Catholic, Orthodox Bishops Push of Married Priests

Top Catholic and Orthodox church officials in North America are calling on the Vatican to let married men become priests in Eastern rite Catholic churches, another sign that optional celibacy could become a front-burner issue under Pope Francis.

Eastern rite Catholic churches have a look and feel similar to Eastern Orthodox churches but are loyal to Rome and fall under the pope’s jurisdiction.

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Like Eastern Orthodox churches, Eastern rite Catholics tend to have more local autonomy than their Roman Catholic counterparts, and they have particular liturgies and customs that date back to their origins in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

One of those customs is optional celibacy. While Eastern rite Catholic bishops cannot be married, the priesthood is open to married men.

The main exception has been in North America, where a 1929 decree by the Vatican effectively barred married clergy in Eastern rite churches. The move was spurred by concerns among leaders of the much larger Roman Catholic church in the U.S. that having married priests in Eastern Catholic churches would prompt Roman Catholics to demand a similar practice.

The decision was controversial even back then. A century ago, Eastern Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East brought with them the tradition of a married priesthood, and the Vatican decree “resulted in divisions in Eastern Catholic communities and even in families,” leaders of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation said in a statement issued on Friday (June 6).

The rationale for maintaining the U.S. ban has been losing ground in recent years as Rome introduced exceptions into its own laws to allow married converts from some Protestant churches to be ordained as priests.

In calling on Rome to reverse the 1929 policy, leaders of the Catholic-Orthodox group from the U.S. and Canada highlighted the ecumenical implications of the ban, noting that the Eastern Orthodox churches also allow married clergy.

“This action would affirm the ancient and legitimate Eastern Christian tradition and would assure the Orthodox that, in the event of the restoration of full communion between the two churches, the traditions of the Orthodox Church would not be questioned,” the group said.

There are about 500,000 Eastern rite Catholics in the U.S. and nearly 70 million Roman Catholics. Eastern Catholics worship in more than a dozen different churches, such as the Maronite, Armenian, Chaldean, Syriac and Ukrainian traditions. There are about 750 Eastern Catholic priests compared with just under 40,000 Roman Catholic clergy in the U.S.

But Friday’s statement on celibacy for Eastern Catholics has an import that goes beyond those numbers.

For one, the Catholic delegation to the consultation is headed by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who worked in the Roman Curia for many years. Tobin’s reputation as a moderate earned him few fans under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but Francis is said to respect his judgment.

In addition, all the Catholic members of the group are appointed by the conferences of bishops in the United States and Canada.

Moreover, Francis has sent signals that he is open to optional celibacy. In February, he gave permission for a married Maronite Catholic to be ordained in St. Louis, the first ordination of a married man in the Maronite Catholic Church in the U.S. in a century.

Francis also told a visitor in April that he would be open to discussing optional celibacy if national bishops’ conferences “make concrete suggestions.”

In a news conference last month, in response to a question about revisiting the celibacy rule for all Roman Catholic priests, Francis cited the example of Eastern Catholics to note that “since it is not a dogma of faith, the door is always open.”

 

PHOTO: Perla Akiki receives Communion from her father, Father Wissam Akiki, after he was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 27 at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. Father Akiki is the first married man to be ordained a priest for the U.S. Maronite Catholic Church.

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Bruce Snowden
3 years 6 months ago
Eighty-five years ago a Vatican decree forbade the Eastern Rite Church from ordaining married men, because the Roman Catholic Church feared their clergy would want the same thing. Holy Father Francis appears amicable to the possibility of open discussion about allowing married men to seek ordination and indeed he allowed a married man of the Marionite Rite, Fr. Akiki, with wife and child, to be ordained priest. But the "bread and whine" so to speak continues, as if allowing a married man to be ordained priest would somehow constitute a "eucharisk"again so to speak! I personally believe celibacy should be honored in the Church, side by side with marriage and that priesthood should be automatically open to the married and the celibate, as both are charisms granted to the People of God by God. Marital and Celibate responsibilities should be gratuitously accepted, not mandated. May the Holy Spirit guide the Church along paths aflame with the light of of inevitable truth!
Jim McCrea
3 years 6 months ago
Further to what Bruce said (and, yes, it is from wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Catholic_Churches#Clerical_celibacy\ In countries where Eastern traditions prevail, a married clergy caused little controversy; but it aroused opposition in other countries to which Eastern Catholics migrated; this was particularly so in the United States. In response to requests from the Latin bishops of those countries, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith set out rules in a letter of 2 May 1890 to François-Marie-Benjamin Richard, the Archbishop of Paris,[76] which the Congregation applied on 1 May 1897 to the United States,[77] stating that only celibates or widowed priests coming without their children should be permitted in the United States. This celibacy mandate for Eastern Catholic priests in the United States was restated with special reference to Catholics of Ruthenian Rite by the 1 March 1929 decree Cum data fuerit, which was renewed for a further ten years in 1939. Dissatisfaction by many Ruthenian Catholics in the United States gave rise to the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese.[78] This mandate was abolished with the promulgation of the Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches at the Second Vatican Council. Since then, married men have been ordained to the priesthood in the United States, and numerous married priests have come from eastern countries to serve parishes in the Americas.[79] [76] Acta Sanctae Sedis, vol. 1891/92, p.390 [77] Collectanea No. 1966 [78] Barringer, Lawrence (1985). Good Victory. Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 0-917651-13-8. [79] Faulk, Edward (2007). 101 Questions & Answers on Eastern Catholic Churches. New York: Paulist Press, pp.87-88. ISBN 978-0-8091-4441-9.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 6 months ago
Hi Jim, Thanks for your positive comment on my simple post. Your post was most instructive, offering excellent supportive sites. You come across as someone familiar with ministry.

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