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From Anglican to married Catholic priest
Redlandsdailyfacts ^ | July 28, 2005 | Gregory Elder

Posted on 07/30/2005 6:10:33 AM PDT by NYer

Thursday, July 28, 2005 - "Well," I mused, "what should I write my column about this week?"

This is a question that generally dominates my life from about Monday evening to the early hours of Wednesday morning. During the semester, many of my questions come from my students, but this is July and I was sitting in the diocesan offices with my canon law tutor eating sandwiches.

I was hoping he would answer something to the effect of "Write about ancient Mesopotamian fertility cults." That lecture is always a big hit at the college.

"Gregory, you have to write about what has just happened. You owe it to your readers to explain this." He said this at the moment at which I was about to be filmed by Fox News to explain the papal decree which would authorize my being ordained as a married Roman Catholic priest. I have since been interviewed by two television stations, been on live radio and in a lot of newspapers in the past few days. It has not been dull.

Normally I write this column in the tone of my professorship and keep my own views obscure, and I strive to be objective. Indeed, in the dozen or more years I have written this column, I have struggled to be a source where different religions get a fair view, and most times leave my own views on one side. My heartfelt belief is that the more we understand one another, the fewer people get hurt, and this poor column is my own blow against prejudice and misunderstanding.

That said, it's not every day that I get a decree from the pope, it gets in the press and I find myself on the evening news. So for a brief moment, let me lay aside the academic gown of restraint and share my story.

I am pleased and humbled to announce that my bishop, the Most Rev. Gerald R. Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino, has received permission from Rome to ordain me to the Catholic priesthood. I will be the first canonically ordained and married Catholic priest in the history of this diocese, or province, of the Catholic community. Perhaps a word of personal history is in order here.

I was born and raised a Protestant in the Episcopal Church. After I finished my bachelor's degree, I studied Anglican theology at Oxford, received a solid grounding in Scripture, Calvinist and Lutheran theology, and a very Anglican grounding in the patristic fathers, whom I have often cited in these pages.

In 1983 I was ordained a deacon and an Episcopalian priest, and I served for almost 20 years, serving three congregations in addition to my professorships. I have nothing but fond memories of my service in the Anglican Communion.

In 2003, convinced that it was impossible that a merciful Christ would allow the vast majority of Christians who call on his name, both over the centuries and today, to be led into gross error, I left the beautiful and gracious house of faith I was raised in and entered the huge and complex basilica which is the Roman Catholic Church.

There is a seldom-used rule, established by Pope John Paul II, which does allow Anglican, or as they are called in this country, Episcopalian, priests to become Catholic priests, even if they are married. This exception is called the pastoral provision. There were, of course, long interviews, psychiatric examinations, reviews of academic transcripts and formal letters of reference which one would expect of anyone who wants to be a priest. These were sent by my new bishop to the Vatican with a request that the Rev. Gregory Elder might be made a married Catholic priest.

By canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, all dispensations from the law of priestly celibacy must be given by the pope personally. But appeals to Rome take time, and for issues regarding the relaxation of the laws of celibacy, they take a lot of time. My applications seemed to languish, but this was not the case.

In early 2005, the health of Pope John Paul II declined very seriously. When I saw the solemn rites on television which attended his last moments and then his funeral, I was almost certain that my cause would be delayed indefinitely, and perhaps terminated. Years of spiritual struggle seemed to have come to naught.

But God is curious in how he works when we least expect it. I did not know it at the time, but in the last days of the late holy father, the Office of the Pastoral Provision in Washington, D.C., had quietly sent a message to Rome, asking if my paperwork, and that of two other American men, might be examined before there was a significant change in the papacy. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took up my case and gained an audience with the pope.

On Monday in Holy Week, March 21, Cardinal Ratzinger and the apostolic delegate for the Pastoral Provision met with the holy father and explained our situation. These men, they said, had waited long for a reply and their bishops had placed many hours of effort in the applications. The pope's body was infirm, but his mind was alert. They placed the files before the pontiff for a decision and the pope examined them and gave his assent for the applications to be approved.

The files were then sent to the Curia for processing. I am told by the Office of the Pastoral Provision that our three applications were probably the last pontifical act made by Pope John Paul II, and as we all know, he was gathered to be with the Lord less than 12 days later.

I seem to have become a minor footnote in a great drama. Weeks after the authorization of my papers, John Paul the Great was laid to rest at the Vatican and the process was begun for his canonization as a saint. Cardinal Ratzinger, my advocate, was elected as Pope Benedict XVI. And I became the equal of any garden variety seminary graduate waiting for ordination and assignment, except for the fact that I am married to a wonderful English lass and we have two kids.

My assignment and ordination dates have not yet been made, but I am told that we will know all of that by the end of the year. Some restrictions will apply to me. I am not allowed to transfer my priesthood outside the United States without papal approval, and I will not be the head of a congregation.

If, God forbid, my wife should die, I cannot marry again. Catholic priests are not assigned to the congregations they come from and so I will not be appointed in Redlands. And my canon law tutor threatened to kick me in a most fundamental manner if I ever divorced Sarah, but that was nothing in comparison to what she threatened to do in such an unlikely event.

The media have asked me several questions repeatedly, so let me set the record straight.

