Squaring the Circle on the Issue: I will be Married, we will have a New Associate Pastor, the Parish is Safe, and Our work continues.

The Synod on the Amazon, the three-week summit of bishops this week at the Vatican, has been overrun by the idea of German Bishop Fritz Lobinger of ordaining “elders” to the priesthood in order to provide local communities regular access to the sacraments; “married priests” is back on the table! Well, at least in discussion and disagreement! The Amazon region suffers more than most with the lack of vocational priests, with many priests forced to travel by canoe to reach isolated communities. And, of course, there has been strong resistance to the idea of abandoning the rule of celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite. These “elders,” although technically ordained, would not even be called priests and would work under a series of limitations and would also be ‘guided’ by the seminary-educated, celibate priests. (Similar to US permanent deacons.)

Of course, most of the Eastern Catholic Rites and Old Catholics have married clergy, and hundreds of clergy converts have become married Catholic priests in the Latin Rite, and in the ecumenical circles, Catholic clergy see their Protestant counterparts living and ministering with their spouses with no issue. So, in the end, while Lobinger is trying his best, I wonder why we would want to create a sort of caste system among priests? Perhaps the last thing Rome needs is another division between laity and clergy.

Experts say as many as many as 200+ Catholic priests in the U.S. are married. That’s largely because of a policy change made by Pope John Paul II in 1980, which offered a path for married Episcopal priests to continue their ministry after converting to Catholicism. And Eastern Catholic Churches have allowed the ordination of married men as priests for centuries. Of one thing we are very clear—the first Pope, Peter, was married. And, in Peter’s denial of Christ not once, but three times, in his very human weakness in walking away from Jesus at times of His greatest need, in his falling asleep and becoming so angry at times lashing out in violence, Jesus may have given us a greater insight into this issue: if you really wish to follow Me, it matters not if you are married or gay or celibate or straight; it matters if you can do it the way I taught: by loving God, loving everyone, and sacrificing everything. I think we got you covered.

It is true that in the early Church, some of the Apostles and priests were married.  But very early on, the Church was keenly aware of the wisdom of this discipline of priestly celibacy. This discipline was formally instituted in the early 300’s. Unlike the doctrines of the Church, which are the actual teachings handed down by Jesus and His Apostles and cannot change, Priestly Celibacy falls under the category of discipline in the Latin Church. Disciplines are teachings are guidelines put in place by the Church (through her good judgment) and by the authority given by Jesus to “bind” her teachings “on Earth” (cf Mat 16:19 and Matthew 18:17-18). They are given for the pastoral good of the faithful and must be faithfully observed. Many believe that Priests are “conformed to Christ” in many ways.  Included in this is following Jesus’ example of taking up a celibate life that more closely and perfectly parallels the heavenly life we are preparing for while on Earth. But the truth is we don’t know if this is actually true. The real, earthy, historical Jesus remains as much hidden today despite protestations to the contrary.

In the end, I am not sure how the greater Church will resolve this issue, but I equally know I don’t care, because we have so much good work to continue to do and what we want at our helm are priests that are content and happy and fulfilled so that they can serve us better.

Therefore, this coming Sunday we will take on a new Associate Pastor in Father Frank Souza, a Franciscan like me and dedicated to the Church as much, too. And, who has – like myself – never taken the vow of celibacy. In fact, in seminary we both left at that critical juncture, not because we knew we couldn’t be a good priest, but that we knew we were not called to be celibate, and yet somehow, Jesus still wanted us in a life of service. Then, the following Friday, Katelyn and I will be surrounded by those we love, standing in front of Bishop Gregory, as we marry and promise to die together. My heart leaps with joy and I know that God would never ask me to give up one covenant in order to form another. So, I know He will be there smiling, too.

In all of that I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, in both instances I know that I will be married, we will have a good Associate Pastor, the Parish of Saint Miriam and the greater Church are safe, and our work will continue.
Monsignor +Jim
PS I have been told by many that Katelyn makes me calmer, nicer, and easier to get along with. I think we better keep her around!

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