Skip to comments.Married man considers turn as Catholic priest
Posted on 09/10/2007 12:16:21 PM PDT by NYer
The 52-year-old husband, father and former Episcopal priest weighs it every day as he considers ordination to the Catholic priesthood after leaving a church he felt was in turmoil.
The little-known Pastoral Provision of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope John Paul II in 1980, permits former male Episcopal priests, even married men with children, to pursue two sets of vows - marriage and priesthood.
The pope granted the provision at the request of breakaway Episcopalians troubled by a 1976 decision to ordain women.
In the past 27 years, more than 80 Episcopal ministers in the United States have left their church and been ordained Catholic priests.
To any Catholic clergy who might be envious of his permission to be a married priest, Webb says don't be.
"It's a burden to carry around two vocations in life," Webb said.
Even as a married Protestant minister, Webb said one is always robbing time from one vocation for the sake of the other.
The Catholic Church terms celibacy "a gift of an undivided heart."
Yet celibacy was not mandatory for Latin Rite Catholic priests until the 12th century, and it isn't required of Eastern Rite priests if they're married before ordination.
A recent study by Catholic University in Washington estimated that making celibacy optional likely would quad ruple the number of priests.
The church says, however that the Pastoral Provision for Episcopalians is not a move in that direction.
"It is clear in everyone's mind that this is not a proving ground for optional celibacy in the Catholic Church," said the Rev. William Stetson on the Pastoral Provision website.
"In fact, the special challenges of a married clergy ... show the value of the norm of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom in the Western Church," Stetson said.
Webb said he decided to leave the Episcopal Church about three years ago after 16 years as a clergyman primarily because the church was tearing itself apart over changes in doctrine.
Over the past two decades, Webb watched members break away from Episcopal parishes to form new congregations, some becoming missions of conservative Anglican dioceses in Africa, over issues such as the blessing of gay unions and ordination of women and an openly gay bishop.
"It was an ugly fight. Relationships got fractured," Webb said. "I just came to believe that if Christ founded a church, you wouldn't be forced to leave it."
For Protestant churches, the only solution to conflict is to split apart, he says. His years in the Episcopal Church were "rich and good," but he has come to deplore schism.
"The Catholic Church has a clearer understanding of what it means to be one holy and apostolic church," he says.
Webb has done many of the things required by the Catholic Church to pursue ordination - including petitioning the church, obtaining Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput's permission, studying theology for a year and passing written and oral tests.
He has not made a final decision about entering the priesthood.
"I need to be ready spiritually," Webb says. "The care of souls is an intimidating responsibility."
Webb says he knows his wife, Cindy, "thinks it would be kind of weird to be married to a Catholic priest." Still, she makes it clear she supports him. He also thinks 17-year-old son Sterling trusts his judgment.
"When it happens, if it happens, I'll deal with it," Cindy Webb says. "God is always full of surprises. I've been a clergyman's wife in the past. What would it be like in the Catholic Church? I don't know."
She breaks into good-natured laughter. "There aren't a lot of people to ask," she says.
The Pastoral Provision does not give blanket approval to petitioners. A Catholic bishop examines each individual case.
And, these crossover priests, if widowed, may not remarry.
"There's no easy divorce from vows in the Catholic Church, whether you're married or taken a vow of chastity," Phil Webb says.
Although the Pastoral Provision is specific for former Episcopalians, the Catholic Church has permitted ordination of other former Protestant male ministers who are married. Additional seminary studies are required of them.
Beyond the marriage questions, the difference between an Episcopalian priest and a Catholic priest, so the quip goes, is about $20,000 a year.
Catholic diocesan priests generally earn smaller salaries, yet average Catholic parishes often have congregations of 1,000 while the average Episcopal parish is about 200.
Few clerical converts ordained to the Catholic priesthood work as pastors of parishes. Most work in other ministries, such as serving as hospital chaplains. None of it is lucrative work.
"It almost necessitates that you have a wife with a career," Webb says. Cindy Webb is a real estate agent. But he still worries about providing enough for his family.
Webb took a job a year ago in the Archdiocese of Denver's Marriage and Family Life office. He counsels engaged couples.