Does my approval mean that the Catholic Church will one day change its general policy on the ordination of married men? My reply is no. Exceptions to the rule are made every few centuries, but the rule has and almost certainly will remain. Anglican priests who left Catholicism at the Reformation in the 16th century and French Catholic priests who were forced to marry in the French Revolution of the 18th century were allowed to return to the church and keep their wives, but the general rule remained.

Pope Pius XII issued a pastoral provision for some Lutheran pastors in Germany to become married Catholic priests after World War II. Pope John Paul II has done nothing new by allowing me, and 84 other former Anglican priests in this country and several hundred in England, to become Catholic fathers. I am the exception to the rule and not a reformer of it.

Many people have asked me what my own views on the law of clergy celibacy are. The answer is that I have none. I do not say this because the subject is forbidden or that I have been silenced, because my bishop has never silenced me, and frequent readers of this column know perfectly well that I have never avoided controversy.

My own view is that I personally have absolutely no moral right to pontificate to a celibate community how they should live their lives for better or worse. On the question of marriage or celibacy in the priesthood, I can only recall the words which St. Francis of Assisi said on his deathbed: "I have done what is mine to do. May God show you what you are to do."

A number of people have asked me if more Episcopal clergy or laity will follow me into the Catholic Church. To this I can simply say that I do not know and I cannot read the future. Some might join us, most will not. I have had a number of quiet inquiries from ministers and their wives and from laity about our pilgrimage. All inquiries to Sarah and me remain absolutely and totally confidential.

For the record: I did not leave the Episcopal Church because of any of the controversies in that noble fellowship or because I was mad at anyone. My Anglican friends know of my love for them.

My wife, Sarah, and I salute the Catholic community in peace, and send greetings to all priests, deacons, deacon's wives and religious. Sarah sends a special greeting to all nuns and religious sisters, the great female heroes of the church. If the priesthood is indeed a brotherhood, then my family shall be their in-laws, fellow Levites, and the priests shall find in the Elders no better friends, supporters and advocates. To peoples of all faiths and of none, I wish you well.

Next week: academic business as usual.

TOPICS: Activism; Apologetics; Catholic; Current Events; Ecumenism; General Discusssion; History; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach; Prayer; Religion & Culture; Theology; Worship
KEYWORDS: anglican; catholic; celibacy; marriage; priesthood
Gregory Elder, a Redlands resident, is a professor of history and humanities at Riverside Community College. You can write to him at Professing Faith, P.O. Box 8102, Redlands, CA 92375, or send e-mail to
1 posted on 07/30/2005 6:10:33 AM PDT by NYer
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...

2 posted on 07/30/2005 6:11:36 AM PDT by NYer ("Each person is meant to exist. Each person is God's own idea." - Pope Benedict XVI)
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To: sionnsar


3 posted on 07/30/2005 6:56:22 AM PDT by Huber (Conservatism - It's not just for breakfast anymore!)
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To: NYer


4 posted on 07/30/2005 7:08:50 AM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: ahadams2; Fractal Trader; Zero Sum; anselmcantuar; Agrarian; coffeecup; Paridel; keilimon; ...
Thanks to Huber and NYer!

Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:

Humor: The Anglican Blue (by Huber)

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

5 posted on 07/30/2005 7:47:09 AM PDT by sionnsar (†† || Trad-Ang Ping: I read the dreck so you don't have to || Iran Azadi)
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To: sionnsar; Salvation; All
Does my approval mean that the Catholic Church will one day change its general policy on the ordination of married men? My reply is no.

Anyone have some stats on how other married catholic clergy support their families on a priest's salary?

6 posted on 07/30/2005 8:16:43 AM PDT by NYer ("Each person is meant to exist. Each person is God's own idea." - Pope Benedict XVI)
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To: NYer

Are catholic clergy paid less than other denominations, say, Episcopal?

7 posted on 07/30/2005 8:28:17 AM PDT by sionnsar (†† || Trad-Ang Ping: I read the dreck so you don't have to || Iran Azadi)
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To: NYer

Isn't there a FReeper who attends or who is familiar with the church in the Fort Worth area with a married priest? Perhaps he might know.

8 posted on 07/30/2005 9:26:59 AM PDT by PAR35
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To: sinkspur


9 posted on 07/30/2005 6:23:05 PM PDT by Jeff Chandler (Tagline: (optional, printed after your name on post):)
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To: sionnsar

A Catholic priest are paid a quarter of what the average Episcopalian priest receives in financial compensation.

10 posted on 07/31/2005 12:56:47 AM PDT by Siobhan ("Whenever you come to save Rome, make all the noise you want." -- Pius XII)
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To: Siobhan
Oh, a grammar ugh... A Catholic priest is not are.
11 posted on 07/31/2005 12:57:41 AM PDT by Siobhan ("Whenever you come to save Rome, make all the noise you want." -- Pius XII)
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To: sockmonkey; Theophane; Jaded; B-Chan


12 posted on 07/31/2005 12:58:17 AM PDT by Siobhan ("Whenever you come to save Rome, make all the noise you want." -- Pius XII)
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To: Siobhan


13 posted on 07/31/2005 8:42:57 AM PDT by sionnsar (†† || Trad-Ang Ping: I read the dreck so you don't have to || Iran Azadi)
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