By John WalkerPublished February 16, 2020 4:38PMEighty-four percent of US clergy, according to a recent survey, are married, and they’re all over the country, from Texas to Vermont.
But that’s not always the case.
In the US, for example, only 15 percent of priests are married.
Some religious traditions allow clergy to marry, but they’re often a form of ceremonial union between two men or women who are close to each other.
“It’s kind of an oxymoron,” says John Walker, a Catholic social scientist at the University of Illinois.
“You’re not supposed to marry someone who’s in the priesthood, but if you’re in a relationship where there’s a mutual attraction and there’s some potential of getting married, that’s okay.
But if you don’t have a relationship with that person, there’s no reason to marry them.”
Priests, Walker says, “can marry.”
In some places, it’s also common for priests to marry while on active missions, or when they’re serving their congregations in a variety of settings.
In other parts of the country—including most places in the western United States—priests can only marry after they’ve left the church.
There are exceptions, however.
In Oklahoma, for instance, priests who are married to other priests can marry, even if they aren’t formally ordained to the priesthood.
“There are a lot of priests who have wives who are in a committed relationship and want to live a priestly life,” says Tom Houser, director of the Oklahoma Ministry of the Catholic Church’s Domestic Abuse Prevention Office.
“The priest can marry them if he chooses to do so.
They’re not bound by any church rules.”
Walker says that if the priest chooses to marry and have children, he or she has to be celibate, a condition that’s often difficult for priests who don’t follow traditional teachings.
“You’re trying to be faithful and good to the church and to the family, and there are a variety, not all, of things that a priest can do to try to maintain the dignity of the priesthood,” he says.
“In some cases, the priest can choose to have a child or to give up the priesthood.”
In a survey of priests by the New York-based National Catholic Reporter, 28 percent of those surveyed said that they were married while on missions, but just 11 percent of them reported that they married while in ministry.
In fact, a survey conducted by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., found that only 8 percent of the priests in the city reported being married while serving on missions.
In Texas, which is considered the cradle of the United States, there are strict rules regarding priests married to non-clergymen, as well as the ordination of children to priests.
“A priest can’t marry a man who has a wife and children,” says Housing, “unless there’s something going on in their marriage that makes them want to leave the church.”
Walker, who was a seminarian at the time of the Washington survey, says the issue of priests married while abroad is often misunderstood.
“When people think of the marriage of priests, they’re typically thinking of that priests’ marriage to parishioners and clergy in the diocese,” he explains.
“There’s a certain element of the priest marrying someone who doesn’t belong to the clergy and has children and that’s what’s misunderstood.
There’s an element of a priest marrying a married woman in the community and having children and then marrying another priest.”
It can also be confusing for the lay faithful, Walker adds.
“The more complicated it gets, the more difficult it is for people to understand what’s going on.
The more complicated the relationship is, the harder it is to understand.”
He says that priests who want to marry are often more hesitant about going through with it, even when they have the best intentions.
“If you’ve got someone who is not in a priest’s life, there is a chance that you may get hurt, or you may have an issue that comes up that will cause you to have some issues,” Walker says.
“But if you can see that it’s a way of making a difference in the lives of other people, you might think twice about it.”
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