Thursday, September 10, 2009

Married Priests

Hope your Thursday has blossomed as beautifully as has this sunny September day here in the Midwest.

This morning I read a post on one of the Catholic web sites about a priest (now deceased) here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. "A 60-year-old woman who claims that she and a Chicago priest lived as husband and wife from 1994 until his death in 2007 has sued the priest's estate over the provisions of the priest's will. According to the current pastor many parishioners at St. James at Sag Bridge Church knew that Father Edwin Bohula and the woman lived together in the woman's home."

This story reminded me of something that's been churning up in me for years. Back in the mid-1980s at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Altamonte Spring, FL—where I served as director of liturgy and music—a new priest was assigned to our parish. He was only the second Episcopal priest who, with his wife and children, were received into the Roman Catholic Church under a new "pastoral provision" crafted chiefly by then Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. There was a lot of buzz in the parish about this and there needed to be much information and formation about the whole issue. I remember the first Mass that Father Larry Lossing celebrated at St. Mary Magdalen. I was seated at the organ waiting to accompany the memorial acclamation. What struck me when Father Lossing elevated the host and chalice was the glint of his wedding ring. I immediately looked out into the congregation into the faces of five particular couples whom I had grown to know and deeply respect over the years. What made these couples unique was the fact that each of the five men was a former Roman Catholic Priest who had left the priesthood and eventually were married. I know there are many who would argue with me about this, but the moment struck me as a deep injustice by the Church I love. My question is this: Why is the discussion about married Roman Catholic priests seemingly a closed issue while a "pastoral provision" allows for a married Episcopal priest to become a valid Roman Catholic priest? Am I missing something here?

Thanks for listening. And, even when I am confused by some of what goes on in this Church of saints and sinners, I still gotta sing, and still gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Very good questions! As an Episcopalian (and therefore somewhat of an "outsider"), I have pondered these too. For the first several hundred years of her history, the Church functioned well with both married and unmarried clergy. We know that the apostle Peter was married; that has not hindered the Roman Church in basing a lot of dogma on one particular statement Jesus made about him!

I know many priests and religious who find the discipline of celibacy a means to channeling energy and focus to their work, and a gift of grace. But in my own denomination I know many whose religious vocations are enriched and supported by their married/partnered lives. I pray that the Roman Catholic Church will find ways for Spirit- and grace-filled individuals to serve God and God's people in the order of priests--even if not celibate.

Diana | said...

Dear Jerry,

I had a similar experience at the first presbyterate ordination I participated in as a cantor. The moment of prostration is already a very moving sight, but that first time, I felt a deep, almost overwhelming, sense of sadness for all those who, because of their gender, would never be able to make that same ritual gesture.

I continue to pray for our Church at every ordination.

Thanks for sharing your memory.

Chironomo said...

We have one of those rare married Priests serving in our parish as of two weeks ago. He is an excellent Priest. Although a very complex issue, there is a difference between this issue and that of a broader "married priesthood", and certainly different from the issue of female ordination. The distinction can be easily illustrated by pointing out that validly ordained female Episcopal priests are not permitted to become Roman Catholic priests. So there is a difference between those two issues.

I personally think that a married priesthood would be a disaster for several reasons, none of them having to do with "tradition" or jingoism or anything having to do with gender equality. A Married priesthood would eventually have to deal with a "divorced" priesthood, probably sooner rather than later. Could a priest get married and claim that he "didn't understand the nature of the sacrament being conferred"? If not, there would be no possibility of annulment, and such priests would no longer be able to function as priests. The scandal of such an institutionalized dillema would be FAR worse than the supposed injustice of an all-male unmarried priesthood. Just think about the consequences for a bit and try to imagine...

Alan Hommerding said...

It is faulty logic to say that because some priests might get divorced or seek annulments, then no priests should be married. (And there are many grounds upon which annulments can be sought.) The "scandal of an institutionalized dilemma" is something we've already had to contend with in recent years; and our history is filled with the scandals of institutionalized dilemmas that the Spirit has guided us through.

