PASTORAL PRACTICE APPLIED TODAY
THE RETURN OF VIRI PROBATI
Pastoral application for the restoration of priestly ordination of Viri Probati
(perhaps start with married deacons).
Cardinal Schonborn, palpabile until 2025, and appointed Cardinal of the Holy Catholic Church by Pope St. John Paul II, called the married diaconate “a laboratory for priests” since the diaconate is where married men are tested and discerned if Viri Probati is the pathway forward for married men.
An Apostolic Constitution or Motu Propio that could be written could be entitled “Viri Probati” and this pathway would be different than Ordinariate, Pastoral Provision, etc.
While married men do not need to start off as married “permanent” deacons, they will need to serve some time as deacons anyways, whether that be one year (like transitional deacons serve from the seminary) or 3 years or 5 years or more, depending on the local Ordinary. Permanent, then, here means that they of their own accord did not enter the diaconate expecting to become ordained priests; however, the Church can call some suitable men with a proven fruitful diaconate from the Order of Deacon and ordain to the Order of Priest if the local bishop asks and there is a need. They would receive dispensation from celibacy, and thereby with this dispensation be dispensed from continence as they were when they were ordained deacons, so that they would live up to the name “tested men” (Viri Probati) as the first Christians had married priests.
Just as married permanent deacons are not paid for their ministry, so too Viri Probati priests chosen from the rank of Order of Deacon would not be paid, and some are part-time or some are full-time meaning some have secular jobs and are already expected by their Diocese to be financially self-sufficient, they would not live in the rectory, and they would provide their own health insurance and retirement needs. This would not be a drain to the local Diocese. Heck, by comparison with the hundred of billions of dollars of lawsuits against the Church, this is mere pennies by comparison. Ordinariate priests and Pastoral Provision priests are paid a full-time salary, so they fall in a different pathway.
In 1952 (20th Century), Pope Pius XII granted permission for 5 married Protestant pastors who converted to the Catholic Faith to be ordained Catholic priests. These married Catholic priests celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass thus beginning the return of married Catholic priests in the Latin Rite once again in our time.
The Second Vatican Council restored the diaconate for married men and commended the Eastern Catholic Churches for maintaining married clergy since the time of the Apostles. Married priests (viri probati) were considered during Vatican II, but more time was needed for discernment. In 1971, the vote at the Synod of Bishops for married priests was a close, with only a couple dozen bishops voting against married priests. The issue lingered.
Pope St. Paul VI, like Pope Pius XII, gave permission on a limited basis for married Protestant pastors who converted to the Catholic Faith to be ordained married Catholic priests.
Married men were ordained underground Catholic priests in Communist countries.
Pope St. John Paul II, following 20th Century Popes, continued to grant dispensations called the "Pastoral Provision" that ordained married men to the Latin Rite priesthood on a limited basis, while Benedict XVI created the "Ordinariate" which admitted married converts from the Anglican communities to be admitted to the Catholic priesthood.
At present in the 21st Century, the Catholic Church continues the discussing of whether to ordain "Viri Probati" which are older, tested men (like married deacons with a fruitful diaconate) to the Catholic priesthood in the Latin Rite and how they would function. They would not function like the current celibate Latin rite priests or Ordinariate priests salaried by the Church but more like the current Latin rite permanent deacons.
More traditional Catholics have suggested "Simplex Priests" which is how priests were trained before the establishment of the seminary system by the Council of Trent. But that is not what we are proposing here at the moment but rather Viri Probati Catholic priests. Various Catholic bishops have proposed to ordain married deacons as "Viri Probati" priests by granting dispensations if the local bishop asks for married priests.
While maintaining celibacy in the Latin rite as a norm, the Holy See would grant dispensations under Canon 1047.2 with petition of the local bishop (or bishops conference) to ordain some married deacons to the priesthood after a fruitful diaconate and suitable formation that is on a case-by-case basis. Both celibacy and continence are thereby dispensed by the Holy See for viri probati married deacons ordained to the priesthood in the Latin rite. Celibacy would remain the norm along with these exceptions canonicially granted by the Holy See by decree:
1) Pastoral Provision
3) Viri Probati Dispensation: Married deacons ordained to the priesthood where the local bishop determines a need (diaconate would thus be a true stepping stone to the priesthood)
Ordaining Viri Probati married men in the diaconate to the presbyterate is the best way forward without abolishing celibacy as the general norm.
The Church taketh away, but the Church also giveth.