He says he'd like to keep his current position but recognizes that entering the priesthood would mean additional duties, perhaps even a new post.
Cindy Webb says if Phil chooses the priesthood, "God will work out the details."
She was raised Catholic and converted to the Episcopal Church for Phil after they married.
"I felt our family should all be together in one place," Cindy Webb says. "Phil and I have not been on the same timetable. We've had to kind of wait for each other."
Convert - revert - interesting.
Commonly repeated lie.
Oh, of course.
Until these prospective ordinands found out that: (1) You cannot be in debt and enter a seminary (i.e. no mortgages allowed) and (2) you get paid jack plus squat.
And no word on if the study includes the numerous Catholic priests who were laicized in the 1970s so they could get married.
They will never be allowed to work as priests again, no matter the circumstances.
Leaving a church he felt was in turmoil-——and the Roman Catholic Church in not in turmoil. Maybe, I missed something.
I think this article captures very well the pain some of our Episcopal Brethren experience when feel they have been forced to set off into the deep of another Faith Tradition.
And I believe they are very willy nilly on abortion -- no firm stance as found by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church...
Ya’ know...this isn’t like working for Pepsi and deciding quit and go work for Coca-Cola.......
There is a commitment of faith and belief in the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church. That doesn’t happen because of current job disatisfaction.....
If this is how he feels, perhaps he doesn't truly have two vocations.
One wonders, do they have to confess that they were never priests? That they’ve never confected the Eucharist?
In comparison to ECUSA/TEC, the Catholic Church is a pleasant walk in a well-kept park.
I know. I fled across the Tiber.
Intimidating, perhaps ... but if it's a novel concept to the gentleman, what was he doing as an Episcopal priest?
In general, I think the Church needs to be as cautious about ordaining former Protestant clergy as about any other candidates for the priesthood ... perhaps even more so. The concept that they're merely "changing employers" is intuitively simple - but far from the sacramental reality!
(I had more than an inkling a long time before I migrated across the Tiber.)
Yes, it’s possible. To me, he comes across as, “Maybe I’ll become a Catholic priest, because it’s like, my job being a priest, and I can’t be an actuary ... good thing my wife brings in the bux!”
Of course, his thought process may be totally different from the interpretation I’m drawing - that goes without saying!
Maybe it’s because of the way this article is written, but I have real doubts about this individual’s vocation. The way he’s already complaining about trying to serve two masters... That’s one thing I like about Catholic Priests. They’re priests. That’s what they do, what they are. They aren’t family men, business men who happen to suit up in a roman collar instead of a tie with their suit before they pick up their briefcases and trundle off to work.
Another way they used to say you could tell the difference between an Episcopal minister and a Catholic Priest was how expensive their cloths looked.
Most of the High Church priests I have known were unmarried and celibate anyhow.
But I don't read this quite the way you do. I think he's being quite candid about the demands of the priesthood, and it may be that his experience in the Episcopal church has brought that into focus. I can tell you that even the "low church" priests I have known have had lots of family difficulties. I don't think very many Protestant churches are candid with their ministers about the stresses and demands of the ministry and the family problems it causes.
To be charitable, he just may be bringing his prior experience to bear on the problem.
That’s fine. That’s why the celibacy rule makes sense. Anyway, it’s not like all priests don’t have mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and sisters and brothers and cousins that may need their help.
I believe that in the Diocese of Portland we have two such priests. Yes, they must attend Catholic seminary and meet other requirements.
I would like to know what you mean by this comment. I don’t remember the date, but the Latin Church did make it mandatory.
Having two jobs isn’t easy, try three! I know many of my fellow Orthodox priest that do. Their parishes are to small to pay much, so they have another paying job as well as being a dad. At one time the man would go to seminary right after high school, marry, waited until his kids were older, then was ordained and accepted a parish. Now that more women hold jobs, that isn’t the case.
FYI: The Catholic Church did recognize Holy Orders of the ECUSP until they started ordaining women.
I don’t think your statement is correct about the Catholic Church recognizing Anglican/Episcopalian orders. I think it was Pope Pius VIII or Pope Pius X who issued a Letter stating that Anglican orders were not valid (I think it was issued in the 1890’s).
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