Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Quaeritur: Can I change rite & become a married priest?

I'm been writing here for about a year and a half, and I finally got the question that I thought I would get a year ago:
"Dear Panyi Matka, As a Roman Catholic with an unending love and passion for Eastern Christianity, the Priesthood, and my girlfriend, I want to know if you could provide me with some guidance as to the possibility of moving into the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church and becoming a married priest. Thank you and may God be with you and your family always. In Christ, S---."
My first interior response was along the lines of- here is another Latin-rite Catholic 'using' us Byzantines for our traditional Liturgy/married priesthood possibility/opportunity to be a big fish in a very small pond instead of one in five thousand at the local Roman-rite church. He would put up with our smallness and different-ness for a year or two and then go back to his Latin roots (literally- I think the writer is Latino or Italian in origin) But then I got a hold of myself and re-read his question.

Father Maximos of Holy Resurrection Monastery has stated that a person's primary vocation is either celibacy or marriage. This might seem counter-intuitive because the priesthood is an eternal mark on the soul while marriage is not, but one should begin with discerning whether celibacy or marriage is God's plan for their life. The priesthood is a possibility with both a vocation to celibacy (a vocation to celibacy makes being a monk or priest monk possible) and marriage for a man. 

But the Roman-rite has not had a married priesthood as a normal matter of course for hundreds of years. So what does this mean for a Latin-rite man's discernment process? Even if he likes Liturgy and theology and the Church and the idea of becoming a priest, if he has discerned marriage, the priesthood should be off the table. The diaconate is a distant possibility, but diocesan policies usually limit study for the diaconate to a man who has been married for many years. So as heartless as it sounds, a Latin-rite man who has discerned marriage (yes- even before he has found a future wife-possibility) should realize that the priesthood is not available to him. He should not attempt to finagle a way such as become Anglican and then attempt a change to Roman-rite Catholicism  or become Byzantine-rite and then really be Roman-rite with bi-ritual faculties. This is just not right or holy. 

My husband- from the old country where most priests are married with children- discerned both marriage and a hoped-for call to the priesthood when he was seventeen. Everything education-wise and professionally has a connection to his priesthood and his obligation to support his family. When he was in seminary in his country, his bishop invited those seminarians who planned on remaining celibate to study for their Master's degree in Rome. He knew that he planned on getting married, so he declined the invitation. His integrity was more important than that. And I believe that God has rewarded his honorable interactions with his bishop. He was able to study in France for two summers and in Austria for a year. He was given permission to start a ministry in the United States. But he has never been to Rome.

So in a very roundabout way, I am advising the writer to be honorable. If you have discerned marriage, then that is what you must do. If you feel the Byzantine rite truly calling your heart, then  become involved with the closest church and begin the process to officially change your rite. I would hope that your girlfriend would change as well. You should change your rite with no thought to a future priesthood. You need to live about two years of being only Byzantine before you should contact the bishop. Practically, the Romanian and Ukrainian eparchies are more open to married men working towards the priesthood, but the Ruthenian eparchies are more pan-cultural and American. 
Be honorable and be honest with yourself. If your dream as a priest involves Ash Wednesday ash distribution, not singing Alleluia during Lent, preaching in front of a thousand people, rosaries and adoration, the Byzantine-rite will not fulfill the dream. This is why living a Byzantine life for about two years is important for you to discern if this is the life you want. In addition, every pre-seminarian and seminarian (of all rites) must realize that they will or won't be ordained at the bishop's pleasure. The priesthood is not a right even when one has all the education. In the Byzantine rite of ordination, the bishop asks the people- Is he worthy? and the candidate hopes and prays that the people will sing, "Axios!" 
on a very practical note: a married man hoping to be ordained a (Byzantine-rite) priest should figure out how he will support himself and his family. Byzantine-Catholic churches are generally small and poor. If it is very small (like our two missions), he can plan to work an outside job. If grandma or auntie live close by and are willing and the church is too big to be away from, the wife might work outside the home. Different families have different solutions. The writer needs to prepare himself for a future with or without the priesthood.
....And maybe most importantly- the wife needs to be enthusiastic about a possible priesthood. She doesn't need to delude herself into thinking that all will be sunshine and roses. I knew that the day of my husband's priestly ordination was the day that satan really had the desire to destroy him and his family. But I was still game for the adventure. But if the girlfriend/wife is not hopeful and positive about it, stop. This may mean that he should not pursue this path. He was married first. As painful as it might be, he is called to be married first and then find a way to serve our Lord in His Church- just not with the priesthood.


  1. This is good. I hope it helps the person who asked, and that he joins a Byz Cath parish, even if it's "just" as a parishioner.

  2. thanks Rabbit! I hope I walked the tightrope well!

  3. I thought your advice was very sound.

  4. Now that I have more time to comment...I will say that one time, on Catholic Answer Forums, I sort of took someone to task (gently?) for asking a similar question. Of course, I can't remember what exactly the question was right now, but it was something about the two rites and the tone of "but can't I just...?"

