Married priests: A financial burden? Divided hearts?

It is said that if priests who are already married are allowed to return to public ministry the parish will not be able to afford them and their family, is this true? It is also said that a married priest’s heart and time will be divided between his wife, his family and the parish, is this also true?
As a contribution towards the discussions of the General Meeting of the ACP, as a married priest, I would like to share my experience on these two questions.
After 17 years of active parish work I met my beautiful wife and we decided to get married. I communicated my decision to the Archdiocese and was removed from the clergy and from all public pastoral activities and had to leave the parish. Nobody asked me how I was going to survive financially or if I had the price of a cup of tea for my breakfast the next morning.
This description of what happened to me may sound very crude and a harsh criticism of the church. I have to say that I do not carry any grudge, nor have I any bitterness in my heart against the diocese, I am at peace. Unfortunately this was the mentality 31 years ago, hopefully today priests who marry are treated differently.
Like most married priests my wife and I had to start off from scratch to set up a home and raise a family. Over the past 31 years I have managed to support myself as a teacher while at the same time doing pastoral work. During these past 31 years I have not been a financial burden on the 4 parishes that I have worked in, just like other married priests that I know. I do many many different pastoral activities; I do not, though, celebrate public Mass. I respect the discipline of the Church on this point although I do not agree with it. I do celebrate Mass in my own home for the important events and dates in our lives as a family. So we married priests have learned to fend for ourselves and the argument that we would be a financial burden on a parish is not true, at least not from my experience and that of other married priests that I know.
To say also that our heart and time will be divided is to be challenged. There are some celibate parish priests whose time is not taken up fully with the parish. They are engaged in tasks and activities such as taking a secular university degree, doing administrative work in the Archdiocese headquarters, being a member of the Marriage Tribunal Court, acting as rector in the junior seminary, and they are Parish Priests. Activities such as these entails that they are absent from the parish a good part of the day and yet their parish survives without them. They are available to the parishoners in the evening and at night. To be true though most Parish Priests are at the service of their parishoners all day.
As I said above most married priests have learned the hard way how to look after themselves and their family financially. Those of them, like myself, who are doing pastoral work, have their job to support them or may already be retired and living on a modest pension. So, if tomorrow married priest were invited back to public ministry we would continue to hold down our secular job or continue to receive our modest pension, in other words we would be financially independent. The time that we would have for parish work would also be limited as is the time of the PPs that I mentioned above but we could do both things as I do, that is have a secular job and do pastoral work. All this is possible when we have the support and understanding of our wife. Married priests could however receive the stole fees for the Baptisms and Weddings that they do , this would cover travel expenses, petrol expenses, car maintainence etc especially if long distances have to be travelled to celebrate in outlying churches.
A married priest who is convinced of the importance of forming parish teams, who doesn’t try to do everything alone, will organize the pastoral activities of the parish in such a way that the parish will have activities going on during the week even though he may have to be absent due to his job. Once the parishoners are really involved and take on different pastoral services then the parish can have a very healthy, full pastoral life. If the parish rectory is empty because there is no celibate priest living there at the moment, it is not the end of the world, the parish doesn’t have to grind to a halt. The parishoners will get used to the idea of a married priest living among them in a house just like theirs, one who has a secular job but who is fully committed to serving them.
If married priests are allowed to return to public ministry it might be a good idea first of all to carry out a pilot scheme experience, shall we say in 3 or 4 parishes of the diocese. You could have 2 married priests living in a parish and working in harmony with the celibate PP. These married priests could organize their time so that when one is working the other is on parish duty, this is just a question of organisation. There are other things I could share from my own experience as a married priest but I think these two points are the most important in the context of the discussion today on married priests.
If married priests return to public ministry and are seen working side by side with celibate priests I believe this will enrich the life of the diocese.
Brian Eyre, Catholic Married priest

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  1. There is a tradition of worker priests….priests who had “jobs”, even married, and also tended to the spiritual needs of the community.

  2. Fr. Kieren says:

    I agree with you Darlene. Sadly the worker priest experiment seems to have been forgotten. Regarding readmitting married priests back into ministry I have always thought the model of non-stipendary clergy in the Anglican Church is a possible model for consideration.

  3. Just now our parish said goodbye to all its three priests. The Parish Priest and the two Parish Chaplains all left at the same time and now we have a share in a Co-Parish Priest of the local group of Parishes.
    This is an illustration of just how serious the current situation is, as has often been pointed out by Fr.Brendan Hoban.
    In a recent Irish Times, an article written by a Roman Catholic had the eye-catching headline “Anglican renewal offers lesson to Catholic Church”. Fr.Kieren’s comments on the relevance of “Worker Priests” and “non-stipendary clergy” to the current crisis should be given serious consideration. (The Anglicans saved many small rural parishes by the appointment of non-stipendary clergy). This shows the importance of ‘thinking outside the box’ when the Church is collapsing and that a rapid response is essential to find remedies that are factual and have some hope of working to save the Church.

  4. Fr. Kieren says:

    Hi Dom,
    I feel that former Anglicans joining the Diocesan clergy have enriched the Church over here. The Ordinariate itself tends to be geographically focused, predominately based in the South rather than the traditional Catholic North of England. I

  5. Association of Catholic Priests says:

    Thanks for the responses. Darlene Starrs and Fr Kieran mentioned worker priests, “priests who have a job” and Fr Kieran said “that the worker priest experiment seems to have been forgotten”.
    As you know the worker priests were an initiative of the French Bishops in the 1940 and 1950 for priests to take up working in such places as car factories to experience the everyday life of the working class. They were great men to do this and did great work and are doing great work if the movement still exists.
    However I think that Darlene and Fr Kieran have confused the issue by mentioning this movement. I shared my experience as a married priest who has a teaching job and who also does pastoral work. I am not a worker priest in the strict sense of the word.
    I think it important to make this distinction between worker priests and priests who have got married, have a job and do pastoral work.
    I do believe that married priests, like myself, could make a valuable contribution to the life of the church if called back to public ministry.
    All the best, Brian Eyre
    Recife, Brazil

  6. Allow me to clarify….Thank you in advance…I mentioned worker priests, as a tradition before celibacy was introduced, and I’m pointing to the practice of having someone who is employed and who also sees to the spiritual needs of a Church. However, we now live in severe economic times, the world over, but, Ireland has been hit very hard, and the unemployment rate is extremely high. I suspect this would impose a serious challenge. Clustering is still apart of the equation, I suspect.

  7. Fr. Kieren says:

    Thanks Brian,
    I didn’t mean to confuse the issue with worker priests, I would be more interested in discussing the possibility of adopting a non-stipendary model as a possible mean to offer a way back to ministry, those who have had to remove themselves from public ministry.

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