A couple of months before I graduated from college, I was able, or should I say privileged to witness and be involved for sometime in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. They call their theological orientation as convergence movement, i.e they are trying to unite the so-called three streams of Christianity. This church is liturgical, evangelical and charismatic.
It was during my practicum at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Manila way back April 2007 that I was able to worship with them and eventually drawn to them. Inside their warehouse-turned-cathedral is an array of eastern iconographies and religious statuaries. It looks like a typical Catholic chapel save that despite its huge size, it is fully air conditioned. Like the Catholic Church, their central act of worship is the Holy Eucharist and does it with more pomp, music and I admit, even solemnity. They are headed by an archbishop and assisted by a throng of presbyters and deacons. Their mother church in the Philippines is the Cathedral of the King located at Mandaluyong City. Their priests don the usual vestments as our parish priests do and are even more conservative as to its proper rubrics. They however differ in one conspicuous and obvious thing: celibacy. That is, aside from being padre cura, they are also padre de familia. True to their title, they are indeed a father not just in spirit but also in fact.
Once, while worshipping in this church, I saw a priest with his family kneeling at the rear part of the cathedral. He (the priest) rounded up his two kids and in solemn prayer extended his arms over his family. In a liturgical church that is also charismatic, a time of personal prayer after receiving Communion is a common practice and others do it with their families or friends. As I went back to my seat after receiving Communion, I passed by them and I heard the priest’s wife telling her lovely daughter, “Ilagay mong kamay mo sa iyong dibdib.” She instructed her daughter to clasp her hands in prayer. In some other corner, you can see other priests (when they don’t serve in the Mass) doing the same with their families with extended hands and closed eyes mentioning their kids in their prayers. For me, it was a very touching sight. It would indeed be very different when you hear your father mentioning you in his prayers. Back in our place, I continued attending their Masses. This time I learned that during Sundays, the whole Eucharistic celebration was a family affair for the parish priest. Father presided in the Mass, his son served as an acolyte and his wife and daughter sang in the choir. Though others would consider it outlandish, it gave me a new picture of an ideal family.
For cradle Catholics who aren’t so exposed to the practices of other denominations, the thought of priests with girls is always uncomfortable. Though for a typical guy it is just a normal thing and a sign of masculinity, for priests it is scandalous. And we know the very reason why, our Catholic discipline forbids it. But unknown to most of us Catholics, there are married priests in the Catholic Church!
Celibacy is neither a dogma nor a doctrine of the Church; it is a discipline and there are extraordinary circumstances when the Pope granted concessions for married priests to be ordained in the church and such is the case of some Episcopalian priests and Lutheran ministers in the United States who converted to the Church together with their congregations. Examples of these priests were Father John Lipscomb-the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, Father Sidney Bruggeman-the first married priest of Nebraska, and Father Tom McMichael-the first married priest of the Archdiocese of Seattle, among others.
Their conversions and subsequent ordinations were made possible when John Paul II issued a Pastoral Provision in 1980 allowing married former Episcopal priests to become Catholic priests, and for the acceptance of former Episcopal Church parishes into the Catholic Church.
Upon reception and for a considerable time of preparation they were re-ordained sub conditione as the Church does not recognize the validity of Anglican orders.(Pope Leo XIII issued the papal bull Apostolicae Curae in 1896 declaring all Anglican ordinations to be “absolutely null and utterly void.”) After then, they continue to serve as married parish priests of their congregations.
Aside from these converted Episcopal priests, there are also other married priests in the Catholic Church who belong to the Eastern Rites of the Church. What are these Eastern Rites? Most of us Catholics may not be aware of it, the Catholic Church is a communion of particular churches who recognize and are under the full authority of the Pope. Though united in the doctrines of the faith, these different Rites have their own discipline and liturgical and devotional traditions. The Latin Rite is the rite we Roman Catholics belong to. But aside from this, there are Maronite Catholics in Lebanon, Chaldean Catholics in Iraq, Ukrainian Catholics in the Ukraine, and Coptic Catholics in Egypt-these are what we call the Eastern Catholic Churches. Majority of these Eastern Churches were in the beginning Orthodox Churches who eventually recognize the authority of the Pope. When you come to know them more, the way they celebrate the Mass, the vestments of the clergy and some other externals, they are more similar to our Orthodox brothers than to us Catholics. They also had a different priestly discipline, particularly when it comes to celibacy. For priests, celibacy is optional; you may or may not marry. However, a priest could only marry before his ordination. If he is single upon his ordination then he should remain single for the rest of his life, moreover if the wife of a priest dies, he is not legible to marry again. Monks on the other hand should be celibate and bishops should be chosen from among the monks. And from these Eastern Catholic priests are the 10% married priests of the Catholic Church.
Personally, I still believe in the dignity of the celibate priesthood. Our Church is a missionary church. We sent thousands of missionary-priests to different lands from ancient to modern times and we made saints of them. They converted many people, they faced many risks, and some of them did die. Imagine if they were married with wives and children to feed, raise and care for. This would surely limit their mobility and peace of mind. It was due to this ideal of offering oneself wholly to God that the Church spread to different lands. We made throngs of servants who are willing to sacrifice even their personal pleasures for the sake of God’s Kingdom. And this was exactly what our Lord Jesus urged us in Matthews 19:12,
“Some are born incapable of marriage. Others have been made that way by men. But there are others who have given up the possibility of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He, who can accept this, let him accept it.” (CCB)
I still have profound respect for our married Catholic priests but it is my desire to offer myself wholly to God one day.
Even if that means celibacy.