Married Catholic priest is a sign of changing times


The Catholic Church is changing and many think it's a good thing. John Cornelius is the first married man to become a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, Cornelius, a 64-year-old father of three, was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. He spent 20 years as a priest in the Episcopalian Church before retiring in 2010, when he and his wife, Sharyl, converted to Catholicism. He was allowed to be ordained a priest in the Catholic Church under a 2012 papal exception to the Church's celibacy rule.

Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone presided over the ceremony at Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville, N.Y.

"Yahoo! God is good!" Cornelius said about the event on his blog, Cornelius the Roman.

Traditionally, Catholic priests are not permitted to be married and must take a vow of celibacy upon ordination. However, last year the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, established an ordinariate - a group similar to a diocese - in which former Episcopalians and Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism are able to serve as Catholic priests while maintaining some aspects of the Anglican faith.

According to The Buffalo News, the directive was aimed at welcoming dissatisfied Episcopalians and Anglicans into the Catholic Church.

Father Pat Keleher, monsignor at the Catholic Newman Center located on UB's North Campus, believes the Catholic Church should take the next step and expand the rule to include those outside of the Episcopalian and Anglican churches. He concedes if such a change does take place, it will happen gradually.

"Things in the church happen slowly - it's like turning a big ship, you don't turn on a dime," Keleher said.

The decision, though a new concept, has been well received by the Catholic community.

Keleher believes Cornelius' ordination has the possibility of creating a ripple effect of change in the church. He thinks it's wonderful.

"People will begin to notice that this married priest is a wonderful man and ... say, 'Well why can't other married people become priests?' And I think that will somewhat open the door [for other married priests]," Keleher said.

Although Pope Benedict XVI's ruling will allow certain married men to be ordained in the Catholic Church, priests will not be allowed to marry after ordination.

Cornelius was a part of the first 30 priests to be ordained for the ordinariate. He will be a part of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is based in Houston, Texas, and will lead the Fellowship of Saint Alban in Henrietta, N.Y., a part of the Diocese of Rochester.

Cornelius was a priest in the Episcopalian Church for 20 years and served at parishes in Florida, Rhode Island, Texas and New York. According to The Buffalo News, Cornelius' discontent with the direction of the Episcopalian Church - notably its approval of a gay bishop in 2003 - led him and his wife, Sharyl to convert to Catholicism two years ago.

He was also in disagreement with the ordination of women in the Episcopalian Church.

Catholics are not alone in supporting this expansion of acceptance in the church.

"There are many divorced priests with children who were ordained after their divorce, so this seems like a logical next step," said Josh Schmid, a freshman civil engineering major.

Schmid, a Lutheran, supports Pope Benedict XVI's decision to allow former Anglicans and Episcopalians to be ordained in the Catholic Church. He believes because members of the clergy need to obtain the same education regardless of their denomination, other denominations should be allowed to serve.

"Most other denominations have had a similar policy [to Pope Benedict XVI's proposal] in place for many years and there have been no major issues as a result of these policies," Schmid said.

Cornelius, who considers himself a traditionalist, took a vow of chastity along with his wife upon his ordination, agreeing that sex is a gift from God for procreation purposes, according to theNew York Daily News. However, he was not required to do so, according to the logistics of Pope Benedict XVI's exception.

Keleher was surprised at Cornelius' decision to voluntarily abstain from sex as a Catholic priest, as celibacy is not essential to priesthood. He believes Cornelius' choice to be abstinent was "a move of conscious" or a "move of inspiration."

As Pope Benedict XVI has recently resigned as leader of the Catholic Church, the future of the ordinariate he established regarding marriage in the priesthood is now uncertain.

However, recent changes in the church, including the pope's ordinariate, demonstrate the Catholic Church is attempting to evolve with the world and cater to its followers. Keleher believes actions like Cornelius's ordination may solve the shortage of priests in the Catholic Church.