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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?

  • Anonymous

    In that case, they should have no problem switching to a Josaphat marriage – living celibate lives, as brother and sister with their wives.

  • Anonymous

    Why? We’re constantly being told that no two marriages are the same, that you can’t interfere in a marriage, that nobody really knows what goes on in any particular marriage.

    Talk about moving goalposts!

  • Anonymous

    Got it.

    I’m told that the term we use as a mini swear word (“bloody”) is rooted in a medieval exclamation “by Our Lady…” – which the Reformers turned into a swear word – thought you might want to know that, paulpriest.

  • CBar

    “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?”

    Well said. By Catholic definition, a man’s utmost priority in marriage is to ensure that his spouse gets to Heaven. That requires a lot of time, effort, and commitment! Of course, the openness to having children is a requirement of marriage as well – which only adds to the attention a man must give to his family.

    The utmost priority of a Priest is to get his flock to Heaven! You might say “well, his wife and kids are part of his flock, so what’s the difference?” But there’s a big difference. To properly and conscientiously ensure the safety of his flock, a Priest must work tirelessly around the clock, even to the point of self sacrifice. This is what the IDEAL Priest does. And shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to shoot for the ideal?!

    The Eastern Rites legitimately have married priests – but that is no argument against the inherent contradictions that remain. Let’s not shoot ourselves in our own feet by doing away with the celibate priesthood. It will do none of us any good. It is thanks to the prayers, fasting, and sacrifices of celibate priests that this world is held together at all. We need more of them – not less.

    PS – If a Priest is doing everything he should be doing, he will have woefully insufficient time for his wife and children. How is that fair to them?! It’s not. And what happens when the wife gets resentful and wants to divorce him? Then what? We’ll be ok with divorced priests?

  • Doodler

    St Peter (First Pope) had a mother-in-law. Presumable he had a wife. Or perhaps it was a celibate marriage?

  • Doodler

    This is not so. Fact

  • kyriakos

    Well Horace, I don’t think it is right to call the Anglo-Catholics or those uniting priests as returning prodigal sons.It is narrow minded,ignorant(of Catholic theology) and triumphalistic. Most probably they are already good Christians who have found the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church.Moreover Catholic priests have to thank God for their call in to celibacy and be proud of that.Otherwise,we should doubt their commitment to it.

  • Kyriakos

    Well in the Syro-Malabar Church,Syro-Malankara Church and I think in the Ethiopian Catholic Church three ‘Sui iuris’ eastern Churches in communion with the bishop of Rome(Pope) celibacy in priesthood is mandatory

  • Anonymous

    movement was rooted in thew scdriptures, tradition and patristic theology. Perhaps we are seeing its fruition in these conversions. Pope Benedict is influenced by Newman. His theology, like that of Balthazar and De Lubac, who with Ratzinger founded Communio, is Ressourcement theology as it returns to these common sources. It sees Vatican II as following in the tradition (in the literal sense) of all the other councils. It rejects the liberal trajectory that some call the “spirit of Vatican II”. As such he is at one with the main thrust of the Anglo-Catholic movement in Anglicanism.

  • Anonymous

    movement was rooted in thew scdriptures, tradition and patristic theology. Perhaps we are seeing its fruition in these conversions. Pope Benedict is influenced by Newman. His theology, like that of Balthazar and De Lubac, who with Ratzinger founded Communio, is Ressourcement theology as it returns to these common sources. It sees Vatican II as following in the tradition (in the literal sense) of all the other councils. It rejects the liberal trajectory that some call the “spirit of Vatican II”. As such he is at one with the main thrust of the Anglo-Catholic movement in Anglicanism.

  • Anonymous

    This is not a break with tradition; it is a generous act by Pope Benedict. Perhaps he is an Anglo-Catholic pope. Yes, that is a provocative and ad hominem statement. However,the Oxford Movement was rooted in the scriptures, tradition and patristic theology. Perhaps we are seeing its fruition in these conversions. Pope Benedict is influenced by Newman. His theology, like that of Balthazar and De Lubac, who with Ratzinger founded Communio, is Ressourcement theology as it returns to these common sources. It sees Vatican II as following in the tradition (in the literal sense) of all the other councils. It rejects the liberal trajectory that some call the “spirit of Vatican II”. As such he is at one with the main thrust of the Anglo-Catholic movement in Anglicanism. I suspect the editor of the CT fears the influx of orthodox people, and clergy with high liturgical standards into the Catholic Church.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps, Doodler, St Peter was a widow (which many if not most scholars think) or maybe, he and his wife lived out a Josephite marriage after being called to sacrifice everything for Christ. It’s really only our generation that is sex-obsessed and thinks it’s impossible to live without sex – previous generations, especially, I would imagine, those of the first century Christian community who actually knew and spoke to Our Lord, wouldn’t have thought it as big a deal as you clearly do. They may even have found out, to their joy, that there IS life after sex…

  • guest

    Doodler, How do you know?

