Can a man who has fathered a child become a Priest?

This topic was raised, and Fr. Serpa said that answer is NO.

But, this is NOT in fact always the case, nor has it been the case in previous years.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist known as Fr. Louis, had fathered a child in England before he entered a monastery. He originally attempted to join the Franciscans, but they refused to accept him.

The Trappists however had no problem accepting him. He said that he had attempted to locate the woman, and the child, without success. But, since he entered the Monastery in 1942, long before the days of computers or general registration of people, there is absolutely no certainty that the woman and child were not still living, just that they did not respond to his letter.

It is generally acknowledged that his guardian had made a substantial financial settlement upon the woman involved, and he then forced Merton to leave Great Britain permanently. This was pre-war, and Thomas Merton acknowledged that he had never made any attempt to contact this woman, until after the Franciscans rejected him. He sent her one letter, which was not answered. That was the ONLY attempt to contact her, prior to his being accepted by the Trappists.

A cursory attempt was made, after the war, to locate this woman. When they could not, they presumed that she and the child must have been killed. But, there was absolutely no evidence that they were killed. No report that the building where they lived was destroyed, no death certificates, nothing.

During World War II in Britain, many people were relocated, many women and children were sent to Canada, etc. They kept pretty good records on those that were killed during the war (People were required to register where they lived, how many people lived there, all of the names, ages, etc. Even if a building was totally destroyed, they knew who had lived there, and if no trace of the people could be found, presumptive death certificates were issued.

This did NOT happen with Merton’s child or the mother of that child. Yet, he became a Trappist Monk, and was ordained as a Priest, with a possible child out there.

So, in fact, it IS possible that a man who has fathered a child might be ordained as a Priest. It has little to do with any possible “relationship” that the man may or may not have with the child, it has to do with whether or not the particular religious community will accept the person as a candidate for ordination.

I know that in our Los Angeles Archdiocese there is at least one ordained priest who is a widower with sons. So I would have to say yes unless that was a big oops…

In the two cases presented to Father both presented certain children whose existence is certain and that they are in need of both father and mother in their upbringing. Once the child is grown up there is less need of a father to be a constant figure in their life as in childhood or infancy. Priesthood is therefore possible.
His comments were you can not not absolve yourself from responsability to jump to a new pursuit and thereby danger the raising of the child.

You are right in fact the priest who took me through my instruction was a widower and had six children and from what I can see he has a very good relationship with all of them in fact he is even a grandfather.he is 90 years old

Fr. Serpa stated that a man who had fathered a child could NOT be ordained, unless the child was an adult.

I was merely pointing out that this answer was incorrect.

I agree that a father should ALWAYS be there for any child that he fathers, whether by blood or adoption. But, we all know that the reality is that far too many men do NOT fill the role of being a father (including far too many Catholic men).

But, for Father Serpa to state that this is NOT allowable is simply incorrect. In fact, it IS allowed, even though it should not be.

I personally strongly support the idea of ordaining married men as Priests. I pray every day that the Pope will “see the light” and make Celibacy a voluntary matter, and not mandatory.

I must be missing something. There are many Catholic priests who have children and a wife. Some are even in the Latin tradition. On the Ordination thread a man is being ordained in PA I believe who has a wife and 5 kids.

Each case is reviewed, so in some cases a man can be a father and a father.

If there is a dependant child, then no bishop would ordain the man.

That would not be an issue if the child(ren) were grown adults.

In fact, we have a father and son who are both priests in the Archdiocese. The son had been a seminarian when his mother died. The father subsequently entered into the seminary and was ordained 4 years after his son.

Yes, as long as the child is not dependant on him, ie, over the age of 16 or 18 depending where you are, and living away from home as an independant. Or if he has a mother or step-mother or guardian who is the primary carer that is okay too

I can’t see anything in Canon law which prevents a man who has fathered a child becoming a priest, no matter the age of the child.


