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If I wanted to be wealthy, I should have been a priest

What is missing in the 2017 National Diocesan Survey on Salaries and Benefits for Priests and Lay Personnel? (Commissioned by the National Association for Church Personnel Administrators [NACPA] and the National Federation of Priests’ Councils [NFPC], it was carried out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate [CARA]). The overview seems both modest and comparable to the typical lay ecclesial minister’s income:

If I were a priest, I could probably afford the $795 that NACPA is charging to download a copy of their full study, and find out in closer detail. But as a lifetime lay employee of the Church, I have to take it as a given that the good people at NACPA (mostly lay pastoral administrators) have crunched their numbers accurately and the $45,593 is in fact the median taxable income of U.S. priests. A table of contents is publicly available which indicates what they did (and did not) consider.

What about the untaxable income? What about the things that are hard to quantify but observably make a difference? Or easy to quantify but simply taken for granted? What about the expenses that the lay counterpart has that the priest does not? A penny saved is a penny earned, after all.

A pastor I know complained – often and loudly – that he was paying the lay pastoral staff at his new assignment far too much (A little less than $50,000 per year, less than the state’s average income[1]). To his credit, the pastoral council president, who had been involved in the hiring process with the previous pastor, usually replied that the staff were paid about 1/3 of what they were worth in the private sector, and the young priest should be a little more appreciative.

Fr. Scrooge’s attitude got me thinking about the apparent disparity between compensation for equally qualified people with a vocation to ecclesial ministry.

Look at two people of reasonably comparable demographic – single, no children, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology/divinity, committed to a life of ministry in the Church – and consider them in a similar parish, similar ministry, with similar qualifications, experience, and responsibility. One is a priest, the other a lay ecclesial minister.

There is no question the priest in such a scenario is “wealthier” – enjoying a higher standard of living, a nicer house, with greater stability, and less stress about making ends meet. So how does this observable reality reconcile with the apparently low income that priests have, according to the NACPA study? Something is missing.

Considering a few major areas of disparity, we can easily track how those pennies add up, taxable or otherwise.

Education

Source: Mundelein Seminary

In the U.S., the standard education and formation program for a priest is to have a four-year Bachelor’s degree (in anything, really, but with a year’s worth of philosophy and theology at the undergrad level before graduate seminary), and a three-year Master of Divinity or equivalent, plus a pastoral internship year. Most lay ecclesial ministers have something similar, if, of necessity, in a greater variety of configurations.

In one diocese I am familiar with, the entire cost of seminary is covered, at least from pre-theology onward, plus a variable stipend for travel and spending. For college seminarians, the students are accountable for half their cost (which could be covered by scholarships they earned from the university, for example).

The average cost of tuition and fees at Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. in 2016-2017 was about $31,500, with the highest ones being around $52,000 (Source: ACCU). So let us say the diocese i mentioned is typical, and pays for two years of the undergraduate and all three years of the graduate costs for formation: middle-of the road estimate of $157,500 per seminarian.

An additional spending stipend can range from $2000-$6500 per year depending on where they are in studies. Let us say $4000 a year for ease of calculation. An additional $20,000 brings the educational investment up to $177,500. It would be interesting to see what the actual numbers on this spending are.

The candidate for lay ministry, on the other hand, has to work or take out loans, though in some places some assistance is available. Forty years ago, one could work full time at a minimum wage job in the summer to pay for a year of tuition at a respectable state school, but that has not been true since the 1980s. Despite savings, work-study, scholarships and grants, and, if fortunate, parent contributions, the average graduate leaves with $38,000 in student loan debt after a Bachelors, and about $58,000 all told if they have also a Masters from a private institution, which has to be the case if you have a degree in theology. (Source: Newamerica.org study, Ticas.org). The interest on that, at the standard federal rate of 6% over the life of the loan (twenty years) will add another $19,000 to the total.

So far, in terms of pennies saved and earned, the priest is $196,500 ahead, and ministry has not even begun.

But we are not done: the best and brightest are often called to graduate studies, say, a license in canon law or a doctorate in theology.

Another three years of graduate school for a JCL (or five, at minimum, for a doctorate). In Rome, where tuition is cheap but living is costly and jobs are hard to find, it is easy to contrast the stability and support given to clergy with the complete chaos experienced by most laity – who, nevertheless, sacrifice more and more in answer to a vocation to serve the Church.

