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Simcha Fisher On the Question of Married Priests

I'm basically in favor of allowing married men to become priests--we have at least one in my diocese, and he's excellent. But I think those who see it as a magical cure-all for various problems in the Church are very mistaken. It would bring its own set of problems, as of course Protestants, and I suppose the Eastern churches, have known for a long time. Here is Simcha Fisher with a concise summary of some of the predictable ones.


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I really don't see how a man could be both a good husband and father and a good Catholic priest. That's my main objection. Otherwise I accept that it's a possibility for the Church.

Well, Fr. Longenecker seems to do all right, though I don't know his family (I have met him very briefly -- a nice, smart guy). It does seem like an extremely hard life, though: a priest's salary really isn't a family wage, so the married priest is faced with having to make an actual living some other way (or otherwise commit seriously to being a 2-income family), which means that in addition to a double vocation, he's also dividing his time and energy that many more ways.

This is all kind of personal, as I'm married to a former Anglican priest who has a definite interest in pursuing Catholic orders. And I'm . . . ambivalent. Which is really all I can say about it.

Louise- I have seen many married priests, both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic, and all have seemed to be good husbands and fathers. I would note that most Orthodox and BC parishes are relatively small, and I agree that it would be difficult to balance if one had one of these Catholic megaparishes that are quickly becoming the norm. And even in rural dioceses most priests have responsiblity for two or three parishes. This is not healthy for a celibate man, let alone a husband and father.

I think ambivalence is probably very much in order, Sally. Anyone who grew up in a predominantly Protestant area has seen some of the potential downside, such as the "PK"--preacher's kid--syndrome, in which a kid goes a bit wild in reaction.

I've thought that it might be a good idea for the Church (Latin rite, obviously) to handle this as it does the permanent diaconate: try to limit it to older men whose families are grown or almost grown. All in all, they would probably be better priests, both for their maturity and the fact that they aren't as focused on raising a family, and the family would have been spared some of those pressures that Simcha Fisher talks about. Did y'all read the stuff by the Priest's Wife blogger that she linked to? Interesting.

Well, I see the down side of married clergy all the time here. Of course, there are many who make it work.

One thing I wonder about is priests' wives who used to be Protestant ministers' wives. There is a definite role for those women in the Protestant churches that just won't translate to Catholic parishes. I don't see Sally as having that problem, but other people I know might.


Janet -- that's one of the many things I've thought about. Not that I ever enjoyed groups of clergy wives all that much, to be honest. Let's just say that I enjoy being an active layperson with no particular investment in whether what the priest does makes the entire parish mad.

For what it's worth, though, I never worried that much about the PK syndrome. The most troubled clergy kids I've known, and the ones who've turned out to have no discernable faith life as adults, have been the children of parents who were anxious not to shove religion down their throats. The more I think about it, the more confusing I think *that* must be.

My kids were kind of on parade, though. One of them once, as a toddler, broke away from me in the choir stalls at Christmas, threw herself down in front of the manger scene, and proceeded to scream, "I WANT BABY JESUS," until I finally did something with her. My memory kind of goes blank at that point. Afterwards, though, people came up to me and said things like, "Oh, well, your ministry is making the rest of us feel good about our kids." Uh, thanks.

Mostly, though, the ones who really experienced their dad as a priest -- he basically left active ministry when the younger ones were really small, though he didn't formally renounce his orders until our reception into the Catholic Church in 2007 -- anyway, the ones who really knew him in that role were proud of him, loved to see him gloriously vested, got a kick out of having the cassock-wearing dad who rode around Cambridge on a green women's coaster bike with flowers on the chain guard (can't ride a dude bike in a cassock). Etc.

At the same time, at least one of them has felt quite strongly that to have dad become a Catholic priest would be to lose him. Anyway, we'll see how it all plays out.

I've thought that it might be a good idea for the Church (Latin rite, obviously) to handle this as it does the permanent diaconate: try to limit it to older men whose families are grown or almost grown. All in all, they would probably be better priests, both for their maturity and the fact that they aren't as focused on raising a family, and the family would have been spared some of those pressures that Simcha Fisher talks about.

