San Bernardino bishop 'shocked and saddened' after retired priest attempts marriage

Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino Calif Credit Farragutful via Wikimedia CC BY SA 40 CNA Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino, Calif. | Farragutful via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Bishop of San Bernardino says he is “shocked and saddened” at a longtime pastor’s decision to attempt to contract a marriage following his retirement. 

Monsignor Howard Lincoln retired from his pastorship at Sacred Heart parish in Palm Desert, about 70 miles southeast of San Bernardino, at the end of June, and within a week attempted to contract marriage with his former secretary. 

The two held a civil marriage ceremony July 2. Those who are in holy orders invalidly attempt marriage. 

Msgr. Lincoln said in a letter to Sacred Heart parish that he and his secretary, both of whom are in their seventies, had been discussing the prospect of marriage “for nearly three years.”

Bishop Rojas expressed sadness at Msgr. Lincoln’s decision, noting his “dynamic and pastoral leadership” as a priest at Sacred Heart for the past 20 years. 

“As you know, once a priest is ordained, he can never marry. This allows the priest to give himself completely to the Church and the service of the people of God. There are specific circumstances under which the Church will ordain a priest who is already married, but never the reverse,” Bishop Alberto Rojas wrote in a July 10 letter to Sacred Heart parish. 

“So, by entering into a civil marriage this month, Monsignor Lincoln has essentially separated himself from his priestly vocation in our Church.”

Bishop Rojas did not specifically discuss the possibility of Lincoln’s dismissal from the clerical state in his letter, though Msgr. Lincoln did mention laicization in his own letter, saying that he and his secretary did not want to wait for the process to play out before marrying, citing their age and health reasons, including “heart issues.” 

John Andrews, communications director for the San Bernardino diocese, told CNA that to his knowledge, the laicization process for Monsignor Lincoln has not yet been initiated. 

“The process can happen in two different ways. It can be initiated by Msgr. Lincoln, himself. If he chooses not to do that, and continues in his marriage, then the Diocese would take the lead in the laicization process so that he is removed from the clerical state,” Andrews told CNA in an email. 

“As far as the timeline goes, that’s difficult because the specific circumstances of each petition have a big impact on how long it takes to complete. So, I’m not going to speculate on that at all.”

Msgr. Lincoln had in 2019 “privately expressed the idea of marrying after his retirement,” Bishop Rojas said. 

Bishop Rojas, who was installed in San Bernardino in February 2020, said the diocese had at the time attempted to dissuade Msgr. Lincoln from considering an attempt to marry. 

"Our immediate response as a Diocese was to offer support and resources to Monsignor Lincoln so that he might instead reaffirm his commitment to his vows and remain a priest in good standing for life,” Rojas said. 

"We did not passively accept the idea of him leaving the priesthood, we supported him in his struggle and remained hopeful that he would change his mind."

Msgr. Lincoln is reportedly a well-known figure in the area, and played a major role in the construction of two Catholic churches in the Coachella Valley.

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