“Proven Women”

It has been wonderful to read the Report of the ACP Annual General Meeting, a positive report free of bitterness and anger. Congratulations to the organizers and to all who took part in it.
As a married priest who lives thousands of miles from Ireland what can I say? I can see that the changes put forward at the AGM meeting are coming, I can see winds blowing in different parts of the world and not just in Ireland. Recently Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor said that he would ordain married men. I’m like Martin Luther King I have a dream. I dream that one day celibate and married priests will be working side by side for the good of the people at parish level.
The AGM meeting touched on very important things such as clustering parishes, ordaining viri probati, allowing married priests to return to public ministry, ordaining women as priests. The time of the meeting though was short and there were many things to be discussed but I would have liked to have had something else brought up, something that the Christian community will need to look at in the future, maybe it will be discussed at a later meeting.
Yes it was very necessary to discuss the above topics in the light of the situation of the church in today’s world but don’t you think that the discussions were a little bit too male centered?, could a thought not have been given to the priest’s wife for after all she will be a very important person in these changes? The proposal to ordain married men says that they should be “proven men”, “viri probati”, but what can we say about the qualities to be looked for in a priest’s wife, must they also be “proven women”?
What can be said about a priest’s wife? First and foremost she should be a companion to him and he to her as Genesis puts it so well (Gen 2, 18). This being so her husband, the priest, must make sure that he has time to listen to her and to be at her side, to be there when she needs him. It would be wrong if he had time for everyone else and not for her. She, on the other hand, will understand and support him when he is called out to minister to the faithful.
She can be like any other wife and mother in that she will have her circle of friends, have some kind of pastime, and like any other normal woman look after her appearance and dress. It will be good if she can be active in the wider community by taking part in projects or campaigns that will benefit the larger community. This will give her a much needed break and change of perspective.
If she has had pastoral experience of church work this will be good, although this is not essential to the marriage relationship. If she has this experience she will be able to give support to her husband in his pastoral activities by bringing to them a feminine touch, so necessary when you are dealing with people. My lovely wife Marta helps me a lot in my pastoral work. Together we talk about the different community pastoral problems, we plan and do pastoral work together. She is a tremendous source of encouragement to me in spite of all the canonical restrictions placed on married priests.She has also been a power of strength when we had to go through difficult times like when I became unemployed and we had to live on the dole until I found another job.
From the nature of his role as priest in the community she will be singled out by some for scrutiny and even gossip and so will need to have a strong character, act and be herself and remember that she hasn’t got to be a mini-priest or go around with a sanctimonious face. Her greatest role will be first and foremost to love her husband and children.
To be sure the role of the priest’s wife will arise in the future but there is no harm at looking at this now and even learning from other churches that have a married clergy. Today we have happy celibate priests, tomorrow we want to have happy married priests. I will always remember the advice given by one of my Brazilian Bishops at a clergy meeting when he said: “If you marry choose well”.
The Annual General Meeting of the ACP has thrown out ideas and offered solutions. The thing is to continue to knock on doors even though these ideas are not welcome at present. There are though signs that things are changing and will change like the situation that arose in Killaloe where the women made their voices heard with regard to the introduction of the permanent diaconate for men only. It would be good if the Christian community let the hierarchy know that they want the Eucharist to be made available in their parish on a regular basis, and if this means calling back married priests or opening up the priesthood to women or ordaining married men then these changes should be brought in. Our Lord gave us a very clear command when He said “Do this in memory of me”, the church in the modern world has to be faithful to this command and have the courage to make it feasible.
Brian Eyre: Catholic Married Priest, Recife,

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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Brian, the title of your article [‘Proven Women /Mulieres Probatae’] led me to expect something else – but you gave that possibility a mere six words in the tail-end of your final paragraph: “opening up the priesthood to women”. Now that’s where your “Proven Women” would really come into their own.
    You do know that Maynooth’s most notable resident, at Moyglare, is Bishop Pat Storey, Bishop of Meath & Kildare? Her husband, Rev Earl Storey, a ‘vir probatus’ in his own right, has more years in the priesthood than has his wife, the Bishop. No doubt their two grown up kids are ‘homines probati’ on their own account.
    Meanwhile, back home in Crossmaglen, the parish has today taken possession of its very own all-male, all-permanent Armagh Deacon – one of the 10 Mary O Vallely admired in their flowing clerical robes some weeks ago. A small step for a married ‘vir probatus’, a giant leap for Upper Creggan Parish. Hmmmm? Let’s hope he ruffles as many feathers, and sets as many sets of teeth a-grinding, as did the Deacon Stephen.

