Three Ordinariate priests and a Maronite speak about their life as married priests

From Our Sunday Visitor:

Juggling roles ‘daunting challenge’ for married priests. Eastern rite, Ordinariate clergy find fulfillment in balancing family life, serving their parishes

by James Graves, OSV Newsweekly

Father Joshua Whitfield, 37, is a busy diocesan priest at St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas. A recent Saturday saw him celebrating both a funeral and a vigil Mass, hearing confessions for two hours and attending an evening parish social. While his schedule is typical for a parish priest, there is one key difference: At home, he has a wife and four small children waiting for him.

Fr Joshua Whitfield, wife Allison and childrenDisappointed that he had missed his son’s T-ball game, Father Whitfield said, “Being a priest with a young family is extremely difficult. I make no bones about it. It’s a life of sacrifice, both on my part and theirs.”

Father Whitfield is a former Episcopal priest who entered the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, created by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglicans seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. While married priests are common in the Eastern church, they are uncommon in the West — consisting mostly of former ministers from other denominations who are granted an exception to the rule of celibacy.

While some in the post-Vatican II Church have argued that it is time to end the celibacy requirement for priests in the West, in the 1967 encyclical on priestly celibacy, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, Blessed Pope Paul VI disagreed: “[Celibacy] should uphold [the priest] in the entire dedication of himself to the public worship of God and to the service of the Church; it should distinguish his state of life both among the faithful and in the world at large” (No. 14).

As the Church nears the 50th anniversary of Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, Our Sunday Visitor spoke to married priests about the blessings and challenges they have as they live out their dual vocation.

Busy clergy

Father Whitfield was the son of a Disciples of Christ minister who became an Episcopalian after discovering “the beauty of high Anglo-Catholic Episcopal worship.” In 2003, he was ordained a deacon, married to his wife, Allison, and ordained a priest.

After three happy years as an Anglican curate, he came to believe the Roman Catholic Church “was the true church Christ founded” and entered the Church as a layman along with his wife. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2012.

Unlike his “part-time job” as an Episcopal priest, however, Father Whitfield has learned that “Catholic priests are the busiest clergy you’ll ever meet,” with someone in his congregation of 3,600 always in need of help.

He freely makes himself available but admits that his family is always on his mind.

“I worry about getting my kids to T-ball; I worry about my kid breaking his femur (which happed last year) and about the medical bills. The rough and tumble of family life becomes part of your consciousness.”

Vaughn Treco and NormaFather Vaughn Treco, another Ordinariate priest serving as pastor of the Church of St. Bede the Venerable in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is married and has three grown children.

“My schedule is so full that my family tells me, ‘Dad, you have to carve out some time for us.’”

Father Treco has adopted a “veto rule” with his wife, Norma, so if the need arises, she can tell him to cut down his workload. “If I’m asked to take on a new assignment, we talk about it together beforehand,” he said. “It has been a comfort to her to know that she has a say.”

Financial sacrifices

Money can be tight for married priests. Father Andrew Bartus, pastor of Blessed John Henry Newman Catholic Church in Irvine, California, is a married Ordinariate priest with two small children. To make ends meet, his wife, Laura, works from home and he teaches history at a Catholic high school. Between the two incomes, they can pay their bills.

“It can be difficult, because the current framework of the Catholic Church doesn’t have a financial or housing arrangement to support a married priest,” he said.

Father Wissam Akiki is pastor of St. Joseph Maronite Church in Phoenix and the first married man to be ordained for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, an Eastern rite community in union with Rome. He and his wife, Manal, have two daughters, ages 10 and 16 months. He noted that both his bishop and parish are ready to help him with his needs.

“Money would only be a problem if I thought about my work as a job, rather than a vocation,” he said.

Father Whitfield has been grateful for the generosity of his parishioners, “who have been embarrassingly charitable and kind. Roman Catholics take care of their clergy in practical ways that I never saw in Protestantism.”

He gave the example of when his young son broke his femur.

“Without my ever asking, our parishioners delivered meals to my home three times a week for about four months solid,” he said.

Advocates of celibacy

While married priests love their families, Father Whitfield said his ordination should not be viewed as a statement that “the Church should get with the times” and allow priests to marry. In fact, he said, “I’m a huge advocate of clerical celibacy; most married priests are. I don’t support changing it.”

Instead, when Catholics see a married priest, he said, they should see a man who converted to Catholicism, believed he had a vocation to the priesthood, and “the Church, in her mercy, offers a provision for that individual to live out his vocation to the priesthood for the sake of Christian unity.”

Father Treco agreed: “When people tell me that they wish all priests could marry, I say, ‘You don’t want to wish this life on everyone.’ If the norm was married priests, with men growing families while serving as priests, I think they’d find it a daunting challenge, if not impossible.”

He added, “I think the Apostle Paul was right [in 1 Corinthians 7:7]: There are decided advantages in our ability to do our mission as celibates.”

“Our case is an exception, not a door being opened,” Father Bartus said.

Father Whitfield also discounted the idea of a married priest being better equipped to counsel married parishioners.

“What matters most for the priest in pastoral ministry is holiness. A holy person, regardless of state, can relate to parishioners and speak with the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”

Yet for all the challenges and attention Father Whitfield has gotten as a married priest — “I refer to myself as a zoo exhibit,” he said — he’s not complaining about his dual vocation.

“It’s been a beautiful experience.”

