The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Just call him Father Father

A paper in Alabama profiles a deacon who became a priest, and explains the background:

The Rev. James Macey was ordained as a priest three years ago, after the death of his wife of 37 years. Before her death, Macey and his wife had gone through training for him to become a deacon in the church.


“There is nothing in the Scriptures that says that a priest cannot be married,” Macey said. In fact, the first priest, Peter, as shown in the Bible, was married.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church, however, is a different matter. Priestly celibacy was put into practice as early as the 11th century, and was demanded by the Council of Trent in 1563. Before Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he said in an interview that celibacy “is not a dogma. It is a form of life that has grown up in the Church.”

Deacons in the Catholic Church are allowed to marry, as long as they do so before beginning the process to become a deacon, and their wives attend certain parts of training with them. A widowed deacon cannot remarry.


Macey became a deacon 10 years ago. After the death of his wife, he wanted to take steps toward becoming more involved in the church.

He approached the archbishop of the Birmingham diocese about beginning the steps to join the priesthood, and received approval. Approval is not always given to widowed candidates for the priesthood. Each case is decided based on the circumstances.

A survey of Catholic religious life in the United States conducted by the National Religious Vocation Conference in 2009 found that 7 percent of members of religious orders were once married, and 5 percent have children.

Read on.

A father to a father becomes a Father

Comments read comments(7)
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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted October 3, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I don’t think celibacy can be categorized as a “doctrine” either–as the article implies it is. The future pope’s words are far more apt: “a form of life.” that of course is required in the Latin Church for those who aspire to the priesthood.
I know celibacy gets a bad rap in the media and in polls, but there are six strong reasons I believe it should continue–at least for now.
First, the Church has yet to make full use of the married ordained clergy she now has: deacons.
Second, a few years ago (and maybe still today) the married clergy of the mainstream Protestant clergy had the highest divorce rate of any group in America.
Third, Total commitment to God–as clerical celibacy should ideally be lived–is a valuable witness to Faith (And as we have seen in the Protestant experience, an optional married clergy soon can become a mandatory married clergy, thus virtually ending total commitment to God as a valuable witness.
Fourth, celibacy as a faith and spiritually enhancing practice is NOT the uniquely Latin Catholic practice it is portrayed as in the media. The Dalai Lama endorses it–as does much of the Buddhist world. Mahatma Ghandi,the great Indian leader,endorsed it. And the Hindus revere those who practice it giving them all sorts of holy titles–one of which, I believe, is “sadhu.” Thus, it is a way of life that speaks to the spiritual core of many cultures and peoples.
Fifth, allowing married men to become priests has not solved the vocation problem in many Orthodox churches according to a number of surveys.
Sixth, our culture looks on religion as a deliverer of goodies to the faithful–the Gospel of Health and Wealth. The cross of sacrifice is being slowly denigrated or downplayed. Thus, a good case can be made that NOW is the time we most need the witness of a priesthood living in total sacrificial commitment to God.

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posted October 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Is your deacon’s bench a two-seater?

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posted October 3, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I am not sure how helpful it is to use statistics (especially from other churches) when talking about celibacy. Just a quick look back at the past 40 years in the RC priesthood and the statistics are not too great. Besides the sex abuse problems, the many who have died from Aids, the large number that left to get married, the ones who are in recovery from alcohol and other substance abuse, and there is a real problem of newly ordained who do not make it their first 10 years. I know in some dioceses it is almost 50% that leave in the first 10 years.
Of course there are many priests who are very happy and peaceful with their celibacy, just like there are many married clergy who have a very deep and fruitful ministry and are married with a family. Celibacy and marriage both have blessings and difficulties, and both have real rewards and struggles.
I think the real problem lies with “mandatory celibacy”, for it must be embraced as deep personal calling if it is to be fruitful. The call to celibacy is an end in itself, one maybe celibate and also called to the priesthood, and there is nothing in the Gospels that says those called to the priesthood must be celibate.
Of course there are problems with married (and celibate) clergy, but I have known many great celibate priests and also very dedicated and married clergy and orthodox priests to know that it is not being single or married that made the difference but the deep holiness with which they lived their celibacy or marriage.

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posted October 4, 2010 at 4:39 am

Sadly, as usual, this talks about “the Catholic Church” as if the Latin Church were all there is to the Catholic Church. Of the 22 Catholic Churches celibacy is only a discipline in the Latin Church, and for monastics of the Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches. The tradition for Eastern and Oriental Catholic priests is to be married with children.

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posted October 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Anthony: excellent point raised that is often unknown or overlooked in the recent past of upsurge in vocations. There is a significant rate of leaving ministry in the first 10 years among those who have entered among the “John Paul” generation of clergy. That would make an interesting study.
Mary: Amen on your catholic view of the Catholic Church. Since Romans make up the vast majority (I have heard 80% belong to the Roman Church) we often forget that our universal Church is much broader and truth as well as tradition do not rest upon majority rule.

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posted October 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm

The history of celibacy the article gives is rather misleading. Celibacy was promoted as a superior option all the way back to Paul. By the early 4th c., we see that celibacy is the norm, especially in the West, though there are still some married clergy. This state of affairs continued with ebb and flow until the 11th c. when near-universal celibacy was again promoted and enforced in the Roman Church as a response to the many episcopal sees being annexed to states after the fall of the Carolingian Empire and being granted as hereditary fiefdoms by the secular authority.
And of course, even in the Eastern Churches, bishops are celibate.

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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted October 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I would take issue with the phrase “mandatory” celibacy. Instead it is a vocational requirement for those who think they have a call from God to be a priest. If a man is not called to celibacy, then he is not being called to be a priest in the Latin Catholic Church. Let him apply to the diaconate program if he thinks he can’t keep his freely given word to remain celibate and totally committed to his parish as his “wife” and family.
I served a number of years in my large hometown’s city council. And the fellow councillor I respected the most and who was the most honest politician in our area had a motto he frequently gave expression to: “A man’s word is his bond” and that included his oath of office. (The people always re-elected him by huge margins). Thus, one of the problems I see in the Church is how some Catholics fall all over themselves to virtually justify a priest trashing his freely given word when he decides he wants to follow a different path than the one he gave his word to follow at ordination. In some quarters of the Church he is treated as a virtual hero, instead of the abject failure he truly is as a man of his word. In past generations people expected you to keep a freely given word you had given whether to the person you married or the group or vocation you pledged to serve. And, in the end, our Church and society was better and stronger for it.

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