priests. They would no longer be responsible for children of school age which would impede their employment where needed. The administrative and financial side of parish life could be carried out by lay people.

They would also have had another career, so that the fact that they could not become bishops would not be a problem.

Too many permanent deacons, despite a long formation, are incapable of fulfilling the liturgical functions proper to their office. They cannot sing the Gospel, let alone the Exsultet.

By the way, those priests who 'left the priesthood to get married' in the 1970s and 1980s could return to active ministry. Holy Orders are a diriment impediment to matrimony, and so their 'marriages' are automatically null. All they would have to do is repent and put aside their concubines. But do we want them, despite a shortage of priests? Probably not.

gob said...

I agree totally, Fr. McD. (As is usually the case, I totally ignore Know-it-all-Knolan.)

Marie said...

I, a widow, have no problem going to confession to a married priest. [Our parish used to have one - a convert from Lutheranism - who was an excellent homilist and a great confessor.]

But at least one married woman I know said she'd rather not go to confession to him because:

"There are many things I couldn't even tell my husband. Why should I tell them to another woman's husband?"

Doodler said...

I speak as a married priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Our dispensations from clerical celibacy are individual dispensations from the Holy See and not a general concession. Those of us granted such a dispensation had to take an oath, before our Catholic ordination to the Diaconate (i.e. not just Priesthood) that, should our wife pre-decease us, life celibacy became an obligation.

DJR said...

There is certainly no problem theologically with married clergy, but there are certainly answers to the question of "What's the Problem?" included in the title here.

For those of us who are accustomed to married clergy (Ruthenian), the idea of married priests, particularly in the U.S., is not without problems.

First, there is the cost to the parish/eparchy, which obviously is higher.

Second, for those of the Roman Rite (not so much a problem for our Ruthenian parishes because they are generally small and we have a serious clergy shortage), what do you do with a married clergyman with a family but an unmarried associate pastor? Do they live in the same rectory? Problematic.

If not, then what? Two rectories? Expensive.

Third, married clergy from the old country is usually fine because the priest and his family are not Americans by birth and have not imbibed American ways. But, realistically, with the divorce rate in the U.S., even among Catholics, do Roman Rite Catholics want to start seeing divorced priests from among its native born clergy?

Not a very good idea.

There is already one such person. I believe he was in Mississippi.

Also, there is the issue of daily Mass. Married priests of the East don't offer liturgy daily, for obvious reasons.

Difficulties also occur when family obligations and priestly ones clash, e.g., "sick calls."

A married priesthood is not a bed of roses, and oftentimes unforeseen problems arise from it.

gob said...

DJR....what "obvious reasons"?

Anonymous said...

I think admitting married clergy from other faiths who become Catholic should be, as Pius XII stipulated, an extraordinary situation. I think having married clergy with a celibate clergy doesn't mix because there was no original choice for Catholic priests to be married or celibate before they took Holy Orders and as there are some priests who desire also to be married then there is a conflict. I think it has to be one or the other: a totally celibate priesthood or a choice to be married or celibate.

Having said that, I believe Christ called priests to be celibate as He was. The apostles left wives and family to follow him. The Catholic priesthood is unique in that the priests are married to Christ and His Church. They do not have the conflict of wives and family to interfere with their priesthood and the work they do with the laity. Married priests have said that this is a burden. Wives of Orthodox clergy have written that they don't have enough money to live on, that the laity looks at everything they have and that they come second best. So a married priesthood would not be without problems. I know one married deacon, for instance, who lived in a parish house, I believe he paid rent but the parishioners were forever commenting about whether the gardens were done, complaining that he had free rent (which I don't think was true) etc, so that is just a sample of what could happen if we had a married clergy supported by the Church.

The married deacons are not supported by the Church but have their own jobs. Now there is trouble with the married deacons apparently wanting a share of the diocesan clergy fund (as they maintain they are clergy), which is really for the support of priests in their retirement who have never been able to work and accrue a pension for themselves. The priests are naturally upset about this. So it is opening a can of worms I believe to have a married priesthood just as having married deacons is not without its snags and most Catholics don't want them officiating at baptisms and marriages anyway. Also, to see a deacon in clericals sitting in a car with his wife isn't a good look - for one it looks as if a priest is running around with a woman to those who aren't in the know.

DJR said...

gob said...DJR....what "obvious reasons"?

