13 November 2013, The Tablet

Weighing my vocation, I’d have to accept celibacy – unless I was a former Anglican?

I can remember from about the age of 16 wondering if the priesthood was for me. I was brought up a Catholic, alter-served from a young age and went on to be a Eucharistic Minister. Following this I became increasingly involved with the Church, from youth work to being on the parish council. Throughout all this becoming a priest was a thought that remained at the back of my mind, along with my entire career direction in general. I had no idea what I wanted to be until half way through my gap year. It was then that I decided to train as a paramedic; the job seemed to tick all the boxes that I wanted in life, working with all sorts of people and being out in the community.

But it was also around this time that I started seriously to question whether I was being called to the priesthood. I spoke to a priest who is a friend of mine and he suggested that I should stay at university while continuing to consider this calling. However I find it extremely difficult to imagine honestly living a celibate life while being truly happy in myself and able to serve my parish to the best of my ability. This makes it extremely difficult for me to properly discern my vocation.

A lot of my friends say “Why not just convert to C of E, and then you can marry?”, but I don’t feel that I can do that. I have looked at the Permanent Deaconate, but I don’t think for me it would be as fulfilling as the priesthood.

I’m not suggesting that celibacy is completely outdated or irrelevant, but I do believe the Church is losing out on many young people who find it very difficult to consider the priesthood with the celibacy rule in place.

That is why the establishment of the ordinariate feels is a slap in face for a young Catholic like me. This is because many former married Anglican priests have been ordained priests in the ordinariate.

 I feel awful to admit this but I find myself getting frustrated when I go to a Mass that is being led by an ordinariate priest. This is not because I disagree with Protestant priests coming over to the Catholic Church, but because I feel that if obligatory celibacy is imposed on Catholic priests, then it should apply equally to priests who are joining from another part of the Christian family.

At the moment we have the situation where the Catholic Church is losing lifelong Catholic priests who have to leave their ministry because they want to get married, while former Anglican priests with wives and children are allowed to serve in the Catholic Church. In theory there is nothing to stop a former Anglican filling the shoes of a parish priest who left to marry!

I am still reflecting and praying about my own 0vocation, and I’m lucky to have supportive family and friends who encourage me, no matter what I decide. But I still find it really find it difficult not to be frustrated when I know that if I were ordained in the C of E and was wanting to convert to Catholicism, I could have a wife to support me in my ministry and be able to have a family to come home to. These are the two things I feel I need in life which I could not have if, in the future, I decided that I did want to apply to become a Catholic priest.

Edd Bartlett is student paramedic at Plymouth University

Twitter: @EddBart

What do you think?


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User comments (10)

Comment by: Didymus
Posted: 27/11/2015 14:38:15

Peace be with you Edd,

The majority of the Eastern Catholic Churches ordain married men as priests. The Catholic Church has always permitted married men to become priests.

It is a discipline (not a doctrine) of the Western/Latin Church that only celibate men should be ordained as priests. Even recent popes have stated that this discipline could be relaxed so as to allow married men in the Western Church to be ordained as priests.

For now, the Ordinariate has submitted to the standard Western discipline and agreed to maintain celibacy for priests as the norm. By allowing former Anglican priests who are married to be ordained as Ordinariate priests, the Church is graciously seeking to keep convert parishes together. However, you do have a point.

At the moment many traditional Catholics still don't realise how many married Catholic priests there are in the broader, non-Latin, Church. Perhaps within a few decades, as the dynamics of the Church change, married priests may again gradually become acceptable in the West and the discipline may be relaxed.

For the moment, it is important for the future that voices like yours be heard calling for a return to the ancient practise whereby married men can be ordained as priests. Please note though, even the Eastern Churches, a man who is ordained while unmarried takes a vow of celibacy. What's more, if a married priest's wife dies, he may not marry again, nor may his wife if he dies. For the family of a priest must be an example for all.

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 28/11/2013 20:20:08

"Each married permanent deacon, for example, has to be dispensed from the 'impediment' of being married." This points out the sheer preposterousness of the attitude toward marriage as an "impediment" to ordination ... be it to the diaconate or to the priesthood. Did Jesus "dispense" Peter's marriage before he became one of the Apostles? Did God "dispense" Mary's marriage before she gave birth to Jesus? Nonsense is nonsense.

Comment by: onthisrock
Posted: 28/11/2013 15:31:24

Hmmm ... This sounds a little like sour grapes to me. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary responses. The generous pastoral response to married former-Anglicans was exercised in the way that that particular dispensation always (yes, always) has been; i.e., by the authority of the See of Peter on a one-by-one basis. It is not the norm - and nor will it ever be. If you are exploring a vocation to priesthood, you must ask yourself whether God is also calling you to celibacy. Dreaming vain dreams about what might have been is pointless. You are who you are, in this situation. Each married permanent deacon, for example, has to be dispensed from the 'impediment' of being married. In the West, marriage has for centuries been an impediment to Orders (the impediment being lifted where pastorally prudent - but not for the sake of comfort or ease). The Ordinariate has certainly muddied the waters, but the essential issue remains the same. The norm is a celibate priesthood and if you are exploring a vocation, that's what you must consider. Even in the eastern orthodox churches (and in the eastern part of the Catholic church) where some priests are married, only celibate men may be ordained bishop - and only men who are already married (or who are single) can be ordained priest. It is not possible to be ordained and then marry in any of the historic churches, east or west. Matthew 20: 1 - 16 is worth pondering.

