As reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Archbishop Michael Sheehan ordained three priests at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi here in Santa Fe yesterday, and one of the three was Jeffrey Whorton, a married father of five.
Father Whorton’s ordination does not mean that the Catholic Church has abandoned the celibacy requirement for priests — at least not for all priests. In 1980, Pope John Paul II established a special dispensation called a Pastoral Provision under which Episcopalian priests, who are permitted by their church to marry, could be ordained as Catholic priests while remaining married. Father Whorton is one of this small group of former Episcopal priests who have sought communion with the Catholic Church.
I have mixed feelings about the policy. On one hand, allowing a few married priests seems to make a mockery of the sacrifice made by the great majority of priests who have vowed celibacy. If these few married men can fulfill a priestly calling, why cannot any other married man?
On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to reject a married Episcopal priest with a genuine calling to the Catholic Church, especially when the Church is so desperately short of priests. And yet this pragmatic argument begs the question of why keep the celibacy requirement at all? Theoretically, the priest shortage (to say nothing of the paedophilia problem) could be taken care of in short order if any devout Catholic man could have a wife and a Roman collar too.
I suppose even debating the issue with myself may offend my most orthodox Catholic readers. After all, who is some laywoman to tell the Holy Father what ought to be done about clerical celibacy? And that isn’t my intention. I accept the Church’s doctrine on such matters, but when a man with a wife and five little children is ordained in your own parish church, it’s hard not to let yourself think about the ramifications.