Friday, October 22, 2010

Your Husband's a PRIEST? 7 QuickTakes

After the initial shock of seeing a guy in clerics with a group of little kids calling him "Daddy"-  it usually goes like this with one or more of the following 7 questions or comments:

1. "That's weird."

Well, it is certainly unusual for a Catholic priest (of any rite) to be married in the United States.

2. "That's great! Father John Western-rite should get married, too!"

First of all, ordination to the diaconate and priesthood come after Christian marriage where permissible. So, it's too late for Fr. John to be married unless he asks his bishop to set aside his priestly faculties. In the Eastern rites, married priests cannot remarry after their wives have died. It is the order of the sacraments at play; any man ordained a priest should 'stay the way he is.'
Also, priestly celibacy in the Western-rite is a long tradition- as much as married men being made priest is in the East. This tradition should not be treated flippantly with a "married priesthood, why not?" Books have been written on the gift of celibacy, a concept that we in the East also respect with monastic life.

3. "That's great! Are you a priest, too?"

Um, no. Not possible. You might find us priest's wives more traditional than the average Catholic. We like our incense, altar boys, and our role as women in the Church. Mary the Mother of God, Martha, her sister Mary and Mary Magdalena all had honored roles in the ministry of Jesus. He didn't make them apostles even though He allowed them to sit at His feet and listen to Him preach. I'll remain in the company of these women and try to serve God by their example.

4. "So, you're Orthodox?"

No- and we aren't Anglican, either. The Pope is our boss, and he likes us!

5. "It must be really burdensome on your church to pay for a family."

Yikes! Are you really discussing money with me, a stranger? Well then, I must tell you that my husband receives a stipend (and no living expenses like house, food, insurance, car) from our 'big' mission and not one farthing from the 'little' mission. He supports himself and his family through his full-time job as a certified chaplain.

6. "That's a bad idea; a priest should have only church and God to be concerned with. Your husband can't possibly be dedicated to God, the Church and family. It's just too much."

Sometimes it does feel like too much. Like many families with a busy life, we have to be flexible. Frequently we celebrate holidays the day before or the day after to accommodate his schedule. Christmas presents are opened in the evening. With three Master's degrees between the two of us, we live in a small house in one of the most expensive areas of the United States so that Fr. can minister at the two missions.

It is not necessarily a good thing, but we have no day off. If Fr. has any time to relax, he'll take the kids fishing or to a movie. While a celibate priest might go golfing with friends or practice another hobby, my husband doesn't have large blocks of time (like a half day) to pursue interests that don't directly correlate to church, work or family.

My husband doesn't want to be 'that priest' that didn't take the time to be a shepherd, so he always makes time for parishioners. He answers his calls. No gate-keeper, we are too small. He will celebrate Mass in your home for your anniversary. Homes are blessed at the New Year and when it is requested. As you see, I think he is doing a stellar job.  Even though this life is challenging, I think it is a bit like love for our kids. The love grows. It doesn't diminish. Having two big vocations is difficult, but not impossible through God's grace. Pray for him that he fulfills his priestly vocation well!

7. "Is it hard that his vocation to the priesthood is an eternal one while your marriage is only here on earth?"

Is it possible that I share in the priesthood of my husband? When we were married, we became one. Then, he was ordained deacon and priest, a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. His ordination actually put an eternal mark on his soul while all I got was an overnight, self-led retreat in preparation for this change in my husband and our marriage. 

I might share in the practical side of his priesthood. I lead singing when I need to and step aside when another person wants to sing.  I prepare food for after the services and try to keep my little ones behaving in church. I have supported his priesthood by moving across the country twice, once with a 4-month old baby and a 4-week pregnancy. I try to subdue my feminist tendencies of wanting to be the leader. My husband is the 'important one,' and I wish I could be like Terese of Lisieux who was content to used as a broom and put back into the corner when not needed. 

There is a huge part of my husband's life that I can never understand or participate in. This is probably the strongest argument against a married priesthood in any rite. We priest's wives cannot fathom the feelings of being at the altar or the confessional. These experiences are hidden from us. God's grace abounds in these situations, but I suspect the evil one is lurking in the shadows, waiting for us to fail. Evil doesn't like husbands, fathers or priests. So it is a lot to say yes to these vocations.  All we wives can do is be positive complements to our  priest husbands like any wife. Pray for the wives and children!


  1. Thank you so much for this candid look at your life. These are questions that many of us wonder whenver discussion of married priesthood comes up. So good to hear from someone who actually knows.

