Dear Father | If Catholic priests can't be married, why are married Protestant clergymen allowed to become Catholic priests?

Q. Can you explain why the married Episcopalian priests can join the
Catholic Church and become Catholic priests, but our own priests, born
and raised Catholic, cannot be married?

Many Americans, perhaps most American Catholics, do not know that the Church allows married priests. But there have always been married priests in the non-Latin rites, such as Ukrainian Catholicism or Maronite Catholicism. These churches are fully Catholic, obedient to the pope, but they ordain married men, although they do not allow unmarried priests to get married.

There were always some married priests in Roman Catholicism, too, until the First Lateran Council in 1123 banned the practice. (This is the tradition and continues to be the law of the Latin Rite Catholic Church to this day). And there have been married Roman Catholic priests again since 1980, when the Church said that Protestant clergymen who became Catholic priests could stay married to their wives.

There are about 85 such Catholic priests in the United States; the vast majority of the priests are former Episcopalians, although some came from other Protestant denominations. Here in St. Louis we have had an Episcopal priest and a Lutheran pastor join the Latin-Rite Catholic Church and then become ordained as Catholic priests for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The Episcopal clergy who join the Catholic Church must fully understand and accept all the teachings of the Catholic Church and submit to the authority of the pope. All Episcopal priests who wish to be ordained must be part of the Catholic Church for at least two years before ordination and must go through the process called the Pastoral Provision. This requires considerable study and testing under the supervision of the bishop, diocesan mentors and teachers. If all is acceptable to the bishop and others at various levels in the Church hierarchy, then the man is ordained. Former Episcopal priests and even bishops must go through the usual process of ordination, first as deacons then as priests. All of them, however, must be, to the satisfaction of the bishop, totally Catholic.

In a related issue, Pope Benedict XVI, in the apostolic constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus" promulgated on Nov. 4, 2009, set up a new process and structure to assist members (clergy and laity) of the Anglican Church being received into the Latin Rite Catholic Church. Clergy still have to follow the pastoral provisions of 1980.

Just this month Pope Benedict XVI announced the creation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. It is intended to function like a diocese, but nationwide in scope, for former members of the Anglican Communion who have become Catholic.

The ordinariate will be based in Houston and led by Father Jeffrey Steenson, who was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, based in Albuquerque, N.M., for three years before leaving to become a Catholic in 2007. More than 1,300 Anglicans, including 100 Anglican priests, have applied to be part of the new body, essentially a diocese.

Msgr. Shamleffer is the judicial vicar of the Metropolitan Tribunal of the archdiocese and the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Clayton. Send questions for a priest to: St. Louis Review, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119 or to letters@stlouisreview.com.

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