An excommunicated Roman Catholic archbishop continued his defiance of the Vatican on Sunday when he ordained two married men as priests.
In front of a congregation that included nearly two dozen members of the media at the Trinity Reformed Church, Raymond A. Grosswirth of Rochester, N.Y., and Dominic Riccio, of Newark, were installed by Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo.
The ceremony, in a blue-collar neighborhood situated directly across the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan, concluded a two-day convention of Milingo’s advocacy group, Married Priests Now!
“Teach the word of God and put into practice what you teach,” Milingo said to Grosswirth and Riccio during the ceremony.
The wives of both men helped their husbands on with their vestments before each man was anointed. Grosswirth and Riccio concluded the ceremony at the West New York church by officiating over communion.
“I feel great elation,” said the 72-year-old Riccio, who lives in Barnegat with wife, Claire, and has four children and two grandchildren. “This is the culmination of 31 years of waiting.”
The men now will be able to perform the duties of a priest, such as administering last rites.
Grosswirth, 57, who has been married since 1994, recalled forming a group in Rochester in the early 90s comprising men over 40 who were interested in the priesthood, then seeing it dwindle down to nothing over the issue of celibacy.
Milingo has called celibacy “outdated” and noted on Sunday that it was not required of priests until the 12th century. Milingo himself was married in 2001 to a Korean acupuncturist chosen for him by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in a mass wedding performed by Moon’s Unification Church.
Members of Milingo’s group believe that reinstating priests who are married would help ease a shortage of priests in the U.S. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of priests in America has dropped to 41,790 this year from 58,600 in 1965.
“What I tell people is that I still love the church, despite its problems, and I’m hoping that by my actions, there will be more attention brought to the fact that countless men and women are being called to the priesthood and yet Rome has closed the door on them,” Grosswirth said. “Currently, there’s one celibate priest for every 3,500 Catholics in the world and frankly, something needs to change.”
Joining Milingo at the altar were bishops from as far away as Brazil, the Philippines and Albania. Also in attendance were the Rev. Peter Paul Brennan and the Rev. Patrick Trujillo, two of four married men installed as Roman Catholic bishops by Milingo in September.
That act led to Milingo’s excommunication by the Vatican, and Pope Benedict XVI followed that decision by convening a summit that reaffirmed mandatory celibacy for clergy.
Milingo said since he announced the formation of Married Priests Now! this year, he has received numerous inquiries from people interested in the priesthood.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “These are people who, because of celibacy, did not advance to the priesthood, and now they want to be ordained.”