That seems like a good way to go about it and I know a few men in this situation. It does seems to work.

Sally, I am thinking your toddler was showing a great deal of devotion. Screaming "I WANT BABY JESUS" sounds rather devotional. :)

In the Eastern churches the priest's wife has a big role in the parish; she is often called "mother"; it should be viewed as much a vocation as the priesthood. As for priest's children, suffice it to say that the parish priesthood was practically a hereditary postition in many villages; my priest is the son of a priest and grandson of a priest, for example...Can there be problems with a married priesthood, difficulty for the children of priests, etc? Of course; in what life do such things not exist, each in their own way?

Well, I think you could say the same thing of many Protestant congregations, especially in small, rural churches. But it's that culture that's grown through generation after generation that makes it possible. I don't think that most Roman Catholics would accept the priest's wife in that role of "mother." It would take several generations for that to happen if it ever did. I'm not saying that's right. I'm just saying that's the way it is.

I don't, by the way, have any objection to married priests. I already have a close friend who is a married priest and I would be very happy to see Sally's husband ordained some day.


Right, Janet. It would be a big cultural shift and it would take a while.

The point of bringing up the potential problems--going back to my original point--is not to say that it's a bad idea, but that too many people propose it as a panacea for all sorts of problems, and it just wouldn't be.

No,of course not; in the modern world it would mean divorced priests, divorced priests who get annulments and then remarry (unless the ancient praxis of priests remaining celibate when their wives die remains intact,which may or may not happen), etc...
Moderns who agitate for married priests are generally not too familiar with the ancient traditions regarding a married priesthood. In my parish, though the married priesthood was suppressed finally in the 1930s or so, there is still a corporate memory (photos of old pastors and their mastrushkas in the cultural center) so the transition has been pretty painless, which is much aided by the fact that our pastor, Fr Miron, from Slovakia, is very evidently a holy man.

Louise -- yep, she's pretty devout now, that child. She really did want Baby Jesus, and she still wants Him.

And re the question of married priests in general, no, I don't think it would be any kind of panacea. It certainly hasn't been the answer to original sin anywhere else it's been tried. (and though I probably sound negative about the whole thing, I should hasten to say that my husband, in addition to being a pretty wonderful husband, was a very, very gifted and much-loved priest. Not that there weren't people who hated his guts, but there were at least as many people who felt that he had truly brought God to them, and will still write to tell him so.

I just very, very much do not like sharing).

Priests who want to get anullments and marry their boyfriends...the possibilities are manifold.

And by the way, Sally, your husband must be a bold fellow to have ridden around on a girl's bicycle in a cassock.

I will testify to the fact that he is bold indeed.


Sally, it's the "sharing" which is exactly what's wrong with a married priesthood, imo. Marriage is hard enough as it is.

By the way, at Mass last night at the Abbey, we were sitting in front of friends with four small children, who -- and I'm not sure which kid was saying what -- kept up the following patter throughout much of the consecration:

I want to see Jesus!

My butt hurts!

I can't see Jesus!

My *butt* hurts!



I really could not blame my 8-year-old for being convulsed with (mercifully) silent laughter. The college students around us were not doing so well, either.

Afterwards I somehow resisted the temptation to go up to my friend, whose husband is the head of the FOCUS ministry on campus, and tell her that her ministry obviously is to make the rest of us feel better about our children. So clearly everything that happens to us is good for something.

That is hysterical.



That's a great story, Sally. I think I would have been laughing. Because that's what I'm doing now.

And I know just how those kids feel.


The more I think about it, the funnier it gets. At the time, I was trying to be all "Mother Is Most Seriously Displeased."

Was your husband there? and did he laugh?

He was there. He's very good at not laughing at the time -- he was being all "Father Is Most Seriously Displeased" -- but afterwards he cracked up.

You can feel superior to your friend, because at least your children didn't bring the word "butt" into it.

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