Dr. Gerard Weigel of Somerset, Kentucky, is 89, old enough to know something about what makes him happy.
Close to the top of his list is being married. “My personality is suited to feminine companionship,” he said.
In 2010 his wife Dorothy died. They had been married 53 years and were the parents of eight and the grandparents of 28. “It gets tough at Christmas,” Weigel joked to NCR about his large family.
And then, life got better. “I met a lady who’s been a gift to me,” said Weigel. He and his now-wife Gayle, a fellow parishioner at St. Mildred Catholic Church in Somerset, got married last summer.
A nice, yet unremarkable story about a man finding love late in life. But it wasn’t simple.
Weigel, besides being a retired physician, was also a deacon at St. Mildred’s, a part of the Lexington diocese. Ordained in 1981, Weigel helped out at the parish, presiding at funerals, weddings and baptisms, including those involving his own extended family. He also led new converts through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Yet he can no longer function as a deacon. He promised before ordination that he would follow the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church which prohibits deacons who are widowed from remarrying, unless they receive a rarely granted dispensation. He was formally laicized, a process that included provisions that he avoid his former parish, injunctions which he has largely ignored. He attends Mass at his parish, and its website lists his status as retired deacon. In his eyes, there is nothing scandalous or spiritually worrisome about his new marriage.
“I thought Rome looked at me as an outcast in my own parish, totally lacking in loyalty though they knew me not at all,” he wrote in a letter to NCR.
As part of his laicization, Weigel is prohibited from performing sacramental ministry pertinent to the ordained, as well as bringing Communion to the sick and reading at Mass, duties that can also be performed by laypeople.
Weigel wonders why his new marriage is an obstacle to diaconate service as well as lay ministry.
While training for the diaconate, the restriction on remarriage was not emphasized, he said. When he was in his fifties, outliving his wife at the time was not something he thought seriously about.
“I could not visualize that I would get in that situation,” he said. “I didn’t give it a second thought.”
He should have. Read on.
The Church is pretty clear on this: a married deacon promises not to remarry if his wife dies before him.
There are rare exceptions that can be made—notably, if the deacon has young children or if he has to care for an aging parent and needs help. But they are, like I said, rare.
This was emphasized to us in our formation. I hope it’s emphasized to other deacon candidates around the world, as well. I know for some men, this can be a deal-breaker, and can force them to drop out of the program, which may be why some guys prefer to just look the other way and think, “It won’t happen to me.”
N.B.: It can.