Can. 1040 Those bound by an impediment are to be barred from the reception of orders. An impediment may be simple; or it may be perpetual, in which case it is called an irregularity. No impediment is contracted which is not contained in the following canons.

Can. 1041 The following persons are irregular for the reception of orders:

1° one who suffers from any form of insanity, or from any other psychological infirmity, because of which he is, after experts have been consulted, judged incapable of being able to fulfil the ministry;

2° one who has committed the offence of apostasy, heresy or schism;

3° one who has attempted marriage, even a civil marriage, either while himself prevented from entering marriage whether by an existing marriage bond or by a sacred order or by a public and perpetual vow of chastity, or with a woman who is validly married or is obliged by the same vow;

4° one who has committed wilful homicide, or one who has actually procured an abortion, and all who have positively cooperated;

5° one who has gravely and maliciously mutilated himself or another, or who has attempted suicide;

6° one who has carried out an act of order which is reserved to those in the order of the episcopate or priesthood, while himself either not possessing that order or being barred from its exercise by some canonical penalty, declared or imposed.

Can. 1042 The following are simply impeded from receiving orders:

1° a man who has a wife, unless he is lawfully destined for the permanent diaconate;

2° one who exercises an office or administration forbidden to clerics, in accordance with cann. 285 and 286, of which he must render an account; the impediment binds until such time as, having relinquished the office and administration and rendered the account, he has been freed;

3° a neophyte, unless, in the judgement of the Ordinary, he has been sufficiently tested.

Can. 1043 Christ’s faithful are bound to reveal, before ordination, to the Ordinary or to the parish priest, such impediments to sacred orders as they may know about.

Can. 1044 §1 The following are irregular for the exercise of orders already received:

1° one who, while bound by an irregularity for the reception of orders, unlawfully received orders;

2° one who committed the offence mentioned in can. 1041, n. 2, if the offence is public

3° one who committed any of the offences mentioned in can. 1041, nn. 3, 4,5,6.

§2 The following are impeded from the exercise of orders:

1° one who, while bound by an impediment to the reception of orders, unlawfully received orders;

2° one who suffers from insanity or from some other psychological infirmity mentioned in can. 1041, n. 1, until such time as the Ordinary, having consulted an expert, has allowed the exercise of the order in question.

Can. 1045 Ignorance of irregularities and impediments does not exempt from them.

Can. 1046 Irregularities and impediments are multiplied if they arise from different causes, not however from the repetition of the same cause, unless it is a question of the irregularity arising from the commission of wilful homicide or from having actually procured an abortion.

Can. 1047 §1 If the fact on which they are based has been brought to the judicial forum, dispensation from all irregularities is reserved to the Apostolic See alone.

§2 Dispensation from the following irregularities and impediments to the reception of orders is also reserved to the Apostolic See:

1° irregularities arising from the offences mentioned in can. 1041, nn. 2 and 3, if they are public;

2° an irregularity arising from the offence, whether public or occult, mentioned in can. 1041, n. 4;

3° the impediment mentioned in can. 1042, n. 1.

§3 To the Apostolic See is also reserved the dispensation from the irregularities for the exercise of an order received mentioned in can. 1041, n.3 but only in public cases, and in n. 4 of the same canon even in occult cases.

§4 The Ordinary can dispense from irregularities and impediments not reserved to the Holy See.

Can. 1048 In the more urgent occult cases, if the Ordinary or, in the case of the irregularities mentioned in can. 1041, nn. 3 and 4, the Penitentiary cannot be approached, and if there is imminent danger of serious harm or loss of reputation, the person who is irregular for the exercise of an order may exercise it. There remains, however, the obligation of his having recourse as soon as possible to the Ordinary or the Penitentiary, without revealing his name, and through a confessor.

Can. 1049 §1 In a petition to obtain a dispensation from irregularities or impediments, all irregularities and impediments are to be mentioned. However, a general dispensation is valid also for those omitted in good faith, with the exception of the irregularities mentioned in can. 1041, n. 4, or of others which have been brought to the judicial forum; it is not, however, valid for those concealed in bad faith.