  • Anonymous

    Oh really! First step to bringing in women priests? Why, precisely do you think these anglicans are seeking full communion? It is because as full faith Catholics they do not believe the synods have authority to change the male priesthood. Until now, they have bhope to bring the whole C of E. into the fold but the C of E has now opted for liberal protestantism. The supporters of women priests in the RC church deplore the entry of these ex-Angilcans, both married and single. Editor CT, you seem to merely echo the prejudices of certain writers in the Tablet. Is the CT Tablet Northern Edition?

  • Stephen

    IMO, they should be allowed to become Priests.
    Perhaps with a stipulation that should their spouse pass, they remain single after that.

    Celibacy is a ‘tradition’ that has only been required for about half of the life of the Church.
    It is not a ‘doctrine’ of the Faith and could be changed in relatively short order, should the Holy Father wish it.
    To disallow good men who wish to serve the Church as Priests that opportunity, and to disallow the Church
    Herself to do without these good men would be a travesty.

  • St Alban

    Fair point but I was turned down for the priesthood in 2008. there are still those interested in the vocation of the priesthood

  • Anonymous

    Leaving aside for a moment whether or not their marital status should prevent them practising as Roman Catholic priests, what about their formation? How will they give an adequate formation to people seeking to become Catholics if they have not had a proper grounding themselves in the teachings of the Catholic Church?

    The Ordinariate strikes me as a blatant shortcut and that alone should be enough to stop it in its tracks.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, that Billy Graham did this means a lot. The vibrancy of the “new movements” such as the highly orthodox Frranciscans of the Renewal are in that same tradition.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Absolutely spot on, leprechaun. I couldn’t agree more.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Will you stop saying that celibacy is a later invention of the Church? That is absolutely wrong. On the contrary, there is evidence that even the earliest Church fathers, such as St. Augustine, St. Cyril, and St. Jerome, fully supported the celibate priesthood. The Spanish Council of Elvira (between 295 and 302) and the First Council of Aries (314), a kind of general council of the West, both enacted legislation forbidding all bishops, priests, and deacons to have conjugal relations with their wives on penalty of exclusion from the clergy. Even the wording of these documents suggests that the councils were not introducing a new rule but rather maintaining a previously established tradition. In 385, Pope Siricius issued the first papal decree on the subject, saying that “clerical continence” was a tradition reaching as far back as apostolic times.
    While later councils and popes would pass similar edicts, the definitive promulgation of the celibate, unmarried priesthood came at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 under Pope Gregory VII. Far from being a law forced upon the medieval priesthood, it was the acceptance of celibacy by priests centuries earlier that eventually led to its universal promulgation in the twelfth century.

  • Anonymous

    The system is not letting me edit my previous post in response to you, Doodler, so I will add here that which I forgot to mention below.

    You note that St Peter had a mother-in-law, so resume he had a wife (not that he was widowed – likely) but you don’t seem to notice that there is no mention of children anywhere…. for ANY of the apostles.

  • Anonymous

    Love your username – explains why your post is so hilarious. Oops! Was that St Francis I heard turning over in his grave?

  • Anonymous

    That is hilarious – the editor of Catholic Truth “fears the influx of orthodox people and clergy with high liturgical standards into the Catholic Church”? Hilarious!

    Visit the Mass section (or any old section) at http://www.catholictruthscotland.com and then repeat your charge with a straight face.

  • Anonymous

    my scriptural memory might be failing me but didn’t St Paul refer to St Peter returning to his wife – or something like that ? I’m too old, too ill and too tired to recall it off the top of my head but maybe someone else can?

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Yes, your scriptural memory is failing you.

    There is a quotation in Corinthians, where St Paul refers to being “free to ….carry about a woman, a sister, just like the rest of the apostles and Peter…” but this does not have to refer to wives although that is how Protestants interpret it.

    And there is a tradition in the Church that St Peter’s wife was martyred.

  • Christina

    Indeed Leprechaun. And I would be very grateful if someone would tell me what Catholic doctrines denied by Anglican Protestants are now accepted by these ‘converts’, or are they being allowed (by the turning of blind eyes) to import heresies as part of their ‘patrimony’. Nothing would make me happier than to see Anglicans, clerical and lay, undergoing a proper course of instruction in the Catholic faith and then embracing it, but I have been disturbed by Anglicanorum coetibus from the outset.

  • Christina

    Oh yes, paulpriest. Back in the olden days, the visiting priest could not help but have the families he grew to know so well at the heart of his ministry, for he was loved and respected not only as a spiritual Father but also as a wise counsellor in the various trials, tribulations, joys and hopes in the everyday life of the families he visited. I can’t see a married priest having the time or inclination to get involved with any such problems other than his own.

