In this podcast, Father Dave settles an in-studio, theological disagreement between Brett and Mike. It all started when Mike got a text out of the blue from his younger sister, asking what seems like a simple question but turns out to be quite a complicated issue: “Can a widowed man become a priest?”
Although Mike told his sister that he didn’t know for sure, he’s fairly confident that the answer is no, a widowed man cannot be ordained a priest. Brett, on the other hand, thinks that Mike is incorrect, and a widower can, in fact, become a priest. Brett, having been on the Busted Halo Show for 10 years, thinks he’s heard Father Dave answer this question before and remembers the answer being yes, while Mike thinks that a man who’s already married would be eligible to become a deacon, but not a priest.
Father Dave explains: “The answer is … it depends on his dependents,” meaning that if a widower still had a young or adolescent child that was dependent on him, then the man would typically have to wait until his child was an adult before pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. Insofar as the marriage itself is concerned, “We [as Catholics] say the sacrament is ‘until death do us part,’ so once the death has happened, then yes, [a widower is able to become a priest] in the same way that that man would be eligible to marry again. … Now typically when we think of a widowed man, we think of an older man, but this does sometimes happen at younger ages — and in this day and age, when we’re doing everything we can to get as many priests as we can, there are actually some dioceses [that have] seminaries that are specifically geared towards men that have vocations at later ages, some of whom are widowed. … At the other end of the scale, if the man is so young that he still has dependent children — I’m not sure how much our Church law interfaces with the actual definition of [dependent] by the IRS — but I’m pretty certain that the rule would be that if [your children] are under 18, then your vocation would be to raise your children until they’re fully grown.”
In concise terms, though, Father Dave says: “Yes, indeed, a widowed man can become a priest.”
Mike offers another scenario in a follow-up question, “Let’s say someone is married, then becomes a deacon, and then his wife dies — can he then become a priest?” On the show, Father Dave answered no. The next day, however, a deacon wrote in to inform us that that’s not correct and that he knows of widowed deacons who have gone on to be ordained to the priesthood.
So really, the answer is typically no, because it’s understood that a permanent deacon has a vocation to the permanent diaconate. The end goal is not, of course, for the permanent deacon to wait until his wife dies and then become a priest–that’s not how the vocation to the diaconate is intended to work. But it is not prohibited by Church law. In the USCCB document “National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States,” it is made very clear that “ordination of a permanent deacon to the Priesthood … must always be a very rare exception, and only for special and grave reasons.” (Original Air 04-28-17)