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Three Ordinariate priests and a Maronite speak about their life as married priests

  1. Rev22:17 says:

    David,

    There are, of course, two sides to this coin. Opening the doors of ordination to the order of presbyter to married “cradle Catholics” probably would bring a significant increase in the number of clergy over some period of time, diminishing the workload on individual clergy and making it easier to balance the vocation of ordained ministry with the vocation of marriage and family life. Nevertheless, the numbers of former Anglican and former Protestant clergy being ordained in the Catholic Church seems to be growing and, as the article notes, parishioners seem to be responding well to this situation. The once-feared rejection of married clergy never materialized. On the other hand, the Roman curia does not want to risk crossing the Orthodox Communion, which maintains a celibate episcopacy, in a manner that might cause a major setback for ecumenism by conferring episcopal ordination on married men, so there will always be a need for celibate presbyters, but clerical religious orders — which will continue to be celibate — probably have enough ordained members to satisfy this need.

    That said, Pope Francis has weighed in on this subject, saying that he is open to a relaxation of the discipline of celibacy but that he wants the initiative to come “up” from the episcopal conferences rather than imposing it from the top. It’s the episcopal conferences and the local dioceses that must deal with the practical difficulties such as adequate compensation and suitable housing, as mentioned in the article.

    Norm.

  2. EPMS says:

    If other denominations with congregations far, far smaller than the typical Catholic parish (1,167 households in 2010) can support married clergy I fail to see why this should be a struggle for the Church. Most parishes have rectories that once housed three, four, or five priests but now have just one rattling around. These men have subsidised the Church throughout their career and enabled their parishioners to think that three dollars in the plate (average per attendee weekly donation in 2011) is adequate.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: If other denominations with congregations far, far smaller than the typical Catholic parish (1,167 households in 2010) can support married clergy I fail to see why this should be a struggle for the Church.

      There are two significant factors.

      >> 1. Members of the Catholic Church tend to put a lot less money in the collection than members of other denominations, and often giving more to other worthy causes. Part of the reason for this probably is that Catholic parishes historically have not needed to raise more money because they have not had to pay salaries to married clergy.

      >> 2. Parochial and diocesan budgets are presently structured based on current model of compensation for celibate clergy, with substantial funds being committed to other priorities — schools, charitable works, infrastructure, etc. Providing higher compensation for a few former Protestant and former Anglican clergy who are married with children is “in the noise” because it is a very small percentage of the total diocesan budget, but higher compensation for a significant number of married clergy would consume a significant amount of diocesan resources. (Salaries and benefits of Catholic clergy are customarily paid by the diocese, though diocesan policy may require reimbursement by the parish, but salaries and benefits of lay parochial staff are paid by the parish.)

      So the bottom line is that it involves major restructuring of family and ecclesial budgets.

      You continued: Most parishes have rectories that once housed three, four, or five priests but now have just one rattling around.

      The primary issue here is the configuration of the interior space. Rectories traditionally provided a suite consisting of a bedroom and a study for each priest, often with one room entered through the other. This would not be a suitable configuration for a family, and certainly not for a home for two or three families. Also, bathrooms also might not be in the appropriate locations. Moving walls is not cheap, and moving plumbing is even more expensive. Also, here in the States, any modification to a building requires that one bring everything that’s affected — structure, wiring, plumbing, etc. — into compliance with current building codes. This could entail replacing all of the wiring and the plumbing in the building, especially in the older buildings that serve as rectories for many Catholic parishes. In many cases, it probably would be cheaper to demolish the existing structure and erect a new rectory configured for families in its place than to renovate the existing building.

      Of course, the other reality is that these transitions will happen over the course of a couple decades. Thus, both the budgetary realignment and the reconfiguration of rectories could happen in a controlled manner over some period of time.

      Norm.

  3. EPMS says:

    Education around appropriate giving seems lacking in most Catholic parishes. Instead of being encouraged to sit down once a year and establish what the household needs to give to support the parish, diocese, and wider Church, Catholics are bombarded by bingos, fundraisers, special appeals, and second collections. The US Church literally has a second collection once a month, on average. I can find no evidence to support the idea that Catholics donate to other charities more generously than non-Catholics. In Britain, they are outgiven by (in order) Moslems, Jews, and Protestants. Mormons are denied temple privileges if they do not tithe. Of course I am not advocating anything so drastic, but it does show that people will take giving seriously when demands are put on them.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      What’s probably closer to the truth is two-fold.

      >> 1. Catholics who have a serious commitment to the faith probably tend to give as much as their Protestant counterparts, but they do split it — some goes to the parish, some goes to the diocesan appeal, some goes to religious orders, some goes to Catholic Charities, and some goes to other causes.

      >> 2. Catholics who have only a nominal commitment to the faith — and there are many, at least in my archdiocese — go to Sunday mass regularly, unlike their Protestant counterparts who go to services only infrequently, but they put only a dollar or two in the collection basket and thus draw down the average giving substantially.

      The financial means of the parishioners, and their ability to give, also tends to vary pretty widely — often even from parish to parish in the same diocese, and often from congregation to congregation in many Protestant communities. There are more than a few places where Protestant pastors receive their compensation “in kind” with parishioners bringing them fresh produce and meat grown on their farms rather than putting money in the collection plate.

      That said, this does not extend to Anglicanism here in the States. Rather, many parishes and dioceses of The Episcopal Church (TEC), the official province of the Anglican Communion here in the States, have substantial endowments that generate enough income to cover their expenses even without a collection.

      Norm.

  4. EPMS says:

    St Mary the Virgin, Arlington has a clear message on this subject http://www.stmarythevirgin.org/stewardship

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s