  • Cbchartley

    If I were a betting lady I would lay odds, St. Alban, that you didn’t apply to one of the traditional orders. Being fully and vocally orthodox, according to the experiences of acquaintances of mine who ‘tried for the priesthood’, was what got them turned down.

  • CBar

    Couldn’t agree more with your (and leprechaun’s) comments. Why are the Anglicans always being given special “privileges” to retain various parts of their “tradition”, “liturgy”, churches, etc.? Shouldn’t they be making a complete break with Anglicanism to fully embrace all that Catholic theology/doctrine encompasses? Haven’t we seen enough of the dangers of Protestant ideologies being allowed to detrimentally water down our Catholic faith?

    I am even confused as to why we think it’s so great that Anglicans convert to Catholicism as a REACTION against the ordination of women. I don’t want Anglicans or anyone else becoming Catholic simply because they’re unhappy with the way their religion is going. I want people to be so convinced of the authenticity of the Catholic Church that they feel they must embrace her wholly. You’ve got to be fully FOR the Catholic Church; not just AGAINST the politics of your former religion.

    I would like to hear a former Anglican priest who is married say that, because of his conversion to Catholicism and his respect for the Church, he would never even consider becoming a Catholic Priest and gratefully accept his role as layman.

    Let’s stop bending over backwards to please every Protestant we come across with all sorts of concessions.

  • CBar

    Sorry to post again, but I have a question to anyone who can answer:

    What do Anglicans believe regarding the Eucharist? On EWTN, I have heard some former Anglican priests say that, as an Anglican priest, they believed they were confecting the Eucharist. I have heard other former Anglican priests say that they had always believed they were performing a symbolic consecration of the host. How could there be so much confusion over the MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE? Can anyone out there clear this up?

    How can we be accepting Anglicans en masse amdist such serious confusion? I never hear Anglicans say “I had to convert to the Catholic Church because of the Eucharist.” Why is this always ignored? We say “Sure, come into the Catholic Church because you don’t want to share the altar with women priests…” How about “Come into the Catholic Church because you realize that we have the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ and you know you cannot live without that.”?

  • Anonymous

    Pathetic response ma’am – you know that’s not my position but I get very angry when people misrepresent the Pope and revel in the opportunity to think the worst of him – and I’m still waiting for your retraction regarding your slurs against His Holiness – it was obvious what he said in Light of the World – that it had bugger all to do with condoms – and the CDF confirmed it – so are you going to retract it?

  • Christina

    CBar, your second paragraph says it all!

  • William Wheatley

    This is in response to everyone commenting so far in this string. The former Anglicans in most respects are more firmly grounded in the Catholic Faith than most Catholics. They accept without reservation ALL that the Catholic Church teaches, and specifically EVERYTHING taught in The Catechism of The Catholic Church. I don’t know a single Roman Catholic who is willing to say this. The Anglicans coming into the ordinariate will be a force helping Catholicism to return to its Catholic roots.

  • William Wheatley

    This is in response to everyone commenting so far in this string. The former Anglicans in most respects are more firmly grounded in the Catholic Faith than most Catholics. They accept without reservation ALL that the Catholic Church teaches, and specifically EVERYTHING taught in The Catechism of The Catholic Church. I don’t know a single Roman Catholic who is willing to say this. The Anglicans coming into the ordinariate will be a force helping Catholicism to return to its Catholic roots.

  • William Wheatley

    The problem is not that the Catholic Church does not permit married priests in the Roman Rite; it is that men without a calling to celibacy become priests in the Roman Rite.

  • William Wheatley

    No, the swear word bloody comes from using “Jesus Blood” as a swear word.

  • William Wheatley

    Celibacy was a tradition in the Western (Latin) Church from the beginning, but not a requirement. It has from very early centuries been a requirement that bishops be celibate. It was not a requirement that priests be celibate until half-way through the life of the Church, and this was done to prevent pastorates from becoming hereditary.

  • William Wheatley

    I have read through the posts below. It seems to me that the uncharitable nature of many of the remarks, and the anti-Anglican stance of many of the commentators, provides additional evidence of the need for the Ordinariate so that Catholic Anglicans will have the ability to come into communion with Rome in a manner that welcomes them and allows them to continue those aspects of the Anglican tradition that are not contrary to Catholic Teaching. A married priesthood is not contrary to Catholic teaching.

