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What Pope Francis Said about Married Men and the Catholic Priesthood on that Plane

By Deacon Keith Fournier
6/1/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

None of the discussions over clerical celibacy concern those already ordained and pledged to lifelong celibacy. That cannot and will not change.

Press reports, opinion pieces and editorials often pose the question we are considering in this way, "Should priests be allowed to marry?" That way of posing the question either reveals a complete misunderstanding of the issues and the history - or it reveals an agenda to assert some perceived kind of pressure on the Church. None of the discussions over clerical celibacy concern those already ordained and pledged to lifelong celibacy. That cannot and will not change. The only issue is whether already married men should be allowed to discern a vocation to the priesthood and, if chosen by the Church, be ordained. They can already be considered for ordination to the diaconate.If this were to happen it would NOT mean a diminution in the cherished role of clerical celibacy. 

(Left to Right) Deacon Keith Fournier, then Deacon Randy Sly and his wife, Sandy Sly. Fr Sly went on to be ordained as one of the first priests of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.

(Left to Right) Deacon Keith Fournier, then Deacon Randy Sly and his wife, Sandy Sly. Fr Sly went on to be ordained as one of the first priests of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - It has been a week since Pope Francis gave a wide ranging interview to the Journalists who accompanied him on the Plane back to Rome from Jerusalem. I wrote in a piece entitled What He Actually Said!

"The media will spend Tuesday, May 27, 2014, and probably  the entire last week of May, speculating about the hour long, wide ranging, spontaneous interview given by Pope Francis to the journalists who accompanied him upon his return from his historic visit to the Holy Land.

For any observers who had thought that the wide ranging, spontaneous style of Francis with the Media would soon end, they were simply wrong. This is a warm-hearted, pastoral, confident in his faith and office, Pope - and he is on a mission for the Lord He serves.

His remarks, completely spontaneous, will be picked apart, placed under the media version of a microscope (or even a kaleidoscope), then reinterpreted through the prism of political ideologies and theological speculation.

They will also be recast in accordance with various agendas, both political and theological. They will be used to advance the narrative of people who often do not care about what was actually said.

Then, they will be used to speculate about the future of the Catholic Church - as if these answers were some new kind of ecclesiastical tea leaves. They are not. They are the heartfelt responses of a genuine, spirit filled Christian Leader who actually is transparent - and does not just use the word. "

It seems that anything this fascinating Pope named Francis says is now giving rise to a myriad of articles, opinions and projections in the media. For the most part, that is a gift to the Church and her evangelizing mission. It is opening the eyes of many to the message of the Gospel which this Pope proclaims in word and deed.

However, the speculative media reports concerning his latest interview which surprised me the most were the ones which were written concerning his few words on the possibility of the Catholic Church admitting married men for candidacy to the priesthood.

When asked about the possibility of admitting married men to the candidacy for priesthood in the Latin Rite, this is what Pope Francis actually said:

The Catholic Church has married priests in the Eastern rites. Celibacy is not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life that I appreciate a great deal and I believe it is a gift for the Church.  The door is always open given that it is not a dogma of faith.

There is NOTHING new in this observation. Yet, the  number of articles and opinions written concerning those 52 words demonstrates a fascination not only with this Pope, but with this subject.

That same fascination prompted a round of reports following  an April 10, 2014  report out of the London Tablet written by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Pope and and entitled Francis - married men could be ordained priests if world's bishops agree on it. That article reported of an April 4, 2014,private meeting with Brazilian Bishop Erwin Kräutler and Pope Francis. The bishop indicated that he and the Pope discussed a number of issues, including the shortage of priests in his large Diocese. The Bishop is from Austria and gave his interview on the meeting to an Austrian news source.

Here are some pertinent excerpts

"I told him that as bishop of Brazil's largest diocese with 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful I only had 27 priests, which means that our communities can only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most.

The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is 'courageous' in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions.

A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that "regional and national bishops' conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome," Kräutler said.

Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied:

The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities. The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation."It was up to the bishops to make suggestions", the Pope said again.

Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops' conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. "Yes," he replied. "After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this."

That report, along with the newer reports concerning the 52 words addressing the subject on the plane back from the Holy Land, keeps the issue of married men in the Catholic priesthood in the public eye. The last time so much attention to the possibility of the Latin Rite Catholic Church opening up consideration for ordination to proven, mature married men occurred last year, on August 31, 2013.

Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, gave an interview to the Venezuela Newspaper, El Universal. He discussed mandatory celibacy as a prerequisite for priestly ordination in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The headlines were all grabbed by a response he gave to a question posed to him on the matter by the interviewer. 

Archbishop Pietro Parolin said that "mandatory celibacy for priestly ordination is not part of church dogma and the issue is open to discussion because it is an ecclesiastical tradition. Modifications can be made, but these must always favor unity and God's will. God speaks to us in many different ways. We need to pay attention to this voice that points us towards causes and solutions, for example the clergy shortage."

With the continuing interest now again generated by the latest papal interview, I felt it was an appropriate time to address the topic. First, let us turn to an aspect of this topic which too many Catholics do not know, there are already married clerics in the Western or Latin Rite Catholic Church. One example is found in the Order of Deacons in the Catholic Church.

The restoration of the Order was promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Its ranks are open to both married and celibate men. Remember, married men become clerics when they are ordained as deacons. They are no longer laymen. Thus the oxymoron lay deacons, still used by some, reflects a lack of good teaching and is just plain wrong. Deacons are clergy.
 
The adjective permanent, often used to describe married deacons, does not change the nature of the ordination or what is sacramentally conferred with the imposition of the Bishops hands on the ordinand. A deacon is a deacon. Rather, it denotes the intention of the deacon to remain in that rank of ordered service.  A transitional deacon intends to be considered for ordination to the priesthood.

Second, we have a growing body of married men who have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood for the Latin Rite. For these men, the discipline of celibacy was dispensed by the Church prior to ordination. Most come from other Christian communities.

The most visible community of these priests have come to us through what are called the Ordinariates, a form of floating Diocese, established for groups of former Anglicans coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. However there are others, who, through the prior pastoral provision established by St. John Paul II, were invited to holy orders. One of the first to be ordained for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter in the United States is my close friend Fr Randy Sly.

Press reports, opinion pieces and editorials often pose the question we are considering in this way, "Should priests be allowed to marry?" That way of posing the question either reveals a complete misunderstanding of the issues and the history - or it reveals an agenda to assert some perceived kind of pressure on the Church.

None of the discussions over clerical celibacy concern those already ordained and pledged to lifelong celibacy. That cannot and will not change.

The only issue is whether already married men should be allowed to discern a vocation to the priesthood and, if chosen by the Church, be ordained? They can already be considered for ordination to the diaconate.

If this were to happen it would NOT mean a diminution in the cherished role of clerical celibacy. 

Consecrated celibacy is a prophetic sign and a gift to the Church. It was instituted and lived by Jesus, demonstrated in the lives of many of the Apostles, confirmed in the earliest witness of the ancient Church and confirmed in the unbroken tradition of the Church. (See, e.g., Matt. 19:12)

Consecrated Christian marriage is also a prophetic sign and a gift to the Church, especially in an age preoccupied with rejecting marriage at its own peril and replacing it with profane counterfeits. At the foundation of both chaste, consecrated celibacy - and chaste, sacramental marriage - is a call to live the nuptial or spousal mystery in which they both participate, albeit in differing but complimentary ways. 

The consecrated celibate does so in an immediate and prophetic way, forsaking one to be married to all. While the married man participates in a mediated way, through chaste love with one woman and then through the couple's openness to life which opens to family, the domestic church.

Both responses have a prophetic dimension as well as a pastoral one. After all, when love is perfected and complete in the Resurrection there will be no marriage.

The teaching of Jesus on this is quite clear. In heaven there will be no marriage. (See, e.g, Mt. 22:30, Mk. 12:25) We will all be married to the Lamb and live in the eternal communion of Trinitarian Love where all love is completed and perfected. (See, Rev 19:7-10)

The prophetic witness of voluntary, consecrated celibacy has endured beyond the ranks of celibate clergy. It is also preserved in the inspired vowed life of monastic orders and the sacrificial witness of religious men and women.

In addition, in many of the ecclesial movements and associations of lay men and woman, consecrated celibacy is being freely chosen, not to avoid marriage, but to enter more fully into the very nuptial mystery that marriage also reveals, in a unique and prophetic way, and be more available for mission.

I write with deep appreciation for the celibate vocation among the ordained ministers of the Church, the religious orders and the growing lay ecclesial movements. I have had the privilege of knowing some profoundly holy consecrated celibates.

