Q: I have been a Catholic since birth (over 50 years), but I am still learning things about my religion. Recently we were at a wedding in another city, and the priest who performed the ceremony told us that he has been a priest for 10 years but has been married for 30 years. Did I miss something here?
I have never heard of married Catholic priests. He said that there are a few of them around. Can you enlighten me? (City of origin withheld)
A: Most likely, the man you mentioned had once been an Anglican (Episcopal) priest who later converted to Roman Catholicism.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II effected a policy change that allowed married Anglican priests to continue their ministry after their conversion, and there are now several dozen such men serving as Catholic priests throughout the U.S. I am aware of Lutheran pastors also who have made a similar transition.
Another possibility is that he belongs to one of the Eastern Catholic Churches (there are more than 20) that are in union with Rome (Maronites, Ukrainians, etc.), which for centuries have allowed the ordination of married men.
From 1929 until 2014, such priests were generally not permitted to minister outside their rite’s country of origin, but in 2014 Pope Francis quietly lifted that ban, opening the door for them to serve in the U.S.
Q: My wife was recently at a gathering of her prayer group that meets every week. At the end of this particular meeting, a deacon spoke to the group and said something that has disturbed both of us. He said that when you practice yoga, you are communicating with the devil.
Neither of us practices yoga, but our daughter — who is in her 30s — does. She has even gone on yoga retreats. I always thought that yoga was just a form of meditation.
Should we be concerned, and is there any church teaching on the matter? (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
A: The issue is a bit complex and has been the subject of a fair amount of controversy. Classic yoga is a discipline that grew out of Hindu mysticism; it seeks enlightenment through a series of exercises designed to align the body, mind and spirit.
Simply because it has its origin outside the Christian tradition, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it conflicts with Catholic teaching.
The Vatican pointed this out in a 1989 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation,” stating: “Genuine practices of meditation that come from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which prove attractive to the man of today who is divided and disoriented, [can] constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace” (No.28).
The bodily postures assumed during yoga as well as the breathing techniques are themselves morally neutral. (Catholic institutions — including Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral — have at times sponsored classes in “Catholic yoga.”)
The real issue lies in what these techniques are designed to accomplish — what they are supposed to connect you to — and herein lies the difficulty with certain forms of yoga: They assume a basic pantheism, the goal being for the person to become “one with the divine.”
(A classic yoga mantra that the user is encouraged to repeat, is “So’ham” — which can be translated “I am the universal self.” That is a far cry from orthodox Christian theology, which holds that we humans are created beings and the triune God is not).
It is sometimes heard that Pope Francis, in a January 2015 homily, dismissed yoga, saying that such practices as yoga and Zen meditation cannot free people to open their hearts to the Lord; but to be fair, the pope said the same of church teaching and Catholic spirituality, noting that only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord.”
I have no idea what particular type of yoga your daughter is involved with, so the safest course might be for her to discuss this with a knowledgeable priest.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, NY 12203.