The Problems with Married Priests?

From Simcha Fisher (I’m quoting the whole thing so I can take this apart piece by piece):

Why doesn??t the Latin Rite Church just start ordaining married men again? If men can??t or won??t stay celibate, then why force the issue? Well, I peeked into the future, when married priests are commonplace, and this is what I heard in the pews:

??Well! I see the pastor??s wife is pregnant again! What is she trying to prove? Must be nice to pop ??em out year after year, while the parish has to support all those brats.??


??Well! I see another year has gone by and the pastor??s wife still isn??t pregnant. A fine example they??re setting! I won??t have them teaching my children CCD, since his own wife is clearly on the Pill.??


??I went to the rectory the other day to talk to Father about my divorce, and those damn kids of his wouldn??t shut up for a minute. Sounded like a herd of elephants running around up there ?? I couldn??t keep my thoughts straight. How can he give me advice about my family when he can??t even control his own???


??I have to talk to someone about my kids, but I would never go to Father ?? his kids are so well-behaved, he could never understand what I??m going through. I swear, his wife must drug them or something ?? something ain??t right there.??


??I see the pastor??s kids are taking tennis lessons! I guess they??re doing pretty well?? no need for me to leave anything in the basket this week, when we??re barely getting by.??


??I see the pastor??s kids are wearing such ratty shoes. What a terrible example he sets! No one??s going to want to join a church that encourages you to have more kids than you can care for.??


??I wanted to meet with Father to talk about the new brochures for the pro-life committee, and his secretary said he was busy ?? but on the drive home, I saw him at the McDonald??s playground, just fooling around with his kids! I guess I know where I stand in this parish! Harumph.??


??Everyone thinks it??s so great that Father started all these holy hours and processions and prayer groups, but I saw two of his little ones sitting all alone, just looking so sad and neglected. It??s a shame that any children should grow up that way, without proper attention from their parents. Harumph.??

And so on, and so on. I??m sure you can think of more. Imagine if his wife had a job? Or imagine if she didn??t have a job? Imagine if his wife wore jeans? Imagine if she wore a veil? Imagine if he got an annulment, and then started a new family? Would the parishioners pay for alimony or child support? Imagine if the priest could get married, but was still single? Is he gay, or impotent? Is he hitting on me? Is he hitting on my daughter? [As Abby pointed out, no rite has ever allowed already-ordained priests to marry, so this wouldn’t be an issue!]

I??m paraphrasing here, but I remember a pathetic prayer uttered by the semi-fictional Don Camillo: ??Please, merciful Lord, if I have to blow my nose while I??m up at the altar, let me do it in a way that doesn??t offend anyone.??

And it wouldn??t just be a matter of doing the right thing and shrugging off unjust gossip ?? it would be so hard to know what is the right thing to do. I see how my husband struggles to work hard at his job, make enough money, and strategize for the future, because we??re all depending on him ?? and then comes home and puts it all aside to become the sympathetic and appreciative husband and the strong but playful dad. And he only has one family.

It??s hard enough for men to balance family and career ?? what if, as priests, they had to balance their biological family with a spiritual family of parishioners? Whose needs come first?

And did I mention? The average American Catholic diocesan priest makes between $15-30,000 a year.

Look, I know there are some families that could hack it. There are some that do, and I??m sure there are some that do very well, especially if the parish is close-knit and conservative, with a long, comfortable tradition of married priests. And I know we??re likely to see more married priests soon, since our beloved (and thrilling!) Benedict XVI has so warmly welcomed the Anglicans in.

How??s it going to go? I don??t know. I??m not saying it??s a bad idea; I??m just saying it??s not the no-brainer heal-all for anemic numbers in the seminaries. All the hypothetical nasty comments above are things that people say about decent, hard-working, LAY Catholic couples with private lives. Other people have no business judging them ?? and yet they do, all the time. How much worse would this gossip (and the attendant protest via empty collections basket and empty pews) be if the couple in question had much less claim to a private life? Parishioners tend to feel like they ??own?? their pastors. This can take the form of befriending and loving him, making him meals, and praying for him ?? but it can also take some uglier forms. I cannot imagine enduring such scrutiny as a pastor??s wife or child, especially without the graces of Holy Orders that help a priest survive his daily ordeal.

