Discernment of Priestly Vocation

In discerning the vocation of a candidate to the Catholic priesthood, sponsoring bishops should be mindful that the qualities required for Catholic priesthood in some instances are different from those required for Episcopal or other Protestant clergymen. The sponsoring bishop cannot presume that the candidate has been formed according to the spiritual, intellectual, pastoral, and human pillars required by the United States Bishops Program of Priestly Formation.

Therefore, the discernment process must include not only an examination of the candidates readiness for ordination according to the standards required for ordination of celibate candidates, but also serious discussion regarding issues specific to the life of a married priest in the Catholic Church in the United States.

It is normally anticipated that those married men who present themselves as candidates for priestly ordination in the Catholic Church under the Pastoral Provision have served for a number of years in ministry. Cases sometimes arise, however, wherein a candidate has served as an Episcopal clergyman for only a short period of time. In cases when the candidate lacks significant ministerial experience, the sponsoring bishop should address in his letter of sponsorship a detailed description of the spiritual and pastoral formation and preparation the candidate will receive during the period before proceeding to the certification examination. In such cases, the sponsoring bishop must exercise due diligence that the Pastoral Provision is not abused as a means to circumvent clerical celibacy.

The sponsoring bishop should examine carefully the stability of commitment in all areas of the candidates life. Stability of commitment should be evident in the candidates marriage and family life as well as in his denominational affiliation.

A sponsoring bishop should give special care to a candidate who, in the course of his life, has been a member of several denominations before entering the Episcopal Church. In these instances, the sponsoring bishop should consult with the Ecclesiastical Delegate.

A man ordained under the pastoral provision is not to be entrusted with the ordinary care of souls; for example, as pastor of a parish. Care is to be taken that confusion is not caused among the faithful and the value of celibacy always be upheld. Married priests are often assigned to a specialized ministry outside the parish setting. Examples would include serving as a hospital or prison chaplain. There could be specific and rare occasions where derogation from these norms might be granted.

Since the Pastoral Provision requires that married priests exercise ministries that in principle do not involve the ordinary care of souls, the sponsoring bishop should determine whether the candidate is suitable to serve in non-parochial ministries. This determination should take place during the discernment process through an open discussion with the candidate.

The process of discernment of vocation must involve the wife and family of the candidate. It may be helpful to engage the experience of the Permanent Diaconate of the diocese in assisting the candidate and the sponsoring bishop in this aspect of discernment.

This particular discussion should focus on the cultural differences between the role of the wife of a clergyman in the Episcopal Church and the expected role of the wife of a married priest in the Catholic Church. It should prepare the wife of the candidate for a culture in which her role may be ambiguous within the celibate presbyterate of the diocese.

Given the size and complexity of most Catholic dioceses and the vast responsibilities of bishops, the wife and family of the candidate should be aware that, while the sponsoring bishop has solicitude for their well-being, his duties preclude the often close personal connection between an Episcopal bishop and his clergy.
To the extent possible, the sponsoring bishop and the candidate and his family should be aware that there will be tensions that may occur, especially during the transition period. It is important that the wife and family of the candidate be aware of the demands of the Catholic priesthood on the time of a priest.

At the beginning of the discernment process, it is very important that the sponsoring bishop realize that the financial needs of a married man are completely different from those of a celibate priest. The sponsoring bishop and the candidate should have an open and frank discussion regarding finances in the context of the foreseen pastoral ministry determined by the sponsoring bishop. These discussions should include salary and other compensation issues, health insurance, and retirement benefits. Depending on the circumstances, health insurance and retirement benefits also may be required for the wife and family of the candidate.

The sponsoring bishop should be aware that it is necessary to make special financial arrangements for the candidate in the period between the sponsoring bishop accepting him as a candidate and the candidates ordination. Since incardination imposes life-long relationships and responsibilities, prudence dictates that the candidate complete a thorough physical examination. The candidate must sign a waiver so that the results of this examination will be available to the sponsoring bishop. Similarly, the candidate must sign a waiver giving the sponsoring bishop access to the results of the psychological testing required under the discussion of Human Formation. To arrive at a correct evaluation of the candidate’s personality, the bishop or his delegate can have recourse to both interviews and tests. These must always be carried out with the previous, explicit, informed and free consent of the candidate (CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION, Guidelines for the use of psychology in the admission and formation of candidates to the priesthood, 29 June 2008, no. 5).

Prudence dictates, and it is required by the Pastoral Provision, that the sponsoring bishop conduct a criminal background check of the candidate. Since the wife of the candidate will be involved in various areas of his future ministry, it is necessary that the sponsoring bishop conduct a criminal background check of the wife of the candidate.

All of the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops must be applied in the discernment process for each candidate.