Future of Priestly Ministry
Addressing Pastoral Care Needs with Married Catholic Priests

      Addressing  pastoral  care needs with married Catholic priests  

Are you convalescing and without access to a priest due to the current priest  shortage?  Do you have a friend or relative in a hospital, nursing home, prison, detox center, rehab unit, domestic violence shelter, assisted living facility, or hospice who is in need of a priest?   ~ If so, a married priest may be a helpful option.

What makes it so hard to find a priest today?  

Due to a worsening priest shortage, pastors are spread so thin they cannot visit every Catholic who needs a priest.  Among the major religions, the “Catholic Church is unique in several areas: the dwindling supply of priests, the increasing number of lay people per priest, the declining number of priests per parish, [and] the increasing number of priestless parishes" (Davidson, Donald. “Fewer and Fewer,” America magazine, 2003).  


Who are married Catholic priests?  

Married Catholic priests are priests who married after ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.  There are over 125,000 such priests in the world today.  Ever since celibacy was mandated for all priests in 1139, pastors have lost their positions when they've married.  Still, a priest is always a priest: “sacred ordination never becomes invalid” (Canon 290).   Catholic canon laws provide for the valid and legal ministry of married Catholic priests for persons who begin to be in danger of death.  Ordination leaves an indelible mark.  According to Psalm 110:4 “Like Melchizedek, you are a priest forever.” 


Why call upon a married Catholic priest?

Catholics have a right to the goods of the church and priests have a duty to respond.  Married priests are an untapped resource and many married priests feel called to continue their ministry, even if they are no longer employed by the institutional church.  Married Catholic priests have the extensive theological training and spiritual experience necessary to address spiritual needs. 

Lack of spiritual care may cause depression, anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, and disease.  A married priest can bring consolation, overcoming of sin and its consequences, release from tension, peace, conversion, healing, and the beginning or renewal of a bond between the person and Christ.


How can I legitimately obtain pastoral care from married Catholic priests?

  1. If no priest is available to visit your aging/ ill loved one, you have the right to ask a married priest.  While the bishop is the recognized authority in each diocese, canon law tells us that in danger of death situations any priest may validly administer the sacraments of the sick, absolution and confirmation, even if he was suspended from active ministry.  If you do not know of a married priest in your area, you can obtain free referrals to a priest in your area from the website www.citiministries.org
  2. Notify your local parish if sacraments are provided in danger of death so they can be recorded.  Baptism and confirmation are conferred once; reconciliation and anointing are not limited.


                         Canon law & married Catholic priest ministry


New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.  Commissioned by Canon Law Society of America. Edited by John P. Beal, James A. Coridan, and Thomas J. Green.  New York/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.

“The salvation of souls must always be the supreme law in the church” (Canon 1752, p. 1847).


“In danger of death, the censured cleric's activity is not restricted, whatever the nature of the censure.    In such situations, the faithful may generally seek such ministry for any just cause, eg deepening one's spiritual life” (Canon 1335, p. 1553).


“Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly (legally) any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present” (Canon 976, p.1159-60).


“The faculty of a presbyter to confirm is not territorially restricted when confirmation is administered in danger of death situations ”  (Canon 887,  p.1084).   “If there is imminent danger of grave harm or infamy, a person impeded by an irregularity from exercising an order can exercise it” (Canon 1048, p.1227). 


“If a censure prohibits the celebration of sacraments or sacramentals or the placing of an act of governance, the prohibition is suspended whenever it is necessary to care for the faithful in danger of death.  If a latae sententiae censure has not been declared, the prohibition is also suspended whenever a member of the faithful requests a sacrament or sacramental or act of governance; a person is permitted to request this for any just cause (Canon 1335)”  (p.1553).


 “In case of urgent necessity, only those things required for the validity of the sacrament must be observed”  (Canon 850, p.1037).


Every priest and a priest alone validly administers anointing of the sickAll priests to whom care of souls is entrusted have the duty and right of administering the anointing of the sick for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral office.  For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the priest mentioned above” (Canon 1003).                  


“Married clerics may minister to the faithful in danger of death  (e.g.,  Canon 976).   Although certain married clerics may legitimately function in the Latin church, the attempted marriage of clerics not so authorized allegedly entails an objective ministerial unfitness.  Hence the faithful may not legitimately seek the ministry of such clerics.  No other cleric whose censure is undeclared is subject to such restrictions.  However, even such married clerics may minister to the faithful in danger of death” (p.1553).


The Pastoral Companion: A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry, third edition. Huels,          John M.  J.C.D.  (Juris Canonici Doctor ).   Edited by canonist Amy Jill Strickland, (Judge on the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Boston).  IL: Franciscan Press, 2002. 


