Will the Kids Call Him “Father Dad”?

Will the Kids Call Him “Father Dad”?

Scott Caton will be ordained a Catholic priest for the diocese of Rochester, New York, next month. In this age of declining vocations, that sounds like great news. But this former Protestant minister, husband, and father of six has experienced some resistance.

At his ordination to the diaconate, Baptist protesters marched outside Sacred Heart Cathedral and denounced Caton as a heretic— via bullhorns that could be heard inside the sanctuary. And even within the Church, people are angry. Why should this man who has been separated from the Church for most of his life have privileges denied to lifelong faithful Catholics?

This controversy reminds me of another unfair tale—that of the Prodigal Son. Are the cradle Catholics among us acting out the role of the older brother in that parable? You know, the one who protested, “I have been with you all these years and I am ignored. Your younger son comes home from years astray and you offer a lavish feast in his honor.” Yes, that sounds like us.

Usually when we hear the story of the Prodigal Son, we see ourselves in the repentant younger son, coming home in sorrow and shame. The story reminds us of God’s extravagant love for us. But we feel very differently when we cast ourselves in the role of the older, righteous brother.

I didn’t like the way that role felt on me—self-righteousness is more prickly than a hair shirt. Upon reflection, I know that there is only one right response for me:

“Dear Father Scott: Welcome home, brother!”

What do you think? Are converts like Scott an answer to our prayers for vocations? Or does the Church seem to be bending its own rules a bit too far?

Photo courtesy of photoholic, freedigitalphotos.net.


About the Author

Kathleen M. Carroll is the managing editor for the book department at Franciscan Media. She loves reading, gardening, animals, babies, baby animals, and extreme recycling. She is the stay-away-from-home mother to four really good-looking children. And no, she will not read your manuscript.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690597577 Kirsten Houseknecht

    as a PK (preachers kid) i am absolutely AGAINST ministers/priests with children. i know what the strain does to a family. however, if the man is going to be a priest, then having him move from one church to another wont be any worse for his family.. given that.. “welcome to another convert” (although i wasnt a cradle Catholic)
    the only people with any right to get themselves up in arms about this, are his own family. they will bear the price, not those idiots with bullhorns.

    • Katie

      Hi Kirsten!

      Thanks for your perspective! I went to school with a lot of PKs and many of them told the same story. But then, so did the kids with parents who were doctors, firefighters, or police officers. I’ll remember to keep this family in my prayers.

  • Rene Vanessa

    As a cradle Catholic, I say “welcome” with open arms. Who are we to judge the heart of a man who has found that he would like to follow our faith? I agree that my humanity makes me too judgmental at times (especially when I attend mass with my devout mother, whom my father left and divorced, as she sits longingly during communion) but, alas, God is love. It is not as if he showed up with his family in tow and the church gave him the title of priest after mass. The conversion and study is a serious and lengthy process during which time I am positive he has been tested in his new faith and in spirit to seriously contemplate his actions. Let’s turn our anger to areas where there is actual injustice and work toward peace. Not toward splintering our beautiful faith into people who “deserve” membership and those who do not. God be with us if we believe that we are even slightly worthy to make such decisions.

    • Finkmm

      If your mother has not remarried, she may receive Holy Communion.

  • http://storywiseguy.com/ Chris Buckley

    As a former United Methodist seminarian who finally “came home” to the Catholic Church as lay Catholic adult, I am saddened but not surprised at this controversy. It truly reminds me that Catholic culture has grown far too used to the assumption that “cradle” is the normative experience, and that “converts” are never really “real” practitioners. I yearn for the day when we veer too far the other direction. :-)

    Let me address a few misconceptions perpetuated here:

    1) Marriage is not a “privilege denied” to Catholic priests. It is a sacrament and a calling, a vocation of equal value in the eyes of God as ordination.

    2) The Church isn’t “bending the rules” to solve the vocations problem. It is following the law, in this case our own canonical procedures that allow for the sacrament of ordination to be bestowed upon married men under certain, special circumstances. This is not a backdoor through which married men can suddenly “sneak into” the Church one day when they wake up and say, “Gosh, mama would be so proud if I was a priest!” Canon law has very tight controls over how and when this action can be bestowed. The point isn’t vocations. The point is facilitating the untiy of the Church. In fact, the Vatican has set up a new Anglican Rite Ordinariate to faciliate the transfer of whole communities of Anglican Protestants over into full communion with the Church while preserving key elements of their liturgy. We can look forward to even more married priests and deacons to continue exercising their ministry with us as a result.

