Rome to US Eastern Catholics: New Priests Should “Embrace Celibacy”

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 to oversee the Vatican’s relationship with the Eastern Catholic Churches

Signaling a possible shift in policy, Catholic News Service today reported the comments of the head of the papal office overseeing US Eastern Catholic Bishops that new vocations to the priesthood in US Eastern Catholic Churches should be “embracing celibacy” because “mandatory celibacy is the general rule for priests” in the US. For the past several years, Eastern Catholic Bishops in the US have had the option of requesting dispensations from the celibacy rule from Rome to allow for the ordination of married men to the priesthood. While it is not yet known if this signifies a change in policy on the issue, this is the first time in decades for a Vatican official to publicly encourage celibacy for Eastern Catholic clergy. It also contrasts with recent allowances of some ordinations of married men to the priesthood in the Latin Rite among clergy converts from Protestant churches.

The comments were made by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican’s Eastern Congregation (which oversees the Vatican’s relationship with Eastern Catholic Churches), during the ad limina visit of 14 Eastern Catholic Bishops to Rome. Speaking to the assembled Bishops after Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on May 15, CNS reported the Cardinal’s comments on the clergy shortage among Eastern Catholics in the US:

All the churches are hurting for clergy, he said. Even those that have a relatively high proportion of clergy to faithful are stretched by the great distances those priests must travel to minister to the faithful.

The cardinal urged care in helping young people discern their vocation, “maintaining formation programs, integrating immigrant priests (and) embracing celibacy in respect of the ecclesial context” of the United States where mandatory celibacy is the general rule for priests.

Last August, the newly enthroned American Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Nicholas Samra spoke to the need for increased vocations and indicated his desire to begin ordaining married men to the priesthood. When asked what his priorities were, he replied:

Vocations is number one! We are on a shoe-string of clergy to serve our Church as priests. We are grateful for our ancestors – priests and laity and bishops who came from the Middle East and brought us to where we are presently. But now we have come of age and we need priests from among our people in this American Melkite Church.

To fill this need, Bishop Nicholas announced his plans to eventually admit married men to seminary for future ordination to the priesthood:

God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to priesthood. We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call….Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. (See the Summer, 2011 issue of Sophia, pp. 8-9)

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Latham greets Cardinal Sandri at a Melkite Synod in Argentina in 2010

It may well be that Cardinal Sandri’s statement to the US Eastern Catholic Bishops indicates Rome’s response to Bishop Nicholas’ plans to begin seminary training of married men. Importation of celibate immigrant priests and limiting ordinations of new priests to celibate men among Eastern Catholics in the US has been Vatican policy since the 1890s though the policies have not always been uniformly enforced. Tensions over enforced celibacy has over the years led to the loss of tens of thousands of Eastern Catholics to various Orthodox jurisdictions and still has significant ecumenical implications.

Writing in 1997, canonist Dr. Roman Cholij (Ukrainian Catholic) criticized the various bans on the ordaining of married men in the Eastern Catholic Churches by Rome as interference in the rights of a self-governing (sui iuris) Eastern Catholic Church:

Thus the ecclesiological suppositions of the times when the decrees prohibiting married clergy were issued must be seen to have been defective. It should also be stated that the constitutional rights of a Church sui iuris cannot be removed by an administrative decree of a Congregation of the Roman Curia. If a married clergy is such a right (which is what the Eastern Churches do consider it to be, and which the Vatican Council seems to implicitly affirm), as opposed to a privilege granted by Rome, then there is serious objection to the lawfulness of any action which restricts exercise of this right.

The issue of whether this right can only be exercised with impunity in the traditional home territory of the Eastern Church, as opposed to outside it in “Latin territory” such as America, is, in my opinion, a question already put within a framework of a faulty ecclesiology. Once again, if a married clergy were to be considered just a “privilege” granted by Rome then this could be revoked if a greater good, such as the avoidance of scandal, warranted it. But that is not the case. It is hard, then, to justify the curtailment of a right (as opposed to a favour or privilege) – a bishop’s right to ordain – on the sole basis of the criterion of territoriality. In recent times this has, of course, been the case. It is still the official view.

Cholij notes both the canonical contradiction and the ecumenical problem with the current official view:

Is not the universal territorial jurisdiction of the Latin Church the effect of the fusing and confusing of two very distinct concepts – that of Roman Primacy and that of Western patriarchal jurisdiction? On what theological grounds can the jurisdiction of the Eastern Churches be restricted to the “historical territories”, the same principle not being applied to the Roman Church? These are issues that require further serious research and discussion, not least because of the desire for Roman union with the present Orthodox Churches. (An Eastern Catholic Married Clergy in North America, Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2)

These continued restrictions also appear to contradict the vision for a reunited Church from the current ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. In a 2010 agreed statement, Catholic and Orthodox leaders proposed these goals:

Accepted Diversity:  different parts of this single Body of Christ, drawing on their different histories and different cultural and spiritual traditions, would live in full ecclesial communion with each other without requiring any of the parts to forego its own traditions and practices….

