Praying for perspective: A priestly notion that’s ‘not ready for prime time’

Idea of ordaining married priests leads to unexpected discussion

By George Valadie

You can’t have two nicer weekends than we’ve had.

The first was spent in Little Rock with all three of our daughters and their families. There was swimming, a cookout, and a lot of grandpa goofiness on the trampoline.

A Saturday later came our trip to the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to celebrate the recent ordination of another much-needed priest for our diocese. No swimming, no cookout, no trampoline — but enjoyable all the same.

Both intermingled in my mind as I sat there in the pew pondering the two ministries of what “fatherhood” can mean.

Also roaming around in my thoughts was a recent dinner we had with friends. While sipping wine, gorging on dessert, and prompted by our mention of the upcoming ordination we’d be attending, one of the ladies shared with us details of a conversation she had with a priest friend of hers.

She apparently tossed out the topic we’ve all considered. While we’re always excited anytime there’s a new addition to any diocese, it can’t help but cause us to lament the sadness and the size of the priest shortage we experience around the world.

She told us she had suggested to this man of the cloth that the priestly deficit might be a lot less stressful if the Church would ordain married men as well.

Officially, they have a name, known as the “viri probati,” translated as “proven married men,” with a sense of deeply felt fidelity to the Catholic Church.

Whatever your side on all this, I know it’s a difficult subject, having been debated by theologians and Sunday-goers, priests and religious, not to mention popes, cardinals, and bishops, with fiercely held opinions on both sides.

We should respect what our faith teaches about the issue. But who doesn’t just want to solve the problem?

Our friend said she knew — and we all know — it would be a difficult decision and transition, but she had thrown it out there anyway.

And now, her conversation had become our conversation. The theology of marriage and holy orders aside, we began to enumerate the obvious practical implications that would result.

Because not only would the Church be accepting these men, they would, of course, be accepting their families as well.

While it’s the man who gets ordained, I’m guessing the practicality is that his family would also have to be viri probati … “proven” with an unshaken “fidelity.”

And that’s when our guest floored me.

She said she told her priest that she believed we — the Valadies — had the kind of family that would be the perfect fit for the priesthood, if it were ever allowed.

While appreciating the compliment, we couldn’t help but laugh out loud. She no doubt thinks we’re what we’re not.

If anything, I can’t imagine a single family more “not-ready-for-prime time” than ours.

While observing this 2,000-year tradition unfold, I couldn’t help but envision all the corners of our family’s life that would no doubt publicly unfold in front of some parish congregation somewhere.

We’re crazy and we’re in debt.

We eat out too much; we sacrifice too little.

We’ve bought stuff we didn’t need and haven’t given nearly enough to the Church.

We’ve missed Mass when we were traveling and on occasion when we didn’t even have that good of an excuse.

We let the girls stay out too late — with boys.

We don’t exercise all that much, not to mention that some of the foods we eat and some of the shows we watch might not be all that healthy.

We can’t seem to agree on much of anything — the temperature in the house, who does the dishes, which is the favorite child.

We’ve bought Mother’s Day gifts on Mother’s Day, even wrapped them with birthday paper. And on one such holiday, one of the girls gave Nancy a “get well” card because she liked it better than any of the ones Hallmark designated for moms.

If we do have our stuff together — we probably didn’t mean to put it there.

We argue, we fight, we love, we laugh.

We’re normal.

Then I had to smile as Bishop Stika reminded us that the Lord had chosen tax collectors and fishermen, regular people, to jump-start the mission the Lord had come to begin.

I’m one who takes great peace in knowing my leaders are kind of like me, that our faith is made up of people who fail but try to get better; leaders who challenge me to be the better me that’s inside. My leaders are the ones who acknowledge that they, too, look for better versions of themselves.

Personally, I’ve long hoped that the Church might have a change of heart.

But if it does, I doubt it will have our gang.

Dear God — You’re still calling, but fewer of us are hearing. Please don’t hang up. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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