John Cornelius, a former Episcopalian priest, will become the first Roman Catholic priest to be ordained despite being both married and a father. The ordination will occur in Buffalo, New York, as is permitted according to 2012 papal exception to the church’s celibacy rule.
The Buffalo News reports on Cornelius’ upcoming ordination, which will be conducted by Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
Cornelius, 64, and his wife Sharyl converted to Catholicism two years ago. He was a priest with the Episcopal Church for 20 years until he retired in 2010.
On Tuesday Cornelius said, “I look forward to celebrating Mass again. It’s been two years, and I missed it greatly. That closeness to God is an amazing thing.”
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI enacted a new directive which was meant to welcome in Episcopalians and Anglicans who converted to Roman Catholicism.
Through this “ordinariate” - an entry which is similar to diocese - over 100 priests, including Cornelius, have applied to be ordained. Cornelius will be among the first 30 to go through the process.
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Cornelius will become a priest of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is based in Houston, and overseen by Monsignor Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop turned Catholic.
Much of Cornelius’ spiritual work will be focused in the Diocese of Buffalo in New York, where he will celebrate standard Catholic Masses and participate in other ministries at rural Catholic parishes.
Rev. Dennis J. Mancuso, a Catholic pastor of Allegany County who assisted Cornelius in his conversion to Catholicism, notes how Cornelius’ ordination isn’t a sign of the Vatican’s relaxation towards celibacy, but rather an exception to the rule.
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“This is by exception. It’s not the norm,” said Rev. Mancuso. “The way they’ve done it is in accord with tradition.”
“This is something that’s totally new to people here,” Cornelius said of his being married. “Down in Texas, it wasn’t quite so much an anomaly.”
While the new rule from Pope Benedict XVI will allow certain married men to join the clergy, those who enter the process unmarried will not be permitted to marry after they’re ordained.
Cornelius views his position as a benefit. “When they come to me and talk about their own families, there’s a certain amount of reciprocity of emotion that goes along with it,” he said.
A native of Bolivar, Cornelius was laid off twice prior to joining the priesthood, and has experienced the realities of marriage as well as bringing up three children - all experiences that bring a new level of communication to him and his parishioners.
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