About $25,000 a year, (choosing the cheaper options of a canon law degree in Rome), and there’s another $75,000 where our priest has uncounted ‘income’.

He is now $271,500 better-off than the lay counterpart …and we are not even counting the little extras Knights of Columbus ‘pennies for heaven’ drives or Serra club gifts.

Note, too, that the priest-grad student continues to draw a salary/stipend, plus other benefits like housing and food stipends, while in studies; the lay minister has to give all this up to pursue studies. According to the study, that means adding another $45,000 per year to the priest’s advantage.

So, make that $406,500 ahead of the lay minister with the same education.

Housing

St. George Parish Rectory, Worcester, MA.

Housing was calculated in the NACPA study, either (or both?) in terms of taxable cash allowances and housing provided, but it is hard to reconcile the low-ball numbers given with the observable reality: Priests living alone in houses that are considerably larger and/or nicer than what their lay counterpart could ever afford to live in. How is this possible?

Simply ask the question: What is the value of the house (rectory) and what would it take to live there?

You can either look at the value of the rectory and estimate the salary required to afford such a place; or you can look at the salary earned and look at how much house someone with that income can afford, and how it compares.

Based on the 2012 CARA survey (being unable to see the 2017 median salary as it is behind a paywall), the median annual salary in 2010 was $34,200. That’s about $38,351 in 2017, factoring for inflation. Assuming no other debts (ha!), that means one could afford a house valued at about $185,000, considerably less than the median price.

The median house value is about $300,000 in the U.S., based on sales prices over the last year (Source: National Association of Realtors). To afford this, one would have to be making about $65,000 a year, at least, and paying $1800 a month mortgage or rent.

But is the typical rectory more or less expensive?

As a point of reference from which to extrapolate, I checked on the value of the rectories in the five parishes where I have lived and worked in the last twenty years. (Source: Zillow). I then compared their value to the median house value in the same cities or regions.

  • Everett, WA Rectory Value: $550,000. (Median House: $330,000)
    Estimated monthly payment: $3560. Recommended income: $120,000 per year.
  • Woodinville, WA Rectory Value: $641,000. (Median House $755,000)
    Estimated monthly payment: $4366. Recommended income: $146,000 per year.
  • Bellingham, WA Rectory Value: $700,000. (me Median House: $415,000)
    Estimated monthly payment: $4480. Recommended income: $150,000 per year.
  • Bothell, WA Rectory Value: $951,000. (Median House: $529,000)
    Estimated monthly payment: $6051. Recommended income: $202,000 per year.
  • Edmonds, WA Rectory Value[2]: $1,600,000. (Median House: $541,000)
    Estimated monthly payment: $10,281. Recommended income: $343,000 per year.

The average rectory value was $888,400 in a region where the average house is valued at $514,000 (or, 172% the price of a ‘median’ house). Only in one case was the rectory valued lower than the typical house, and in most cases they were considerably higher. One would have to be earning an annual salary at least $192,200 in an area where the median household income is $58,000, in order to live in these rectories – and most Church employees are not even making the state median income.

Extrapolating this trend to the national median house price, we could estimate that the national typical rectory is valued at about half a million dollars, meaning a mortgage or rent of $3000 a month for the lay employee wanting to buy or rent the same place. An additional $36,000 a year is well beyond the taxable extras indicated by the NACPA survey. The main reason for this is probably that many of the properties are already owned in full by parish or diocese, so the cash flow is calculated differently, but to my question: what would it take for the lay employee to live there, this is the more accurate measure of wealth differential.

Our priest is now not only $406,500 better off to begin with, but at an advantage of $36,000 per annum. On average. In a place like western Washington State (where my rectory examples are from), the annual disparity is nearly double.

Unemployment

These days, it is not unusual to be without work for some period of time, no matter how educated, skilled, or driven one is. Though Baby Boomers tend to think of these as irregular, it is an expected part of professional life for GenX and Millennials. About 1 in 5 workers are laid off every five years, in the twenty-first century, and 40% of workers under 40 have been unemployed for some significant amount of time in their short careers. I can only imagine this statistic is higher for those who have worked (or tried to work) for the Church.