  2. This was a great post! (I can't believe that people actually ask you some of those questions.) You are very respectful of the Western rite traditions-- hopefully we can be as respectful of yours!

  3. Great explanations! Isn't it shocking what strangers will say? I'd like to think that I would never do that, but I bet when I was younger...

  4. OK I'll be honest, I was curious about many of these things. Especially as someone who grew up Roman, practices Byzantine with her husband, and has heard of (but not seen) married Catholic clergy. I think we might have had one in college--an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism. So thanks for posting! I don't think I'd ask to your face, but I bet I'd talk about it with my husband, as if he'd know the magic answer!

    I have one question, and I hope it's OK. Why the Eastern church, and not Roman?

  5. Rabbit- I'm sure there are plenty of theological reasons to back up priestly celibacy- my husband was thinking about the difference and one reason might simply be practical. The Roman rite has a great tradition of far away missionary work- Eastern rites tend to stay home- before modern times, the Eastern rites stayed mostly in Central and Eastern Europe plus the Middle East and parts of India. The relative geographical stability of the Eastern rites made is easier to keep a married priesthood and families. Even now, Eastern bishops have to consider the entire family when he makes assignments. This is one reason why bishops sometimes 'push' for their seminarians not to get married. Well, that's one idea.

    The shortest answer is that we have always done it this way and the Roman-rite has had celibate priests for a long, long time. Pope John Paul II was a great friend to our tradition when he said that married men should be eligible for ordination in the Eastern rites in the US on a case by case basis.

    Remember that monks are always celibate and represent so much for us- they preserve our tradition- fasting, signing, chant, iconography

  6. Rabbit and others with questions- I hope to have a theologian write a guest post that will be more eloquent and intellectual than my explanations. Look for it- I don't know when! But it will come...

  7. This is the most beautiful description on the roles of priests from different rites. It is so clear and honest. Incredible.

  8. Popadya, I might make some observations (in different comments)

    As for being Orthodox, note that the Orthodox churches formally call themselves Orthodox Catholic Church or the Orthodox Christian Church. Since this is a reference to faith, and Catholics and Orthodox both share the orthodox Christian faith (i.e. they are not heretics) and the sacraments, I would describe Catholics as Orthodox Christians in Union with Rome (or Under Rome).

    I believe that this emphasizes our unity of faith and life in Jesus Christ, and is the best way to heal the scandal of separation.

    So, yes, we are Orthodox, but also united with the Bishop of Rome.

  9. There are a couple of things to consider about clerical celibacy.

    The first thing is that it is certainly not required, demonstrated by the existence of married clergy.

    Clerical celibacy in the Western church came from the reforms of St Peter Damian and St Gregory the Great (he of the calendar). Peter Damian himself was a Benedictine monk, and a common belief of the time was that monastic life is objectively better married life.

    It was introduced to remove the pervasive and deep corruption that had entered into the Western church - even popes were corrupt (consider John X, John XII and Benedict IX in the century preceding Gregory VII): one pope was said to have been assassinated in flagrante delicto with his lover.

    There were also many other abuses - bishops leaving their sees to their sons. Simony was widely practiced.

    However, there does seem to be a link between priestly orders and being a father. I was having drinks with students of a clerical religious order (one was a deacon at the time) after one student was sent packing.

    The deacon made a comment that one should be able to imagine a priest as a father of a family - that somehow fatherhood is implicit to being a priest. If one couldn't see the man being a father, then he was not suitable to be a priest.

    There seems to be truth in this statement - that a priest is a father to his flock.

  10. What a window into your life - thanks for sharing and supplying the information.

  11. Great post, thank you for sharing. It's posts like this that help West and East breath together as one Body of Christ.

    I LOL'd at [3. "That's great! Are you a priest, too?"]

  12. Chad- Thanks! It is my hope that the Church will be one- I think our little Eastern Catholic churches help with that :)

  13. I am wife of a latin-rite candidate for the diaconate who, God willing, will be ordained in 2013.

    Although there are many, many married deacons in the United States, there are very few in my immediate area. I have already encountered many of the same comments you posted about here. I can only imagine the confusion you encounter.

    Thank you for your wisdom and insight. It has already helped to me reflect on my role in his ministry.

    May God continue to bless you and your family.

  14. I don't really understand Bear's comment about the Orthodox. Don't they allow divorce and contraception-- among other no-no's in the catholic church? I would call that NOT being in union with the Catholic church. Sorry- please clarify, priest's wife- maybe you understand. Bear seems a lot more knowledgeable than I am, but consider me ignorant!