  • Anonymous

    Not likely – the “God’s blood” theory is mostly discounted by those in the know, William…

    Here’s the first source to come up when I Googled just now (always keen to help…)

    Many theories have been put forward for the origin of the term. One theory is that it derives from the phrase “by Our Lady”, a sacrilegious invocation of the Virgin Mary. The abbreviated form “By’r Lady” is common in Shakespeare’s plays around the turn of the 17th century, and interestingly Jonathan Swift about 100 years later writes both “it grows by’r Lady cold” and “it was bloody hot walking to-day” [1] suggesting that a transition from one to the other could have been under way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody

    In fact, if you read novels like Men of Iron (forget the author but terrific book) you find the knights using the term “By Our Lady”, not as a sacrilegious invocation, but as an exclamation as much of pleasure as of anything else. I have never read any text using the term, where I felt it was sacrilegious. Quite the reverse. Simply shows how much a part of everyday life, devotion to Our Lady was in the middle ages.

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely spot on, Christina. Spot, as they say, ON!

  • Anonymous

    Then they shouldn’t apply to be priests. Goodness, you don’t get men applying for a medical degree who hate the sight of blood. It goes with the blankety blank job. We’d think they were idiots, if they started complaining about things that are basic to the job after graduating. If priests don’t want to be celibate, let them apply to Tesco – they’re always looking for new staff, I’m told.

  • Anonymous

    William Wheatley, the fact that celibacy was a tradition in the Church from the beginning is precisely the same thing as saying it was a requirement. Councils only pronounce definitively on matters of faith and morals when there has been some kind of dispute or infidelity. You have fallen for the lie that celibacy was “introduced” for financial reasons. Not true. Baseless propaganda for those agitating for an end to celibacy.

  • Anonymous

    So, I take it you know every Anglican coming into the Church?

    In which case, can you tell me why they are all coming in at the one time, and why they have not been moved to convert, hook, line and sinker, until now? When they want to bring their own “liturgies” and goodness knows what else with them?

    Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!

  • Anonymous

    You people who scream “lack of charity” at every turn NEVER give an example. What’s uncharitable about expecting alleged converts who are coming in to the Church en masse, to expressly reject their former errors and heresies? Only someone who lacks elementary intelligence would fail to wonder how they all of a sudden overcame their antipathy to papal infallibility.

    And you are wrong – a married priesthood IS entirely contrary to Catholic Tradition – Our Lord was celibate and He is the model for the priesthood.

    I know that’s sure to keep you awake at nights, but there it is. Like it or (more likely) loathe it, if priests are to imitate Our Lord, to be an alter Christus in the world, they must be celibate.

    Visiting their parishioners once in a blue moon would help as well, mind you.

  • Anonymous

    paulpriest,

    I’ve read a lot of baloney from people desperate to defend the Pope’s condom error but none of them can compete with you, who doesn’t even think the Pope spoke about condoms.

    Take a look at the website of Bishop Kieran Conry. He’s got a statement up there fully supporting the Pope on condoms and can scarcely conceal his glee.

    I’ve emailed to ask how come he has rushed to post a statement about the private views of the Pope on condoms which carry absolutely no weight of papal authority whatsoever, but has not mentioned the Pope’s Motu Proprio on the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass – Summorum Pontificum.

    Did you read the statement of the SSPX that I posted on the Pope’s error? That was a very simple and clear statement about where the Pope went wrong, so you would find it very educative indeed. Google Dici, Pope Condoms if you’ve lost the link. I’ve done quite enough casting pearls on this topic.

  • st alban

    You are correct I was turned down by a certain English diocese for the diocesan priesthood in 2008 so it was not a traditional order. However the reasons why I was rurned down were varied and complex. I have to try to see it as a test of my vocation I suppose but the galling thing about it all was that for most of life i have had to listen to increasingly desperate calls for more priests……..

  • st alban

    did he not state as well that this was only his opinion?

  • Bridget

    In the Anglican tradition the vicar has many lay helpers to carry out his ministry much like our church has developed this idea by allowing lay people to take on the duties of the priest who is called away too often to meetings etc.
    I always thought that the priest was married to the Church which is the Bride of Christ as St. Paul says ….
    It seems to me that the modern church is quite happy to take on married Anglican clergy because there little difference now between the modern church in the UK and the Anglicans. You cant see the join! Lord have mercy on us.

  • Bridget

    Before Vat2 there were many priests living in large houses together and they kept each other company and visited the homes of their parishes. Yes, they are lonely now because young people have lost their faith due to the changes in the Mass and lack of catechising…we still do not have a sound catechism with which to teach our children in the UK.

  • ecumenist

    The examples of Malabar, Malankar and Ethiopian Churches are sad evidence of Latinization, and should be deplored. In my view they should start receiving into priesthood the married man and disregard the Roman aparatchicks. As for the Anglikans, the sooner they obtain the status similar to that of the Eastern chuches, and become completely independent of Latin bishops – the better for the reunion of all Christians.