GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- Nebraska’s first married priest celebrated mass Sunday at a church near Grand Island. Under a rare exception in the Catholic Church, the pope himself approved the ordination of Father Sidney Bruggeman.
In an exclusive television interview, Bruggeman told KETV NewsWatch 7 about his unusual journey to the priesthood.
During Sunday’s mass, Bruggeman served communion to his wife, Carol. The couple has been married for 38 years. They have four grown children and 10 grandchildren.
Bruggeman began his unusual path to the priesthood by entering a Protestant seminary in 1986.
“I found my seminary experience a very troubling experience. Spiritually, it was one of the darkest, bleakest times of my life,” Bruggeman said.
The priest said he was troubled because he couldn’t find the answer to basic spiritual questions.
More than a decade later, while serving as a pastor in the Disciples of Christ Church, he found what he was looking for in the Catholic Catechism.
“I began to read it and look at it,” he said. “It was kind of like an experience of where’s this been all my life?”
Bruggeman resigned from the Protestant church. He and his wife converted to Catholicism. After 14 years of careful discernment and training, and with the help of the Grand Island Bishop and approval from the pope himself, Bruggeman answered the call to become Nebraska’s first married priest.
The exception is granted only to married men who previously served as protestant clergy then converted to Catholicism. An estimated 100 married priests have been ordained in the United States under the exception.
Some Catholics wonder if such exceptions may open the door to more diversity, such as allowing priests to marry or allowing the ordination of female priests.
Father Paul Hoesing is the Vocations Director for the Omaha Diocese and recruits new priests. Omaha didn’t ordain a single priest over the past year. Still Hoesing sees no need to expand the priesthood beyond the tradition of celibate men.
“Really, the priesthood models Christ and he himself was celibate. This is why we’ve kept it in the tradition,” Hoesing said. “The exception won’t become the rule.”
Being a conservative catholic, Father Bruggeman said he feels he's caught between two points of view.
Bruggeman finds himself caught between two sides. As a conservative Catholic, he agrees with Hoesing and not with those who want to create more exceptions.
“And they’re always disappointed in me that I’m traditional in that I embrace and stand with the church,” Bruggeman said.
Bruggeman said he reconciles the question of celibacy by pointing out the commitment to marriage and the commitment to celibacy are essentially the same.
“If a person understands the betrothal between two lovers, their fidelity, their faithfulness, then a person has some insight into what celibacy is supposed to mean,” he said.
Bruggeman is the parish priest at churches in St. Libory and Greeley near Grand Island.