  15. Oh, and I loved this post! Very coherent- and I'm looking forward to more information!

  16. faithemmanuel- I would be surprised if the Orthodox Church allows artificial contraception

    Divorce is a different matter and the issue that I believe is the most difficult practical matter when it comes to unity

  17. typing one-handed-- i believe that the orthodox do indeed allow contraception if it is with the blessing of a spiritual father- perhaps another post topic?

  18. What an interesting blog! Glad to have reached it through Soulemama.

    For a long time I have had interest in the issues of married clergy -- so it is great to read your insights.


  19. faithemmanuel - I don't think Western Catholics can really point the finger too much. Recall that in the 1960s an expert commission of leading theologians and others strongly recommended to the Holy Father that he should support the contraceptive pill.

    During that time, women were being advised by their confessors to use the pill. Even today, many Catholic theologians are soft on contraception.

    The Holy Spirit intervened and saved the Holy Father from accepting the recommendations of the report.

    Many of the leading theologian, for example the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (Russian Orthodox Church), are very strongly opposed to all forms of contraception.

    What I think you are referring to is the "Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" which was approved in 2000. This document covers many things - it indicates that contraception can not be abortifacient and can not be used to avoid children all together.

    Then they consider barrier and withdrawal methods - both are rejected because of the over indulgence of the flesh.

    So that leaves Natural Family Planning and hormonal methods - and since the only really effective hormonal methods are fundamentally abortifacient, this leaves Natural Family Planning.

    Having come to that, I also note that among many conservative and traditional Catholics in the USA, Natural Family Planning is considered to be a form of contraception and therefore evil.

    So things are not as clear cut as one might imagine.

    It is worth remembering it is still barely 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, which imprisoned and violently controlled most of the Orthodox churches. They need to go through the same debates that the free Church did in the 1960s.

  20. Bear- thanks for your comment- it's so true that the Church (Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christian) needs to discuss a lot of issues in freedom- let's pray for wisdom

  21. Bear said: The deacon made a comment that one should be able to imagine a priest as a father of a family - that somehow fatherhood is implicit to being a priest. If one couldn't see the man being a father, then he was not suitable to be a priest.

    There seems to be truth in this statement - that a priest is a father to his flock.

    I agree wholeheartedly! Every priest that I know would make an amazing father, a wonderful husband. That's why they're suitable for the priesthood, a spiritual fatherhood!

    Thank you for sharing your experience as a priest's wife; this is not something I've encountered before although I understand the teachings of the Church and that marriage is permitted to some priests(even if rarely). I am enjoying your blog!

  22. I have saved your blog to my favorites, and am praying for you and with you :)

    This is so interesting to me. And my heart goes out to you, as I imagine this life of yours being so unique that you may feel "alone" in your experience.

    I share in some of what you have told us here. My husband has been the director of music in the Catholic Church for 20 years. He has also been involved in youth ministry for much of that time. For the most part, this has been an overwhelming blessing on our family. But to be sure, it also brings with it many challenges. Holidays never mean time off to enjoy family. They always mean extra work. We don't celebrate holidays or even spend weekends like most everyone else. At times, it's alienating. Even after all these years, our own families don't seem to "get" that we are not free on weekends and holidays, etc.

    But... the church is our true family. And our six children have benefited greatly by our relationships with other faithful and the many wonderful priests who have graced our life.

    I don't want to bore you by going on and on. I just wanted to say that having known so many dedicated priests, I am aware that the demands far outway that of the church music director. So, having experienced the challenges of being married to a man deeply devoted to his ministry, my heart is full of love and prayer towards you and your family.

    May God always overflow your cup with the blessings and grace of both vocations.

    Love, Linda

  23. Linda- Thanks for commenting! I think you can relate to a lot of our challenges- like opening Christmas presents at 6 in the evening :)

    But the blessings are enormous as well!

    Thanks for your kind words

  24. Hopefully you will see this--just reading the additional comments since you answered mine.

    I don't think I was clear with my earlier question--I meant it as "why did your family go East?" I know you are trying to be anonymous, so I'll understand if you can't explain without giving away too much information. Was your husband an Anglican priest before converting or an Anglican lay person? When converting to Catholicism, did someone actually say "you must be Eastern?" or did you decide this on your own?

    After we got engaged, my husband & I went to each of our priests to discuss wedding plans (me Roman, he Byzantine) and it was his priest who informed us that canonically speaking, DH was not ByzCath. Long story...and he has since "switched" Rites, but this stuff really intrigues me.