When a priest is incompetent, or just not a good fit for a particular job or office, it is almost impossible to have him moved or fired. Even when he does, his livelihood is never in question.

Even when a lay minister is at the top of his or her game, an economic downturn will affect them far before the priest. Our exemplar lay minister not only has to worry that he could lose his job just because the new pastor does not like lay people or feels threatened by anyone with a theology degree besides himself, s/he has to worry about more than just a loss of respect or office, but something as simple as whether or not he can afford a place to live, health care, or the cost of moving to a new job. Lay ministers are not even entitled to state unemployment benefits, being employees of a religious institution. If he or she is out of work for a month or two, that means a significant loss of income and increase in stress, not vacation time.

How do we quantify this? Certainly, the psychological advantage of knowing you have virtually untouchable job security is priceless. Based on some (admittedly unscientific) survey of other lay ecclesial ministers, an average seems to be about one month of (unpaid, involuntary) unemployment for every three years of working for the Church. Based on the median annual pay and benefits of such ministers, that’s a little more than $4300 in lost income and benefits every three years, or about $1450 a year we can add to the priest’s income advantage, which now stands at $406,500 out of the blocks and $37,450 annually.

Blurred boundaries and clerical culture

Some years ago, I was at a conference once with several priests, and we decided to go out for a steak dinner at a nice downtown establishment. One of the priests (soon after, a bishop) reached for the bill, pulled out a credit card, and said, “Dinner’s on the parishioners of St. X’s tonight!”

Whether he meant the he was paying out of his own pocket for our dinner but realized his salary came from parish giving, or that he was using the parish credit card (and budget) was a little unclear, but it seemed like the latter.

Even the most well-intentioned priest is hard-pressed to clarify where his personal finances begin and the parish’s ends in every case, especially as he has essentially full control over the latter, what with most parish finance councils being merely ‘consultative’.  For those who feel they are entitled to the benefices of their little fiefdom, it is only too easy to meet basic needs without even touching one’s official salary or stipend.

Sometimes it is a result simply of not knowing any other way. When I was a grad student, the then-chair of theology was a Benedictine monk. At the end of my first year, he called me in to inquire why I, as a scholarship student, was not getting straight A’s. When I mentioned the 25-30 hours I put in at work each week, he was perplexed: why was I working while in studies? I pointed out that my scholarship covered only tuition, and not university fees, housing, food, insurance, travel and transportation, books, computer, etc., he sat back and with a rather distracted look on his face said, “Oh… I forgot about all that.” Such is the advantage of the ‘wealthy’ – even in vows of poverty!

I cannot calculate the untaxed income of intentional or innocent blurring of boundaries between budgets, but we would be naïve if we did not realize that our current quasi-monastic compensation structure lends itself to confusion at best, and abuse at worst. Certainly, most priests are among the well-intentioned and conscientious in this regard. That does not mean we cannot improve.

Conclusions and Solutions

Fifteen years after ordination or the beginning of a career in ministry, our two Church ministers are sitting quite differently. Nearly $970,000 differently, in fact. Our priest started with $406,500 in education advantages, and enjoyed housing and security advantages at a rate of $37,450 per year.

In other words, in order for our lay ecclesial ministers to be living on par with our priest – their average salary should be about $96,000 per year (plus benefits) – nearly triple the current reality. (Calculated by dividing the education advantage over twenty years, and adding the annual advantage to the average annual pay).

Remember, this is not all cash in hand, or the kind of wealth you can take with you (I know most priests do not own the rectories in which they get to live, but then, most lay ministers are renting too.). Nor is this all of the same quality information – some is based on extensive national study, but where data is lacking, we have had to estimate a median goal by extrapolating from known reference points. Obviously, that means i will continue to update the figures up or down as more or better information presents itself.

But in terms of, “what would the lay minister’s salary have to be to enjoy the same ‘wealth’ as a priest” there is your answer. These are expenses the priest never personally had, that the lay minister did or would have to have had to live in the same houses, have the same education, etc.

So how can we make our compensation structure more just, more transparent, and more equitable?

The detailed information in the NACPA study helps, but it only address some of the problems. Accounted taxable income is only a portion of the income disparity, as we have seen. So what could we do differently?

