Thursday, May 10, 2007

Married Catholic priest -- exception or indication of a change?

Scripps Howard News Service
Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The kiss came moments after the Rev. Bill Lowe was ordained as the first married priest in the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese last week.

It was delivered by his wife of 44 years, Linda, just outside the sanctuary at Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo, where about 700 people had gathered to watch a father become a father. It came a heartbeat before one of Lowe's first acts as a Catholic priest.

"He blessed me," Linda Lowe said.

The 68-year-old Lowe was ordained by Cardinal Roger Mahony by way of a little-known pastoral provision that allows married clergy who have left the Episcopal Church to enter Catholic priesthood. The requirement of celibacy is waived.

More than 70 men have used the 27-year-old provision to become Catholic priests in the U.S. Lowe, who is 68 and retired in 2002 after 32 years as an Episcopal priest in Newton, Mass., is the first in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Mahony said people should view the ordination as an exception and not an indication the church may change its requirements and bring in more married priests.

Many of the parishioners weren't listening. Worried about the shortage of priests, they viewed the ordination as a symbol.

"I think it's opening a door for married priests in the future," said Michelle Paschen of Camarillo. "And yes, I think priests should be married."

John Blankenship, 68, of Camarillo went further.

"I think it's great that we're moving forward," he said. "Hopefully that will eventually lead to women being priests."

Lowe was ordained in a ceremony of ancient rituals punctuated by burning incense and the singing of the refrain "pray for us." He lay face-first on the floor of the church, near an altar made of black granite, to show his humility. Anointing oils were poured in a pool in the palms of his hands.

He became a priest for the second time in his life when Mahony placed his palms on the top of Lowe's head as a laying on of hands. Linda Lowe helped her husband change from a plain white robe to priestly vestments of beige and muted grays and yellows.

The couple views the ordination as a partnership, just like the rest of a life that has brought them three adult children and five grandchildren.

"We don't know what God has in store for us," Bill Lowe said earlier, "but we're up for the adventure."

They've been in Camarillo for about four years. He's always laughing and, according to parishioners, always has time to listen and help. She's into tennis and gardening and understands that as the wife of a Catholic priest, she may be under as much scrutiny as her husband.

"Early on, I found it a little frightening," she said. "Being the wife of a priest is not new to me but it's new to everyone in the (archdiocese)."

Others predict that attention focused on the marriage and the spouse will fade as Lowe goes about the day-to-day work of being an associate pastor at Padre Serra and ministering to people's needs.

"I think it's a 10-day wonder we're looking at as far as the focus being on Linda," said the Rev. Jarlath Dolan, senior pastor at Padre Serra Parish. "And if the focus is on Linda, I can't think of a better person to handle it."

The Lowes view the priesthood as a calling from God. That's why it's hard to answer questions about "why" other than that Bill Lowe didn't like being retired.

"The real reason can't be put into words because this is what God is calling us to do in this time and in this place," Linda Lowe said.

Lowe is not only the first married priest ordained in the archdiocese but also the first Episcopal priest. Mahony, in his homily, spoke of how the paths of different Christian communities run parallel.

"Today your onramp has merged with our onramp," he said.

The ordination was filled with unusual sights: a television reporter wearing high heels but walking on tiptoe so as not to interrupt the service. An usher holding up a camera to try to capture a moment or two of the ceremony. Afterward, parishioners ate cake with chocolate cream filling and stood in a long line to be blessed by the new priest. And if some didn't like the idea of a married priest, they weren't the ones talking.

"I have no problem with it. We need priests," said Adele Marietta, who was in charge of the meatballs at the post-ordination reception. "Marriage is a sacrament, so I see nothing wrong with married priests."

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