  25. Rabbit- My husband has always been Eastern Catholic- I am Byzantine Catholic by virtue of my marriage (my family became Roman Catholic from Episcopalian when I was 12)

    In Central and Eastern Europe, the Eastern rites usually have married priests- celibate priests (almost always monks) are in the minority. When my husband entered seminary at 18, he knew he wanted to be married.

  26. This is such a fascinating post. I particularly think the last point is interesting. I'm a convert, so many things are new to me (even after three years), but I didn't know priesthood was an eternal sacrament. And even in marriage, though I know that marriage as such won't exist in heaven, doesn't that have an effect on our eternal souls? It isn't as if once we die, the fact that we were married, or had children, or whatever, is suddenly erased? Is it? I hope not. That's depressing.

    I love the Byzantine rite. There is a church nearby that is Italo-Greek Byzantine and I try to convince my husband to go whenever possible. I think it's beautiful, I love the art and the incense and the ritual. But he was raised Greek Orthodox before his family converted and has huge issues with the Greek church, and this particular Byzantine church reminds my husband too much of the church he grew up in, which makes me sad. It's so much more beautiful and solemn than any of the other terrible parishes here in Las Vegas.

    Anyway, thanks for the post! Very interesting.

  27. Calah- I see by your profile you are from Las Vegas area- I've been to the parish you live close to- It's too bad your husband has issues :(

    I need to get a real theologian to explain the eternal natural of the priesthood versus marriage- One thing that might help- if a husband dies, a wife can remarry- she won't be married to both eternally or either BUT I think you are right about heaven- we are in heaven what we were on will be Calah, not some random angel...I need to learn more about this

  28. What a wonderful post!

    I am Protestant, but exploring the Catholic tradition. The mandate for priests to remain unmarried has always confused me, especially since I was raised in a faith tradition where it was unusual for pastors to NOT be married.

    My best friend is a pastor's wife, and so I can somewhat understand the nature of the two vocations, and the struggle to find that balance. But I also believe that the Lord never calls us to something without also sustaining us in that calling. And giving us the grace to glorify Him despite our broken nature and inadequate efforts.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  29. Great post! I am Orthodox - although I am not a theologian, unfortunately - and my brother, as well as our genetic heritage are all Catholic (my parents converted East in the 70's). So there is a lot of flow between the two churches for us.

    I just discovered this blog, and I love it for being a witty sort of "apologetic" for the beautiful traditions I have come to love within the Eastern church.

    For me, married priests actually make more sense than celibate ones, at least for a family parish. (BTW, Orthodox bishops and archbishops must be celibate monk-priests). Although Priest Wife has a good point that it can be difficult for the family.... First of all, it provides the priest with wonderful insight into his "flock." There is a huge difference between knowing how to raise a family theologically and actually doing it. Married priests have gone through all the same struggles and temptations as us, and, Lord willing, has been able to make sense of it in an edifying way. This good sense he can share with us during Confession, and it is easier for him to have compassion on us who aren't faring as well. I also think it is easier for us to relate to him as well; to be more vulnerable in Confession (which, for us Easterners, takes place in a room without a screen in front of an icon.)

    Moreover, I think it is healthier for the priest. I imagine it must be really hard for celibate priests in terms of getting lonely and falling into temptation. The ideal, of course, is ideal, but it can be dangerous for the soul to carry super high burdens alone. Our current parish priest IS celibate; however, and he lives in a small commune of other priests (some are married, some are not), which I think is good for him. Well, at least he gets fed well;-)

    Finally, in the Orthodox church, the call to matrimony is viewed as being equal to the calling of monasticism, and the crowns that we wear at the wedding feast are actually crowns of martyrdom to each other. Christ's first commandment is to love, and it is easy to love someone when you don't have to be inconvenienced by them all of the time. But, when you are married to them, when you have children together who are demanding 200% of your time and energy, truly loving is so much more difficult. And, when done well, such good fruit it bears! A new generation of upright and God-fearing Christians! It makes sense to me that being married is a calling just as honorable as vows of celibacy.

    I don't know where the Catholic church stands in all of this, and I am afraid I am, at least in part, speaking out of the leftover Catholic guilt associated with my mother's pre-Vatican II primary school nuns who walked around with a ruler to slap the hand of all the naughty children.

    But I really do like the practice of allowing married priests. Much of the wisdom I have gained from my walk in faith has come from these men who have lived alongside us and coped with the same issues that we struggle with, and I think that it is a wonderful thing!

