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Debate: Should married former Anglicans be allowed to become priests?

As an ordinariate looks set to be established by next week, the debate about married priests reopens

By on Friday, 7 January 2011

A former Episcopalian priest kisses his wife after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A former Episcopalian priest kisses his wife after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

With three ex-Anglican bishops received into full communion at the start of the year, the ordinariate project is rapidly moving forward. But their ordination to the priesthood due to be held on January 15 has re-opened the debate about married priests.

Although Anglicanorum coetibus lays down that an ordinariate will only allow celibate priests as a rule, in the tradition of the Latin Rite, the Ordinary can petition the Pope for the admission of married men “on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.”

Priestly celibacy is a discipline rather than a doctrine, and married priests are allowed in Eastern Rite Catholic churches, following their patrimony. As prior marriage is not a bar to a valid ordination, to deny these men the ability to become Catholic priests might be seen as denying the Church in England access to a much-needed influx of priests.

On the other hand, priestly celibacy is the tradition and the norm of the Latin Rite; as an ordinariate is part of the Latin Church it should conform to its tradition. The introduction of exceptions to that tradition might introduce discord among priests, with some resentful of the latitude given to others but not allowed to themselves.

So is it fair that married former Anglicans are allowed to become Catholic priests?

  • Agatha Runcible

    I have no problem with former Anglican priests becoming RC priests. We can afford to be generous on a case by case basis. Celibacy is the tradition and discipline, after all, not doctrine *(though I am completely in favour of keeping priestly celibacy as the norm in the Latin Rite Church). Those who served as Anglican priests all their lives, believing themselves to be catholic priests and hoping against hope for Christian unity went into their ministry and their marriages in good faith. The expectation was that they could both be priests and husbands. Had they been living in the Catholic faith, they would have entered the priesthood knowing they would have to remain celibate, and might have lived their lives differently.

  • Horace Zagreus

    Yes, it is fair. Any priest who feels ‘resentful’ or jealous or anything but overjoyed that these men have come home should read the Prodigal Son again.

  • Anonymous

    Fairness has nothing to do with it.
    Rather : Is it wrong to do so ?

    It sets no precedent – it’s their cross – and ultimately it might be wrong to allow them to take such responsibilities on their shoulders.
    But charity goes beyond all demands for justice – His Holiness is called to ensure that right is done – I will not counter him in his attempt.

  • Wyrefarm

    It is claimed that a celibate priest is free to devote his whole self to his ministry and better serves his people than he could if he had a wife. My parish has had no priest for nearly a year, such is the shortage. Priests who have 3 or in one case 4 churches and their communities are travelling so we can have one Mass per week. How can they minister effectively? Two have had breakdowns due to overwork.

    If a married Anglican priest can minister effectively so can the men who were born Catholics and feel called to both priesthood and marriage. A married priest must be better than no priest.

  • St Alban

    Allowing maaried anglicans to be ordained as Catholic priests might have the unintended effect of conditioning the Church to the notion of married priests through the back door

  • cribGochWhitzend

    i i think the church would benifit from the insite of married priests

  • Anonymous

    Married ex-Anglicans have not set any precedent. They have been around for eighteen years. Both East & west eschew married bishops, however.

  • Jung7ant

    As the article mentioned, celibacy is not a doctrine. I don’t think faireness has anything to do with this matter. These Anglican preists chose to serve both priesthood and married life. As long as they have willingness and faith in themselves I don’t think mere tradition should prevent them from taking on their journey as Catholic preists. If any Roman Catholic priest feels resentful and jealous that would disappoint me greatly because I feel like they should welcome them instead of trying to get even with them for the lack of choice they had.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I think the Church would benefit from priests who performed their pastoral duties and responsibilities ‘being a member of every family; yet belonging to none’ as Lacordaire said.

    Too many Conference decisions and diocesan pastoral announcements are made by people [clerical and lay] who declare they wish to place the family and the community at the heart of their ministry – without having a bloody clue what they’re talking about.

    Priests: Start visiting your parishioners again!!!

  • CBar

    I don’t like the idea of married priests at all. Firstly, who’s to say a man wouldn’t decide to become an Anglican priest first so that he can convert and be married? Secondly, I think it is bad for celibate Priests and creates morale/isolation issues. Thirdly, there are all sorts of practical problems that come into play (the time the Priest has for his parishioners vs. his family, the “salary” issue, “problem” children, etc.) We Catholics believe that you either have a vocation to the single life, marriage, or the priesthood/religious. Marriage and Priestly duties cannot be reconciled. You either devote your life to God, or you devote your life to your spouse/children. There’s an inherent problem in saying that you can “have it all”.

  • CBar

    I agree. While priestly celibacy may not be “doctrine”, many (if not all) enemies of the Church would like to abolish this practice. They don’t like the idea of people actually living in this world and not engaging in sexual behavior. They also see it as a first step to bringing in women “priests”.

