Sunday, July 27, 2008

Archdiocese of Milwaukee to get its first married priest


For the first time in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s history, a married Roman Catholic priest with children will be serving the faithful in southeastern Wisconsin.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan asked his priests and deacons this week which of them would be willing to accept the man - a former Lutheran minister - as an associate pastor at their parish.

The priest and his wife, who have juvenile and adult sons, are moving from the Diocese of Venice, Fla. She has accepted a job here.

Although no married priest has served here, about 100 married priests have been ordained in the United States since the late Pope John Paul II created an exception in 1980 that allows married Lutheran and Anglican or Episcopal priests who have converted to Roman Catholicism to become priests, Dolan wrote in a letter to priests and deacons this week.

The priest, Father Michael Scheip, entered Catholicism in 1988 and was ordained in 1993 for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., by now-retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., Dolan's letter says.

Dolan welcomes Scheip and his family and is working on a placement for him, archdiocesan spokeswoman Julie Wolf said Friday afternoon.

In his letter, which some priests received via e-mail on Thursday and others in regular postal deliveries Friday, Dolan says Scheip asked to be considered for a pastoral assignment here. His wife, Mary, has accepted a position at a Waukesha company, and his sons are enrolled in Catholic schools for the fall term, the letter says.

"I have spoken with Father Scheip, and he has met with the vicar (Father Curt Frederick, vicar for clergy) and we were both impressed with his sincerity," Dolan writes. "He comes with a genuine desire to be of service to the church here in Milwaukee. . . . I am writing to you to elicit your help in welcoming Father Scheip to the archdiocese. Would any of you be willing to accept his service to your parish as an associate pastor? How can I, as your archbishop, be of help to you and to your people in this regard?"

Many of the married Protestant priests who have become Roman Catholic priests were Episcopalians. Pope John Paul II's granting of the exception for converted, married clergy came after a significant number of Episcopal ministers and their parishioners converted to Catholicism after the Episcopal church decided to ordain women, a church law professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told the Journal Sentinel in 2003.

The arrival of a married priest is expected to raise questions among the estimated 680,000 or more Catholics in the 10-county archdiocese. Not only are they accustomed to the Western church's requirement of celibacy for priests, which went into effect in the 11th century, they also have been dealing with parish mergers and other effects of a worsening priest shortage.

In his letter, Dolan says area Catholics will need catechesis, or religious education - especially in whatever parish Scheip is assigned - and he provides as an attachment a series of questions and answers that the archdiocesan chancery office prepared.

The first question is: "We were always taught that married men could not be ordained Catholic priests. How is it possible that we could have a married Catholic priest here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee?"

The answer notes that celibacy has never been required of priests in the church's Eastern rite, though it is practiced universally in the West.

"Although it is highly valued, Pope Paul VI states that celibacy 'is not, of course, required by the nature of the priesthood itself. This is clear from the practice of the early church and the traditions of the Eastern rite churches,' " the answer says. "Much has been said about practical reasons for celibacy, such as giving the parish priest more time to dedicate to the children of God, etc. When all is said and done, however, we must understand it as a powerful sign of the presence of the kingdom of God. It is not essential to the priesthood, but it is a radical witness to the reign of Christ in the world."

Wolf had no biographical information available about Scheip, including what branch of Lutheranism he came from.

The St. Petersburg Times of Florida reported in June 2005 that the Scheips have five sons, then ages 9 to 21. The feature story describes the priest's arrival at home after leaving St. Patrick Catholic Church in the Sarasota area.

"He unhooks his priestly collar as he enters the house," the story says. "Sophie the boxer erupts in barks, and Scheip's three boys, those still living at home, gather around. 'How's vacation?' Scheip says as he is enveloped by the noise of the family room TV."

Scheip, who wears secular clothes when he goes out with his wife, plays a Washburn electric guitar at family rock 'n' roll jam sessions in the home, with one son playing bass and another drums, the story says.

Mary Scheip, who strives to keep a low profile for herself and the family, was working full-time in human resources and running a private consulting business in 2005, according to the St. Petersburg Times story.

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