CHARLOTTETOWN – For the first time in P.E.I., a married man was to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest on Sunday.
Martin Carter, 63, said the Pope occasionally grants special permission for married men to become priests in cases where they’ve converted from other Christian churches.
The former Anglican clergyman said the church has made provisions for some cases, but he doesn’t anticipate a shift in the traditional approach to priests marrying.
“Not that there is anything wrong with marriage, it’s a status of life, but for the work of the church, the church becomes your bride in a sense,” he said.
“That’s a church law and there can be some exceptions.”
Carter’s ordination was to take place in an evening mass at St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown.
He said married men have been able to seek permission to be ordained for about 30 years.
About a dozen married men have been ordained in Canada in that time, and there’s about 100 cases in the United States, he said.
The exception doesn’t just apply to Anglican priests. Carter said he’s heard of instances where married Lutheran and Baptist priests became Roman Catholic priests.
However, the father of three grown children said it’s still rare, and he doesn’t expect there will be a rapid growth in the number of married Catholic priests.
“It’s not that common and it probably won’t be ever that common,” he said Saturday from Charlottetown.
“I don’t think it’s a sign of any change … the Pope has to approve more or less every case. It’s not really a change in the church itself but it’s an exception to a rule.”
After the Bishop of Charlottetown petitioned the Pope for special permission for Carter to be ordained, they waited 18 months for a response.
Carter said the entire process took around five years.
“A conversion is a complicated thing, different aspects of one’s personality are involved,” he said of the shift from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
“The main thing is that one should want to be Catholic, you wouldn’t do this to just become a priest.”
Carter said he had always considered himself Anglo-Catholic and estimated that between 10 and 15 per cent of Anglicans wish to reconcile with Rome.
“To me it was just a matter of making the journey on my own,” he said.
His wife said the process involves “a lot of soul-searching and rethinking and understanding that needs to take place.”
Annie Carter, who also converted to Catholicism, said she is very happy the exception was allowed.
“It’s incredibly compassionate of the Catholic Church to open that up,” she said.
In general, however, she said she doesn’t think priests should marry.
“I totally agree with the church that priests should be celibate. I think it’s very difficult for a priest to be married and have his own home and his family to preoccupy his time,” she said.
“It’s going to be difficult for Martin, although he won’t be assigned a parish to take care of.”
In about a week, Carter is expected to begin working as an assisting priest in the parish of St. Piux X in Charlottetown.
He is leaving his job as a research assistant at Agriculture Canada to work full time for the church.
“I’m somewhat apprehensive in one way. It’s quite the change in my life,” Carter said.
“To work for the church, you have to give everything to it, but I’m also very pleased that after several years that it’s come to fruition. “
“I just pray that I can be a faithful and good priest to serve the church.”
With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax