Catholics divided by love

Married OC priests
hope to return to church

By Tracy Weber

The Orange County Register
April 8, 1990

     The church is still our home, says Terry Halloran, 55,
who has two sons, Dan, 21, and John, 19

Each day, the Rev. Phil McGovern kisses his wife, hugs his 5-year-old son and, briefcase in hand, heads out to track down con men pulling insurance scams.

The 46-year-old private investigator is a Roman Catholic priest. He is also married.

And like thousands of married Catholic priests, McGovern yearns to return to the active ministry -- with his family.

"I still have a strong attachment to the priesthood," he said, leaning over the desk in his Fullerton office. "I would still like to live that fully and be married."

There are about 19,000 married priests in the United States -- most of whom left the church in the past 20 years. More than 200 live in Orange County. Most resigned because of the church's requirement that they remain celibate.

For years, married priests typically faded into the laity. Shunned by the church and weighted by guilt, they moved away from their home parishes and built new lives.

But now, as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States faces one of the worst priest shortages in its history, many married priests are emerging from their self-imposed exile to demand reform. They are speaking out publicly, insisting that celibacy has nothing to do with being a priest.

Like seasoned troops poised for battle, they await a call that some predict must come within the next 10 years, but others say might never come -- an invitation to return to the church to serve as priests.

Bishop Norman F. MacFarland of the Diocese of Orange cuts short any discussion of enlisting the help of married priests.

"There's no way. Right now they're not even living the life of good Catholics," MacFarland said. "They are married invalidly. They can't be expected back."

Priests who marry remain priests, but give up the right to say Mass or actively minister in the church. The Catholic Church also refuses to marry priests. But by most accounts, the church could use their help.

The church's work force is aging and the number of young men entering the priesthood has plummeted because many young Catholics no longer are willing to make a lifetime commitment to celibacy.

Two decades ago, nearly 50,000 young men were enrolled in Catholic seminaries in the United States. By 1988, the number had plunged to about 7,500. As a result, nearly 1,000 parishes nationwide do not have a priest, and more parishes are likely to go without as older priests retire.

The average parish priest is 52 years old and shepherds a flock of more than 2,500. Last year in the Diocese of Orange, 257 priests were responsible for about 750,000 Catholics, or one priest for every 2,900 people.

Two new priests were ordained in the diocese this year, but they will only fill vacancies caused by retirements.

By the turn of the century, studies predict, the number of Catholics nationwide will swell to 72 million. They will be served by just 22,500 parish priests.

Since 1980, Pope John Paul II, who refuses to discuss the celibacy issue, has allowed about 50 married Episcopal priests and a handful of married Lutheran ministers to convert to Catholicism and be ordained as Catholic priests. Not surprisingly, the pope's move is viewed by most married Catholic priests as a hurtful double-standard.

"It makes me very upset because I see it's a man-made rule, and it can be changed with the stroke of a pen," said the Rev. Bob Jabro, who married shortly after he resigned from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in June.

The Roman Catholic Church has preferred priests to be celibate since the fourth century and has required celibacy -- with a few exceptions -- since the 12th. The dictate largely is based on the fact that Jesus was not married. Church leaders also point to the words of St. Paul that "an unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord's affairs" and to centuries of tradition. No Scriptural basis exists for the edict.

For most married priests, the decision to publicly discuss the issue is not easy. Many say they fear a backlash from the religious community against them and their families.

Other priests say they only recently have felt confident enough in their new lives to speak freely. More than 5,000 married priests nationwide have joined the Corps of Resigned Priests United for Service, or CORPUS, a 15-year-old support group.

Married priests who were interviewed said they had decided to speak out because they are worried about the future of the church.

"I love my church. I'm concerned about my church," said McGovern, a gregarious man whose blue eyes glisten with enthusiasm. "I'm still a part of this church despite all its failings."

McGovern said leaving the church and his job as chaplain at the Newman Center at Santa Ana College in 1979 was an agonizing decision that still haunts him.

At age 17, McGovern, the eldest of six children, left his delighted parents' home in Dublin, Ireland, to enter a New Hampshire seminary.

"I very much wanted to be a priest from an early age," McGovern said. "I felt very called."

McGovern, at the time, never gave celibacy a thought. Sheltered in seminary life until he was 25, marriage and family seemed part of another world.

"It's not until you get out and you're ministering, interacting with people, that you start finding out this celibacy issue is going to be very difficult for you," said McGovern, who heads the Orange County chapter of CORPUS.