Perhaps when a bishop or pastor hires a lay ecclesial minister, he should compensate them for the education they paid for that he now gets to take advantage of, to the same degree as what he would have paid for a priest in their situation? How does a $406,500 signing bonus sound? At the very least, compensate the individual as you would a fellow bishop when a priest from his diocese is excardinated from there to join yours.

On that note, all ministers should be incardinated, or registered, or something. It really makes no sense, ecclesiologically, to have any kind of ‘free-agent’ ministers in the Church, which is how our lay ministers are treated. All ministry is moderated by the bishop, and all ministers are, first of all, diocesan personnel, ‘extending the ministry of the bishop’. They should be organized, supported, and paid as such. (At the bare minimum, they should show up in every dioceses’ statistics on pastoral personnel!)

I am a big supporter of the idea that all of our ministry personnel – presbyters, deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers – should all follow the same compensation system and structure. Preferably, a straight salary. This clarifies the boundaries, makes real tracking of compensation easier, and clarifies comparable competencies.

Wherever the Church wants to remain in the real estate and housing business – though i am unsure if it should – these should be administered at the deanery level and set up as intentional Christian communities for ministers. Will have to write something else about this.

The same should be said for support and funding for formation and education. When the majority of parish ministers are lay ecclesial ministers (which has been the case for over a decade in the States), the majority of funding should be going to support their formation.

The same is true for advanced studies. Too often bishops seem to forget that their pool of human resources is wider than just the presbyterate. Raise up talent wherever it is found, and you will find dedicated ministers and coworkers for the Lord’s vineyard.

Years ago, I met a young woman who wanted to spend her life in service of the Church, and so was pursuing a degree in canon law. She had written dozens of bishops asking for some kind of support or sponsorship in exchange for a post-graduation commitment to work, and received only negative responses. Her classmates were all priests ten to twenty years her senior, most of whom had not chosen to study canon law, and all receiving salaries in addition to a full ride scholarship from the diocese.

When she and I caught up ten years later, half her class was no longer even in priestly ministry, and she was still plugging along, serving as best she could. Talk about potential return-on-investment! Hundreds of thousands wasted on priests who did not want to study canon law in the first place, a fraction of which would have yielded far better results with this one young lay woman. Imagine how many more are out there denied the opportunity to serve simply because not enough support is offered.

You never know what it is that will catch people’s attention. I hoped this post would provoke some thought, at least among friends and colleagues who read my now very occasional postings, but never thought this would be one to run viral. Read 4000 times here, shared 900 times on Facebook (!), quoted in America and prompting at least one blog in response, i have read and engaged many comments and am adding a follow up to those – many insightful – in a new post.

 

[1] Household median income is the standard measure of “average salary” in the U.S. census and demographic studies; it includes single-earner households such as our examples of a priest or a single lay ecclesial minister. The average per capita income for the same state was $30,000. (For the county in question, median household income is $68,000 and average per capita is $38,000.)

[2] This is the only one I had to make an estimate. Neighboring houses ranged from $800K to $1.5m, all of which were substantially smaller, on less property, and none of which featured an outdoor swimming pool… So I am, if anything, probably a bit conservative on the estimate.

 

Church Reform Wishlist: Ministry and Holy Orders

Ministry and Holy Orders:

