Thursday, August 31, 2006

Desperate Catholics find "rent-a-priests" online

by Holly McKenna

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - Some are Catholics who see their church as stuck in the past. Others are believers who happen to be divorced, pregnant before marriage or gay. A few just can't find a priest when they need one.

Roman Catholics shunned by the official church are "renting" married priests in times of crisis and celebration.

They turn to, a Web site with 2,500 Catholic priests in a national database known as "God's Yellow Pages."

Virtually all the priests in the database have left their official clerical ministries due to the Roman Catholic Church's mandatory celibacy rule, but they continue to conduct weddings, usually for a fee, while performing baptisms, last rites and funerals for free, in keeping with the practice of officially recognized priests.

"We are doing Jesus' work and apparently the church isn't," said Louise Haggett, director of Celibacy Is The Issue (CITI) ministries, which runs the site and helped arrange 3,000 weddings last year.

The group also is working to change the Catholic church's ban on married priests.

Haggett said the Internet is a popular source for rent-a-priests because there is a shortage. Twenty-seven percent of U.S. parishes lack a resident priest, according to a U.S. Conference of Bishops study.

Priests are aging, churches are closing and fewer priests are being ordained. The church knows there are fewer priests than decades ago but there are plenty to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, said Ron Menty of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

"Sometimes the reason why people go to this source concerns the rules, regulations and expectations of the church," Menty said. "Sometimes a priest outside the community feels freer in providing services."

The going rate for a wedding in New York is about $500, cheaper in other states.


Haggett founded the site in 1992 when her mother was in a nursing home and unable to find a parish priest.

CITI locates, recruits, certifies and promotes married or gay Roman Catholic priests. Haggett said 21 canons in church law validate married priests.

But the church does not recognize these priests because they violated their vows, said Ken Goldfarb, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

The church does recognize some married Protestants who became priests later in life.

"These rent-a-priests have already taken their vows, then married. That's the distinction," Goldfarb said.

Richard Hasselbach, who married after he was a priest for 13 years, defends the organization because many people are turned off by what he calls the inflexibility and rigidity of "the corporate Catholic Church."

He routinely marries people who are divorced, pregnant or gay and counsels people who were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests. He celebrates Mass in his home and performs marriages outside of church buildings. The Roman Catholic Church does not allow wedding ceremonies to be held outside.

Jim and Mary Ann Graves of Batavia, Illinois, were married in their backyard by Bob Scanlan, whom they found on the Web site. Both were raised Catholic, married for the first time in the church, and then divorced. Together they have eight children.

"We never considered an annulment because it's a real hassle," Mary Ann Graves said. "We were looking for something different than the first time, but we wanted a religious and spiritual ceremony."

Faith is a relationship with Christ and not about rules and dogma, Hasselbach said. "Once you're a priest, you're always a priest," he said. "If I fail to respond to the call to minister, I do so at my own peril."


Anonymous said...

Right. Married and/or female priests would solve all the problems. Just look at the schools. There have been no instances of teachers having sex with students or anything like that.

TM Lutas said...

Since Catholicism already has a married priesthood in the Eastern Rite churches, it is astonishing to me that there is no mention of such priests in such an article. But then again, I don't think that rent a priest includes *those* married priests on their lists of available priests. If you want a Catholic Church that has plenty of married priests one can easily guarantee that result in a generation. Simply baptise your children into one of the Eastern Rite Churches that has a married priesthood.

But, of course, that's not what this is all about, is it?

Anonymous said...

The sign of a true servant of God --- one who is spiritually grounded is humility. Too bad there is none of that here. This is just another protest-ant sect===like the tens of thousands before you. How sad.

Anonymous said...

Yes, exactly... If one disagrees with only one or two small specifics, such as a celibate clergy, one is welcome to join the Eastern Rite Church, which is still in communion with Rome. No, this seems to be about having your cake and eating it, too, so to speak. It is the same slippery slope the Protestants went down as they picked and chose which of God's laws they wished to follow, and which they determined to be unfair. Last I checked Peter was named the head of the Church by Christ himself, and a priest (as should every layperson) takes a vow of obedience first and foremost. These people aren't short priests-- they are short priests who will perform their weddings outside the laws of God. The Eastern Rite Church won't help with that now, will they?

Pope Benedict XVI said...

It's definitely an interesting concept. I'm just old school.

Talitha Koum said...

Well, I am kinda curious: why not join the Episcopal Church? John Shelby Spong did. Matthew Fox did. My own rector, Fr. Tom Downs, did. A rector of a nearby Episcopal church, Fr. Charlie Fritch, did also. Many former Roman Catholics find their way to the Episcopals, who are ordaining women and gay people. Maybe by having so many former Roman Catholics jumping ship, that might be what it takes to get the Vatican to wake up and see what needs to happen if she's not going to just crash and burn in time.

Ric said...