    The subject of rite transfer is a sensitive one for me, given our experiences* with rite changing (and now you know the full story! :D). Chris had a hard enough time changing when he was already, for all intents and purposes, Byz Cath, that it ruffles my feathers when someone lightly starts throwing around the ideas of changing. Of course, it doesn't prevent me from teasing friends of mine to "go East" when they have problems with their parish religious ed office for not having 1st communion classes convenient for working parents. ;-)

    If anyone is interested in our story, start here: (Not trying to inflate my stats, PW, just sharing any information that might be of help to someone out there!)

  5. I agree with you - if he is already scheming this out before he is married, he might have his priorities out of order.

    Do you remember when Ed Peters started that big discussion last year that ended up over at Fr. Z's about whether <a href=">married deacons</a> should be abstaining from sex?

    While I think most current western-rite deacons would need some sort of exemption from this , since they were not made aware of what they were signing up for when they were ordained (my father-in-law is a married deacon and had no inkling, for sure), I think it is actually correct.

    If a man in the western-rite has any inkling before he is married that he might be called to the diaconate or the priesthood, he should fully explore that first. I think married deacons should be more of an exception than the norm they have become.

    It's a totally different cultural thing for Eastern Catholics, and I think a man who might be wanting to switch rites would have to have some strong indicator of a serious attraction and commitment to the culture, such as already being married to an Eastern-rite Catholic, or having lived for a long period of time in a country where Eastern-rite Catholicism was the norm.

  6. Julie M- thanks for the comment- the Ed Peters Roman-rite Deacon no-sex with wives 'problem' is just that the canon needs to be clarified. If a married man is permitted to be clergy- a normal married life is a part of that. Does the canon Peters refers to permit hand-holding, kissing on lips...etc with the married clergy couple? It would just get ridiculous! Would they be permitted to sleep in the same bedroom? So- I believe that by stating the canon does not permitted normal married sex between clergy couples in the Roman-rite, Ed Peters is very much against any married clergy.

  7. Speaking of deacons, PW, do you know why in our rite a man has to be married eight years before he can even think about the deaconate? I know why they have to be married awhile, but where does the eight come from?

    Our priests approached C about a year ago thinking he might have the call, and we have talked about it, but...we're not even at 4.5 years yet (next month) so we have a ways to go. He did ask if he could start the training now, and that was a big fat no. He was altar-serving at one church and will at the other as soon as they have garments for him.

  8. rabbit- these kinds of numbers are arbitrary- but I assume they want to make sure that his marriage is stable as to avoid scandal- and clergy can't remarry if the wife dies as well!

    personally I think it is a bit silly to have him put off education- but they probably want to avoid him thinking he 'deserves' ordination if he finishes a program- for good or for ill, it is the bishop who decides these things

  9. Sorry - I really didn't mean to touch a nerve there! I honestly have no idea what Ed Peters thinks about married Eastern Rite clergy. I think he makes a reasonable interpretation of canon law, but as Eastern Rite Catholics have their own code, it doesn't really matter what his personal beliefs on their situation might be. I just thought he provided good support to your statement that a man's primary vocation is either celibacy or marriage.

  10. Julie- No worries- but if the first vocation to discern is marriage or celibacy- it doesn't make the priesthood impossible- just that the Roman-rite hasn't done that for a long time. and if people click around this site they know I am not calling for changing tradition (especially if it isn't my rite)

  11. I have enjoyed your blog for a very long time now. I am a convert from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. I converted in my tweens along with my family. In college a Byzantine Catholic Church was right down the road from my school and I attended it for three years. I absolutely loved it. I immersed myself in the spirituality and I considered a long time if I should "swap" rites. After many prayers, I realized that while I deeply appreciated the rich spirituality of the East, and the beautiful Divine Liturgy, I am a Westerner at heart. And I began to appreciate why it is difficult to just change one's rite. I know a few who have done it. But I couldn't. I appreciate this post. It is about being true to one's self, yes? Anyway, I guess my point is that to change one's right is more serious than just doing it. It is about changing one internal orientation, do you know what I mean?

  12. @In Need of Grace

    I agree with you whole-heartedly. For me this internal conversion came when suddenly developed a deep love for the Epiclesis. Before that time I thought it should be removed from the Divine Liturgy because its bad theology. Now, even though I may disagree that it is necessary for validity, I have so deeply come to love and revere it as part of the Divine Liturgy. I couldn't imagine Church without it now.

    Just FYI, even though I have a four-lettered name beginning with S, I am not the original person behind this question.

    Another aside, PW your blog was mentioned on our parish facebook page: Transfiguration of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church (Denver). All the best!

  13. Preoteasa,

    this is good advice, especially about changing Rites. I hope you don't mind if I borrow/steal/plagiarise it... with appropriate citation, of course ;-)

    I think that there are two issues at play: the Rite in which one finds oneself.

    If one is going to become a Byzantine Rite Catholic one will need to join an ethnic community. So I would suggest that learning the community language is pretty important (while acknowledging that the liturgy may be in a different language). I have known Latins who have joined a Rite, and even been ordained, and they have made little effort to learn the language, which is limiting.

