How to treat a former priest; salvation not defined by birth

| Father Kenneth Doyle | July 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

Q. Our pastor recently left the priesthood, and now he is advertising on the Web that he is available to perform weddings or funerals (including weddings of gay/lesbian couples.) The Catholic priest who married us has also left the priesthood and is now a Presbyterian minister.

How does a faithful Catholic treat and respond to these men? I wonder what we are doing wrong that so many men are leaving the priesthood.

A. How you should treat these two men is how you should treat everyone: with kindness. No one can pretend to know the struggles they may have endured — both in their years of active ministry and in their decisions to resign.

I would say: Be nice to them and leave any judgment to God. At the same time, though, I would be wary of any religious services offered by your former pastor. Having resigned from the Catholic priestly ministry, he no longer has faculties from the diocese, which means that he has no authorization from the Church to celebrate Mass or to officiate at Catholic weddings or funerals.

As a result, Catholics would not fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending his service. (I would even wonder whether his marriage ceremonies are valid civilly, since most jurisdictions authorize clergy to officiate at weddings only if they are in good standing with the parent religious body.)

As to the “so many men” who are leaving the Catholic priesthood, you should be comforted to know that, these days, that is a fairly rare occurrence. (The peak years were the late 1960s and early 1970s.)

Also encouraging is the fact that seminary enrollments in the United States are on the upswing. In fact, 2012 saw the highest seminary enrollment in nearly 25 years, according to figures from Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington.

Q. In the Book of Wisdom (3:17-18 and 4:3) it indicates that children born of a forbidden union will suffer a miserable fate and not amount to anything. They are illegitimate and can never lay a firm foundation with values that are deeply rooted. I was born out of wedlock. My life ever since has been full of disappointments and misfortune, and I am now incarcerated. The Scripture says that I am doomed. Am I?

A. The Book of Wisdom (3:17-18) does say of children of adulterers that “should they attain long life, they will be held in no esteem” and “should they die abruptly, they have no hope nor comfort in the day of scrutiny.” Whatever those passages may have meant in their Old Testament context, I will leave for others wiser than I to determine.

What I do know is that your reading of these verses conflicts sharply with a host of New Testament passages that reflect the teaching of Jesus. Paul indicates in Ephesians 2:8-9, for example, that our salvation is based on God’s grace through faith, not on the particular circumstances of our birth. (“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works.”)

And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,” which seems to say clearly that no one is excluded from salvation based on how he was conceived.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service.

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Category: Seeking Answers