Historically, married Byzantine clergy who did not practice continency in marriage abstained from conjugal relations for a number of days before offering liturgy and receiving Holy Communion.

At my parish, we do not have daily liturgy, nor did we have it at my former parish, even though both priests were not married.

Some Byzantine parishes do have daily liturgy however.

The priest who taught iconography to my daughter:

He is married and has three beautiful children. Originally from Slovakia.

DJR said...

Another consideration: Not all married priests end up with good children. Where I'm originally from, the son of a local Ukrainian Catholic priest was indicted for rape. He admitted the conduct but stated that it was consensual. He was not prosecuted; however, any way you slice it, immoral conduct was involved, and it became public knowledge. Things like that tend to reflect badly on the Church, particularly among the Protestants.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - We do not know, because the Scriptures do not tell us, that when the Apostles answered the call to follow Jesus they separated from their wives and families, if they had them. I don't think we could believe that, in order to follow Him, Jesus would have asked his disciples to do such a thing. It would have been abandonment.

We do know, because the Scriptures do tell us, that bishops in the early Church could be married. "Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?" (1 Timothy 3:2-5)

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Thanks former PI for showing us how biblical fundamentalism works and what so many in the post-Vatican II Church, to include theologians and bishops, did and do when it come to fundamentalism and a desire to back to the early Church and impose that archaeologic interpretation on the Church today as though 2000 years of Tradition (capital T) had not occurred. It happened to our post Vatican II liturgy too, a biblical fundamentalism.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...


Anonymous said...

For Fr Kavanaugh's edification ancient tradition indicates that the apostles lived celibate lives following their call. We also have Luke 18:28-29:

Peter said: Behold, we have left all things, and have followed thee. [29] Who said to them: Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God' s sake, [30] Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.

That seems pretty clear and I am surprised, Fr Kavanaugh, that you aren't aware that is one of the scriptures that the Church refers to in relation to celibacy.

EWTN supplies the following answer:

"Christ, by remaining celibate, wrote Pope Paul VI, signified his total dedication to the service of God and men (The Celibacy of the Priest, June 24, 1967). If Christ found celibacy to be central to His service of God and man, we should not be surprised if He finds the same to be central to the lives of His priests; to those who act in Persona Christi.

There is a good article on celibacy which says that it dates back to the apostles and cite what the early saints had to say about it, so that is the early tradition of the Church that the apostles remained celibate after answering the call to follow Christ:

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - Luke 18:28-29 is situated within the context of the Lord's teaching on the conditions of discipleship, the danger of riches, and of allowing the things of this world to distract a disciple from spiritual things. It is not a teaching on celibacy of priests.

Pulling one passage out of context is proof-texting, and it usually leads to a misunderstanding of the passage in question, as it does here.

This passage is also not a command that requires priests to disassociate themselves from their families (parents and brethren.) I hope that all my brother priests relish the time they have with their families, that they find being with their families a source of grace and happiness, and that they see their families as often as possible.

Luke 18:28-29 has to be read along with its parallel periscopes, including Luke 14:26, “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” and Matthew 10:37, ““Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;…” and Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

If Luke 18:28-29 is understood to be a prescription for priestly celibacy, how do you explain the directives of 1 Timothy I cited earlier? If you believe that Luke 18 is properly read as a command for priests to be celibate, do you conclude that Luke got it right and that Paul, in 1 Timothy, got it wrong?

And what do you do with the ancient (apostolic) and venerable tradition of married priests in the Eastern Rites?

Claiming that mandatory celibacy “dates back to the apostles” is simply not correct, and is shown to be incorrect by Paul’s first letter to Timothy.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Church law allows a man in a sacramental marriage to become a priest and promise celibacy by mutual agreement of a separation of the spouses and if there are no minor children who need care and the wife can support herself independent of the husband. One can even enter an enclosed monastery with these things in place.

gob said...

So many of these things shine a spotlight on the incredible hangups and obsessions that the Catholic church has with S E X. Married men prohibited from sex with their wives....leaving their wives behind to go to a monastery....My God....I'm surprised that Adam and Eve weren't pressured into a vow of celibacy....(Then there's the question of who the mother of the next generation was....but that's for another day...) Too bad all babies can't be conceived by the Holy Ghost. Then everybody could be celibate and there would never be another orgasm. Happy days are here again....

