The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


A married Episcopalian priest converts — and so does his flock

posted by deacon greg kandra

Here’s something exciting: an Episcopalian priest converts to Catholicism — and brings a big part of his flock with him.

Oh, and he’s married with kids, too:

For the Rev. Eric L. Bergman, the duties of a Roman Catholic priest mean including his wife and four children whenever possible.

While Roman Catholic priests may not marry, Bergman was ordained under a Pastoral Provision approved by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Bergman was an Episcopalian priest, a faith that permits its priests to marry, when he sought priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

On April 21, 2007, Bergman was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton by John Dougherty, auxiliary bishop. Bergman said his family continues to be an important part of his life as a priest.

“We do a lot of things together,” Bergman said during a telephone interview from Scranton, Pa. “I’m at my office and my family is with me. Priesthood offers some flexibility. I can work 14 hours one day and be off the next. For someone who likes a regimented schedule, this would not be the job.”

[snip]

Born in Tennessee, Bergman grew up in the Episcopal faith and was baptized in 1971. He earned an undergraduate degree from James Madison University in Virginia and a master’s of divinity from Yale.

In 1997, he was ordained an Episcopal priest.

His faith journey brought him to Roman Catholicism.

“I was at a retreat in 2004 when I realized that, based on my beliefs, I would become Catholic whether or not I could become a priest,” he said. “I had a congregation with many who had the same beliefs I had.”

Bergman, 36, and half of his parishioners made the conversion.

“I remained the pastor of these people who converted with me,” he said. “This has happened five other times in the United States.”

Bergman now serves a congregation of 70 as chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society, a community of Catholic converts.

“We were all confirmed together on Oct. 31, 2005,” he said. “We are a society of the diocese. Other people are looking to us as an example. I am in correspondence with 20 men who want to do the same thing I did. Since the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II in 1980, 100 men have been ordained. We have seen a real increase.

“Anglicanism is a bridge between Protestantism and Catholicism,” he said. “A lot of Anglicans think of themselves as Catholics not in communion with Rome. Liturgy is similar to a Catholic mass. It’s a natural jump for a lot of people.”

Bergman said he believed Catholicism more closely mirrored his beliefs.

“I don’t want to malign or disparage Anglicanism,” he said. “It is a lot of people’s faith. I grew up in that church. It is where I obtained spirituality and an appreciation for scripture and music.”

When he and many of his parishioners felt the pull to the Roman Catholic church, he said they did not have to leave behind many of the traditions with which they were familiar.

While this sort of conversion-and-ordination is becoming more common, what strikes me as unusual about Father Eric’s case is that he’s quite young — and that he brought a significant part of his flock with him.

Welcome, one and all. It’s great to have you. Make yourselves right at home.

Photo: The Rev. Eric L. Bergman was recently ordained into the priesthood by John M. Dougherty, auxiliary bishop of Scranton, Pa. Bergman is shown here with his wife, Kristina, and their children, Clara, 5, Eric, 4, Julia, 2, and Joan who is 9 months old. Photo from the Charleston Daily Mail.



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Deacon Volker

posted September 12, 2007 at 10:03 pm


My best wishes go out to our new priest. We also have a convert/priest in our Diocese…and one seems to read more of these stories every week. That begs the question, how long till a married priesthood is extended to all men? We seem to be standing at that cliff, kicking stones over the edge to see how far they’ll fall…sometime that question will have to be answered.



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Anonymous

posted September 13, 2007 at 9:23 am


I too feel a Married Priesthood created on the order of our eastern orthodox brother’s should be the norm.Also as a sort of historian and familiar with the problem’s the Church had espeacially in the Bishop’s office and through Pope’s i can understand a relunctance to return as there was so much corruption associated with it and it took the Church centuries to right the ship of Peter which along the way brought about the protestant revolt…..



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Saint Maker

posted September 13, 2007 at 10:18 am


Thanks for sharing this story… it gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes.Peace be with you!Judy



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RP Burke

posted September 13, 2007 at 10:26 am


I must say, though I’m very glad to see the increases in our church, I wonder how Rome can keep insisting that celibacy is such an essential sign of the priesthood — a necessary condition — while waiving it when convenient. For married cradle Catholics like you and me, Greg, the last stop on the train is the diaconate; but converts can stay on until the next stop and no one has shown a rational basis for this inconsistency.



