Love and the Priesthood

I thought a recent article syndicated by the National Catholic News Service might be of interest in light of Jack Miles’ piece on “Love Is Always,” a book in which Michael Miles reflects on how he fell in love and left the priesthood to marry (The Book Review, July 6). Like many Catholics, I don’t always agree with what my church’s leaders say or do (God knows they have blundered enough in the past) but I think they or anyone else are entitled to a fair hearing and certainly should not be intentionally misrepresented.

Miles implied that his experiment in married priesthood was condoned by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, Miles’ ordinary in Helena, Mont. Miles’ publisher, Morrow, capitalizes on this in the book jacket, which says the book “reveals the support of a pioneering archbishop, and the author’s own confrontation with the hierarchy before he and (his wife) Joan are finally forced into exile by the highest levels of the Vatican.”

The article, by Msgr. George G. Higgins, expresses skepticism about Miles’ practice of “quoting verbatim and at length from strictly personal conversations going back a period of years. Unless Miles taped his conversations with the archbishop (and there is no evidence he did) how could he recall them verbatim?” And in fact, Higgins writes that on July 17, a few days before the official release of Miles’ book, Archbishop Hunthausen told the press, “At no time did I ever agree to, much less foster, any kind of experiment in married priesthood.”

The article points out other contradictions in Miles’ account. Using the pseudonym “Caston Broderick,” Miles identifies Father James Provost, a nationally known church lawyer, as the diocesan “whiz kid” who found a “loophole” in church law that allowed Miles to continue functioning as a priest after laicization and marriage. When contacted by the National Catholic News Service, Father Provost rejected that summarily, agreeing with Archbishop Hunthausen’s statement.


Incidentally, though Msgr. Higgins doesn’t say so, the Catholic Church does have a married clergy, in the Eastern Uniat churches. In those churches if a candidate for the priesthood marries before being made sub-deacon, he may still be ordained and exercise his marital privileges. If his wife dies, however, he may not remarry.