  • Jesus Christ is the only priest in Christianity; All Christians share in his priesthood. What makes the second of the three holy orders unique is that it is the presbyterate, not that it is a priesthood unto itself. This is not to deny the sacramental priesthood of holy orders (including deacons), but to suggest that perhaps we should officially restore the ancient and official title of ‘presbyter’ to the common lexicon in reference to those ordained to the presbyterate.
  • Deacons participate in the ‘headship’ of Christ and the governance of the church, just not the presbyterate or the episcopate. Let’s make that clear.
  • Traditionally (patristically), presbyters advise, deacons assist. The presbyterate acts in council, the deacons act individually. The presbyters preside locally in sacraments and spiritual life, the deacons assist the bishop preside in administration of the church’s goods – financial, human resources, diplomacy, ecumenism and dialogue, pastoral leadership. There has been too much overlap, let’s clarify this a little.
  • Lay ecclesial ministry needs to be formally and canonically acknowledged. Catechists, pastoral workers, pastoral associates, lay preachers, and other such offices ought to require incardination into a diocese and a relationship with the bishop, a common set of norms for formation, and perhaps inclusion into something like the minor orders – they are not ordained, but they are not following a lay vocation, either.
  • Clerical compensation and the financial crises are closely linked. There is no clear line in many cases between the pastor’s funds and those of the parish, and no clear accountability. This is one reason for a deacon being assigned responsibility for administration, and answerable to the bishop directly, while a presbyter is responsible for sacraments and spirituality. Why not just make compensation the same for all ministers, whether presbyter, deacon, or lay ecclesial? A simple salary or stipend.
  • Support for all candidates for ministry should be equitable, whether for presbyterate, diaconate, or lay eccleisal.
  • Clerical clothing is for clerics, meaning:
    • Deacons have a right to clerical clothing, even if married! Canon law does not allow a bishop to restrict this right, much less a local pastor
    • Seminarians do not, and should not be dressing up as if they are ordained.
    • If we do not just do away with clerical clothing altogether, some kind of distinctive garb could be considered for lay ecclesial ministers, as long as we have such a thing for clergy. Different colors if need be, but the same basic idea: easy identification of those in pastoral leadership and ministry. Not to be confused with those in training for such.
  • Eliminate the last vestiges of the cursus honorem
    • Eliminate the transitional diaconate outright. A transitional diaconate makes as much sense theologically as a transitional presbyterate for deacon candidates.
    • Allow deacons to transition to the presbyterate (and vice versa) if and only if an office to which they are called requires it.
    • Acolyte and Reader, as instituted ministries should be moved out of seminaries and into parishes/dioceses, as the actual lay ministries that execute these functions in the liturgy. No more stepping-stone for seminarians, but actual readers and servers at mass. Add ministers of communion and any others that seem appropriate. Extend them to women.
    • However, the original idea has merit. Perhaps before ordination to either diaconate or presbyterate, candidates should have earned at least an STB or BA in theology and philosphy, and served five-seven years in pastoral ministry. The best way to discern which order you should be ordained into is in practice! Then, they could go back for the M.Div., STL, or JCL and move on to the appropriate track: diaconate or presbyterate.
  • The age of ordination to the presbyterate should be raised to 35. It should make no difference whether celibate or married.
  • Leave the diaconate age for ordination at 35 as well, and also make no difference if celibate or married.
  • I prefer the Assyrian and Anglican practice of allowing clergy to marry before or after ordination, since it is much easier for some of us to discern a vocation to ministry than to discern a vocation to celibacy or marriage and it seems like time wasted in the interim. But, the Greek practice of marriage before ordination has been the compromise between the extremes of mandatory celibacy and the above since Nicaea, so it is certainly reasonable to retain. At least it should be seriously, and ecumenically, reconsidered, however.
  • We need more married presbyters, and more celibate deacons. The diaconate is not defined by marriage and marriage is not essential to the diaconate, neither is the presbyterate defined by celibacy nor is celibacy essential to the presbyterate. We have some of each already, we just need greater balance.

priest_deacon_bishop

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Married Priests: Optional Celibacy among Eastern Catholics – Past and Present

Report on the Chrysostom Seminar at the Domus Australia, Rome

November 2012

Presentation Panelists with their host

Presentation Panelists with their host

Did you know that there are now more married Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. than Eastern Catholic priests?

I do not actually remember a time when I did not know that there were married Catholic presbyters, so it has always been amusing to encounter people who find this a scandal in some way. The real scandal is that Catholic Churches with a right (and a rite!) to ordain married men are not allowed to do so, basically because of 19th and 20th century anti-immigrant sentiment, in the U.S.

That was not a main theme of the conference this morning, but it was certainly an interesting fact that was new to me.

Of the varied and lively discussion, probably the main take-away theme was this: The Gospel does not coerce, but offers conversion.

In other words, conversion is a response of the heart, whereas coercion is an exercise of power. Any relationship of supposedly sister churches, say, of Rome and of Constantinople – or of New York and Parma, for that matter – which is experienced as a relationship of coercion, becomes a church-dividing issue. This came up repeatedly regarding the imposition of a Latin discipline – mandatory celibacy for diocesan presbyterate – on non-Latin churches.

