for more from Father Matthew Venuti, visit his blog- Father Father
Do you believe priests should be allowed to be married? Why do you believe this view?
This is not an easy yes or no question. What needs to be understood from the outset is that there have always been married Catholic Priests. Here is what Church (Canon) Law says about married priests:
"Clerical celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole Church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor. Clerics, celibate or married, are to excel in the virtue of chastity; it is for the particular law to establish suitable means for pursuing this end. In leading family life and in educating children married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful."-Canons 373-375 of The Code of Canon of the Eastern Churches
The tradition in the west is that priests have been celibate, while in the East priests and deacons (but never bishops) have been ordained from among married men. I do believe that there is a high value to the celibate priesthood in the West and I do not see a reason to change the rules for the celibate priesthood in the Latin Church. The question as to whether or not priests in special circumstances such as the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter should be married will need to be answered by the generation of men who will grow up in the church, such as my 1 year old son. In summation, I do not see a reason for the rule of celibacy to changed in the normal Latin Rite dioceses of the West, but I do believe that the Church needs to do more work on thinking theologically about the values and detriments of the married priesthood in the Eastern Catholic Churches in the West and the Ordinariate.
Being a married Episcopal priest is equivalent to being a married Catholic Deacon in terms of work load and family integration. Episcopal priests have at least 1, if not 2 days a week were they are not expected to be at church, say any services or be available to their parish unless there is an emergency. As a Catholic priest I am expected to say Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day for the rest of my life and even on my one day off a week (Mondays) I am still expected to be at Church to say Mass. Episcopal priests take care of far fewer people, as the Episcopal Church is much smaller. When I was an Episcopal priest I was responsible for about 150 along with one other priest. As a Catholic priest I help take care of about 700 people along with 2 other priests and a deacon. Episcopal priests can also expect to retire in the early 70's, at which point they will be paid a comfortable salary and not be expected to have any further work in the Church, including worship services, unless they choose to. As a Catholic Priest, I do not expect to have a retirement, as older priests are still expected to say mass and the Liturgy of the Hours daily and assist local parishes in weddings, funerals and confession even after they retire from active ministry.
Was the transition to the Catholic priesthood difficult on your marriage?
Being a priest, a husband and a father has certainly meant that my wife and I need to be flexible in our planning. My priesthood essentially means that my wife can never work a full time job as she needs to be home for the children as my schedule is too unpredictable and busy that I cannot be the primary care taker. As I am the only one with a full time job, it is my responsibility to support the family financially, and being a priest will never pay that well. My wife and I have had to make sacrifices to make this all work out.
What made you decide to become a Catholic priest?
I’m often asked why I decided to join the Catholic Church, and specifically, why I joined the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.
The simple answer is that I came to understand through the grace of God that the Catholic Church was the Church Jesus Himself founded and He wished us all to be one. Once I came to that conclusion, I needed to join the Catholic Church for the love of God.
For some reason people usually respond to that answer with “OK, but are you sure you didn’t really join because you couldn’t live with A, or you don’t believe in B?” Maybe this is a common response because we as a society have become so polarized that we only know how to define ourselves in negative terms. I’m against this. I won’t do that. I won’t let them do this.
For me, coming into full communion has been an experience of positives. I have been drawn closer to God. I feel more at peace. I love the faith handed down to me.
While Leo XIII could not find that our Anglican orders were valid Catholic orders, he wished to put that all aside to let us Anglicans know how much the Church desired us. He wrote “Assuredly, with an exceeding great joy, their Mother, the Church, will welcome them, and will cherish with all her love and care those whom the strength of their generous souls has, amidst many trials and difficulties, led back to her bosom. Nor could words express the recognition which this devoted courage will win for them from the assemblies of the brethren throughout the Catholic world, or what hope or confidence it will merit for them before Christ as their Judge, or what reward it will obtain from Him in the heavenly kingdom!” (from the oft forgotten concluding section of Apostolicae Curae)
The Catholic Church yearned for the return of her children to her home. Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, this was not about coming to a new place to argue or to build a fortress to fight a war, but an embrace between long separated family who love each other.
So why the Catholic Church and the Ordinariate? For love.
Do you find that dealing with married couples easy because you yourself are married?
Most of the priests I know who are celibate give very good marriage advice because they understand what it means to give your body and soul to someone else. My marriage certainly informs my marriage advice, but I don't know that it makes it any better advice than my celibate brother priests. I do think, however, that some people find me easy to approach about marriage and family issues because I am married.
How does your wife help you in your priestly duties?
My wife helps my ministry in many ways. She assists at our small mission community for the Ordinariate by serving as the treasurer, being a lector, being a part of the altar guild and by assisting in RCIA teaching. She supports me in prayer, gives me advice and does the bigger share of the work at home so that I can fulfill my priestly duties.
Does having a wife distract you from your priestly duties?
No. I don't know how to be a priest without being married, and as we were joined in the Sacrament of Matrimony, we do this together. Certainly I have more responsibilities at home than most celibate priests, but this is not a distraction, it is simply the two vocations that God has given me working in tandem in order to serve Him.
Is it difficult having your own family as well as your parish family?
The difficulty for me will always be time management. The priesthood demands my attention 24/7, so there will always be priestly responsibilities that will mean time spent at the parish instead of with my family. I suspect most fathers have more time away from their job to spend with their family than I do.
What are the difficulties of being a married priest?
The biggest difficulty my family faces is the lack of advice out there. There are maybe 150 married priests in the Latin Rite of the Church, so instead of getting advice on many things we have to simply figure things out on our own.
How does being married provide advantages in your priestly duties?
Again, as I have never been a celibate priest, I cannot compare and contrast. I will say that my family helps me understand God better than I did as a single man before ministry. God comes to us as a Trinity of Persons in a Divine relationship, and I believe that both marriage and fatherhood help me better understand God's relationship with humanity.
How do other Catholic priests respond to you being allowed to become a Roman Catholic priest even though you were married?
I have never encountered anything other than love and respect from my fellow priests. Most of the priests of the Archdiocese of Mobile have gone out of their way to make sure I feel welcome, supported and loved by my fellow priests. Interestingly enough, the only resistance I have faced about my marriage is from lay people who do not believe that the Holy Father was wrong to allow me to be ordained. Fellow priests and seminarians have in fact told me that seeing my life has made them surer about their call to celibacy!
Do you think more men would answer the call to the Catholic priesthood if they were allowed to marry?
Absolutely not. The Eastern Catholic Churches that allow married priests do not have more men becoming priests than the Latin Rite Church. Comparing numbers of vocations in the Eastern and Western Churches it does not seem make a difference whether celibacy is required in term of the men discerning a vocation the priesthood. Priesthood is a vocation, and not a job that one elects; rather, God calls men to it. The vast majority of men and women of the world are called to a vocation of marriage and parenthood, living out holy lives sacrificing for each other for the good of each other's souls. A married priesthood would not change this. It also important to note that vocation in the United States are on the rise, in fact, for the first time in half a century there a men being told they can't come to seminary yet because there is not enough room for them at the school!