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Anonymous

posted September 13, 2007 at 11:18 am


Last Summer I attended Our Lady of Walsingham’s wonderful parish which had a similar conversion experience. The Anglican Use Liturgy was beautiful, not to mention thier world famous chior.http://www.walsingham-church.org/



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Anonymous

posted September 13, 2007 at 12:09 pm


I’m somewhat discouraged by reading these other comments. This is a wonderful story and I am moved by the witness of these people coming home to the Church. I am glad this man has been given the opportunity to pursue a two-fold vocation of service to his family as well as the Church, leading those with whom he has been entrusted to Christ. As a Catholic man I too have the desire for both of these vocations. However, they are both complete and worthy vocations. The discipline of the Church was started partially to curb corruption of married priests, but it is also a symbol that makes Christ’s marriage to the Church visible in every congregation. I hope that we can see celibacy for its beauty as well as its difficulty.



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Ben Fenlon

posted September 13, 2007 at 2:02 pm


I have to disagree with so many of your comments, because it is crucial that our priests remain unmarried wherever possible. The ‘rational basis’ for this ‘inconsistency’ is that it is not inherently wrong for a priest of God to be married; but these two life changing sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders deserve complete devotion each; a husband to his wife and vice versa, and a priest to his church and his people. The problem for this bishop is that he must now work 14 hours some days and have the next days off, whereas it is the duty of a priest/bishop to work as much as humanly possible for Christ every waking moment of their lives, and to sleep as little as possible so that there may more waking moments, and to use those moments in the best possible way; indeed, this is the way to Sanctity, as shown by the Saints throughout history. How can you be put in charge of a 1000 souls as a Parish priest, the responsibility lying on you if they fall away by your fault, devote your time to them and then look away to tend to your family, who you also have to nurture with a different kind of devotion and love. Don’t you know that if a priest takes their eyes from their flock for one moment, those souls wander from salvation, and dwell in misery, a misery which opens them to the danger of hell? This is human nature. The priest has to lead his souls to the Eucharist and feed them directly with God; only then are they happy, but then he has to keep them there, and this is a mammoth task! A husband has to nurture his children and cherish his wife; he has to be devoted and faithful to them, standing by them, as one unit , for this is what nature and God have prescribed. How can he do both at once? How can he devote himself a hundred percent to his wife and a hundred percent to his flock? How can he discern correctly Christ, when he is constantly looking in two different directions? He cannot. It is a handicap that this bishop has, to the detriment of his people and himself. He is not lucky, and should not have been elevated to that status of responsibility with such a handicap.



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RP Burke

posted September 13, 2007 at 3:35 pm


So then, Mr. Fenlon, let’s assume that what you say is a sufficient proof for the need for priests to be celibate: Why then is it OK to ordain this apparently perfectly fine man who is and intends to remain married??



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mary therese

posted September 14, 2007 at 5:15 am


Another example of the totally inconsistent practice and theology of the Church. Sories such as this are neither encouraging nor are they uplifting.



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Joshua

posted September 14, 2007 at 3:04 pm


In response to the last few comments, but especially Mary Therese, we need to be careful not to limit the capacity for truth, goodness, and beauty in the Church. The emphasis of one truth to the exclusion of other truths is a good definition for heresy. Both vocations are good and holy. Both are charged with leading others to Christ while we also grow closer to him, so, Ben, they are not pointed in opposite directions. They are both means to the same end, holiness. Perhaps you read my earlier comment (9/13 – 12:09) in the wrong context, but I very much agree with the discipline of the Church. It is a sign of wisdom and fittingness in the Church’s teaching about the priesthood. However, as you said, celibacy is not essential to the priesthood. There are many positives that can come from a priest also having the experience of raising a family, especially in being a pastor to his flock. This man will have difficulty in caring for both his family and his congregation, but I think it is wonderful that he has come home to the Church and brought half of his congregation with him! Is this not a testament to the grace of the Lord working within him as a pastor even though he is a husband and father as well? Perhaps instead of disparaging the wisdom and theological intelligibility of the Church, we should pray for those making these decisions, for these men that undertake the demand of both vocations (both here and in our easter rites), and for their congregations. May the Lord bless you and give you the graces of peace, faith, and understanding.



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Anonymous

posted September 24, 2007 at 11:16 am


of the original twelve Apostles, Peter and Philip were married.



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Rose

posted June 15, 2008 at 12:38 pm


Just a technical note:It says “While Roman Catholic priests may not marry, “No Priest in any rite of the Catholic or Orthodox Churches get get married. Once a man is ordained to the deaconate on up, he may not be married. A married man however, may be ordained. It is not a normal practice of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church to ordain married men. It is done in extraordinary circumstances. In many eastern Rites, married men are more regularly ordained (It’s a little more complex than that, but I will leave it there). Once a married man who has been ordained is widowed, he may not remarry – ever. “Married priest” is too ambiguous, there are however ‘married men who are ordained as priests.’ Hence, it is incorrect to say that “While Roman Catholic priests may not marry,” when no priest may marry. Rather it should say something to the effect that, normally in the Roman Catholic, married men are not ordained to be priests.God Bless!



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