Like many other priests who were ordained in the late 1960s, McGovern felt the promises of a new openness made during the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s were not kept, and the church quickly reverted to many ancient policies. As a result, McGovern said he was passing on to parishioners doctrine he did not believe himself.

In 1979, after four years of personal turmoil, McGovern resigned.

All Bob Jabro, 47, ever wanted to be was a priest. He entered a seminary high school at age 12. By age 25, he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Seventeen years later, Jabro discovered he was no different than millions of other men -- he was in love. He struggled for the next 31/2 years with an emotion he had taken a vow not to feel.

"I fell in love with a person, and she fell in love with me. You try to work it out to find some way to stay a priest. We really prayed through the whole thing," he said, reliving painful memories. "Then it becomes a question of integrity."

One day, Jabro was standing in the pulpit when he realized that after 21 years, he must resign.

"The church says you can't have a loving relationship with a woman, and you know you are," he said. "I miss celebrating the Mass and preaching the Gospel and ministering to the sick. I really feel that's what God wants me to do, but now I can't."

"I saw just how out of it I really was. I wasn't responsible for earning a living or struggling to make ends meet," he said. "I was living in my own ivory tower."

Terry Halloran met his wife, Constance, when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles sent him on a two-year mission to an orphanage in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Constance was a young nun from Chicago, and Halloran fell in love. When the mission was over, she went back to Chicago and Halloran returned to Los Angeles.

"I remember thinking, 'I've either got to fall out of love or find another job,' " said Halloran, who now works as a computer programmer for Northrop Corp.

He did not fall out of love. In 1967, after seven years in the priesthood, Halloran married Constance, who that year left the convent after 15 years.

"The church is still our home. We're just married," said Terry Halloran, 55, and father of two grown sons. "We're both believing, praying Catholics."

Bishop MacFarland said he does not really need the help of married priests. The church is getting seminarians from some of the new immigrants -- particularly Vietnamese and Hispanic communities. There are 20 Hispanic seminarians from the diocese.

"Sure, it's a challenge. You don't give a gift that's bad. You give a gift that's good. If I weren't a priest, I'm sure like everyone else I'd be married," he said.

Still, as parishes close around the nation, married priests say the church may be forced to let them return to active ministry.

"The greater scandal is that there are thousands of priests ready to serve if called," McGovern said.

Letters published in the Orange County Register

Monday, April 16, 1990

You've distorted my words

Ordinarily I accept it as part of my occupational hazard to suffer the vagaries of newspaper reporting, but the Register's recent distortion of my views in its story on celibacy and the Roman Catholic priesthood necessitates a comment. ["Catholics divided by love," News story, April 8].

First the fact: From everything I know about the history of the question, and the church's rationale that sees the giving up of the joys of marriage and family as an integral part of a priest's gift of concentrated dedication in service of all of the people, I do not envision any change in the discipline of the Roman Rite of the Church on this pnatter. People who see it otherwise -- or who opt for a change are not, for that reason, bad people. I just think they are wrong.

However, the impression given by the Register that I feel we have rmore than enough priests and vocations in Orange and, for this reason, would cavalierly dismiss offers of qualified people to assist the work of the church, could not be more erroneous. To the contrary. the Diocese of Orange has great need of more priests, religious and laity serving, according to their capabilities, the varied works and needs we have.

But especially do I object to the Register having me seemingly voice judgments on other people's state of soul. I cannot read any heart nor discern any conscience but my own. What I pointed out to the reporter was that, even if the church decided to dispense its own law on celibacy and receive married priests back to active ministry, it cannot dispense God's law on marriage. Therefore, while some priests are validly married by way of dispensation, many formerly active priests would be precluded from returning to priestly ministry on the grounds that they are presently living in an invalid marriage situation that cannot be rectified by the church. I could not believe how this observation was interpreted by the reporter.

Most Reverend Norman F. McFarland

Rev. McFarland is Bishop of Orange.

Wednesday, April 16, 1990

What McFarland didn't say

Bishop Norman F. McFarland says "You've distorted my words" [Opinion, April 16, Letters}. But his written comments indicate he mentioned only two kinds of married priests: those validly married by way of dispensation, and those living in an invalid marriage that can't be rectified by the church.

The church could decide to dispense its own law on celibacy and still not receive married priests back to active ministry. McFarland didn't point that out. He didn't mention the many priests whose marriages the church can but won't bless. I think that's why his words sound like judgments on other people's state of soul.

Terrence W. Halloran
Garden Grove