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Married Priests, Women Priests, Diocesan Priests.

In ongoing debates, discussions and raging arguments over compulsory celibacy for priests, we usually overlook the simple, plain fact that there are already many thousands of married Catholic priests.  The eastern rite churches within the Catholic church have always accepted a married clergy, and in recent years there has been a steady trickle of married clergy converting from other denominations, who have been ordained in the Catholic Church and are now ministering openly and officially in Catholic parishes, in many parts of the world.  Most of us know this, even if we do not think about it consciously.

Eastern Rite Catholic Priests

We completely overlook, however, that by far the greatest number of married priests today are those who started out conventionally enough in the Western Church, but later left formal ministry within the institutional church.  Many of these left in order to marry, others left and only later chose to marry.  All, however, remain priests. In catholic theology, the principle is clear:  “Once a priest, always a priest”.

Some of these continue to offer ministry of different kinds, although (obviously) outside of the institutional church and without its sanction. In this, they have clear parallels with the growing womenpriests movement, which recently ordained priests in Sarasota, and will ordain five more women as priests or deacons in Rochester on May 1st this year.  There are parallels too,  with a small handful of openly gay priests who have entered into civil marriages or civil unions with their partners.  (The few that I know of are working in specialist ministries, independently of church funding or diocesan control). There are also heterosexual priests who have legally married without the sanction of the Church – especially in Africa.

I was interested this morning to stumble upon the writing of one such married priest, Fr Ray Grosswirth, at “Toward a Progressive Catholic Church”. What I like about Fr Gosswirth is his calm and balanced approach, characterized by a desire to find common ground between the progressive and conservative voices. Two of the New Year resolutions he posted on January 1 were:

3.)I will avoid those who try to entice me into theological arguments in cyberspace.
4.)I will continue to work behind the scenes for an opportunity for conservative and liberal Catholics to gather in an atmosphere of mutual respect, whereby diversity would be celebrated, as opposed to being attacked.

Typical of his approach is this brief report on a New York meeting between married priests outside the fold, and mainstream diocesan priests, looking for ways to work together.  This is an admirable goal, and I wish them every success.

Dialogue Between Diocesan & Married Priests

Dear Blog Visitors:


If you read various Catholic blogs, it might appear that there is no constructive dialogue between traditionalists and reformers. This is indeed often the case. However, it is wonderful when a middle-of-the-road approach is taken and produces results.
One of my better experiences in recent years occurred on January 8, 2003. On that day, the executive board of CORPUS (national association for an inclusive priesthood) and the president of the NFPC (National Federation of Priest Councils) spent a day together in New York City. Highlights of our day included constructive talks on the role married priests could play in various dioceses around the country. This was inclusive of a very nice lunch in an Italian restaurant in Manhattan.
I have included a photo taken at the lunch mentioned in the preceding paragraph. From the left are Bob Silva (former president of the NFPC) and the former CORPUS executive board, including Bill Wisniewski, Russ Ditzel and Ray Grosswirth (yours truly).
I continue to pray for the success of the American Catholic Council, scheduled to take place in June of 2011 in Detroit. It will be an opportunity for conservative and progressive Catholics to come together in a spirit of friendship and dialogue. I look forward to attending and participating in the conversations.


Peace to all, Ray Grosswirth

See also:

Celibacy in the year of the priest

The Underground Priesthood

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4 Responses

  1. There has always been an accusation among dissident Catholics that the Church is obsessed over the human body. Try looking in the mirror. Or just do a simple tally of all the posts on your blog so far. Not much music in one note struck repetitively.

    • I agree, as it happens. I would far prefer to be writing about a much wider range of topics, but that is not the way it has worked out.

      Of course, if you don’t want to read it: nobody’s forcing you.

  2. In the photo above, anybody with a crown (an Eastern Rite style of mitre) or a miter is a bishop.

    There is such thing as a “mitered archpriest” in Eastern Orthodoxy; I don’t know if there is such a thing in the Eastern Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. I think of a mitered archpriest as something like a monsignor.

    In the RC Eastern Rites, as in Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, there is marriage before diaconal or presbyteral ordination, but not afterwards. If a married priest or deacon is widower, he promises not to marry again.

    And bishops are never married; in Eastern & Oriental Orthodoxy, bishops are drawn from monasteries.

    • Thanks Mark for the correction. I wondered at the time if these were bishops, but the source I used gave now indication that the men pictured were anything other than standard priests. You are right though that if bishops, they would not have been married. As such, the picture is not appropriate for making my point.

      The main pint though, still stands. I have seen a calcualation that finds that including all married Catholic priests, those of the eastern and western rites, the new converts and those who ahve lef active minisry but remain priests, they represent a total of 20% of all priests: a significant share.

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