Monday, February 01, 2010

Fr. Dwight Longenecker: What Shall We Do with the Convert Clergy?

By Fr Dwight Longenecker
Catholic Online (

The Anglican Ordinariate may well help to solve the vocations crisis.These priests will also be authorized to celebrate Mass according to the Latin rite.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

GREENVILLE (Catholic Online) - Some time ago I attended a conference for Catholic priests. As a married, former Anglican priest, I felt honored and humbled to be numbered among them. The topic of our conference was the vocations crisis, and I could not help but notice that I was one of the younger priests, and I am in my early fifties. It is not enough to look forward and say that in a few years we will have a crisis in vocations. We already have a crisis in vocations.

Where will we get the priests we need to serve the American church? One of the solutions is to bring priests in from other countries. Already priests are helping us from Africa, India, Poland and South America. But is it really fair to take priests from the developing world? In his book Future Church, John Allen points out that while the seminaries are full in countries like Nigeria, they still are not producing enough priests for the exploding Catholic population in their own country.

Many observers feel that we have turned the corner. The seminaries and houses of religious formation are experiencing a new influx of young men with vocations. Ordinations are slowly on the increase. However, even with a large influx of young men, it will take more time than we have to train them and for them to get enough experience to become parish pastors. The vocations crisis is already here. Where will we get the priests we need?

I believe there is a pool of well trained men already waiting in the wings. However to tap into this hidden mine of talent the church will need to think and act creatively. A few risks will need to be taken and the wave-walking attitude of St Peter will have to be re-discovered.

The group of men I am thinking of are convert clergy. It is often imagined that the only Protestants who convert to the Catholic church are Episcopal and Lutheran ministers. Not so. Jim Anderson, of The Coming Home Network International points out that their special apostolate to assist convert clergy have men from the whole range of different denominations on their books. These are men who between them bring a vast wealth of education and experience into the Catholic Church.

Only some of them may go forward to ordination as Catholic priests. If the convert clergyman is unmarried, and feels called to the Catholic priesthood he will usually fit rather quickly into the mainstream of Catholic seminary life. If the convert clergyman is married the path is more difficult. If he is from the Anglican tradition he may be ordained under the special Pastoral Provision. Through this process a bishop applies to Rome for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy allowing the married former Anglican to be ordained. Men from the Lutheran tradition (and a few others) have also been ordained through a similar process on a case by case basis.


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