“When no priest or deacon is available, anyone with the proper intention may baptize using water and the Trinitarian formula” (Canon 861, p.57).  “In necessity, baptism need not be celebrated in a church...the minister may administer baptism even outside his territory” (p.56).  “If baptism was administered by neither the pastor nor in his presence, the minister of baptism, whoever that may be, must notify the pastor of the parish in which baptism was administered so that it may be recorded in accord with the norm of canon 877” (p. 59).

“The pastor, or any presbyter, may confirm someone in danger of death (Canon 883.3).  This includes presbyters who are laicized or suspended”  (p. 68).


“All priests, even if they lack the faculty, may hear the confessions of those in danger of death, absolving from all sins and censures, even if an approved priest is present” (Canon 976,  p. 126).“Any priest, even one who has been excommunicated, interdicted, suspended, laicized, or in any other way has lost the faculty, may hear the confession of a Christian in danger of death, the law itself grants the faculty (Canon 844,  976, p. 131).   Even “if a local ordinary denies an outside priest the faculty in a particular case,” that priest may “validly absolve in that territory in danger of death” (p.125).

Persons are excused from observing usual procedures when there is physical or moral impossibility.  “Physical impossibility exists when compliance with the law is simply beyond human capability; such impossibility excuses from the observance of law, since no one can be obliged to do what is impossible.  Moral impossibility arises when the observance of the law is rendered very difficult due to grave fear, serious harm, or inconvenience ” (p.13).


Periculum Mortis, Danger of Death in Church Law.  Monsignor John A. Renken   M.A. (Civil Law), S.T.D., J.C.D.  (Juris Canonici Doctor ).  2013. 

“The law of the Church is at the service of the salvation of souls (Canon 1752). It is therefore principally a pastoral instrument to lead men and women to the fullness of life in God.  It contains various norms which are intended to be observed with great care. At the same time, the law itself admits that certain laws can be dispensed for a just and reasonable cause, lest the application of a given law overshadow the principal purpose of the law itself. The law also provides that special permissions can be granted, which permit one to perform actions that otherwise are not allowed. In the danger of death, however, Church legislation offers special provisions, which do not require a dispensation from the law or any special permissions, but which are the very application of the law itself” (p.1).


“Neither Code ( Eastern nor Latin code) of canon law defines the meaning of danger of death. One may properly understand, however, that the term identifies a circumstance wherein there is a reasonable possibility, but not necessarily a probability or certitude, of death sooner rather than later.   One may be in danger of death from an internal cause (e.g., injury, illness, advanced age, etc.) or from an external cause (e.g., impending natural disaster, epidemic, execution, bombardment, ship wreck, plane crash, etc.)”  (p. 2).


“The legislation of the Church makes specific provisions for the celebration of the sacraments with those who are in the danger of death.  The application of these norms does not involve dispensations or permissions, without which the sacramental celebration would be illicit or perhaps invalid. Indeed, the administration of sacraments in danger of death is so important that the codes permit their celebration even when their minister or recipient is otherwise prevented by reason of ecclesiastical penalties”  (p. 29).    

“Censures affecting clerics are suspended when they must act on behalf of a person in danger of death” (p. 42).   The Church manifests its guiding principle that is its ‘supreme law,’ ‘the salvation of souls.’ Whenever the observance of the censure would be detrimental to the salvation of souls, the various prohibitions are suspended.”  Clearly, the observance of a censure in the danger of death would be detrimental, whether the censure affects the celebrant or the recipient of a sacrament, sacramental, or act of governance” (p.43-44).


“In danger of death situations, the faculty to absolve is granted to priests whose faculties are otherwise withdrawn, to those not in “good standing,” to those under a penalty, and to those who have departed from the clerical state, whether voluntarily or not” (p.16). 

“Whenever an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary or, in a case of necessity, any person with the right intention confers baptism licitly”  (Canon 861, p. 7).  “If baptism is conferred in danger of death, the minister of the sacrament, whoever he or she is, must inform the pastor of the parish in which it was conferred, so that a record can be made appropriately in the baptismal register” (Canon 878, p. 7).

Canon 883 states: “The following possess the faculty of administering confirmation by the law itself: ... as regards those who are in danger of death, the pastor or indeed any presbyter.”   The canon gives a preference to the pastor to confirm a parishioner in danger of death; nonetheless, every presbyter has the faculty to celebrate the sacrament validly and lawfully in this circumstance.  The pastor or other presbyter exercises this faculty validly even outside his territory, provided the person confirmed is in danger of death (p. 9).   “Both Codes give the faculty to confirm in danger of death to any presbyter, not only to those in good standing” (p.10).