Married priest ordained in NWT

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • February 23, 2007
Don FlumerfeltYellowknife, NT - Hundreds of parishioners packed St. Patrick’s Church in Yellowknife, NWT, on Feb. 18 to see Don Flumerfelt ordained as the first Catholic priest married with children in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese.

After 29 years as an Anglican priest, Flumerfelt will now lead a Catholic church in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories.

"It's an answer to prayer," said Flumerfelt, 59.

Flumerfelt made the decision after taking a short break from his Anglican ministry to deal with family issues, including his daughter's illness and mother's death. During the difficult time, Flumerfelt said he received a lot of support from the Catholic Church and began to feel a strong connection to the faith.

The Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese covers most of the Northwest Territories and small portions of Nunavut, Alberta and Saskatchewan. While it's the largest diocese geographically in the world, it only has seven priests: three are on loan from other southern Canadian dioceses, three are diocesan priests and one is an Oblate of Mary Immaculate.

During the western bishops' ad limina visit to Rome in the fall, Bishop Denis Croteau, OMI, used most of his 15-minute audience with Pope Benedict XVI to petition for Flumerfelt's ordination. After Croteau assured the Pope that Flumerfelt was a suitable candidate and would be accepted by the local community, the Pope granted permission on the spot.

During the Mass, St. Patrick's pastor Fr. Joe Daley read the indult from the Pope to assure the congregation that this is a legitimate ordination.

"It's (my wife's) ‛yes,' along with the Pope, that has given me the privilege of standing here today as a Roman Catholic priest," Flumerfelt told the congregation in his closing remarks.

Flumerfelt's wife of 35 years, Julia, read the first reading and was acknowledged throughout the Mass at different points. She said she felt very included during her husband's formation.

"I try to respond when people have a need when they ask me, but I'm much more of a prayer person in the background," said Julia Flumerfelt, 57, who has also converted to Catholicism.

While many hoped this ordination would be a sign of unity between Anglicans and Catholics, no Anglican clergy were in attendance.

The ordination also caused a sore spot for some Catholics in the diocese.

"I've had some very strong statements from Catholics who've said you can't do this, it's just impossible to have two loves, one for the church and one for your wife," said Flumerfelt. "I don't honestly believe that's true for all people.

"The bishop has said the discipline of celibacy is a discipline of the church, it's not a word directly from God and that discipline may in time change, but we haven't been in this to try and change anything."

"We are not crusaders," added Julia Flumerfelt.

"It's interesting for myself. They'll let me through the back door, but they won't let me through the front," said James Lynn, the parish leader at the Dettah Mission, a small 30-person mission just outside Yellowknife.

He is one of two men in the diocese who have left the priesthood to marry. In Lynn's case, he left 17 years ago to marry a native woman. He is no longer able to celebrate Mass, but instead he leads eucharistic services, in which the host is pre-consecrated by a priest.

Croteau has written a pastoral letter to explain these concerns and others.

For a "Protestant minister becoming a Catholic priest there is a continuous march on the journey of faith. With the Catholic priest who has renounced his vow there is a break in the journey of faith to do something else," Croteau wrote.

Internationally, hundreds of married priests from other Christian faiths have been ordained by the Catholic Church in recent years.

While the Catholic Church only allows married priests in rare instances, the Orthodox Church allows married priests, as do the Eastern-rite Catholic churches.

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