Catholic priests are not allowed to marry, but can a married man become a priest? It seems so, and John Congden, a married man with two children, is living proof.
Congden is taking advantage of a loophole provided by the Roman Catholic Church in 1980 when it agreed to allow Protestant priests who are married to enter the Catholic priesthood.
Once the ordination process is complete, he will join roughly 100 other married men who have joined the priesthood.
“Honestly, the idea that I would be a priest in the year 2000 was pretty far from my mind 20 years ago, even though I knew about this process and hoped and prayed, because it is quite a journey,” Congden said. “Once you make the decision, you have to convince the bishop. It’s a big step for the Catholic Church.”
Some Catholics would like to see the Vatican take an even bigger step — allowing priests who married after they were ordained and thus lost their congregations to be welcomed back into the fold.
There are more than 110,000 men in the United States who lost their parishes when they married and are considered ex-priests by the Catholic Church, according to Celibacy Is the Issue, an organization of married priests who offer their services to Catholics who feel cut off from the traditional church.
Pope: ‘Celibacy Not Essential’
In 1993, Pope John Paul II said, “Celibacy is not essential to the priesthood,” but the Vatican has not yet decided to re-ordain married ex-priests, despite a growing shortage of priests in the United States.
Soon-to-be Father Congden says he doesn’t expect the Vatican to allow traditional priests to marry any time soon, adding that he has great respect for traditional priests who make the sacrifice of celibacy.
Congden, 52, has been married for 31 years. He and his wife, Kathleen, have two grown sons, both of whom are in the Army.
“It’s been interesting,” he said. “I’ve talked with several people over the past week, and when I tell them a married man is becoming a Catholic priest — Catholics especially — say that can’t be the case, but it’s true.”
He was ordained an Episcopalian priest but left the Episcopalian Church two years ago and decided he wanted to become a Catholic.
Now he’s looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate Christmas Mass, something he says he’s always wanted to do.