It is sad that the Roman Catholic church condemns thier priests to a life of celibacy when the Holy Scriptures are clear that any thacher should have at leats one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 3:12; Titus 1:6).

Ric said...

Sorry for my typos.

Rev. Fr. Christopher J. Repp, S.T.L. said...

I think this is another great article in which again the media have come to realize the exciting ministry that is being accomplished by the Priests of Rentapriest. I would though have an argument against the phrase "desperate Catholics". I do not feel that Roman Catholics who have been ministered to by these wonderful Priests are "desperate", they are quite simply informed and aware that Canon Law provides them another opportunity. Should the Institutional door slam shut as it often does, the door of RentAPriest opens widely. The Institution fails to realize that Rentapriest ministers in a parallel track to itself.It works with it and along side it. RentApriest is not the enemy but the brother and sister that keeps thousands of Roman Catholics in the fold, who would otherwise abandon their faith,or feel the coldness of a Church that does not care. And having those negative experiences which we know have and will continue to exist, where are these brothers and sisters to go in order to receive what is rightfully theirs by Baptism? They choose the Roman Catholic Priests of RentApriest. And no doubt their hearts will tell you in the Lord that their Catholic faith is still alive because of the ministry of these beloved Priests. And no one can make any case to argue against that priceless gift.

Anonymous said...

I think you're doing something very interesting but, since when Catholic church doesn't allow pregnant women to get married (or single mothers)?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I was realy surprised when I found this site by accident, and just for the record, I think the celibacy law sucks, pardon my french. We all need sex and we all need love.

Go, Fathers!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Married priesthood,is taking over,even here in Africa.It is achange in the Church that all catholics need to reflect on,accept it,than condemn it.
Ask any priest near you, and he will tell that he has slept with a woman, not once but many times, and at the end of it felt quilty.Remember Pope John xx111,he opened the windows to let fresh air enter into it.It is another era in the Church to let PRIESTS HAVE ACHOICE ON CELIBACY.lET US BE SINCERE IN OUR WORSHIP,WE SHOULD NOT ONLY DEFEND OUR RELIGION BLINDLY.WE NEED TO GO TO HEAVEN,IF NOT LET US FORGET ABOUT GOD IN CATHOLICISM.

Scott said...

The problem you have with a "rent-a-priest" is with the situation of jurisdiction. To be a Catholic marriage it must be done with the permission of the local ordinary (bishop). I do not doubt the "validity" of these priests, but to perform marriages is illicit, at best, and quite likely invalid.

Canonical Form of Marriage: Sacred rituals of marriage are required to be followed by Catholics and those marrying them. This procedure includes adherence to the following stipulations: The marriage contract must be overseen by a Catholic Priest or a deacon delegated to celebrate the sacrament, two authorized witness must be present, a Catholic marriage must be celebrated in a parish church or, with permission, may be celebrated at another location, the sacrament is to be recorded at the location where the wedding Mass was celebrated as well as on the parties’ baptismal certificates. If one of the elements is missing, it is a lack of form and if the form is not followed it is an absence of form.

It would be wise to exercise the virtue of patience and wait for a licit marriage celebrated under the auspices of a local ordinary who has jurisdiction.

ACTS/Catholic Debate Forum

dano said...

Rentapriest: Desperate Catholics find "rent-a-priests" online

Roman Catholicism
The Council of Trent (session XIII, canon iv) declared that the sacrament of ordination, imbues the recipient with an indelible "priestly character". Therefore the return of an ordained priest to the lay state is absolutely impossible. However, laicization, which takes from a priest the licit (authorized) use of his powers, and other rights, can occur by various means.
A priest is automatically laicized when he marries or joins the military without permission. A priest may be voluntarily laicized by his superiors at his request. A priest may be involuntarily laicized for wrongdoing. Minor clerics, including priests, are laicized through the "penalty of degradation". Major clerics can be laicized by the Holy See.
Laicized priests are forbidden to wear clerical habit, identify themselves as priests, or administer the sacraments. They are required to continue practicing celibacy, although dispensations can be made. By laicization a priest loses the right of benefice, which in modern times means he will not be supported by the Church even after retirement.
A laicized priest still has the power to confect the Eucharist but cannot use it licitly.

So by definintion, which is a responsiblilty the the Roman Catholic Church take seriously, priests whom marry are no longer authoorized to administer the sacraments licitly. Yes, a rent a priest is a priest, just not a Roman Catholic priest. A celibit Roman Catholic priest cannot marry. A Roman Catholic priest cannot witness marriage that are for "same-sex couples. There again the pesky Roman Catholic Church and its definitions.

I support any holy, christian and focussed ministry that can healing and bring the presence of Christ to the world, gay, single, whatever. Roman Catholic priesthood, by definition, requires that the rules be followed by the priest.

So if there are indeed desperate Roman Catholics in search of a Roman Catholic priest, let me know and I will have one call you.