Simcha, you’re not that far off. I could make peoples’ skin crawl with the things that have been said to me and about me. In the last 9 years, I’ve had:

-people criticize me for getting a job outside the home (because “a smart girl like [me] could surely find some way to work at home”)
-people criticize my decisions when I was pregnant (and the fact that I hid it until someone guessed and called the entire church to tell them)
-one person tell me how I could have prevented the pre-eclampsia (more specifically HELLP Syndrome with a 30% abruption) and Daniel being born early if I’d done things differently when I was pregnant (because, you know, doctors electively choose to do c-sections at 3:45 a.m., right?)
-people criticize my clothes (apparently, I’m a Lutheran goth?)
-people complain that I do too much around the church
-people complain that I don’t do enough around the church
-people complain that I’m inhospitable because I told them they couldn’t come over randomly (while I was recovering from gallbladder surgery)
-people scream me out in public and then force me to apologize for making them make a scene
-people make up things and claim that I said them or that my husband said them
-people chew me out because my husband hasn’t been to visit them (because, you know, he’s OUT OF TOWN)
-people complain about my weird dietary habits (a.k.a lactose intolerance, FOOD ALLERGIES, and an inability to process grease)
-people use me as my husband’s message board (because, you know, they can’t walk 10 feet and tell him something)

So how do I survive this without the graces conveyed by Holy Orders?

1.) I blog. I use WordPress for a reason — passworded entries. I can get the toxic stuff out that way.
2.) I can separate the “wheat from the chaff”. In other words, I can separate the nasty people from the truly good-hearted people and I focus on the second group when I’m feeling like I want to convey bodily harm to the first group.
3.) I have friends outside of the church and the community. This goes with #1. Blogging has given me a network of people who have NOTHING to do with the church or with the community in which I live.
4.) In Minnesota, I took LONG walks. During some rough patches, I’d do an hour of taebo and then go for a 3-mile walk. I lost 25 lbs and my gallbladder. It also worked off some of the stress.
5.) I crochet. OK, I don’t do much of it right now because of Daniel but it was a way to work off some of the nervous energy.

As for whether it would solve the priest shortage, it wouldn’t. There’s a clergy shortage across the board regardless of whether you be Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. Having a young priest or a young pastor with a family does not bring the young people to church either.

Regarding the balancing of family and parish, it’s one of those things where it’s possible if the people in the parish are relatively sane and realize that the pastor has a family and that it would be NICE if he got to see them. Stuff like graduations, school plays, choir concerts, and such can be scheduled in between council meetings, Confirmation classes, and parish duties. Jon did not miss any pre-natal appointments that he wanted to attend and would have been at Daniel’s birth if it hadn’t been such an emergency event. (I had to be transferred to a hospital 90 minutes away in the middle of the night and was there for literally 30-45 minutes before they wheeled me into the O.R. for my c-section.)

Emergency calls happen. It’s the nature of being in a profession where you are on-call 24/7. However, I can count on one hand the number of calls between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the 7 1/2 years that Jon has been ordained. When those calls come in (even if it’s early evening and he’s just gotten home), I never question it. It goes with the territory.

Finally, I think it is important to remind everyone that the ministry is a vocation and a calling. My husband does not do it for the money — he does it because God called him to it.

3 thoughts on “The Problems with Married Priests?

  1. I tend to be a pessimistic introvert- so I have to force myself sometimes to be positive- there’s a lot to be positive about with my husband’s ministry!

    It must have been so scary with the baby…I’m glad you and he are okay!

    • it can be hard to be positive at times. i do try to force myself to laugh… even if it seems impossible at the time.

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