  2. Soline Humbert says:

    …and the spouses of ordained women?
    ” Their greatest role will be first and foremost to love their wife and children”?…
    Perhaps we can also learn from other Christian churches in that respect….
    I also have a dream for the church: that all ministries be open to those who have the necessary gifts of the Spirit and calling,irrespective of their genders.

  3. Would a priest’s wife be barred from having a professional life of her own?
    Would this have to be in the religious sphere?
    I know there are some examples in the church of Ireland of a marriage of male and female priests and no doubt this raises its own problems with career moves (a bit like in the diplomatic service).
    But a professional life outside that of the church?
    Worth a thought now.

  4. One of the arguments used for the maintaining of compulsory celibacy is the ‘availability’ for service that it supposedly allows its adherents, over those who are in married relationships. To me this nothing more than promoting the virtue of slave labour. I would prefer priests to do an honest day’s work like the rest of us, while at the same time maintaining life-enhancing balance and healthy boundaries in their lives, both physical and mental. This would be much preferable to them buying into some false sense of needless martyrdom, suggested and imposed on them by a system that no longer works and by those in positions of power who have a vested interested in maintaining the status quo. A good spouse would ensure that high blood pressure or that first heart attack was not an inevitable part of the job.

  5. Thank you Eddie for your observation above…I, too, thought that perhaps “proven women” was going to be about the choice of women for the priesthood…Alas, not, so….as the saying goes…”behind every good man is a good woman”…However, that is also the problem…the woman is behind the man…And while I have never partaken of the marital nuptials…would that we all have the kind of marital relationship that Bryan describes…only…I think, I would have submitted this entry, if I were Mrs. Eyre, known as the wife…since, it was about Mrs. Eyre…Step up front Mrs. Eyre…

  6. I apologize Bryan, you do tell us that your wife’s name is Marta.
    Unfortunately, the impression that I have from your entry, is that “Marta is the good little woman”. Perhaps, you are the “good little man”. If you and Marta share a genuinely reciprocal relationship, then, that is, definitely admirable. You might well be a ” proven man” and Marta, a “proven woman”. The thing is, the Universal RC Church has not only proven men, but, proven women, right from the time Jesus strolled through Palestine. The Universal RC Church has women from every walk of life, culture, and profession as proven women. In the world, women have made some strides, but, overall, the Universal RC Church has relegated its proven women to being the perpetual, eternal,….”help-mate”.
    Now, I’m very fond of praying “Mary’s Canticle”, in which, she refers to herself…as the handmaid of the Lord….I believe, all Christian men and women are the handmaids of the Lord….needing to do God’s will…but, with women…it can have a different connotation….Mary did not say…”I am the door mat of the Lord.”
    All proven men and women of the Universal RC Church ought to have the honour and responsibility of serving Christ and His Church, according to the “gifts, grace, and power” that he has given each.
    Look at Pope Francis’s sermon for last Saturday, with a message for the bishops and shepherds of the Church. He says….God’s dream for the people can be thwarted by bad shepherding….(para–phrased), That “bad shepherding” has it roots at the Vatican…Case in point, I would bet my last dime, that JP II would now take back every word…now, that he is TRULY enlightened!

  7. Mary Vallely says:

    May I echo Soline’s dream for the church @2,
    “that all ministries be open to those who have the necessary gifts of the Spirit and calling,irrespective of their genders.”
    I shouted out a passionate ‘Hear, Hear!’ to that when I read it and I empathise with those whose charisms are not yet recognised or accepted. Some day, some day…
    I strongly believe that the Jesus whose life I follow in the Gospels would concur. Did he ever discriminate?

