08 June 2007

Former minister? Have a priestly vocation?

Frequently I am contacted by married Protestant ministers, especially those who are presently in the various “continuing Anglican” movements or in other related groups, asking how they might enter the process of the Pastoral Provision. Until now, I have been able to do little but offer sympathetic words and suggest that they contact the Pastoral Provision Office. Invariably, they have learned that the Pastoral Provision is intended for former Episcopalians, and that they do not qualify.

Some of them have contacted a Catholic bishop, but the usual response is less than helpful. And that is understandable. Until now, bishops have not really known what to do with a married Protestant minister coming to them asking to be considered for Catholic priesthood. With the issuance of the document entitled “Minimum Profile of Formation for Former Protestant Ministers Who Desire to Be Ordained Catholic Priests” there is now concrete guidance for bishops, and also for those who are petitioning to be considered for priesthood.

This is the text of the letter from Cardinal Levada to Bishop William Skylstad, president of the USCCB:

In the ongoing efforts of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to evaluate and adjudicate the cases of former Protestant ministers who wish to be ordained as Catholic priests, it has become clear that the theological formation of such candidates is a matter of utmost importance.

Currently, the pastoral provision in the United States provides for a process of assessment, study and certification for former Episcopalian ministers. Similar established criteria are lacking as regards former ministers of other Protestant denominations who would not fall under the care of the pastoral provisions.

Please find enclosed a copy of “Minimum Profile of Formation for Former Protestant Ministers Who Desire to Be Ordained Catholic Priests” (cf. enclosure). The congregation asks that this information be made available to the bishops of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to assist them in responding to the desire of former Protestant minister who wish to be ordained to the priesthood. The cases of former Episcopalian ministers, however, are still to be referred to the Office of the Pastoral Provision.

Wishing you God’s continued blessing in your ministry, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ.

/s/ Cardinal William Lavada

As soon as I have the document “Minimum Profile of Formation for Former Protestant Ministers Who Desire to Be Ordained Catholic Priests” in electronic form, I will post it. I have read it, and it outlines the required program of formation, including studies in the areas of Philosophy, Sacred Scripture, Dogmatic Theology, Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Moral Theology, and Canon Law. It speaks of “human formation,” to assist the candidate to become “the living image of Jesus Christ,” and also of “spiritual formation” to provide the former minister with growth in Catholic spirituality and devotional practices, especially in the areas of Eucharistic and Marian devotion. There is also a section about “pastoral formation,” intended to help the candidates become “true shepherds after the example of Christ.”

Included in the document is the following paragraph:

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requires that former Protestant ministers should undergo a period of no less than three years of formation in Catholic theology. The purpose of this period of time is to give candidates the opportunity for a certain maturation in the Catholic faith that, through reading, coursework and discussion, candidates will internalize the tradition of the Church.”

I’ll pass on more information as I receive it. But for now, this is a very helpful development. Now, when a former Protestant minister approaches a Catholic bishop to discuss the possibility of ordination, he can make mention of an actual document which gives real guidance.