Living as a Married Priest
Living as a Married Priest.
In my last post I explained a lot of the rules regarding Catholic priests who get married.
There has always been a negative stigma for priests who leave active ministry and then get married. Often families and friends are embarrased and even angry. Thus most priests who got married, with or without church approved dispensations, have kept it quiet.
When I got married my family was kind of supportive. However they all lived in Michigan and my wife and I were in Arizona. When we did go back to visit my family was great with us. Most of them had actually met Nancy, my wife, years earlier when we were classmates.
My first son was born ten months before we got married. Families love little babies so there never were any real issues with my family (except that they probably questioned why an active priest had a child!). The day my son was born I called my mother to tell her and her words were, "I am not exactly sure how I should feel." So, I told her to be happy. From the innumerable number of gifts that my mother has sent to my two boys on every possible occassion, I am sure that she is really happy about these two grandchildren.
For the first thirteen years of my marriage I kind of lived like being a married priest was something to hide. I never told my neighbors. Eventually whereever I worked people would find out that I was a priest. That often would lead to interesting and personal discussions about many issues.
A few weeks after I started working at the city government job the city's financial officer came into our department office, he recognized me, then he went into my director's office and asked why he had hired "my priest." I had prepared the financial officer and his bride-to-be for marriage and I had officiated at their wedding.
During those first thirteen years of marriage we did not do much about church. We rarely went to church.
Though I was the computer guy, my wife learned a lot about computers. She helped out at my children's school and set up their computer lab. Someone there mentioned to her that a nearby high school was having trouble getting a computer teacher for the coming year. So, Nancy checked it out and she got the job teaching basic word processing. The problem: it was a Catholic high school. She worked there the whole year but she was constantly afraid that someone would find out that she was married to a priest. I did not find out until halfway through the year that the high school's priest chaplain was a friend of mine and he knew all along who Nancy was, but he never told the administration.
I might not have made this clear in my history post, but Nancy attended the same graduate seminary that I did. She completed all of the courses. Like me she has a Master of Divinity degree. In other words, if the Catholic church ordained women priests, she has already completed all of the training!
During the fourteenth year of our marriage, Nancy decided that she wanted to get involved in something having to do with church again. She did not feel that she could do that within the Catholic church so she searched out other churches and she found a nearby Episcopal Church parish. She found herself fitting in really well with the people there. Then she asked me to start attending. At first I was hesitant because I was not familiar with that church (except that I knew that many Catholic priests after they got married joined Episcopal churches as priests because the Episcopal church allowed their priests to be married).
Eventually I started occassionally attending Sunday services at the nearby Episcopal parish church. If someone walked in off of the street they probably could not tell an Episcopal mass from a Catholic mass (unless they looked really close). In other words I was almost at home at the Episcopal church. But I was a Catholic priest and people at that church got to know that I was a Catholic priest. To them that was fine; almost half of the Episcopalians were former Catholics. Once someone from the Episcopal church called me and asked me to visit one of their people in the hospital because both Episcopal priests were out of town (and the person was in the Catholic hospital). I did make the visit, of course.
So, for the past five years I have attended that nearby Episcopal church on occassional Sundays. I have continued even though my wife divorceed me four years ago. It is a great place to worship.
There are some organized groups of married priests. Though I had been members of those groups for many years, only in the past two years have I attended meetings and gotten to know the stories of some of those guys.
One group, CORPUS (Corps Of Reserve Priests United for Service) I joined while I was in the seminary when I first suspected that I may want to get married. Last year I attended their 30th anniversary meeting. That group has been trying to raise awareness within the church for 30 years that married priests are willing to help the church if the church would just let them. Now that Cardinal Ratzinger has become pope their cause still looks hopeless. (See: http://www.corpus.org/ )
The other married priest group, CITI (Celibacy Is The Issue), while also trying to raise awareness takes the approach that married priests should get involved in doing ministry now. Many priests in the group do marriage preparation and weddings. Some are hospital chaplains. Some have even put together whole parishes. They have been encouraging me to get active doing some kind of ministry. The founder of the group was a marketing person so she developed an alternate name for the group: RentAPriest. (See: http://www.rentapriest.com/ )
There is a local Phoenix group of about six married priests who meet for lunch once a month (wives come, too). One of them advertises heavily and has a wedding ministry that keeps him busy with weddings every Friday and Saturday.
There is another priest group that I used to participate with: NAPP, the National Association of Priest Pilots. Many of the priest pilots are active in ministry related flying activities. Some New Mexico priests fly medical supplies into Mexico. Several priests work for medical missions in Africa where the airplanes are their primary transportation. After I got married I sort dropped out the group - - because I was not a priest in good standing with the Church. About a year and a half ago I accidently ran into the priest pilot who publishes their periodical newsletter. He added me back onto the mailing list. This past summer I went to their annual meeting. I was the only married priest there and I was almost a celebrity, even the one bishop who showed up was friendly to me. Those are good guys.
In summary, during the years that I was married I did not do much as a priest. In retrospect I regret that I was not more involved in ministry activity.
As I look forward, I am getting really interested in being involved in church ministry. If my bishop will let me get back into parish work that will be great. If he does not, then I will have to search out people in need of a ministry leader.
I notice that this page is receiving lots of readers who find this page through search engines for various search words. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail if you would like to make private comments or ask about anything.