    The second question is of vocations. There seems to be a lot of confusion about vocations within the Latin Church. I once heard a religious sister complain bitterly that the wicked people in Rome prevented her from fulfilling her vocation as a priest. Another example is that I heard a woman who ran a "youth ministry" for a diocese assert to young Catholics that the vocation of marriage was a vocation to marry a specific individual.

    Both of these are examples of a very flawed understanding of vocation, but a flawed understanding is endemic. Usually based on "inner feeling" or something similar, giving absolute conviction to the one feeling it. Consequently, it is often left to seminary staff or bishops to give the bad news, and that is a very hard task for them - and that conversation rarely goes well.

    Just as an aside, a Byzantine Catholic priest made the observation that because many Oriental Rite priests needed jobs to support themselves and their families, it risked the vocation becoming bit of a hobby. Unfortunately, in my experience he is correct: and the worst offenders were the Latins who became Eastern Rite...


  14. bear- thanks for your thoughts- about needing an outside job- this is why we are very blessed that my husband's job to pay the bills is being a board certified hospital chaplain- he never can 'turn off' the fact that he is a priest. It is part of his job even if he administers sacraments in the Roman-rite. But my husband planned his life this way- by jumping through many, many hoops so he could have a job in ministry that pays bills (also- he likes not having to pressure our missions for stipends)

    In the east- vocations go from general to specific- celibacy would mean living single or becoming a monk which might or might not mean being ordained to the priesthood which might or might not mean being made bishop. A vocation to marriage might mean living chastely single until the right person comes along- or doesn't come along. bear, you are so right that discerning a marriage vocation comes before meeting someone. A vocation to marriage can also mean the man is called to be a priest which he would wisely wait for until he is married well. My husband was finished up with seminary and some additional education while he was waiting around to meet me ;)

  15. Dear Priest's Wife, This doesn't have too much to do with this particular post, but I just want to tell you how excited I am to have happened upon your blog! I am a BC SAHM. Definitely will read through your posts and look forward to following you in the future!

  16. Yes, I knew the "waiting" was to make sure marriage was stable and that all was well. It's funny because usually the longer one is married, the more responsibilities one has. It would have been nice if he could have started the training recently, especially while he was laid off twice. I think you might be right about the "I'm owed to be ordained now:" I bet many men think that.

    Question about your husband's "day job"--if someone in his parish needs him, can he leave? Or does he have to stay at the hospital? Conversely, if he's the only Catholic priest at the hospital, and someone wants last rites or confession at 3 AM, is he paged to come in? When DH had one of his surgeries (before we were even engaged) he was MAD that the only chaplain on call was the Episcopal priest--and a woman at that. Not that he's sexist, by any means, but it just felt weird to him to discuss faith related matters to a woman. And then she couldn't absolve him. He said she was very respectful and supportive, however, which made him at ease before the operation.

  17. Racheal- welcome!

    Rabbit- about his day job- yes, he can leave to deal with parish matters. Sometimes it is complicated- but for something like a funeral he might not even have to tap into 'vacation' time because it is 'continuing education.' It really depends.

    and yes, sometimes he goes in at the middle of the night- he tries to do 'triage' before he leaves the hospital in the evenings- but if there is a new patient in the ER, he might need to go. There is a list of local RC priests who should be called first, however if it is after hours

    many people feel the need for confession or anointing of the sick in the middle of the night when they had already refused the sacraments during 'business hours.' it can be hard on priests

  18. God Bless your husband. Really. I'm sure you hear that a lot, but it was only reading your answer did it really hit me how much he has on his plate.

    I know all priests have their trials, but to be a chaplain and dealing with the sick, hurt, and dying, all day, and sometimes around the clock, takes a very special soul. And then to go home to four busy children and a wife--I'm speechless. (Although funerals as continuing education made me chuckle for a second.)

  19. As one who frequents the Divine Liturgy and the Latin Rite, I wonder: could this monk's personal view of vocation be more "eastern" than "catholic"?

    It seems to me, while reading the early Fathers and the Bible, that a man is holy and wise who trys to do God's will every day and prays that He make it clear with whom (diocese, monastery, or woman) the man should be. So far, we are on the same page, I think.
    Obviously, no man can impose himself on a diocese, woman, or even upon a monastery; however, for us Latins, before we would even think about courting a young lady, most priests exhort us to discern whether or not God wants us to help sanctify and govern his flock. "Come and see" are the encouragements of many diocesan and monastic vocation retreats. That is a big first step, similar to the way a date is a big first step in marriage.

    The point: in the Western/Roman Church - as "opposed to" the Byzantine Church - I think the discernment process is different, with all due respect for Fr. Maximos' opinion, for even his website asks, "Aren't all Catholics the same? NO!" Also, from what I've read of the Holy Fathers, East and West, discerning whether or not we should "give our lives completely to Christ" is the primary, biblical question that Jesus is asking us. Celibacy vs. Marriage is peripheral, I believe, because it only deals with our brief sojourn on earth: in Heaven, we will all be like the Angels!

  20. This is a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing it. I can't add one productive word to the discussion, but just wanted to offer my appreciation.

  21. Great post, and excellent advice. You really addressed some of the issues I (as a non-denominational Christian) had wondered about when stumbling across your blog months ago. :-)


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