Following Faith

Married Catholic priests more prevalent than you might think

First Published      Last Updated Mar 13 2017 01:32 pm

If you saw the headlines or listened to the talking heads of cable news recently, it sure seems that Pope Francis is turning the Vatican on its head by saying married men might be called upon to shore up the depleted ranks of the priesthood.

Well, non tantum (not so much).

The Los Angeles Times reports that in the United States alone, there already are about 120 Catholic priests who are married — a fact stemming from Pope John Paul II's 1980 policy change that allowed ordination of married Episcopalian and Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism.

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church's policy since that decision allows each diocese to have up to two married priests.

The stereotypical image of celibate, unmarried male priesthood prevails, but there have been exceptions. Eastern Rite Catholic churches have ordained married men as priests for hundreds of years — and, in 2014, Francis lifted, without fanfare, a 114-year-old ban on married Eastern Catholic priests serving in the U.S.

The Times reported that the ranks of U.S. priests had plunged 30 percent since 1965, with just under 37,200 presiding at Masses in 2016. Thousands of priests have left to marry during those years, and the clerical erosion in general has been worse in Latin America.

For example, Brazil, where 123 million people (two-thirds of the population) identify as Catholics, there was just one priest for every 10,000 parishioners in 2016.

However, even with his most recent relaxation on policy, Francis made it clear that perhaps allowing married men to become priests does not mean he supports allowing existing priests to marry; in other words, "voluntary celibacy" is not an option.

Bob Mims