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The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle
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Can a family man become a priest?


Caitlin Bootsma - published on 01/29/13

Gibbs provides a fuller picture of how these pastoral exceptions are made: “For Anglican priests seeking to become Catholics and then Catholic priests, the norm is celibacy, as it is for all Catholic priests in the western Church. However, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both have allowed case-by-case exceptions for pastoral reasons when a former Anglican priest is married. For Bl. John Paul II, this was the 1980 Pastoral Provision, which allowed former Anglican priests in the US to be ordained as diocesan priests on a limited basis. For Pope Benedict XVI, it was done through the 2009 apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum cœtibus, which permitted the creation of ordinariates for former Anglican groups. (These ordinariates are similar to dioceses, but national; they allow "corporate reunion" – entire groups of Anglicans to become Catholic together, often led by their rector.)”

“That said, Gibbs explains, “Anglicanorum cœtibus makes clear that celibacy remains the norm: VI § 2. The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.”

The exceptions being made for the recently formed Ordinariate are not the only ones in the history of the Church, but certainly the most timely and relevant for Catholic parishioners today. If they do have a married Catholic priest in their parish, chances are that the priest is a convert.

Demands of Two Vocations

While some men, such as the new priests of the Anglican-Use Ordinariate, balance their vocations to the priesthood and to marriage and family, this is not the norm; it is clear that these cases are extraordinary (that is, outside the norm), for the benefit of the Church as well as for the benefit of the particular priest. When one considers the challenge of balancing a job and a marriage and family, one can understand why; the priesthood is not an ordinary job, but a vocation that demands the entirety of the person who accepts it. A priest’s family is the Church: he brings the sacraments to his parishioners, he administers parishes and other ecclesial communities, he leads activities and events, he coordinates outreach to those in need. He is a spiritual father to his parishioners. In this light, it is not difficult to understand the Church’s prudential judgment in asking her priests to observe celibacy. 

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