Comment by: David Jackson
Posted: 21/11/2013 13:11:01

Feel for you Edd. I was ordained in 1964 and after a very happy, if immature time as a priest (mainly in education not parish work) left (with Papal approval - a rescript from good Pope Paul 6th) to pursue the "alternative ministry" of marriage. So after 40 years of married life and with 3 grown up children and 4 grandchildren. I value celibacy and celibate clergy. I value equally married clergy and wouild wish for the priesthood to be de-linked from the automatic connection to the separate vocations of celibacy or marriage - for both men and women. Such steps (sweet ordinariates aside!) might enable the Church to banish clericalism, stress the ministries and mission of all the baptised and therefore, out of that emphasis, allow a rightful role to a priesthood in a non-dual church. As long as the two-tier church persists we prolong the birth pangs of a Church emerging into contemplation, Christ-centred and at the "lovng service of all that exists" (JP2 NMI). In the meantime we continue to "oremus pro invicem" and keep hoping for the Holy Spirit to allow us to welcome His/Her promptings.

Comment by: TP
Posted: 19/11/2013 13:24:10

I am actually a current seminarian with the Ordinariate, and feel that it should be clarified that the dispensation from celibacy only applies to those who have been ordained as Anglican priests or deacons and now wish to convert and study for Holy Orders. Those who pursue a vocation with the Ordinariate who are not current Anglican seminarians/priests are bound to celibacy in exactly the same way as diocesan candidates. Celibacy is obviously a very significant issue in the Church at present, and it is understandable why for many whether they have a vocation to celibacy will be the deciding factor in whether they feel that they have a vocation to the priesthood. The Ordinariate benefits immensely from the ministry of the married priests who have come into it (and let us not forget, celibacy is a matter of Church discipline, not unchanging Divine Law, as is the 'ordination' of women). However, I think that not enough is said about how great a gift celibacy can be- how it can open up the priest more fully to serve his congregation, and also how it is something that can be offered to God as a daily sacrifice of love. No one pretends it is easy, but I truly believe it is not only possible but can be one of the priest's greatest joys. I wish you God's help through the process of discernment, and hope that God's will might become clearer to you.

Comment by: Frank
Posted: 19/11/2013 01:06:30

I have the same concerns as you Edd. I'm 65 years old and entertained the thought of the priesthood as a high school and college student many years ago. Fortunately I was given the grace to enter the permanant diaconate in the United Sates 27 years ago. I have been married for 43 years and have 2 grown daughters and 5 grandchildren. My ministry has provided me with an opportunity to preach the Gospel and minister to families and the elderly. However I must admit that I still long to be able to consecrate the Eucharist. I too have expressed to both my deacon brothers and priest friends my concern for the day I am asked to stand beside a priest who has been received into the Roman Catholic Church who may very well be married also and have grandchildren. May God Bless you in your dicernemnt on your vocation.

Comment by: Comment by Peter Farrell
Posted: 18/11/2013 12:44:09

It sounds to me Edd that you are on a path that will help spread the good news whichever way you decide to go, and where the road takes you. And I agree with MM that this is the sort of personal testimony and "real life" experience which hopefully will shine through the consultation.

Comment by: MM
Posted: 17/11/2013 22:34:54

Edd, be sure to include this in your response to the current questionnaire on the family destined to inform the synod next year. Today I was in the congregation of an Anglican christening led by a woman vicar. The church was welcoming. The service was relevant, faithful to the Christian concept and sacrament of baptism. How I wished I had videod it. It would be instructional for many of our catholic clergy. For that hour I felt part of a community that was praying together without the clergy/'faithful' distinction. The hymns were sung with joy in what was a pre-reformation church building. Perhaps our hierarchy hasn't noticed but it is not only 'irregular' unions that exist. There is plenty of irregular belief and it is no less genuine, authentic and fuelled by compassion and charity than that deemed to be 'regular'. Seek the truth, Edd, and pursue your course. You can serve God fully as part of the laity. Not all of us are chosen for the priesthood. God will think no less of you.

Comment by: Severine Deneulin
Posted: 16/11/2013 15:34:19

There was letter by a Jesuit published in The Tablet a while ago which was quoting Peter saying ‘Who was I to stand in God’s way’ (Acts 11: 17). I think the Word of God does not need further explanation. The unjust structure of restricting priestly ministry to men, excluding women, and imposing on all these men not to have a special friendship with a woman, will start collapsing when humans stop being in God’s way and reproducing the injustice. We just need to remain faithful to God’s call deep in our hearts, and trust that whatever God has promised, he has the power to perform (Rom 4: 21).

Comment by: Margaret
Posted: 16/11/2013 13:28:28

Spot on Edd. Sadly. It's interesting that Ordinariate members (a significant number?) won't accept the ordination of women because that's not Catholic. But they're quite happy to accept married clergy even though that's not Catholic either. To my mind, the Ordinariate is an artificial construct (instituted to boost the anti women's ordination numbers - or is that a cynical step too far?) and its members are not Catholic at all. They are still unhappy Anglicans. If they really believed in the Catholic Church, that is what they would join.

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