To use an old cliché, some of my best friends are priests and deacons, both celibate and married. They are all living their vocation with dignity and holiness. Within that community of celibate and married priests, there are different kinds of ministry, in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ.

In the Eastern Catholic Church there is an unbroken tradition of admitting both celibate and married men to candidacy for the order of deacon and priest. Pope Francis made reference to this fact in his interview on the plane ride returning to Rome from Jerusalem. However, it is important to remember that these men must have married before ordination as deacons. In the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches we read:

"Clerical celibacy chosen for the Kingdom of Heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor.

Clerics, celibate or married, are to excel in the virtue of chastity; it is for the particular law to establish suitable means for pursuing this end. In leading family life and in educating children married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful. (Canons # 373-375)"

Both married and celibate men are considered for ordination to the priesthood from the ranks of deacons in the Eastern Churches. The decision for the state in life, celibate for the Lord or married in the Lord,is made before they are ordained as deacons - and cannot be changed. Bishops are always celibate and monastic in the Eastern Churches. Even in the instances of married men ordained as deacons or priests, those ordained clerics pledge not to remarry should their spouse die.

The Eastern Church, both Catholic and Orthodox, often assigns married priests to different types of ministry than celibate priests. Similarly, in the Latin rite of the Western Church, married men ordained to the priesthood serve in a manner that reflects and respects their state in life and offers its pastoral witness as a gift to the whole Church.

So, what does the Catholic Church actually teach concerning this issue which has once again attracted so much attention - the possibility of the Latin Rite considering married men for ordination to the priesthood? Rather than rely on secondary sources which often surround the discussion of this matter let us turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for what the Church has to say.

It should settle the matter for most, except perhaps a few traditionalist brethren who simply do not like the practice of allowing married men to be ordained at all. Some may also be suspect of what some of them still call the new Catholic Catechism. The paragraphs which follow are taken from the treatment of Holy orders in Article Six of the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church. I commend this entire section to all who want to understand the issues surrounding the gift of ordained service to the whole Church.

The Catechism contains important footnotes to sources of authority, drawn from the Scriptures and the sacred Tradition, which are well worth studying. Remember, if you want to know what the Catholic Church REALLY teaches, go first to the Scriptures and to the Catholic Catechism, not to the emerging class of those who are only too eager to give you their opinion and too often use sources of authority as proof texts for their own opinions.

In an age which reflects a decreasing respect for the Catholic Church, this task is essential! In addition, even in the ranks of those who are faithful Catholics, opinions can often be confused with official teachings of the Church. Here are the words of the Catholic Catechism concerning clerical ordination:

"Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.

The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. "

No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God's call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift.

All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.

In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities.

Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry." (CCC #1577 - 1579)

For those in the Press reading this piece and looking for news, please report this, Catholics already have married clergy - deacons and priests.  In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the practice has existed for centuries. In the Latin Rite Church, the body of married priests in the Latin Rite has increased with the ordinariates established for former Anglicans who have come into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

For Catholic Christians reading this article, we must learn from this fact and trust that the Lord is behind it. If there is to be a change in the discipline of mandatory celibacy for men considered for ordination to the priesthood in the Latin Rite, the Lord will unfold it through those whom he has chosen to lead His Church.

When I was invited to Holy Orders as a deacon, I knew that it was a life altering vocation, not a weekend task. As a Married man, I pledged to embrace celibacy if my wife should predecease me. My wife gave her consent. I soon came to understand the theology I had studied and have studied since; there truly is an ontological change which occurs at ordination. My life was turned upside down and has never been the same.

I personally believe there is room in the Catholic Church, East and West, for a both celibate and a married clergy, deacons and priests. Both consecrated celibacy and consecrated Christian marriage are a response to the universal call to holiness. They are also a gift to the whole Church because they both participate in the one nuptial or spousal mystery revealed in Jesus Christ.

However, what I personally believe is not the issue. It is what the Holy Spirit reveals in guiding the whole Catholic Church. For that, we should look to the teaching office, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Is Pope Francis opening the possibility of ordaining mature, proven married men to Priesthood? Time alone will tell.

However, while that time unfolds, we need to report on this issue of clerical celibacy and marriage with accuracy. We also need to open our hearts to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and not be afraid of change which may be a part of a plan of the Lord for this new missionary age. Finally, Catholics writing on this issue need to do so with an effort to properly explain the teaching of our Church to a world which is increasingly fascinated with Pope Francis and opening up again to the claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

---


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