Married priest ordained at St. Francis Cathedral

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.

Comments 1

  1. Tim wrote:

    “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 think that that’s a valid point (the first part), since there shouldn’t be a reason to deny someone, already married, to the priesthood. Just as Deacons are permitted to be married (first, before ordination) today. In my opinion at least.

    The second portion I would disagree with, since abstinence is not the cause of pedophilia. There are no direct causal studies that show this, and indeed we can all see from our own experience that even people free to marry can be and are pedophiles at times (see http://www.reformation.com and also, refer to the statistics that show the incidence of abuse in public schools, news articles, etc).

    The reason for instituting the discipline (not doctrine, see below) of priestly abstinence stems from the teachings of St. Paul on the matter. He taught that if one is so inclined, it is better to not marry, so one may be fully devoted to the service of God. (c.f. 1 Cor 7:9, 7:20). In this way, one can see the benefits of abstinence for a priest: he is unencumbered by the requirements of marriage (his wife, his children), thus has more time to spend in service to our Lord.

    The reason I feel free to agree with you when you say, “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.” is because (as I implied above) the discipline of priestly abstinence is just that, a discipline, in the Latin Rite (and others, but not all) specifically. Disciplines are not doctrines. They can change over time; in the early church, for example, it was common for priests to be married. The discipline of abstinence was initiated later (circa AD 600) for the reasons above.

    The “pragmatic” aspect of the argument “especially when the Church is so desperately short of priests” is a valid one, since I think pragmatism is a worthwhile consideration at times. However it’s not something that should ever be suggested as a substitute for established doctrine. (for example, we cannot say that if a mother would be unduly burdened, practically speaking, by an unexpected pregnancy, then it should be ok for her to have an abortion).

    Similarly for the issue of the priesthood, not in the issue of abstinence, but in the issue of gender. Not that you raised that issue, but I feel I should point out that the issue of whether or not women can be ordained as priests has been settled as a matter of doctrine; the issue of abstinence has not. Again, that’s a discipline.

    I’m just pointing that out for illustrative purposes. Not to sidetrack any discussion. Ultimately I think you said it best when you said, “I accept the Church’s doctrine on such matters”, of course more properly restated “I accept the Church’s teaching on such matters”. God will take care of His Church (c.f. Matt 16:18) and therefore, we mustn’t let practical concerns, such as priest shortages, worry us too much, so much that we may compromise our faith. Just a word of encouragement; not that you have here.

    Posted 02 Jun 2008 at 7:01 pm

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