Sunday, February 21, 2010

Married Catholic priest will be Nashville diocese's first

By Bob Smietana

Prentice Dean will be ordained as a Catholic priest on Monday — while his wife watches.

The former Episcopal priest and father of two will become the first married priest in the Nashville diocese.

He resigned from the Episcopal Church because he thought the denomination had moved away from traditional Christianity. He converted to Catholicism five years ago, and, after Monday, he'll be celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and handling all the responsibilities of a priest.

Since the 1980s, the Roman Catholic Church has allowed former Episcopal priests, like Dean, to be ordained under a special provision. Church leaders say the provision is an act of grace toward converts. But some wonder why that same grace isn't extended to former Catholic priests who left the ministry to marry.

Right now, about 100 married former Episcopal priests have been ordained. Still, the vast majority of the more than 40,000 priests in the United States are celibate.

The tradition of celibacy is rooted in the Bible. Jesus never married, and the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that marriage is a distraction from serving God.

Eventually, Christians were divided on the issue. Greek-speaking Christians allowed priests to marry before they were ordained. Latin-speaking Christians, on the other hand, required celibacy.

That split continues today. Roman Catholics from the Latin rite tradition, which includes most of the world's Catholics, require celibacy. But Eastern Rite Catholics allow married men to become priests, as do Orthodox Christians.

Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of Nashville supports Dean's ordination but he believes that it's difficult for a minister to be both a husband and a good pastor. That view is based, in part, on his conversations with Protestant ministers.

"They've told me at times that they felt torn between the needs of their family and the needs of their parishioners,'' Choby said.

John Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, said the debate over married priests continues among Catholics. "It's always on a slow boil," he said.

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