Pastor of America’s Largest Catholic Church Says Let Married Men Become Priests

He started his Charlotte career in 1974 as the first priest ordained in the brand new Catholic diocese here. He ends it this month as pastor of St. Matthew, the largest Catholic parish in the United States.

At 75, Monsignor John McSweeney will soon leave affluent Ballantyne – where this parish named for the patron saint of bankers was built – and move to Jamaica or Haiti, where he hopes to spend his retirement years living with and ministering to the poorest of the poor.

“I’m going to try to walk in the sandals of the Lord,” he says.

He exits Charlotte with a wish that the city had more affordable housing and less traffic congestion, but says a more diverse Queen City has done a better job in recent years in integrating its various cultures and developing more green space.

His parting advice for Charlotte and its leaders: “Remember that it is a city for all people, not just a select few.”

On Sunday, McSweeney will give his farewell homily, or sermon, at St. Matthew – he plans a message of thanks to his flock of 10,000-plus families.

The native New Yorker is also not shy about sharing his strong opinions about what needs to change in the church and the 46-county diocese he’s served for more than 40 years. (St. Matthew is the 12th parish he’s led.)

During an interview with the Observer, he spoke candidly about a Catholic Church he thinks has often put the Book of Law before the Book of Love.

Echoing Pope Francis – the fifth pontiff to reign during McSweeney’s time as a priest – he’d like the church and the diocese to be more about hospitality and less about judgment. That means, he said, being more welcoming: Of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, of LGBTQ persons, and of others who have long felt excluded by the church.

With too few diocesan priests, including in Charlotte, where the Catholic population is booming, McSweeney said he’d also support the church re-opening the door to married priests by making celibacy optional – as it was the first 1,000 years of Roman Catholicism.

The monsignor – a title for priests who have rendered valuable service to the church – said he’s been around many married Protestant ministers who are “doing great work.”

“And many men I was in the (Catholic) seminary with would be great priests today except for one thing,” he added, that one thing being their desire to get married.

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SOURCE: The Charlotte Observer, Tim Funk

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