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Facts about Married Catholic Priests
One out of every three Roman Catholic priests in the United States has transitioned from celibacy to the married priesthood. The total is over 20,000 - that’s an average of over 400 married priests per state who are available to serve in their local parishes. There are over 110,000 married priests worldwide. In recent polls, more than seventy percent of American Catholics favor a married priesthood.
It is important to make some distinctions in order to fully understand the significance of the married priesthood in today’s Church:
Priest / Cleric - Priesthood is a vocation, a spiritual calling from God to serve. The status of Cleric is a political position of authority in the institutional church. Because we have married, we have been dismissed from the clerical state. We are no longer clerics (office-holders) in the Church’s hierarchy, but we retain the fullness of the priesthood. We are often referred to as “ex-priests.” That term is inaccurate. We are really “ex-clerics.” Ordination to the priesthood is permanent. One is ordained to be a priest, not a cleric. Holy Orders is a sacrament which confers priesthood. Priesthood is about spirituality and treating people as Jesus did in the Gospels. Being a Cleric is about having a special position in the church. Although we do not have clerical status, privilege, and support, we are still priests in good standing by virtue of Church law Canon 290, our education and ordination as priests, and twelve centuries of Roman Catholic tradition. The sacraments we provide are valid sacraments. For these reasons, we are now “married Roman Catholic priests.” Once a priest, always a priest!
Priesthood / Mandatory Celibacy - The two are usually equated, but they are not the same. Good physicians are still good physicians - whether they are single or married. For the first fourteen centuries of our Church’s history, priests, bishops, and 39 popes were married. Married priests and celibate priests worked side by side in service to the people of God. The majority of the celibate priests were monks. A string of worldly medieval popes worked to impose mandatory celibacy on the priesthood in order to centralize political power in Rome and seize the land of the married priest families throughout Europe. They succeeded at the Second Lateran Council in 1139. Married priests were forced to choose between their families and the priesthood they so loved. It has almost been forgotten that the married priesthood is the original and traditional priesthood of our Roman Catholic Church.
Today, God seems to be reviving the married priesthood, one priest at a time. Each married priest describes his departure from the professed-celibate clerical state as the following of a spiritual journey - one that has led him to marriage and family life - and back to the original and traditional priesthood of our Roman Catholic tradition. With thirty percent of priests now married, we feel that God is calling us back to our original balance and sending a clear message about the role of women in the Church. We believe that women have equal rights and the same potential as men for spiritual service in our Church. Married priests honor the feminine.
Most Catholics are unaware that Rome is ordaining married Protestant ministers into the priesthood and assigning them to parishes here in the United States. Rome is allowing them to remain married and providing support for their families. In ordaining to the priesthood over one hundred married Protestant ministers, the Vatican has, in effect, re-established the married priesthood in today’s Roman Catholic Church. They have acted upon Pope John Paul II’s public statement that celibacy is not necessary for priesthood .
By accepting and ordaining married Protestant ministers to the priesthood, the Vatican has changed the rules. In doing so, it has set a precedent that Catholics can now use to call upon their own married priests for Mass and the sacraments. By its own example, Rome has clearly announced to the world a new public acceptance of married Roman Catholic priests.
We married priests have added the sacrament of Marriage to the sacrament of Holy Orders. We now have experience in raising families and surviving in the real world. These experiences have given us insights and competencies that we would not have achieved if we had remained celibate clerics. People who know us believe that marriage has enriched our priesthood. They admire our integrity and our readiness to serve as priests when we are asked. Many bishops secretly support us and hope that the next Pope will reinstate all married priests so that the parish closures will end.
In response to a growing pastoral need and requests from individual Catholics, we married priests are offering our priesthood, not as clerics (office-holders in the institutional church), but as your equals, your spiritual friends, to help those in need.
Information provided by CITI