  • Rich

    The more important question is: can they preach, inspire and lead their people??

  • Jack B

    Fair to whom? Perhaps to many. The Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church didn’t establish its tradition of clerical celibacy until about half way through its life on earth. It already has thousands of married priests (priests forever) who were born, raised, and ordained in the Church but are forbidden to perform as normal clergy because they are married. The Pope has declared his strong view on celibacy for priests, but it is not very strong for some, as this month’s welcoming of Anglicans shows. According to the Bible, celibacy was not required of those whom Jesus would pick as His closest disciples and charge with carrying on the faith. The confusion in the Church’s incorporation of celibacy, and on the implied clerical chastity, is such that the ordination of former Anglicans may become the spark that ignites the celibacy reform that seems increasingly inescapable. That could be more than fair to many.

  • Irishfrench01

    i believe that there should be a consistent rule re having celibacy or not having it.

    for the Latin rite the tradition is not to have married priests. this should be followed

    and not admitting married anglican ministers

  • Alan M

    All of the Apostles were married. Why not their successors?

  • CBar

    “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

  • CBar

    Jesus told his Apostles to leave their families and “follow Me”.

  • RJS

    “leave their families”, surely you aren’t suggesting that Jesus was supporting abandoning wives and children.

  • Christopher

    So, are you saying that our Easter Rite Catholic clergy are less committed than those of the Latin Rite? Your comment that marital and priestly duties cannot be reconciled is nonsense. Whilst there are many wonderful Latin Rite clergy, living alone can – can – cause a priest to seek comfort in other ways such as alcohol or (as in the case of one dear friend) spend parish money on luxuries for himself.

  • Christopher

    For many hundreds of years, the whole Church allowed married men to be ordained and that ancient tradition was kept in the East after the Great Schism; it was also maintained by Eastern Rite Catholic clergy and these clergy are as devoted as any in the Latin (Roman) Rite.

    Celibacy is not mandated by divine law; it is a human discipline and one which has been a blessing in many ways. However, there are a increasing number of Catholic communities (particularly in developing nations) which hardly see a priest. In other words, the human discipline of celibacy is being given priorty over the right of Catholics to participate in the Mass in accordance with Christ’s command. This is clearly wrong.

  • Douglas Pearson

    I think that this situation will only exist for a generation and is inevitable during this transition.

    Any married Latin rite man who is jealous of this special situation rather than grateful to God for the opportunity to begin healing a 500 year schism is far to self centered for Holy Orders anyway.

  • catholicdavid

    Nevertheless Jesus nipped back to heal Peter’s mother-in-law….

  • frater sejunctus

    If the new structure will not continuously allow for the admission into training for ordination of married seminarians (not simply of former Anglican clergymen who happen to be married), then not a whole lot of the “Anglican patrimony” will have been retained, n’est-de pas?

  • frater sejunctus

    You just basically unchurched the 22 Eastern rites that, after all, form part of the Roman Catholic Church!

  • Vmanning

    In for a penny,in for a pound. Stay married, stay out of the priesthood. While the issue will only remain an “issue” for one generation, the negative effect on Catholic identity isn’t worth it. A cup of sour milk added to a gallon of whole yields 17 cups of spoiled milk. I don’t question the wisdom of Anglicanorum C., but it should never serve as a means of diluting Roman Catholic identity

  • Stephen

    If a doctor, and a priest, are called out in the middle of the night to someone who is very ill, then as far as I know, nobody uses this scenario to suggest that doctors may not marry, so that they are available for their patients all the time.

  • PhilipH

    Having had a married ex-Anglican as priest in charge of our parish for the last four years, my answer would be absolutely yes, they should be admitted. It would be incongruous now to refuse future married ex-Anglican priests to join the Catholic priesthood.

  • Anonymous

    This, of course, is the whole point. It’s the same agenda as the permanent married deacons agenda (an entirely novel “order” in the Church) – it’s an all out assault on the celibate priesthood.

    And PhilipH having stood aside waiting for a friend who wanted to speak to HER ex-Anglican Parish Priest while his wife looked on, I say NO!

    For a million reasons, no. A man’s wife and family must come before everything else. Do we really want to see notices posted on church doors to the effect that there’s no Mass (or should that be “service”) today since mummy and daddy are having a day out with the kids?

  • Anonymous

    And PhilipH having stood aside waiting for a friend who wanted to speak to HER ex-Anglican Parish Priest while his wife looked on, I say NO!

  • guest

    As I understand it, for a married man to become a Catholic priest he still has to take a vow of celibacy, with the agreement of his wife. As do married men ordained to the permanent diaconite. If not, the whole idea of a celibate clergy could not last long.

  • guest

    However, It would be good to hear from someone who is actually in the situation who could clarify that.

  • Anonymous

    Or maybe an Anglican “cleric” who insists on being ordained and living the life of a married man, might show how much healing the 500 year old schism means to him by looking for a real, good old fashioned job!