Speakers for the day included:

  • Archpriest Lawrence Cross, Archpriest, Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University
  • Rev. Prof. Basilio Petrà, Facoltà Teologica dell’Italia Centrale (Firenze)
  • Rev. Thomas Loya, Tabor Life Institute, Chicago:
  • Protopresbyter James Dutko, Emeritus Dean of the Orthodox Seminary of Christ the Savior, PA
  • Archpriest Peter Galazda, Sheptytsky Institute, Saint Paul University, Ottawa

Archpriest Dr. Lawrence Cross spoke on “Married Clergy: At the Heart of Tradition.” Father Cross opened by stating for the record that the conference here was not a critique on the Latin practice, internally, but a protest against what he described as ‘bullying’ in some parts of the Latin Church against Eastern sister churches in communion with Rome: namely, the requirements in some places (such as the U.S.) that Eastern Catholic churches not allow married clergy because of pressure from the Latin (Roman) Catholic bishops.

Both married and celibate clergy belong to the deep tradition of the church. Though some try to point to the origins of mandatory celibacy as far back as the Council of Trullo in Spain, it is really from the 11th century Gregorian reforms – based on monasticism and coincident with a resurgence of manichaeism in the Church.

One of the results of this, much later, is the novelty, he says, of speaking of an ontological change in ordination, or an ontological configuration to Christ, as in Pastores Dabo Vobis 20, which sees married priesthood as secondary. One US Cardinal, he did not name, has referred to the ontological change of priesthood as analogous to the Incarnation or transubstantiation.  The problem with the analogy is that the humanity of Christ is unchanged!  Trying to assert an essential link between priesthood and celibacy, something which has been relatively recent in its effort, is problematic.

Indeed, there is no celibacy per se, in the Eastern tradition, just married or monastic life. Both require community, and vows to commit one to that community. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Church 374-5 highlights to mutual blessing that marriage and ordination offer to each other. He wonder why Pope John Paul II, who seemed to have such a high respect for the “primordial sacrament” did not see fit to apply it to the presbyterate.

Professor Basilio Petrà of the Theological Faculty of Central Italy (in Firenze), spoke on the topic of “Married Priests: A Divine Vocation.” Two immediate thoughts he shared were that the Catholic Church has always, officially at least, affirmed married priesthood, and to consider that vocation is always a call of the community and not of the individual. Marriage and priesthood are two separate callings, but both sacraments and therefore complementary not competitive.

Fr. Petrà drew attention to the recent apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which included this paragraph:

48. Priestly celibacy is a priceless gift of God to his Church, one which ought to be received with appreciation in East and West alike, for it represents an ever timely prophetic sign. Mention must also be made of the ministry of married priests, who are an ancient part of the Eastern tradition. I would like to encourage those priests who, along with their families, are called to holiness in the faithful exercise of their ministry and in sometimes difficult living conditions. To all I repeat that the excellence of your priestly life will doubtless raise up new vocations which you are called to cultivate.

While he emphasized the positive nature of the bishop of Rome including the married priesthood as a respected and ancient tradition in the east, it is interesting to note that while celibacy is a priceless gift of God” which “ought to be received in East and West alike,” married priesthood is not categorized as a gift of god but “a part of the tradition” and only in “the East.”

Father Thomas Loya of the Tabor Life Institute in Chicago, and a regular part of EWTN programming, presented on the topic,  “Celibacy and the Married Priesthood: Rediscovering the Spousal Mystery.” Married priesthood witnesses to the Catholic tradition of a life that is ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or.’ We need a more integrated approach to monasticism and marriage, and relocating celibacy in its proper monastic context. But the continued practice of requiring eastern Catholic churches to defer to the Latin church hierarchy with respect to married clergy is to act as though the Latin Church is the real Catholic Church and the eastern churches are add-ons – fodder for accusations of uniatism if ever there was.

One of the clear problems of this was that when, in 1929, celibacy was imposed upon eastern churches in the US and elsewhere, married priesthood was part of the strength of these churches. Since then vocations have disappeared, evangelization has all but ceased, and the general life of the churches has withered. After “kicking this pillar of ecclesial life out from under the churches” it offered nothing to hold them up in its place, and the Church is still suffering.

Can you imagine a better seedbed for presbyteral vocations than a presbyteral family? What better way for a woman to know what it would be like to marry a priest than to be the daughter of a priest?

Married priesthood is part of the structure of the Church, but celibacy always belonged to the monasteries. Without a monastic connection, a celibate priest is in a dangerous situation, lacking the vowed relationship of either marriage or monastic life to balance the call to work. Every celibate must be connected to a monastery in some way.