  8. Martin Harran says:

    @MM You said “I would prefer priests to do an honest day’s work like the rest of us, while at the same time maintaining life-enhancing balance and healthy boundaries in their lives, both physical and mental.”
    I suspect that most priests do a far more “honest day’s work” than many of us. Do you really think that a priest should also have another full time job? Can you picture somebody working 9 to 5 in some stresful or tiring job. Then when they get home, they have to throw dinner into themselves to head off to a wedding rehearsal or some other mundane activity. They go to their bed and get a shout at 3:00 a.m. from a family whose nearest and dearest is near death so he heads out and spends several hours with them. He still has to get up at 7 o’clock, of course for his day job. Is that “maintaining life-enhancing balance and healthy boundaries in their lives, both physical and mental”?
    Don’t get me wrong, I am totally against *compulsory* celibacy and think that there are many other models we can look at involving ‘viri probati’ as well as ‘femina probati’ but they will involve radical reappraisal of the level of service and availability we expect from our priests. In the meantime, I think you are maligning our current priests by somehow suggesting that they have an easy life, particularly when they are the ones bearing the physical brunt of the declining number of priests available.

  9. Martin @ 8. I know many young couples who both hold down full time jobs. When they go home after a hard days work they have very little respite from the demands of their young children,and more often than not they get very little sleep. So much for work life balance for them either.

  10. Fergus P Egan says:

    A twist on Martin Harran #8
    Can you picture somebody working 9 to 5 in some stressful or tiring job. Then when they get home – no, before they get home they pick up the kids from the sitter – then when they get home they have to throw dinner into themselves and the family, and then head off to a wedding rehearsal, soccer, swimming, cubs, dancing, piano, choir, parent/teacher meeting, block parent, or some other activity. They go to their bed and get a shout at 3:00 a.m. from a child with colic or a bad dream. He still has to get up at 7 o’clock to dress the kids and ready them for school via the sitter’s (because it takes over an hour to get to work and the school is not yet open), and then put in a “day’s work”.
    This is normal 24/7 for most parents of small children.

  11. We don’t have to pit parenthood against priesthood. Both are noble callings and both call for total sacrifice. Can a normal man do both or will be be torn in two? Will one suffer or can he really give everything, and I do mean everything to both? Is this fair or realistic?

  12. Soline Humbert says:

    About “Proven Women”, the death has occurred of a woman whose spiritual mettle was truly proven, Sr Christine Vladimiroff. Those of us who organised the 2001 Dublin Conference on the ordination of women remain eternally grateful to her for her courageous witness to the true meaning of obedience. May we be inspired by her example.

  13. Martin Harran says:

    @Anne and @Fergus – as the father of 5 kids and now with 8 grandchildren, I don’t need lectures about the pressures on parents of young kids – I’ve been there and bought the T shirt.
    That doesn’t change the fact that priests, in a very different way, also lead a busy and demanding life.
    Do you agree with MM’s claim that they don’t do an honest day’s work?

  14. Martin Harran says:

    @Shaun I think *some* normal men – and women – could balance both and that is the only real hope for the future left to us. As I said in my original post, however, it will require a radical reappraisal of the level of service and availability we expect from our priests.

  15. Martin! ,I live in rural Ireland where my late husband served as a Garda Sergeant. He was available 24/7 if needed. He worked closely with the local clergy as it often happened that both of them were called out to the same emergency and more often than not the local Doctor would be there as well. But that was twenty years ago when churches were full. Everything have changed beyond recognition since. Garda Stations have closed , the Gardai don’t live in the community in which they serve anymore. Mass attendance has dropped dramatically, this would indicate that the workload of the priest has diminished also so I do think that some priests could hold down a job or have responsibility for a larger area.. As I see it some priests are completely overworked while others are not. It is up to the Bishops to decide how many of the faithful each priest should be responsible for..My husband was also available to the public over an area five times the size of the parish area , day and night was very active in GAA at local and county level ,but we still managed to bring up seven children and now I have 13 grandchildren also. I have worn the T shirt too!!

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