Korean Catholic priests become Anglican and marry

SEOUL, South Korea -- The Catholic Church in South Korea has lost four priests to the Anglicans in recent years, with marriage cited as the most important reason.

"They want to marry and at the same time serve as pastors," Anglican Fr. Peter Lee Kyong-nae, a former Catholic seminarian, told the Asian church news agency UCA News. Two more Catholic priests are currently preparing to become Anglican priests, he added.

While the buzz in the Catholic Church around the world concerns Pope Benedict XVI's decision to make it easier for Anglicans to become Catholics, in Korea there is some movement in the opposite direction.

"The priests made an honest and courageous decision to leave the Catholic Church in order to build a family, and they gave up all the privileges they enjoyed in the Catholic Church," Fr. Lee told UCA News.

Fr. Abraham Kim Gwang-joon, secretary-general of the provincial office of the Anglican Church of Korea, confirmed that the Catholic Church's requirement of celibacy was a major factor in the priests' decision.

"There are various personal reasons, but marriage is the most important," he said.

UCA News contacted two of the former Catholic priests, but they did not wish to comment on their decision.

It is not difficult for Catholic priests to join the Anglican clergy, although they must go through a screening process and study Anglican theology for a year.

"The Anglican Church sees the Catholic Church as a brother church inherited from the apostles, so we recognize Catholic priestly ordination as valid as ours," Fr. Lee explained. He added that the former Catholic priests enjoy a good reputation in his church.

Priestly celibacy was a hot discussion topic after Pope Benedict XVI recently made it easier for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.

The apostolic constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus" ("Groups of Anglicans"), issued by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Nov. 9, allows married Anglican priests to be ordained Catholic priests on "a case by case basis." Only celibate bishops will be allowed to be consecrated as Catholic bishops.

According to the "Complementary Norms" accompanying the apostolic constitution, Catholic priests who had become Anglicans will not be allowed to join the "personal ordinariates" -- the new church jurisdictions for Anglicans wishing to enter the Catholic Church -- as priests.

Many of those priests making the move from Anglicanism to Catholicism are doing so because they disagree with the ordination of women and the recognition of homosexual priests in the Anglican Church.

The Korean Anglican Church is relatively liberal on such matters, particularly the ordination of women, Fr. Lee says. It has ordained 14 women priests since 2001.

"Lots of elderly people are skeptical about the leadership of women priests, but as time goes by, the situation becomes better," he said. "But on homosexual priests, we do not recognize them yet."

The Anglican Church of Korea says it has 195 priests and three bishops tending to 50,000 laypeople in three dioceses.

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