Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Married priest finds acceptance

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services (Canada)
Published Monday, April 26, 2010

HAY RIVER - Rev. Don Flumerfelt of Hay River admits some people find it a bit odd that he is a Roman Catholic priest. That's because he also happens to be married.

However, he said his unusual status has been accepted in Hay River and the rest of the South Slave.

"It's been wonderful here," he said, adding there has been no negative reaction.

People recognize his married status in an "affirming way," he said.

Still, some find it odd when, for instance, he tells his wife, Julia, that he will see her for supper.

"They'll say, 'What?'" he said with a chuckle.

Flumerfelt said he and his wife will explain their story if someone has a question.

In essence, the story is Flumerfelt was an Anglican minister for 29 years, including six years in Yellowknife, until he and his wife became Roman Catholics in 2004 and he started studying to become a priest in his new church.

Flumerfelt, 62, was ordained the NWT's first married Roman Catholic priest in early 2007.

Flumerfelt said he had to answer the question of whether he had a call to priestly ministry.

"My answer to that was, 'Yes, I believe so,' and the church affirmed that from the Pope on down," he said. "That's essentially the same call, whether you're married or not."

After being ordained a Roman Catholic priest, he served in Norman Wells before moving to Hay River in November of 2008.

Most of the curiosity about him being married comes from older people, he said. "Those who have known and loved the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church."

Vatican II - the short name for the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican in the 1960s - saw some changes in the Roman Catholic Church, including the creation of a process to accept married priests from other denominations.

Flumerfelt said his vows to his wife took place in 1972.

"The first vow is to my wife," he said. "For a celibate priest, his first vow is to celibacy in the church as part of his call."

Flumerfelt doesn't believe married priests in the Roman Catholic Church - and there are many more in Canada and around the world - will erode the tradition of celibacy in the priesthood, and he doesn't believe he is on the leading edge of any big change.

Referring to a verse in First Corinthians, he said the Apostle Paul said it is easier for a single person to serve.

"I have to attest to that fact," Flumerfelt said, adding he has three adult children, including one with a disability.

However, being married has helped in one aspect of service.

"What we're finding is couples are coming to us for counselling and for prayer, and so we're trying to equip ourselves to be more effective in that area," he said.

Flumerfelt had certain conditions - called a Papal Indult - attached to his becoming a Roman Catholic priest.

"What those conditions are intended to do is to say to the greater church that this isn't ordination by the backdoor, but it is honouring priests who have dedicated their lives in celibate ministry," he explained.

One condition is that, if his spouse should die, he would become a celibate priest.

Another condition is that he cannot be a pastor of a parish, but must be an associate priest.

Flumerfelt said it has been a real blessing serving with Rev. Bernie Black as his parish priest.

Overall, Flumerfelt said he is amazed at where he is at this point in his life.

"I'm just so thankful and so is my wife," he said. "It's a real privilege."


Joel said...

Fr. Don is a wonderful priest.
His wife Julia is also marvelous.

People forgot, that with the exception of the Latin Rite, Catholic priests in the Eastern rites have been allowed to married; Bishops are still celibate.

This, the Easter Rite, is pretty much in the same manner in married priests as is the Orthodox Church where priests are allowed to marry; Bishops again being celibate there as well.

Celibacy is a custom - not a doctrine so it may change in the future in regard to the tradition in the Latin Rite of celibacy for priests as well as Bishops.

Above all though celibacy is a gift, and it does have value. I wouldn't want to lose that if the Latin Rite moved towards conformity with the Eastern Rites, and their Orthodox brothers.


Anonymous said...

I am new to Catholicism, but I have found Fr. Don's leadership very valuable, especially as I prepare for marriage. His wife Julia is very supportive of his ministry and if anything, she seems to help him in ways that celibate priests may not have access too -- i.e. taking care of the housework and behind-the-scenes stuff.
I'm glad my priest is married