    3) Catholic priesthood is not always celibate priesthood – Or rather, not all Catholics are Roman. In addition to those of us following the Latin (i.e. Roman) rite, our Church is also made up of 22 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches, each with their own distinctive rites and liturgies, all in full communion with the Holy Father. In addition to ROMAN Catholics, there are also BYZANTINE Catholics, and ANTIOCHIAN Catholics, and CHALDEAN Catholics and ARMENIAN Catholics and ALEXANDRIAN Catholics. The priestly celibacy that is the norm for Romans is not always the norm in these other rites. There are married Catholic priests and Bishops in these traditions that are every bit as Catholic as we are, and have been for millennia.

    The Church is bigger than our experience, and we should be VERY careful about assuming OUR experience is at its center. Christ is the only center, in all the ways that he is worshipped in Communion with the Pope.

    Or in other words, it is very rude to treat members of the family like they are unwanted visitors.

    Peace and all good.

  • guest

    I have a hard time seeing married priests being a unifying force within the Church. I tend to see it as being more conducive to fracturing us, e.g., creating groups who see one type of priest as being more “holy” or “true” than another and the discord that will cause in parishes. I also envision it justifying a call among priests for celibacy to be voluntary and how that will tend to divide priests and the faithful into one or another camp. How can the purpose of celibacy be defended or required for some but not apply to all? I tend to think that converted ministers should perhaps serve the Church and God as deacons. We don’t allow our permanent diaconate who are married to change their minds and elect to become priests. Why do we allow it for any other group?

    And this doesn’t even touch on the problem of women ministers (or married homosexuals!) who are considered validly ordained within their church. Can a church that ordains women be considered to validly ordain men? The RC Church apparently seems to think so but isn’t that rationally inconsistent with our understanding of what Christ intended? How will it explain accepting the validity of male ministers but deny as valid the same ordination of women, thus denying them a priestly vocation in the Church? Only male ministers, married or not, (not just married men who feel a calling) are being accepted to become priests which clearly indicates it is their ordination that is the determining factor but this will be denied for the ordained women.

    Oh my, the confusion and complaints that are going to be coming down the road…

  • Deaconjohn1987

    I’m a married Permanent Deacon with six children (2 in heaven) and I think it;s great that we have some married with children priests in our beloved Church. Too many time have I come across celibate clergy who did not understand the duties and obligations of a married deacon with children. When we were in formation, we were told that it was family, job and the diaconate in that order, but when your assigned to a parish, the pastor expects you to drop the family and job and be there for what he plans for you. Here’s some real life quotes that I have heard: “There’s a wake tonight, be there.” “I can’t make the wedding Saturday, you do it.” “We are having a staff meeting at 10am, tomorrow, be there.” Etc., etc. And when you don’t show up because of family or job obligations, there’s little understanding and compassion.

    God bless the converts! May the Holy Spirit keep bringing them in to Holy Mother Church!!!

    • http://storywiseguy.com/ Chris Buckley

      You just confirmed the fears that have been keeping me from more aggressively exploring the diaconate.

      Thank you, Deaconjohn1987. You just cured me of a mistaken sense of calling.

      Been there already, when I was a Protestant. I’m convinced now God doesn’t want me to make that same mistake twice.

      Peace and all good-

  • Pingback: The Prodigal Priest: « Deacon John's Space()

  • Cbbernardin

    In response to Kristen:
    Of the 22 non-Roman catholic churches, only three have adopted mandatory celibacy. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from them as clearly their communities have been thriving for oh these many years. Could it be that it isn’t the mere fact of the children that being a PK is so “unhealthy”? We have a full time ‘married with children’ Pastoral Associate. What I see is that we have come to expect 24/7 ministry from our pastoral leaders. This is unhealthy and UNJUST. We have to change too!

  • Dr. Scott Caton

    My dear Katie:  I happened upon your post this afternoon.  I want thank you for your comments, and for your warm welcome.  To you and the other fine people who have posted comments on your site, I wish to say that I simply want to be obedient to what God, I believe, is calling me to do–without saying (or even THINKING) anything about the implications of this permission that God has so graciously granted me, in terms of how it may affect others or the Church at large.  I just pray that the adverse effects will be very, very few.  I hope and pray simply that I will be a faithful priest.  And I want all of you to know of my prayers for all the people of the Church–particularly, I think, those who for whatever (perhaps good) reasons have hesitations or problems with what I’m doing.  I am grateful, indeed as a Prodigal Son, to be welcomed into the full fellowship of the Catholic Church, and I hope I can just serve others and serve God in a spirit of thanksgiving and humility.  Yours sincerely, Dr. Scott Caton