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Beliefnet News

Vatican asks bishops to create ministry roles for priests who left to marry

Facing a growing shortage of priests, the Roman Catholic Church is turning to former priests who left their callings to get married.

While the “dispensed” priests won’t be allowed to take confessions or celebrate mass — they will be asked to serve as teachers and lay workers in such roles as helping serve communion to the congregation, roles already filled by lay members of local congregations.

“The Vatican has appealed to diocesan bishops to encourage priests who have left ministry in order to get married to play a more active role in parish life,” reports  Catholic Herald magazine, which reports that Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Prefect for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome, has written a letter giving more discretionary power to bishops for involving a dispensed cleric in parish life:


The letter, dated February 2, 2011, was sent to a priest who had written to the congregation on behalf of an Australian missionary society that is seeking a relaxation of the prohibitions on dispensed clergy.

Cardinal Dias wrote of his confidence that the Vatican’s reforms would enable dispensed priests to lead a more active life in the Church as committed Catholics under their bishop’s guidance.

In the past, former priests were prohibited from celebrating mass, delivering homilies (sermons), administering communion, teaching or working in seminaries. They were also restricted on how much teaching on the faith they could do in Catholic schools and universities.

The cardinal’s letter means that the enforcement of half of those prohibitions now come under the discretion of the local bishop.


Is this a move in the direction of allowing married ex-priests to return to the priesthood? Married Episcopal Church ministers who switch to the Catholic Church are now allowed to serve in the full capacity as priests — and remain married.

In February, a Lutheran preacher and married father of two was ordained as a Catholic priest. Harm Klueting, 61, a professor of theology at universities in Cologne and Switzerland, also ordained as a Lutheran minister is now serving as a Catholic priest. His wife has become a nun in the Carmelite order — and neither was required to take the traditional vows of celibacy nor chastity.

“The Vatican has tried repeatedly in recent years to avoid giving any credence to speculation, especially in North America, that the church may have to end mandatory celibacy in order to remedy the growing shortage of priests,” reported John Dart in the Los Angeles Times.

Pope John Paul II, he noted, made it clear that a married priesthood and celibacy were not on the agenda. Pope Benedict is even more strict.

However, the topic continues to be discussed.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pedro Domingo

    The rule here is simple with regard to the issue of ordination and matrimony in the Catholic Church. There are over 20 different rites within the universal Catholic Church that are all in communion with the Bishop of Rome, better known as the Pope. Outside of the Latin-rite, the largest, many of the others allow married men to be ordained. It is interesting that in those rites that allow married men to be ordained, they only elevate unmarried (celibate) priests to the office of bishop. Note, that never in any rite of the Catholic Church, is an ordained man (and it can only be a man that is ordained) ever allowed to marry. Marriage can, in some parts of the Catholic Church (outside the Latin-rite) come before ordination, but NEVER after ordination. Therefore, priests, who are men who have received the sacrament of ordination, who then get married, have violated Church or Canon Law.
    A married Anglican priest, whose ordination is not recognized by the Catholic Church as valid or licit by the way, converts to Catholicism, may be allowed to receive the Sacrament of Ordination in the Catholic Church, under certain circumstances, and be a priest in good standing, but an ordained Catholic priest who then gets married, may never again exercise his priestly faculties, in that state.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment J Porter

    Two things here: First, their marriage, being valid, is until death. And second, Edeltraut Kleuting, Fr. Kleuting’s wife, is a Third Order Carmelite, not a Carmelite nun. Third Order Carmelites are LAY people who live in the spirit of the order they associate with. In the case of the Carmelites, they seek to live a life of constant prayer and service. They do this within their state of life, so a married woman will continue to live as a married woman.

  • http://htt/ pete

    There better strict screening on a case by case basis, because many priests just left with no Church permission; most had problems with doctrine. Ps. married deacons in the Eastern Churches must fast from sex from the night before they assist at liturgy until after it, so as to be spiritually alert to attend to their task. It was foolish not to require this of married deacons and priests of the Roman Church who converted from Protestantism.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rich

    If priesthood is forever, then the priest marries…is not that person still a priest! Are we not talking a discipline within the Church and not a reality in the presence of God. How many priests have married? Do we have a shortage of priests or a shortage of vision. Is the Holy Spirit calling the Church in a new direction? Is it possible God called these men to priesthood and then their lives have changed (i.e. they fell in love–a good thing). Most married priest I know have been forced by the Church from active ministry…they did not have a doctrinal problem with the Church.

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