As a boy growing up in a Catholic culture, I always found the Gospel passage about the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, strange: “When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her….” Mt 8:15-16
It struck me as strange, because I couldn’t imagine Peter was married. I, like everyone else, assumed celibacy was a way of life from the very beginning of the church. Yet, most of the disciples of Jesus were probably married. What we take for granted, the celibate clergy of the church, came only centuries later and was first introduced into the church as a practice in the late fourth century. It became obligatory for the Latin Rite Church in the 11th century as part of the general reformation of the church.
See related story: “For Russell Arnett, delayed call leads to Catholic orders”
There is no doubt that celibacy and chastity are gifts to the church. Martyrdom is a demonstration of the total commitment to the mission of the church, as one gives up one’s very life. In later centuries, theologians have posited, a white martyrdom replaced the red martyrdom in areas where the faith gained acceptance. White martyrdom was the gift of self foregoing the married state of wife and family for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus himself states in Matthew 19:12: “For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.”
Clerical celibacy is an obligation in the Latin Rite Church. It is written into the Code of Canon Law: “(Canon 277) 1. Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”
The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the rule of celibacy for clergy, recognizing its importance for the church and as a sign for the world. The Eastern Rite Churches affirmed the positive gift of celibacy but continued the practice of married clergy. To this day the Eastern Rite Churches have married priests. With the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate, married clerics have been re-introduced to our common experience. The deacon, especially in parish life, has proven to be a wonderful collaborator in the exercise of ministry in the church, and those deacons who are married enrich us with the experiences of their additional vocation of marriage.
Recently, there have been clergy from other faith traditions who have converted to the Catholic faith and desire to continue their ministerial practice as priests. However, some are married. This may sound like a unique situation. Yet Pius XII confronted this problem in the 1950s when he granted special permission to some married Lutheran clergy to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
“In July 1980 the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops received a letter from the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith indicating that the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, responding to requests received from some priests and laity formerly or actually belonging to the Episcopal Church in the United States, and after consultation with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, had decided to make a special pastoral provision for the reception of these priests and laity into full communion with the Catholic Church. The decision provided for the priestly ordination of married, former ministers coming from the Episcopal Church.” (“The History of the Pastoral Provision”)
Of course, as would be expected, there are requirements for admission to full communion:
1. Theological, catechetical and formational preparation should be administered as needed.
2. A profession of faith with emphasis on the areas of divergence between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.
3. Re-ordination of the Episcopal clergy after an examination of each individual case by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Russell Arnett was accepted into the process for ordination to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee under the aforementioned pastoral provision. He was sponsored by then-Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and later by Bishop William P. Callahan. He received his formational and academic direction under Fr. Don Hying, rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. Fr. John Yockey, pastor of St. Jerome Parish, Oconomowoc, a well-respected priest and teacher, was entrusted with Russell’s pastoral supervision.
After completing his examinations and requirements to the satisfaction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Russell was assigned as parish director to St. Francis Xavier Parish, Brighton, and St. John the Baptist, Paris, this past July. This coming Wednesday, Oct. 27, he will be ordained to the transitional diaconate of the Roman Catholic Church at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Brighton, fulfilling the requirements of the pastoral provision. Russell, married to Dianne, will begin his duties in the clerical state while continuing as parish director and awaiting ordination to the priesthood sometime early next year.
Clerical celibacy will continue to be the norm for priestly ordination. The pastoral provision allows those ministers who experience a conversion to the Catholic faith to continue their ordained service to the church by way of exception.
We welcome Russell and Dianne as they witness to the Catholic faithful in Southeastern Wisconsin. May God bless them.