Can men who fathered a child out of wedlock become Roman Catholic priests?

My husband and I saw something on TV that got us arguing about this point,but since we’re Jews, what do we know? I know there are plenty of RCs on the board who probably know the answer, so what is it?

The man was never married, so he’s not divorced, and doesn’t violate the rules of priesthood that way, and for the sake of argument, we’ll say he fathered the child before he was called to the priesthood, and had ever contemplated celibacy.

My husband says the idea of the “no marriage” rule is to allow a priest to be unfettered, and able to be moved around as the church desires. I say that if the child is in the custody of it’s mother of grandparents, the priest is still free to move around.

Also, I know of one case where an RC priest was allowed to adopt a son (an older child, about 7 or 8), so that particular priest had to ask his diocese, and then larger parish, not to move him too much o provide his son with stability.

For that matter, what if a priest fathered a child after becoming a priest? would he be defrocked? or allowed to continue, and expected to pay child support? Would he be expected to act as a father to the child? to visit?

There have been several popes that were biological fathers. Granted, that was a few hundred ago.

My understanding (I’m not Catholic, either) is that the celibacy requirement is for *after *vows are taken.

As for breaking vows and a father fathering a child, I think there’s the possibility of forgiveness and allowing the priest to continue as a priest, although some sort o penance may need to be served.

A Catholic priest can be a father. Widowers with children are accepted into the priesthood. A number of Anglican (Church of England/Episcopalian) priests who are married with children and who have come over to Rome have been ordained as Catholic priests. They remain married family men.

The Church holds that no sin is unforgivable. If a man has a child through an illegitimate relationship, as long as he confesses and shows remorse for the extramarital sex he can attain or remain in the priesthood and he can maintain a paternal relationship with his child.

Speaking here as a former parishioner of Boston’s notorious Fr. John Geoghan, I’m pretty sure that proof of heterosexuality is probably welcome in a candidate for the priesthood nowadays.

I thought they didn’t even get re-ordained, but according to this article they do.

There is one detail in that article I dislike:

That makes it seem as if celibate priests were the default for most of the RCC’s existence, when that was nowhere near the case. Most pre-Rules monks were celibate. Members of Regular Orders (what we’re used to thinking of as monks) are celibate. But for priests who were not members of an Order, the push for celibacy didn’t truly become a requirement until Trent, in 1563. In RCC terms, “day before yesterday”.

The Roman Catholic Church has allowed married Episcopal priests who convert to Catholicism to become Catholic priests–and remain married. With children & everything. Here’s a brief discussion. A few Anglican congregations have decided to “go over to Rome”–along with their priests. I believe other married priests are given posts at schools, etc., because few rectories have family quarters.

Also, a few married priests come from other Protestant denominations. And there are married Eastern Rite priests; their liturgy appears Orthodox but they accept the primacy of Rome.

Of course, there’s a very old tradition of “sinners” who later become priests. Augustine of Hippo was probably not even the first…

ETA: I see someone has beat me to this. I got caught up in some fascinating details

Hell, try Peter :stuck_out_tongue: Combines being the Denier with being married (his mother in law gets mentioned in the Gospels) with being the first Pope.

Since everything else has been answered well, I’ll put my best guess (as someone raised Catholic but not active):
The Church would certainly view fathering a child while a priest as something major. There would be some long conversations with the man about whether he really is suited to being a priest, with (IMO) the most likely result (maybe after some hints and threats from the Bishop) that everyone agrees that God is calling him to something other than the priesthood and he leaves more or less voluntarily.

Though they are kind of desperate for priests nowadays, so who knows what might happen in the end?

As far as child support, that’s a legal question I don’t know enough about. I’m not exactly sure of any Church positions on the role of out-of-wedlock fathers, but I can’t imagine it’s anything much different from ‘Love and support the child. We think the best way to do that is within a marriage, but love and support is the most important thing’

I’m a practicing Roman Catholic, and I know the answer. But I also know how the tractate of Oholot affects the kohaine, so there. :smiley:

To become a priest is to have the Sacrament of Holy Orders conferred upon you, which leaves an indelible mark upon the soul of the recipient. Canon law provides that there are impediments to the reception of this sacrament. An impediment is a barrier to the reception of the sacrament. Some impediments block the validity of the sacrament – if they are present, the sacrament is not valid. Other impediments impair only the licit conferring of the sacrament. In the illicit case, the sacrament itself is valid, and has imprinted a character upon the soul, but the man-made rules of the Church concerning the process were not observed.

Impediments come in two forms: simple and perpetual. A simple impediment is one that can vanish as circumstances change: for example, a priest is forbidden from holding a public office which entails a participation in the exercise of civil power, and in the same line a man who holds such an office is simply impeded from being ordained as a priest. But if he leaves that office, that impediment vanishes.

A perpetual impediment is one that never vanishes. It can be dispensed – the Pope can decide in a particular case to permit an ordination even though the impediment is present, but without that literally from-the-boss approval, the rules forbid ordination. An example would be a person who has attempted suicide. That attempt bars him from priesthood as a perpetual impediment; the Pontiff’s approval would be necessary to ordain such a person.

With that framework in mind, an existing marriage is a simple impediment. This means that while married, a man cannot be ordained. It’s a simple impediment because it can be resolved on its own: if the man became a widower, he would be eligible for ordination. Whether he had children or not would not be a factor. And even if he remained married, the Pontiff could dispense with that impediment – this is seen most often in cases of married clergy from other Christian traditions who wish to convert.