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

GOB you sound like a child of the 1960's sexual revolution. Most people have sex, yes it is true, but a goodly number forsake it for the kingdom of God, even in married life, I know plenty who abstain for this, that or the other reason. Chasity is not a four letter word, although I know the me generation thinks so. Jesus' was a celibate and is the role model for Chasity. He inherited the gift from his mother's side of the family but His Father gave Him the ability.

gob said...

God gave Adam and Eve the ability, the desire and instructed them to have sex. (Consecrated Virgin?....different strokes for different folks....)

This discussion gets pretty ridiculous if you factor in evolution....Are you a creationist?

Tips on who the mom of the next generation was?

From 1957 to 1968 my wife and I had 8 children. Call us children of the sexual revolution if you wish.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Fecundity is a blessing and having eight increases the odds that at least one of them will look after you in your old age if you become incapacitated. If you only had one, no telling what would happen. I hope too that you treasure each of them as a gift from God and any grandchildren and greats too. Sounds like, though, you didn't need the sexual revolution to help you along!

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

There could have been incest you know which we don't want to think about but then we can think about the first first few chapters of Genesis as pre-historic and a literary form to convey religious truths about the People of Israel who sinned originally and over and over again, but God's mercy does not deplete.

Anonymous said...

"There could have been incest..."? Among/Between who?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Mother son

gob said...

We could also accept that humans evolved over many millions of years and that the story of Adam and Eve is wonderful, symbolic Biblical myth, (Like Johah and the whale and Noah's ark) and not world history.

Anonymous said...

Incest between mother and son is contrary to Natural Law. Are you suggesting that Natural Law did not apply in the Garden of Eden?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

After the fall! After kicked out--maybe beastiality with an ape?

DL said...

The biggest problem with married priests is money, money, money. The average parishioner will have to double or triple his weekly donation to support a priest with a family. The good Father's kids turn 16 and want cars. Who's gonna pay for the cars? The Archdiocese? Not likely. The parishioners will. Likewise when they go to college. The parishioners will be paying the tuition. And what if Father and his wife have a special night planned, but horrors, a parishioner needs the priest for sacraments, perhaps last rites. Wifey says, no, I had my heart set on tonight. The parishioner has to locate another priest, perhaps not in time. There is a reason God in His wisdom, made the priesthood celibate.

gob said...

"God" didn't make the priesthood celibate.

Anonymous said...

If incest is contrary to Natural Law, it was so by nature, not due to the "Fall."

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, I accept what the Church has taught down through the centuries, obviously you don't. You have even the words of Pope Paul that you choose to ignore. One wonders then why you entered the priesthood and became a priest if you didn't believe in celibacy. Then to me you appear to have wasted your life.

It is clearly stated in Matthew 19:12

"For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."

Please put that into context if you will ...

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - What you think the Church has taught "down through the centuries" is simply wrong.

In the days our Lord walked on the earth, priests - and apparently episcopoi (bishops) - were married. Peter's mother-in-law was cured by the Lord. You don't have a mother-in-law unless you are married.

Paul advises that if a bishop is married, it must be to one wife only.

Karl Keating, from the EWTN website: "Fundamentalists, and even some Catholics, are surprised to learn that celibacy has not been a rule for all Catholic priests. In the Eastern Rites, married men can be ordained; this has been the custom from the first."

You can assert all you want that mandatory celibacy has been taught down through the centuries, but the facts show that this is not the case.

As to whether or not my ministry as a priest has been a waste, I will leave that to the people to whom I have ministered to decide.

Pater Ignotas Was My Pastor said...

I tend to agree with Jan about PI's ministry.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

PI Was My Pastor - Post you name. Till then, you're just another reader from Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, where do I assert that mandatory celibacy was taught down the centuries? What I have stated is that it is the tradition of the Church that the apostles were celibate from the time they answered the call to follow Christ. I again question why you chose to become a priest when you appear not to believe in celibacy. If that is indeed the case then it appears to me that you have followed the wrong calling.

Pater Ignotas Was My Pastor said...

Never been to Singapore in my life. Depending on your frame of reference, I'm located either in an oriental or occidental direction from the Road to Singapore. I'll give you a hint...a famous son of my city who's nickname had religious, sacramental, and spiritual overtones had a hit single in 1968 that clearly tells the name of my place.