Reflection of a Married Priest in Brazil: Brian Eyre
“If you marry, choose well” (“se for casar, escolha bem”)
Have you ever travelled 640 kilometers by train, a journey of 15 hours? I did this 44 years ago as I headed off from the city of São Paulo to take up my missionary work in the parish of Irapuru, a small town set in the heart of a vast coffee-growing area in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Every so often all the priests of the diocese would gather in Marília with our Bishop Dom Hugo for the clergy meeting. At one of these meetings the Bishop, speaking to us from his pastoral experience said: “If you marry, choose well”. Looking back now on 28 years of happy married life I can
say that his words were full of wisdom. Marta, my wife, has been a gift from God to me.
I have no doubt that I did the right thing because I met the right person. I cannot imagine my life today as anything different from what it is today. The same Lord that called me to the sacrament of Orders also called me to the sacrament of Matrimony. I didn’t marry because I wasn’t fulfilled as a person, I married because I fell in love and did the honest thing. There are some priests however who are in a relationship which can go nowhere and which will eventually end. Many are the reasons why a priest in such circumstances won’t take the decision to get married. It maybe for fear of leaving something that is to some extent secure and embarking on a life which
for most couples demands great sacrifice, especially when the children are small and if unemployment knocks on the door this can be devastating on the family, these priests may feel that they are not prepared for this.
It is possible though for a priest to be married, raise a family, have a secular job in order to live and also do pastoral work. He will, if he organizes his life, have time for ministry and at the same time be a loving husband and
father. As a father he will find time to be present to his children, bring them to school, run the family home with his wife, etc, and as well as these things he will have a secular job and also do ministry. St Paul says in his first letter to Timothy ch. 3 v 5: “For if a man does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of the church of God”? Ministers of other faiths do this all the time so why can’t catholic married priests do the same?
What can I say about a priest’s wife? I believe the key word here is that she be a companion to him and he to her as we read in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him”. He must make sure that he has time to listen to her, to be at her side and give her attention. To be there when she needs him, otherwise she could suffer from isolation. It would be very wrong if he had time for everyone else and not for her. She should be treated like any other married woman in the community and should not be the subject of scrutiny or gossip just because she is the priest’s wife. Like any other woman too she will have her circle of friends, have some kind of pastime and so on, in other words be a normal wife and mother. She will be able to give support to him as Marta does to me in my pastoral work. Together we talk about the different pastoral problems, we plan and do pastoral work together. It is very important for the priest who marries to have someone like this by his side, someone who understands pastoral problems and who has experienced them. In my case Marta is a tremendous source of strength to me and encourages me to keep on doing pastoral work in spite of all the restrictions imposed on married priests by canon law. I am happy and at peace with her. Here in Brazil when I am out with her and we meet someone who doesn’t know anything about my past they often say: “você tem cara de padre”, by this they mean “you look like a priest” and when I tell them my story they often comment by saying “ what a pity you can’t minister any longer”. Except that I do serve people and will continue to do so. I am even obliged by canon law to do this. Canon 1335 states that married priests have the right and the obligation to offer the sacraments when asked for by the faithful.
The day may come when big parishes which are being run by just one priest may be divided up into smaller communities. The parish church would continue to be the mother church served by a parish priest but the smaller
communities could be looked after by married priests. These small communities would have an inter-communion relationship with the parish church. Here in Brazil the bishops are worried about the number of Catholics who are joining the evangelical churches. These small churches are being looked after by a married pastor who also has a secular job. A married priest too could be a leader in a small community. He could be the one who would animate and bring together the community to pray and worship and also work with the community to try and solve the human and social problems in that area. In these communities the celebration of the Eucharist would be central to the life of the faithful for the Eucharist is everything, we cannot live without it.
When a priest marries what does he leave and what does he retain? He leaves the clerical state which is a political position of authority in the institutional church. He is dismissed from the clerical state. He is no longer
a cleric, an office-holder in the church’s hierarchy but he retains the fullness of the priesthood. Canon 290 says: “The sacraments celebrated by a married priest are valid”. However he is often referred to as an “ex-priest”.
This term is inaccurate, he is now an “ex-cleric” not an “ex-priest”, for ordination to the priesthood is permanent. The married priesthood is the original and traditional priesthood in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was the second Lateran Council in 1139 that established that priests would have to choose between their families and priesthood, up till then priests were married.
In the United States more than 100 protestant ministers are now priests in the Catholic Church. They were received into the Catholic church with their wives and children . I believe that this variety of priests, married and single, will be good for the church. However more courage and less fear is necessary on the part of the authorities. Today the church needs to “push its boat out further into deep waters and let down its nets”(Luke 5, 4) and it should
do what the disciples did when “their nets were about to break”, “they motioned to their partners in the other boats to come and help them” (Luke 5, 7). Today there are many married catholic priests who want to help but they are not
called. The blame for this should not be put only on the Bishops, who apart from a few exceptions, are not interested in calling married priests to help out in the ministry but also on the Association of Married Priests . In fact the Association has never really made an impact on society, very few people know that it exists. It needs to be more missionary and go into areas of ministry where the official church is not present. uerque 102, Casa 6
Casa Forte, Recife
PE 52061 – 100 Brazil