Just as a celibate monastic must be a good husband to the church and community, so too must a married couple be good monastics. The relationship of monasticism and marriage ought to be two sides of the same coin and mutually enriching. The call to service in ordained ministry comes from these two relationships to serve. This would be a sign of an integrated and healthy church.

Protopresbyter James Dutko is retired academic dean and rector of the Orthodox Seminary of Christ the Savior in Johnstown, PA. His topic was “Mandatory Celibacy among Eastern Catholics: A Church-Dividing Issue.” Father Dutko was the only Orthodox presenter on the panel (and the only one without a beard, incidentally…) The bottom line? As long as the Latin Church (that is the Roman Catholic Church) imposes its particular practice on other Churches even within its own communion, there will be no ecumenical unity. Stop the Latinization, and the Eastern Orthodox may be more inclined to restore full communion.

Dear Father Facebook: You are not married

Dear Father Facebook,

We have been friends for a while, possibly in real life, but certainly on this social networking site, which is far more important at the moment.

You are a priest of the Catholic Church. I am pretty good at ecclesiology, and having studied and discerned ordained and non-ordained ecclesial ministry my whole life, and I am quite sure that the norm of celibacy is still in force for the Latin Church. I have a deep respect and love of Eastern Catholic Churches, which generally allow their diocesan clergy to wed, but I happen to know that you are thoroughly Latin.

That being the case, unless you are an Anglican priest or Lutheran pastor who has come into full communion since your ordination, you are not married.

Please change your relationship status.

Yes, I know you are not alone, and it is not a clear cut choice. There is no “celibate” option on the relationship status list, last time I checked, so you and your brother presbyters have to choose between “single”, “in a relationship”, or “it’s complicated”, etc. Several of you have opted to present yourself as “married”, but I suggest this is not a good idea. Primarily because, well, you are not married.

You could say you are single, which is the most obvious true choice. The problem is that it might imply that you are available, and if you are chaste in your celibacy, as I am sure you are, then you are not available and I can understand that you do not want to give that impression.

You could say you are in a relationship, or that it is complicated, indicating you are not available, but neither are you engaged or married. These might be better, because, again, they are honest descriptions, though hopefully your commitment to your orders is not really that complicated. And it never says what kind of relationship you are in, so this could work.

But the one thing you are not is “married” (nor “engaged”, for you seminarians reading this). These very clearly indicate a vowed, committed lifelong relationship between two people that is a sign of love and union, and open to children. If you are religious you are in a vowed relationship as well, but it is not marriage. If you are diocesan (secular, for you old-school types), you are not even in vows, but an oath of fealty to your bishop.

Sure, back in the day when local churches elected their own bishops for life, it was spoken of as “being married to the church” – but when princes and popes took the power of placement away from the people, and when bishops began to move from see to shining see with impunity, the analogy began to break down.

And, sure, we can joke about people being “married to the job” because of their commitment and dedication, but these parallels and analogies are not the real thing. As Catholic Christians we view holy marriage as a sacrament – Pope John Paul II called it the “primordial sacrament” – and we should not treat it lightly.

For that reason too, as well as respecting the human person, it is probably not a good idea to refer to your breviary, your calendar, or your bishop even jokingly as your “wife”.

While we are on the topic of mixed messages – please do not wear a wedding band. You are not married.

Symbols are powerful. Consider if all the baptized and confirmed began wearing a stole as a symbol of their priesthood. Even though based on a true doctrinal reality – that by Christian Initiation all share in the priesthood of Christ – we reserve that particular symbol for a particular participation in His priesthood: that of the ordained bishop, presbyter or deacon. Similarly, the wedding band is reserved for those who actually participate in the sacrament of marriage, not a parallel image, no matter how sincere the intent or worthy the service.

If you want to begin a petition for Facebook to offer a “celibate” or “vowed religious” or even “consecrated virgin” relationship status, I will “like” it. I hope you can post an honest descriptor on your page, showing to the socially networked world the sacrifice you have made “for the sake of the kingdom”.

Until that time, however, please help me in supporting the traditional definition of marriage… by removing it from your profile.

 Sincerely,
your (unmarried) brother in Christ.

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