Other possible consequences we might try to imagine include how both parishioners and the clergy who serve them might become more understanding and tolerant of the human situations which affect us all. More ready to confront and name the sins, but also more ready to forgive and reconcile in Christ.

I know that the best wedding homilies I've heard have been from priests who were widowers - why not from priests who are currently married? Any action as large-scale as reversing will have consequences, but we can't assume they will only be negative.

Let's imagine the positive, life-giving, and Spirit-filled consequences with which we might all be blessed!

Anonymous said...

A salient question. There is nothing at all heterodox about married clergy, and it is something enjoyed by every rite and denomination except for the Roman Rite. So why is this a "forbidden topic"?

I must admit, I get antsy when people start talking about married priests, but it's mainly because (if I may paint with a broad brush), those same people will next talk about female ordination, diminishing of the church's moral teaching, and so on. If groups advocating for a married priesthood kept better company, maybe they would be taken more seriously?

That's the best I can come up with, but I think the issue needs to be seriously reconsidered in the Roman rite.

Chironomo said...


Perhaps I'm missing something. What "institutionalized dillemas" are you talking about that we have had to deal with recently? I can't think of too many instances of the Church actively promoting something (i.e...actually making it a matter of church law) which results in the violation of other law and teachings as a necessary consequence. That's what I mean by "institutionalized dillemma". There are plenty of examples of dissenting yet commonly observed practices doing this, but when I say institutionalized, I mean codified in law.

I also don't think you really mean that my logic is faulty (it isn't). Perhaps you are implying that my argument could have other possible outcomes, and therefore the conclusion cannot be limited to only that which I presented. True enough, but that doesn't make the logic faulty, it just makes my conclusion incomplete. Obviously Priests can be married... I work with one who is every day!

I also have to agree with the "Anonymous" commenter above. The issue of married Priests is a completely different issue from female ordination and "modernizing" the Church's moral teachings, and yet it seems that supporters of the former associate themselves with the latter and thereby diminish whatever validity they might have.

Alan Hommerding said...

If some priests are married,
then some priests will get divorced/seek annulment
therefore no priests should be married

follows the same pattern as

If some fathers are abusive
then some children will have problems with father images
therefore we should never address God (or clergy) as “father”

My propositional logic prof told us that - along with faulty premises - ends/means statements that include flag words like “some” – though they may be true – along with a conclusion that include absolute terms “no” or “never” or “always” need to be scrutinized carefully. But that course was a long time ago, and I only got a “B” anyway.

When I use “institutionalized” I mean things that are a regularly occurring or recurring pattern/behavior; sociologists tell us that there are many many ways for things to be institutionalized (and not just in the church) that are not specifically generated by law. So, the sexual abuse scandal (both the commission of the offenses and the episcopal cover-ups) would be an institutionalized dilemma.

This will be my only “blog-pong” (which often turns into one of the unhealthiest and uncharitable games on the internet) on this topic; beyond this the “last word” tendency in me gets too strong, and I lapse into believing the fallacy that whomever gets the last word is right on the particular topic. I’ll trust that, eventually, the Holy Spirit will be correct on whatever topic is at hand.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with you. The church needs to rethink many issues. Not all are based on gospel teaching, tradition and heritage just dont work anymore on some issues. Just because we have always done it that way does not mean it is correct, right, justice, or what Jesus intended.

Anonymous said...

Well, for those who are so entangled in the matters of religious "rights and wrong" of those who sacrificed their lives to their dedication of the Catholic Church, PLEASE know that Father Lossing never cheated divorced, or scandalized the Church in any way. You will not have to spend your time examining him under a microscope any more either. He has passed away, and gone home to God whom he served passionately devoutly, and with all humility. This should now leave you with some free time to examine your own lives.