Married priests: There is still so much we can do

There are some married priests who lament that they are excluded from pastoral work. There is a certain amount of truth in this for if you go by what Canon Law says about what married priests can do then yes we are barred from most forms of public pastoral work.
However if we listen to the voice of the people, who call us back to ministry, there is a whole world open to us as pastoral leaders. Secondly if the married priest is lucky to live in a parish where the Parish Priest welcomes him then better still.  I am in this happy position.
Some married priests think that Pope Francis will change the rule on obligatory celibacy, which he can do as it is a discipline and not a dogma. They are waiting for the day when this will happen so that they can, as they say, go back to being a priest, when they can return to public ministry. The thing though to be remembered is that when a priest marries he doesn’t stop being a priest, for the sacrament of Orders is permanent, and above all he is still called to do what Our Lord ordered: “Go teach all nations”.
When a priest marries he loses his position and role in society as a religious minister. He was a member of the group called the clergy. In some cases he was a P.P in charge of a parish and an important figure in society and he did a lot of good work.  Some priests, when they marry, find this change in status difficult, they find it hard.
The day may come when celibacy becomes optional and married and celibate priests will be seen working side by side. In the meantime there is so much that we married priests can still do, we don’t have to wait for a Papal decree to call us back to ministry to serve others. When people knock on my door and ask me to go to the cemetery to pray for a deceased relative or to bring the Holy Oils to some sick person I never hesitate or ask myself the question: “Am I allowed to do this?”, I just get up and go and answer their call. Furthermore in virtue of Canon 1335 married priests have the duty and obligation to offer the sacraments when they are asked for by the faithful. Canon 290 also states that the sacraments celebrated by a married priest are valid.
Steps though can already be taken and attitudes can be changed whereby married priests are welcomed into the community to do pastoral work. If the Bishop of the diocese called a meeting with the married priests who live in his diocese to discuss how they could take on pastoral activities, this would be a first step. However in the long run it is the local parish where the married priest lives that can bring about changes. A P.P. who welcomes a married priest who lives in his parish can do an awful lot of good to break down barriers and wrong attitudes. His role or position will not be challenged or weakened if the married priest is seen doing pastoral work in collaboration with him.
If the married priest has the missionary spirit he will be able to divide his time between his secular job, which he needs in order to live, and his pastoral work. It is possible to do both of these things and when he has the support and understanding of his wife and when she too is also involved in these pastoral activities there will be no conflict between being a married man and a priest.
So what are the pastoral activities that a married priest can do, activities that can be done outside the four walls of a parish church. I would like to share some of the things that I have done and do. I do know other married priests who are also doing wonderful pastoral work and doing much more than I do.
I visit the sick in their homes and in hospitals and celebrate with them the Sacrament of the Sick(Extreme Unction) when they ask me for it.
I go to the cemetery to celebrate the last rites for the deceased.
I bring Holy Communion to the sick.
I give Bible courses.
I give retreats to parish groups.
I visit the lay leaders in their homes to encourage and support them in their pastoral work.
I train people to give popular missions in the communities.
I am a member of the Married Priests Association.
I teach the Lectio Divina to Bible groups.
I am a member of the organization that fights Human Trafficking.
I am a member of the parish pastoral council.
I am responsible for the Apartments Pastoral. There are 11 apartment buildings in the parish taking part in this pastoral, each building will have up to 40 families living in them. I look for 2 leaders in each building and train them to celebrate with the families, in their respective buildings: Lent,  the month of May, in September to celebrate the Bible month, in October to celebrate mission month and in December to prepare the families for Christmas. For each of these events I have a training session with the leaders so that they are confident and comfortable to animate these events.
I celebrate Ecumenical Graduation ceremonies.
I do the above pastoral work in two parishes, one is a city parish and the other a rural parish. In both these parishes I have a very good working and friendly relationship with the Parish Priests. I was the one that made the first contact with the Parish Priests and offered my services.
These are just some examples of what a married priest can do in spite of all the canonical restrictions placed on him.
I am often asked if I celebrate Mass in public. The answer is no. I respect Canon Law on this matter although I don’t agree with it. I do though celebrate Mass in my own home from time to time for the important anniversary dates and occasions of our lives as a family, we have two children, they are now grown-up. As well as these times I  concelebrate Mass every time I go to church and I do this from whatever church pew I may be sitting in, I don’t have to be physically near the altar to concelebrate. I do this because I love the Mass and I know in my heart that I am a priest.
Here in Brazil there are communities that are without frequent access to Mass,  the priest of the parish just cannot get to them regularly as his parish is so big.  I would willingly celebrate Mass for them if I was called to do so. Why can’t I celebrate for them? The de facto situation is the following:  I could be a married Catholic priest and be in charge of a Catholic parish if I had started out as a married Anglican priest. But I can’t be a married Catholic priest and be in charge of a Catholic parish because I started out as a celibate Catholic priest.
Hopefully the day will come when this brain teaser will have no meaning.
Brian Eyre: Catholic married priest, Recife, Brazil

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  1. In the US we have many priests who have left the active priesthood to be married. In at least one case the man who left was replaced by a former anglican who was married. How confusing for the faithful. We are looking at a devastatingly increasing loss of active priests because of retirement, sickness, overwork, stress and other factors. The bishops continue to ignore the problems and simply demand more of the few who are left . Some who have left the active priesthood do not desire to return, others who would return have no invitation. The bishops here are too afraid of the curia to be leaders in the church. We should have the option to accept a return to active ministry for those who desire it. I have been in many parishes where there are “former” priests who have indicated a desire to function. I hope that in the not so distant future they will be recognized and welcomed.

  2. Though I feel the Church should reconsider the rule of celibacy, I am convinced it never will, and that is a shame. We are losing good men who long to serve Christ and His Church, but cannot. How quickly the Church forgets that Peter was married.

  3. Mike Kerrigan says:

    Thank you, Brian, for this positive – and useful – account of how married priests may still serve – though ‘unofficially’. Why not reeive them back into full service? Francis asked for bold and imaginative initiatives from the bishops of the world – here’s one they could dare to take! Here in the UK, even if only a fraction of the estimated 10,000 who have left in the past 50 years wanted to return to active ministry, it could make a huge difference. Add to that ordaining married laymen (other than ex-Anglicans) and our looming priest famine could become a glut! Oh, and by the way, Maureen, you may be too pessimistic: Francis says it’s in his dairy!

  4. I am the wife of a married priest. Even though, my husband had retired a year before we got married after giving over 50 years of his life to active ministry, it breaks my heart to know that he cant do the things he used to do. There is an inconsistency in the church, when a priest marries, he can no long serve as a priest in public, yet an Anglican can be ordained a catholic priest and have his wife by his side, and a widower, maybe with children, etc can be ordained a catholic priest too. With the shortage of priests today, the Vatican should wise up on the celibacy law and make it optional. Why cant they ask the faithful what they would like? That would be a change for the books.

  5. Thanks for your post Mike. I hope you are right!! Agreed, with Francis, I should be more hopeful. Thanks for the reminder.

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