  • Anonymous

    Celibacy is NOT a “human discipline” – it is inherent in the priesthood. This “for many hundreds of years” baloney won’t wash. From the very beginning, the apostles gave up “everything” to follow Christ. The apostolic Tradition for celibacy dates right back to Christ and His first priests. Live with it.

  • Anonymous

    Those apostles who may have been married, lived celibate lives following their call to the priesthood. There’s a brilliant essay on this somewhere on the Catholic Truth blog, written by a priest, who evidences from Scripture the fact that no wife would have been able to manage (or would want to put up with) the itinerant lifestyle required of the first apostles of Christ.

    Celibacy isn’t a terminal illness, you know. In fact, most of the people I know who are miserable, are in “relationships” or married!

  • Anonymous

    Got it in one.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and note, there was no mention of a wife.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s not presume that all the apostles were married. Peter was probably married but perhaps widowed. In any event, there are marriages where there is no sexual intimacy. It’s not mandatory and some such marriages – called Josephat marriages (after the chaste marriage of St Joseph and Our Lady) – even exist in our own times. So, it’s quite possible to be married, take care of wife and family, but live the celibate life required of a priest.

    Only worldlings find that odd. And, remember, those first apostles were in the actual Presence of Christ, with a hugely important mission for the world and the Church. It’s not really that surprising that they were called to give up everything for God – nor that they responded wholeheartedly. As I say, only worldlings, ruled by the sensual, would find that odd. They’re not thinking with the mind of Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Spot on.

  • Anonymous

    It is simply not true to say that the Church didn’t establish the tradition of celibacy for a long time. See my post above – celibacy has been there from the very beginning. Christ was celibate and He is the model for the priesthood. The first apostles were celibate. See above.

    And even I can see the difference between a married Anglican cleric in an exceptional situation (although I still would not permit it) and allowing a Catholic priest who has engaged in illicit affairs, lived a lie/double life, abandoned his people – and now wants back to have his cake and eat it. No way.

  • Anonymous

    Billy Graham could preach, inspire and lead his people. That means nothing.

  • Anonymous

    The Easterns had a conference a few years ago where they lamented their married priesthood, said it had been a mistake and wished they could turn the clock back. I’ve spent ages trying to find a link without success, but believe me, I read that and it is true.

    A man has to put his family first. That is a given. Do you really want priests who have your soul way down their list of priorities?

  • Anonymous

    The Easterns had a conference a few years ago where they lamented their married priesthood, said it had been a mistake and wished they could turn the clock back. I’ve spent ages trying to find a link without success, but believe me, I read that and it is true.

    I don’t know if CB is saying that the Eastern Rite clergy are less committed than celibates, but I’m saying that. Obviously.

    Sacrificing marriage and family puts the Catholic priesthood way up there – to have a foot in both camps is no big deal. Better to find a real job and join the Legion of Mary for your spiritual kicks.

  • Anonymous

    The article is misleading to talk about celibacy not being “doctrine.” Attending Mass on Sundays is mandatory, but that’s not “doctrine” – it’s Church law which is so important because it’s tied to two commandments, the worship of God and keeping holy the Sabbath.

    Celibacy is central to the Catholic priesthood for a number of reasons, not least because Christ revealed it – through His own example – as being His will.

    Is that not reason enough?

  • Anonymous

    18 years if no time at all. This scandal of ordaining married Anglicans is a breach (yet another breach) with Catholic Tradition.

  • Anonymous

    That, as I said in my very first post here, is the whole point. That’s what the moderns want. They’re weakening the priesthood. If it’s not by the imposition of daft lay people giving our Holy Communion and reading (usually unintelligibly) the Scriptures, then it’s by allowing married ex-Anglican clerics. And they wonder why young boys are not rushing to the seminaries! Those that are left, that is. Seminaries, I mean, not young boys…

  • Anonymous

    Spot on, again. I like you.

  • Anonymous

    Well, what we need to do there is look at why young men are not attracted to the priesthood. It’s not the celibacy issue, because the traditional seminaries, such as the SSPX are full to overflowing. There are waiting lists for traditional seminaries, I’m told. Ditto Religious Orders in the Traditional mould.

    Hint, hint

  • Anonymous

    Well, since the Pope cannot make mistakes in any which way whatsoever, what can anyone say to that?

  • Anonymous

    It’s a very silly argument to say that the celibate priests are “resentful” or “jealous” – don’t be daft. They are, rightly, concerned at the erosion of a jewel in the Church’s crown, our Christ-imitation celibate priesthood.

    I hope all you folks who are keen on a married clergy are ready to put your money where your unthinking mouths are because you’re going to have to feed these priests’ families. Unless of course their wives are on the pill. Oh and what about the disruption to parish life when the divorces start to pile up.

    Stop thinking like a bunch of Tablet readers. Where on EARTH is your Catholic sense? I could say the very same thing, of course, to the author of this blog article.