§2 If it is question of an irregularity arising from wilful homicide or from a procured abortion, for the validity of the dispensation even the number of offences must be stated.

§3 A general dispensation from irregularities and impediments to the reception of orders is valid for all orders.

Just out of curiosity, what would happen if a man who was already ordained found out that he had an underage child from a prior relationship?

What a beautiful story!

re-read Father’s answer, he was speaking to a specific person who still has a minor child to support

What if a prospective priest has a child who has been given up for adoption? Or what if such a child is raised by its real mother, but “no one” knows that it is that man’s son or daughter? I am just curious.

as Father Serpa’s answers implied, each of these cases would be reviewed specifically on its own merits, and if a dispensation was needed and could be granted, it would.

I appreciate your explanation.

Anchorage has some widower priests as well.

And one married Roman Rite priest. (Former Methodist.)

The reason it was an impediment was because of the obligations to support the child and its mother, and the inability to do so without scandal.

Further, men who had children but were not widowers, were either married (and thus ineligible in the Roman Church), or had a history of living in sin (in which case a dispensation COULD be granted, if the woman and child involved either was well cared for or the child was adopted out).

A man with a history of licentious behavior was always considered to be at risk of violating his celibacy and chastity. As St. Paul said, “Better to marry than to burn.”

Widowers with small children are generally not considered for the priesthood. But with teens, it’s a maybe, and with adult children, a non-issue.

And let us not forget: several priests have adopted children. Some from their kin, due to death of the parents. Some from Catholic orphanages for the child needed some special care. Some from children abandoned on the steps of the church or rectory.

And the Eastern Churches in union also have married priests, and have had since their various unions in most cases…

The impediment was due to the inherent scandal, not the impossibility of a priest who is also a parent.

Hey guys this is my first post and I really need an answer not speculation. Is it possible to have fathered a child raised them and then become a priest? I wasn’t married but I didn’t leave my child. I tried to get married but umm things aren’t like they used to be I couldn’t force her to Mary me.

Well it gets kind of fuzzy in these cases but it depends on how the child is. Is the child fine to live with his mom and step-father, the church teaches that a child needs a mom and dad to grow and flourish. Short answer yes, it can be an impediment in some cases.

I have met several men who are training to become priests in a seminary in Rome who also have grown-up children. They are, to the best of my knowledge, widowers, but I don’t see any particular reason why, in theory, a man who fathered a now adult child out-of-wedlock may not at some point become a priest. One assumes that he would obviously have to be absolved of his sins, etc, and the diocese would have to take an individual view on the relationship that man had with the mother of his child if she were still living, so it would almost certainly be a non-precedent setting case, but speaking entirely personally, I wouldn’t rule it out. It would, I expect, be at the discretion of the local Ordinary.

A useful practice, if questioning an answer made by one of the apologists, is to provide a link to that answer so we can all read and assess it. Doing so will make sure we are all on the same page.

I am posting what seems to be the answer to which the OP objected. It was made on the same day as this thread was started, it concerns the same topic, and it was made by Fr. Serpa.

Fr. Serpa was given a hypothetical situation of a man with a minor child. The child was now being raised by the mother and her husband. The question was posed: is it plausible for the man who fathered the child to enter a seminary and become a priest?

Fr. Serpa replied:

No, it would not be plausible because it would not happen. Dioceses and religious orders will only accept fathers whose children are grown. Young children NEED to have a mother and a father. I deal here and elsewhere with many men and women who have abandonment issues with fathers who chose not to know them. When children learn that theirs fathers chose to leave them, they invariably conclude that it is because of some defect in themselves. No child deserves to be treated in this way.

However, IF the mother’s husband were to adopt the child, then the child would have the mother’s last name and the child would grow without feeling abandoned in any way. So this could possibly work for you.

As others in this thread have already pointed out, the OP’s criticism of Fr. Serpa’s answer was baseless.