Thursday, May 14, 2009

Divided: Priesthood vs. celibacy

By Oliver Kerr
Miami Herald

I am a married Catholic priest who has watched with sadness the controversy over Father Alberto Cutié. I was ordained for the Archdiocese of Miami in 1964 and arrived in Miami in the summer of that year.

Over the next seven years I worked in several parishes in Miami, including four formative years at St. Francis Xavier in Overtown. The Overtown neighborhood was broken in those years with a great loss of housing FROM the construction of the I-95/I-395 interchange and the urban renewal/land clearing activities of the government.

At that time I lived above the St. Vincent de Paul salvage store on Miami Avenue and Eighth Street and attempted with some success to get new housing built in and around the church.

Forty-seven new town houses were built on Northeast 20th Street and Fifth Avenue in cooperation with three other churches in the area.

Later, with the same churches and the addition of Temple Israel, 151 cooperative apartments were built around the church on Northwest 17th Street and Fourth Avenue. This was a part of the community-building work that I loved.

In the summer, five or six seminarians for the archdiocese lived with me above the salvage store in a converted rooming house and spent several weeks running a popular summer in the city arts and recreation program for Overtown children whether they were church members or not.

In addition to the seminarians, there were many volunteers from other parishes and Barry University who contributed time and talent to the program day by day. We were busy from dawn to dusk, and came back to the rectory each day tired, hungry, and happy.

Again, we were helping to build a community that had suffered greatly. The work was hard but rewarding.

It was there that I met the woman who would eventually become my wife.

When I found myself becoming attracted to her, I realized that I had a big decision to make -- marry and leave the active priesthood or move away. I decided to move away and give myself some time and space I needed to reflect on this. I went to Archbishop Coleman Carroll and informed him of my decision. I had already obtained a fellowship that would cover educational costs and living expenses at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., so that I could support myself.

The archbishop was not happy with my request, but we parted agreeing to pray for each other.

Within a few months I had made up my mind to resign from the active ministry and get married.

It was an agonizing decision. On the one hand, I wanted to continue to serve as a priest doing the parish work that I loved. On the other, I felt that I wanted to be a man fully alive and to create a family just like the one I grew up in.

The celibate life that seemed tough but achievable when I was in my early 20s, 10 years later seemed to lead inevitably to an increasingly lonely life and a diminishing range of emotions.

It was a decision that I have not regretted.

Now in my retirement years I can look back and see God's love for me reflected in my life experiences.

I grew up in a strong Catholic family, the oldest of seven children. Working as a priest, particularly in the inner city, was a dream come true. The loneliness of celibacy and the loss of a family life was a burden.

Today, I am the proud father of five children, two of whom are adopted. God has certainly blessed me and blessed my children who are now setting out on their own journeys. May the road rise to meet them!

I have watched this past week as Father Cutié was caught up in controversy over his affection for a woman.

I have no doubt that optional celibacy would attract a wider range of young men into the priesthood today.

It may be time to return to the early practice of the church and make celibacy optional again. St. Peter and many of Christ's disciples were married men. This practice prevailed to the middle ages and still is in the Eastern rite Catholic churches where priests can be married.

I hope and pray that the Church will change this rule and make celibacy an option for men who chose to follow God's call to the priesthood.

Oliver Kerr, ordained as a priest, is a former county planner for Miami-Dade.


Jim McLellan said...

Being in his position but retired and unemployable and without children of my own, I can somewhat identify with him. The system will tell those contemplating departing that they will forever regret it. For some of us the transition was smooth because the transition had taken place internally first, as with a sacrament of desire. I am actually grateful to Fr. Cutie who paid with suffering the price to promote a most just cause. James McLellan (CITI), Dr theol

Anonymous said...

Such a sad website!!
My prayers are with you, as you try to come to grips with a with a position that is endorsed by the world but not by Christ's Church. Any honest person will tell you that the married state is also a "way of the Cross" at times and the demands for self-giving can appear to be "unnatural", just like celibacy. When we look to another to be God for us we are always disappointed. When we look to God He always gives us the strength and grace to do what seems foolish to the world.

I understand that celibacy is not for everyone. Thank God! But it is a virtue that adds immeasurable power to the priesthood as a representative of Christ. Lets not selfishly grasp at prieshood for one's own purposes while thumbing one's nose at the Magisterium because they won't "do it my way".