June 25, 2012

Maine Catholic convert brings wife, children to priesthood

The Rev. David Affleck, pastor of three churches in York County, is one of two new priests in the state.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When David Affleck was ordained earlier this month as Maine's newest Roman Catholic priest, his wife, Katherine, sat in the pews at Portland's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

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The Rev. David Affleck is one of just three Maine men who have become priests in the Roman Catholic Church under a 1980 papal exception that allows Protestant clergymen who convert to Roman Catholicism to stay married to their wives.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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David Affleck

Two of his four grown children were there as well.

Wait, what?

A Catholic priest who's married? With children? That can't be right.

Except it is.

Affleck, 62, of York, is a former Episcopal priest who took advantage of a 1980 papal provision that allows him and others like him to become priests in the Catholic Church.

Only a handful of such ordinations take place in the U.S. each year. In Maine, it's happened just three times in 32 years, and Affleck is the only current convert. One died, and the other has left the church.

"It is indeed rare for a pastoral provision to be sought and granted," Bishop Richard Malone said in a statement. "The Church takes a great deal of time and energy to know that the man in question is truly being called to the priesthood and completely understands the responsibilities and ministry within the Catholic Church."

The trend, however small, is less a reflection of relaxed requirements of the Catholic Church and more a sign that fewer men are joining the priesthood, said Monsignor Michael Henchal, a Catholic priest in Maine for nearly 40 years. Aside from Affleck, only one other priest has been ordained this year. There are now more retired priests in Maine (86) than active priests (69). Affleck is needed.

That's not to diminish his resume. He has a master's degree, a doctorate and more than 15 years of priesthood under his collar. When parishioners of St. Raphael in Kittery, St. Christopher in York or Our Lady of Peace in Berwick see Affleck at the front of their church, reading Scripture and offering Communion, they see a man of distinction and conviction.

Some may not even realize he hasn't taken the vow of celibacy that traditional Catholic priests must take.

"People have been very welcoming, they have been accepting," he said during an interview last week at his modest parish office in Kittery. "If there are people who are bothered by this, they haven't said so."

Mitch Picard of York is a parishioner at St. Christopher and the current chairman of the parish council. He said he hasn't heard from any parishioners who have objected to Affleck's ordination or his background.

"It almost went unnoticed because he was a deacon for a year," Picard said. "Now, he just has a different role at the altar."

A SHIFT IN FAITH

Affleck's journey from the Episcopal Church to the Catholic Church is nuanced, but he speaks of it thoughtfully.

As the son of an Episcopal priest, he avoided temptation in his youth to follow in his father's footsteps. Instead, he worked as a carpenter throughout his 20s, building homes to accommodate California's population explosion. Then he earned a degree in finance and accounting at night school. That led to a career in the public sector, where he rose to the rank of deputy treasurer for the city of Sacramento.

It wasn't until the early 1990s, when Affleck was into his 40s, that he decided to make the priesthood a profession. He followed his father anyway.

"I felt like that is the direction I was being led," he said, as though the choice was not entirely his.

So he went to divinity school and took the steps he needed to take to become a priest in the church in which he was raised. He presided over parishes in Folsom County and then Woodland, Calif., as his children grew.

(Continued on page 2)

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