Married Lutheran minister becomes a Catholic priest -
Liberal direction of his former denomination led him to convert
By Kristin E. Holmes
WILMINGTON, Apr. 15, 2006 (www.philly.com) - The Rev. Leonard Klein has been a minister for more than 30 years, but tomorrow, he will celebrate Easter in a way that he has never done before.
Klein, of Wilmington, will observe the Resurrection as a Catholic priest after decades as a married pastor with children.
The newly ordained Klein, who is a former Lutheran minister, is now one of about 100 married Catholic priests in the United States. He will deliver the homily tomorrow at two Sunday Masses.
Klein says simply: "It feels very good to be where I am."
As a conservative Lutheran, Klein, 60, has not felt that way for a very long time. He was an outspoken critic of what he describes as the liberal direction of his denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and challenged the group on issues of abortion, inclusive language, gay ordination and gay marriage.
"The Catholic Church understands that Christian teaching comes through scripture, and that is cared for and applied by the bishops," Klein said. "... A lot of things just aren't up for a vote."
Klein, who was ordained in the Catholic Church earlier this month, is serving at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Wilmington while awaiting a permanent assignment. Locally, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Camden have never had a married priest.
The 100 married Catholic priests nationwide include Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist ministers, said the Rev. William Stetson, of the Pastoral Provision for the Ordination of Married Former Episcopal Priests, a program that helps to facilitate the transition of Episcopalian priests to the Roman Catholic ministry.
Pope Pius XII was the first pope to allow married clergy from another denomination to become Catholic priests. He permitted Lutherans in Germany to become priests about 50 years ago, Stetson said. The first married U.S. clergy to make the transition were Episcopalian priests who petitioned Pope John Paul II about 25 years ago, Stetson said.
Klein and his married colleagues, like Catholic deacons, cannot remarry if their spouses should die, and they must remain celibate. Married priests can preside at religious services, but they cannot pastor a church. They serve in other capacities, such as in campus ministries or as heads of social agencies.