Thursday, January 27, 2005

Some questions you may have about Married Priests and their ministry

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13)

1. We do not regularly attend a Roman Catholic Parish in the area, and I cannot find a Roman Catholic Priest who will marry us. Being married in the church means a lot to us. What can we do?

There are several options. Most Roman Catholic parishes will require that you have at least some connection to a Roman Catholic Parish. If you live in this area and are open to doing so seek out a parish where you feel comfortable, meet with the pastor and explain that you would like to join the parish and have plans to marry. If you now live in another area and are active in a parish there, ask your local priest to connect you to a parish here. If you still have parents or relatives living in this area who belong to a parish, ask them to speak to their priest about your request.
Unfortunately, because of the increasing rigidity and harshness of many purport to 'rule' the church, many Catholics are turned away by their parishes when they seek the help of a priest to marry them, baptize their children, or seek some other assistance.

All Catholics who approach a priest for a sacrament, or help of any kind should, be welcomed and listened to with kindness. If you have been turned away by priest in your parish for any reason, please contact a married priest if you still need or want the help of a caring, compassionate, non-judgmental minister.

2. One of us is (or both of us are) divorced and we do not wish to use the annulment process. Our priest has told us that we cannot be married in the church. Can you help us?

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, other Catholic Churches (such as the Episcopal Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches) teach that second marriages may be blessed. I believe that the sacred bond that is formed in the Sacrament of Marriage is a living bond, capable of growth and maturity, requiring the care and sustenance of both parties to the marriage. Humanity has been redeemed in Christ Jesus, and in Jesus’ Resurrection we know death to be conquered, sin to be forgiven, and the chance for New Life given to all.

Married priests welcome divorced people seeking the sacrament of marriage as welcomed God's children seeking happiness and an opportunity for new life. They will gladly bless your second marriage in the name of God’s people.

3. If you witnesses our marriage will it be legal in the eyes of the state? Will the Church recognize our marriage?
Married 'Rentapriests" are all ordained Catholic priests. Most of them were forced to leave the active priesthood in the institutional church because they fell in love and chose to marry. They have been called back to ministry by CITI Ministries, a lay Catholic organization founded specifically to address the shortage of priests throughout the world, and especially in the United States. Because of that call they have the authorization of the International Council of Community Churches (a church body that recoginzes the validity of their ordination) to officiate at wedding ceremonies, and to engage in other ministry. Since they are recognized by the state as "ministers of religion", your marriage will be legal in the eyes of the state.

The International Council of Community Churches and all other Christian denominations will recognize your marriage as relligiously both legal and valid, the institutional Roman Catholic Church will not. It requires that its members follow the "form" of marriage as established by Canon Law (i.e., you must be married according to the rules and custom laid out in Canon Law). Couples whose marriages are witnessed by married priests are not following the form for marriage of Roman Catholic Canon Law, so the Roman Catholic Church considers these marriages illicit.

4. We want to be married in an outdoor ceremony but our priest will only take part in a service in the church. Will a married priest perform an outdoor ceremony?

Married priests are happy to perform your ceremony at a reception hall, home, or other appropriate setting, inside or outside. (Getting married outdoors, in the cathedral made by God's own hands is also contrary to the form of marriage set out in Canon Law - go figure).

5. Will married priests perform ecumenical, interfaith, or non-denominational marriages, or witness gay commitment services?

Yes, as long as you ask God’s blessing on your marriage or commitment to each other, a married priest would be happy to help you.

6. What about other Sacraments that married priests celebrate, are they recognized by the Church?

They are recognized by the International Council of Community Churches and by some other Christian Traditions. The Roman Catholic Church would consider them "valid but illicit." Consequently, were you to come to a marred priest for the sacrament of reconciliation, for example, the church would consider your sins to have been forgiven – but would consider the celebration of that sacrament illegal. The same would hold for the Eucharist.

7. Where’s Christ in all this?

The good Lord admonished his disciples not to lay heavy burdens on other peoples shoulders, and taught that they should be free of the law – so that the spirit of God could reign in their hearts. When the disciples complained that others were curing in the Lord’s name – he reminded them that ‘those who are not against us are with us.’ And perhaps most telling of all, Jesus ate and drank with outcasts – tax collectors, sinners, and lepers - much to the chagrin of the religious authority of his day.

Catholicism – one of the great trunks of the Christian tradition – is bigger than the institution that has evolved around it. Catholicism is more than its corporate structure. It's more than the bishops – though we ought to respect them. It is more than the Pope, though he has claim on our loving attention. Popes, bishops, and priests may be the ones with legal title to the buildings, but they are just people. They can be woefully mistaken, or even malfeasant, as just a glance at recent headlines reminds us.

We are the Church -- you and I – the people of God. The church is the spirit within each of our hearts; it is our own holiness and evolving spirituality. It is our journey together – and on that journey each one of us has the right to feel welcomed at the Lord’s Table, where we recognize Him in the breaking of bread. Each has a right to God’s blessing in our great moments of happiness and sadness – at our weddings and at the loss of our loved ones, in our own sickness and death. Each has a right to help on the journey from those called to be helpers and guides in the way of the Gospel. Isn't that what the priesthood is all about?

When the hierarchy loses its way – as it has from time to time throughout history – it is incumbent on the rest of us to claim our rights and assume our responsibility as members of each other – the Body of Christ.

If you are alienated from the corporate church, you need not be alienated from your Catholicism. The Church – though not its current leaders – welcomes you just as you are. It welcomes you, through the ministry of married priests, in your second marriages, it welcomes you if you are gay, and it welcomes you if you are burdened down with some unspeakable guilt or shame. It welcomes you in His name, the one who has never ceased loving you – not even during the times when you felt farthest from Him.

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