The same general rules apply to a single man who fathered a child: that is not an impediment to ordination.

Now, as part of his formation process, undoubtedly his religious superiors would want to explore whether his vocation was consistent with the role he wanted to play in his child’s life, and what his child needed from him. But in terms of rules, the child born to a man prior to ordination is not a per se barrier to ordination.

Now, the priest who fathers a child does not erase the mark upon his soul that was placed when Holy Orders was conferred – indeed, nothing can do that. But such a priest has sinned, and is certainly subject to penal sanctions within the church. Those sanctions could absolutely included dismissal from the clerical state, or “defrocking.” This means that the priest may no longer licitly perform any priestly ministry. He could also be retained in the clerical state, and, indeed, be expected to pay child support and have whatever role in the child’s life that made sense in the particular circumstances.

There was an interesting disagreement in the church around the 1990’s, just after the fall of the iron curtain. Eastern Rite (Ukrainian Catholic) priests can be married. Quite a number of the 18 rites of the Roman Catholic church allow married priests. The major rite does not, hence the assumption Catholic priests cannot be married. The Vatican ha an agreement with the Soviets over how many priests were allowed in the seminary and ordained; of course, this all fell apart with the Soviet Union. A Ukrainian bishop began ordaining too many priests for the Vatican’s liking, and there was an ongoing dispute over whether these were really ordained priests.

also, IIRC, the fellow who murdered St. Maria Goretti became a laybrother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin - not exactly a priest, but certainly a heinous crime is no impediment to forgiveness and life in the clergy.

I don’t recall this specific case, but I’d imagine that the dispute did not really revolve around whether the men were really ordained, but whether they were licitly ordained.

Note that the fellow in question, Alessandro Serenelli, was not ordained – he did not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Nor was he a member of the clergy – he was a lay member of a religious order, working as the gardener and porter in a convent of Capuchin friars.

Does the Roman Church still accept the distinction between “Chaste” and “Celibate”?

For those who use the terms interchangeably: we Precriptionists wish to have a word. “Chaste” refers to sexual activity. “Celibate” refers to marital status. I am celibate (never married). I am also, gratefully, NOT chaste (have partaken of the joys of sexuality. with others.).

I am certain that the Church would disagree vehemently, with this tale:
The requirement for Chastity was a land grab by the Pope. Local Priests had, over the centuries, been bequeathed land, which was inherited by their first-born sons, who also inherited the local Priesthood.
The law prevented illegitimate children inheriting. If you can’t marry, you can’ 'have sons who can inherit the land, so it becomes property of the Church.

Let me guess: the Church really, really hates this tale.
My Q: is the tale widely known in the Church, and, when off the record, is it believed?

Chastity is expected of all Catholics, and does not mean “no sex”. It means “no sex except with your spouse”. The combination of chastity and celibacy, then, implies no sex.

And even “chastity” doesn’t mean “virginity”. As someone noted above, both priests and nuns can have been married and even have (adult) children when they enter holy orders, as long as the spouse has died or abandoned them. Vows of chastity only really have relevance for the portion of the religious’s life AFTER he or she has taken them.

Are married priests allowed to father children with their wives?

So, if a man has a son underage, and the mother is the custodial parent, no problem.

What about a man who is a custodial parent to an underage child? Given that priests have been allowed to adopt (or, at least one was, and he adopted 4), and the church is facing a shortage of priests, I imagine if a widower with an underage child applied for the priesthood, he might receive more scrutiny than most candidates, but there is nothing in the canons that bars him from acceptance.

So if a never-wed father had custody of his child, however it came about (let’s say the mother is living, but he was deemed the more fit parent), could he still apply for orders? His mistake in the past of, whatever-- fornication, I guess, is in the past, and having an underage child at home has precedent, so the man would at least be considered?

Quite widely known, and not really believed, since the celibacy requirements predate vast Church land holdings.



Sure. Nothing about that is an impediment, in the canon law sense, to ordination.

Not a Catholic, but a student of history, and my reading of history has somewhat covered the “celibate & unmarried” thing.

The celibacy/no marrying thing was an “innovation” in the Church. The situation had gotten to the point where the Church was as powerful as governments. Governments, what with their kings and other nobility, developed an ingrained “hereditary authority” thing.

And so, the priesthood copied this model. Priesthood was supposed to be based upon qualification and willingness to serve. But as the Church became more powerful, and became more wealthy, so did its priests & bishops. And as these priests and bishops accumulated wealth via their positions, they naturally wanted to pass that wealth on to their offspring.

Except that wealth technically belonged to the Church, not to the individuals. So the Church saw that certain priests were forming little “dynasties” of their own, turning the priesthood into a hereditary office passed down from father to son, regardless of qualification for the job, purely to keep the wealth “in the family”. And certain of those priests were focusing more on accumulating wealth that they could pass on, instead of properly attending to their priestly duties.

This was properly seen as an “abuse”, and the Church decided to shut it down by requiring priests to remain unmarried and celibate.

This isn’t a Protestant slamming Catholics, this is me relating my understanding of history. This should be obvious when looking at the historical facts that kings and nobles fought the Church for the right to name bishops and cardinals, instead of allowing the Church to do it. These kings and nobles wanted to hand out bishoprics and cardinals hats to their relatives so that their families could reap the revenues of the dioceses.

The TLDR of what Mister Rik wrote is one word: nepotism.