“Ask a Priest: Are Single People Second-Class in the Church?”

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Q: I’m 37 years old, single and child-free. I hope to get married, but that is not God’s plan for my life right now. Anyway, I came up with an idea to have a committee/organization etc. geared toward anyone that’s beyond the young adult age at my parish. The vision was all inclusive, to bridge the gap between married and single people. I and my pastor discussed plans. When he asked if I wanted to lead the group, I said I’d e-mail him after some discernment. So I e-mailed him and got no response. I found out via the parish bulletin that a married woman with children is leading the committee. The pastor never answered my e-mail. After all this I’m not quite sure what to do with my parish and the Catholic Church. Scripture doesn’t marginalize singles, but it appears that my parish does. Why should anyone support an organization or religion where married people are revered and single people are peasants? What’s the message I’m supposed to learn? I’ve talked to God about this and discerned my next steps, but there’s no answer from above. I know this issue plagues parishes throughout the U.S. Is there anything I can do? – S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s great that you had the idea for the committee and that the parish picked up on the idea.

The fact that a married woman was chosen to head the committee shouldn’t discourage you, however. It is a group, after all, that is geared toward bridging the gap between married and single folks, as you mention.

For various reasons the pastor might have simply decided that the married woman might be the better leader for now. Perhaps she has more connections in the community and has deeper roots in the parish. This shouldn’t get you down.

We all have something to contribute to the Church. Occasionally we might have a great idea, but it turns out that someone else actually leads a project. That is OK.

A great example from the Gospels of one who “led the way,” only to step aside, was Andrew.

Remember how Andrew was one of the first two disciples to heed John the Baptist and follow Jesus (see John 1:35 and following). Andrew in turn brought his brother Simon to Jesus, and it was Simon (Peter) whom Christ eventually chose as the leader of the apostles, the first Pope. There is no record of Andrew complaining to Jesus about Peter’s special privilege, even though Andrew followed Our Lord first.

As for the lack of a response from your pastor: Perhaps he was just distracted. Or perhaps he wasn’t sure how to break the news to you about his decision to go with the married woman. Pastors often have to make decisions that won’t please everyone. It’s part of life.

Given everything that priests have to contend with nowadays, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him the benefit of the doubt. He probably intended no slight to you.

You could probably contribute a lot to this new committee. Your original idea for the panel apparently had merit, which seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit is at work. This is not the moment to give up on the project — that might be playing into the devil’s hands.

There might be singles in your parish this very moment who are looking for support from the parish — and this committee could be a godsend for them. You could be a conduit of God’s grace for them.

So don’t sour on your parish or the Church. Remember, Jesus was single, too.

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3 Comments
  1. This idea sounds like something I would have come up with years ago, and I commend that person for trying. I agree with her assessments of the how the Church handles the Single state. As for your response, Father, I wouldn’t be surprised if she harbors resentment over it for years to come (I am assuming the author is female?) Of course, you would support the priest in this! He was terribly remiss in not contacting her about it; it just goes to show more of the hierarchical nature of the Catholic church, and how “things are done”. I do pray that she not turn away from the Church totally, after this slap in the face. BTW: I am a Catholic in good standing, but I’ve been around the block a few times, with the Church. She should have kept the idea to herself– or found some mover and shaker to go thru. The way to get along in the Church is to keep a low profile. At least, that’s what I’ve learned. The only way she would ever change things, is if she were to change her own state in life. I, too, am bitter over how I’ve been treated all these years. It’s not just a matter of stepping aside; it’s a matter of being ignored. That’s what she was trying to convey!

  2. oh dear! I think that the priest in this case should have considered this woman’s feelings.
    It seems a little strange for this to have happened.
    I live in the United Kingdom and I am sure that a priest would have discussed this matter with the single lady.
    He could have said that he was grateful for the idea and that he has appointed someone in the role, but that he would he hopeful that the lady would attend and again should thank her.
    Another idea is since there is a married lady running the group, could there not be a single woman too? to help out, could it not be a joint effort so that the married woman and the single woman could work together and be representative of both married and the unmarried.

    I do not think that the church has ever put down single ladies, I am single and have never been put down. It is wonderful to be married and marriage blessed by God is deemed good, but chaste single people who have another calling in life or maybe have to wait some time longer for marriage are just as blessed.

    Perhaps the priest has misunderstood something. Or an admin thing has gotten in the way of him contacting you. You could just ask him why he never choose you, and then you could come back and be gracious and offer your help to the group either to represent the singles or to just generally help out.

    Your idea was obviously a good idea as it is now being run with. I would personally ask him politely and get some feedback and then you would know what the truth is. As when we are left not knowing sometimes our imagination and other people can say things that put us off and make us angry when in fact the reason is something that does not put you down.

    If it was me I would ask, accept and then volunteer to help out, that way you will be contributing and then if you do well you might be asked into an equal role with the other lady, and if not then helping out still giving time to the cause.

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