  30. Aubrey said: "although I understand the teachings of the Church and that marriage is permitted to some priests(even if rarely)"

    Careful- don't get it backwards. Priesthood is permitted to some married men, not "marriage is permitted to some priests". As Priest's Wife stated earlier, "'s too late for Fr. John to be married unless he asks his bishop to set aside his priestly faculties...It is the order of the sacraments at play; any man ordained a priest should 'stay the way he is.'"
    While priesthood is a calling, and a man may be called to priesthood before he gets married, he must still get married before being ordained a priest.

  31. not sure if you'll post a comment which disagrees with you. I AM Byzantine Catholic. My childhood priest WAS married because he came to US before the rule was changed for US Byzantine priests. I could not disagree more about this practice. I believe when one receives the Holy Sacrament of Holy Orders the Holy Spirit has led our Church (capital C) to a celibate priesthood for a reason. The most important are theological reasons. There are also practical reasons..."the house is divided." My childhood priest's wife compensated for the life of poverty...yes priests should live a life of poverty, by being a kleptomaniac.
    I believe that the Byzantine church has not GROWN with the direction of the Holy Spirit, as it has been under the influence of the SCHISMATIC Orthodox.
    We are Catholic, our rites are "externals," while beautiful and very important.

    I pray great blessings on you, and hope you understand my point. For now, you are called to do as you are doing. I do not think anyone else would hear this call from the Holy Spirit

  32. Anonymous- I'm sorry you went through this with your childhood priest. But just as some people simplistically say "There would be no sexual abuse if priests marry"- then not all married priests would turn out like your sinful childhood priests. It is a matter of the individual- and kleptomania is a mental disorder- some rich people with no financial struggles do this.

    A secular priest (a non-monk whether married or celibate) are called to simplicity- not necessarily poverty. Monks takes VOWS of poverty.

    Thanks for your calm comment because I am sure your feelings are very strong (as are mine) but I disagree. There are theological reasons to allow married men to be ordained deacon and priest as well as theological reasons to retain celibacy. This is one reason why there are both secular and monastic priests.

  33. wow what a beautiful post! Thank you for explaining so well

  34. Wow, this is a great post- very informative. I learned all kinds of things I didn't know before. :)

  35. From Maggie Harris:

    I don't have a URL, so don't know if this will make its way through to you. My husband was an Anglican priest for 40 years before we came into the Roman Catholic fold via the Ordinariate. The initial reaction amongst Catholics here to married priests (he is being considered for re-ordination) is either cautious-to-hostile or "Great! our priests should get married, too!". To the former, I point out the discipline which is required of married Ordinariate priests (pretty much the same as you are under), and our own conviction that celibacy ought to remain the general norm for the Western Church. To the latter I always say, "You don't know what you're asking for. You only think marriage will solve the problems of sexual deviancy. As for loneliness, the real problem is that the priests today are isolated from one another -- and that's just as true of married clerics in the Anglican Church we came out of. And if you think your celibate priests are overworked, just try to imagine the demands on a priest who has not only a parish but a wife and family. Pray for your priests!" My daughter, who is also married to an Anglican-priest-become-Catholic-layman, agrees with me that the key to survival of a married priest -- and his marriage! -- is his wife's recognition that God has given her a complementary vocation. I have run after-school Bible clubs and youth groups, and have directed parish choirs, done Altar linens, acted as parish secretary, organized a mothers' group, and run a household on my husband's minimum stipend. I would not change any of it, though I could wish that we had not been so long coming into the Catholic Church.

    A vignette: We survived several Christmases in a Newfoundland outport where my husband / her father celebrated (Anglican) Masses for his home congregation Christmas Eve and twice Christmas morning, arriving back at the rectory with usually just enough time to open presents and swallow his Christmas dinner before we heard the coastal steamer announce its arrival in the harbour. He would grab his things and hurry down the hill to the dock, off to the other two points of the parish. Chronically seasick (in a boat parish!), he would lose his Christmas dinner over the side before arriving in the community across the bay. After two or three days, a small boat would take him to the third point. We would see him again on New Year's Day -- and then only because the Orange Lodge wanted him back in our harbour to conduct a service for them. I can't remember that any of us resented anything except the selfish motives of the Orange Lodge.

    One question I have: Did anyone interview you to determine your suitability as a priest's wife? We think the wives should be as thoroughly "vetted" as their husbands!

    1. You should write a book on your experiences! My husband sometimes celebrates Mass on a docked ship (we live close to a major habor)- but nothing like that!

      Yes- as a seminarian graduate's girlfriend, the bishop interviewed me etc, etc- he also married us- a year later, my husband was ordained deacon- was a deacon for 2.5 years and then priest- I still think that there should be more prep. and continuing 'education'- you are so right that the best way to live this life successfully is to find a ministry within the church. Then you aren't living separate lives


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