[The Bishop of Rome’s] relationship to the Eastern Churches and their bishops, however, would have to be substantially different from the relationship now accepted in the Latin Church.  The present Eastern Catholic Churches would relate to the bishop of Rome in the same way as the present Orthodox Churches would.  The leadership of the pope would always be realized by way of a serious and practical commitment to synodality and collegiality. (See the 2010 Agreed Statement: Steps Towards A Reunited Church by the North American Orthodox Catholic Theological Consultation)

Note (added 5/18/12): Some have questioned the original Catholic News Service story for its accuracy or have suggested that Cardinal Sandri’s words were misinterpreted by Catholic News Service. Generally speaking, Catholic News Service has an excellent reputation. A bit about Catholic News Service can be read here

While created in 1920 by the bishops of the United States, CNS is editorially independent and a financially self-sustaining division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. CNS is staffed by trained, professional journalists; all eligible nonmanagement staffers are members of The Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America. The CNS Rome bureau, which provides what many regard as the best Vatican coverage available from any news agency, is one of the main reasons for its international appeal.

Since CNS is a trusted Catholic resource, their article was taken at face value. If there are corrections or further information on this matter, this article will either be updated or more details will be shared in another blog post.

For further reading:

Melkite Catholic Church to Ordain Married Men to the Priesthood in USA

Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Eastern Married Clergy in Western Lands is Not Dead

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

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32 Responses to Rome to US Eastern Catholics: New Priests Should “Embrace Celibacy”

  1. It really is sad to see the Catholic Church shooting itself in the foot so unnecessarily.

  2. gillian crow says:

    Why is Rome so afraid of married clergy?

    • Archbishop Peter Paul says:

      Rome is afraid of married clergy because they have made a God of celibacy. Celibacy is the new Golden Calf. Celibacy is more important than the priesthood and indeed has replaced it. It is more important than the Eucharist. The purpose of celibacy is to bolster and protect clericalism. An Orthodox bishop once said he loves that his priests are married because the wife is like having another bishop in the home. She makes sure her husband is doing what is right. The Latin Church would benefit from a married clergy. But at least let the Eastern Catholic Churches have their time honored custom of a married clergy.

  3. Mitch says:

    If Rome really does try and enforce a ban on new married clergy they are kinda stupid. I am Roman Catholic and have a lot of friends in seminary, I know for many of them they see celibacy as a gift at times and a trial at other times and I have the up most respect for them. But, that this not the widespread tradition of the East so Rome should mind its own damn business. Personally I’d like to see the Roman Rite in the US get on board with some married clergy, perhaps limit them to associate pastor roles in parishes but ordain them nonetheless. Just my 2 cents.

    • Archbishop Peter Paul says:

      This will be catastrophic. The Uniate clergy will fly back to Orthodoxy and with good reason. It will resolve the current problem between between Rome and Constantinople. To impose celibacy on the Eastern churches is against the Vatican II spirit which called for respecting the rights of the Eastern Churches.

  4. David says:

    And it implies that the Roman Catholic Church’s desire of reunification with the Non Catholic Eastern Churches is a rubbish words of mouth. “Oh God please grant us Reunification of Church, but please we will only apply our own practice”.. Lol, what a hypocratic mind! OR actually this was Sandri’s opinion???! If so, dear Holy Father Benedict XVI, please replace that “Non Catholic Minded” Cardinal with someone who is eligible for Eastern Church.

  5. Fabius says:

    This also sends the wrong signal to Anglicans thinking of joining the new Ordinariate. If Rome can change it’s mind with the Easterners…

  6. Here we go again. Wake up Rome. We had married Popes,
    Bishops
    Deacons. Where taken in Married Anglican and Lutheran clergy. Protestants comming back to Rome. Why sceew up now.

  7. […] New Priests Should “Embrace Celibacy”…May 17, 2012 By The Crescat Leave a Comment… Wait, hasn’t this sentiment been expressed before?Signaling a possible shift in policy, Catholic News Service today reported the comments of the head […]

  8. let this be a warning to the Anglicans considering the Ordinariate too. if lying Rome can do this to the Eastern Catholics, upon whose treatment by Rome depends a desired reunion with the Orthodox, what more to the Anglicans and the SSPX folk? what prevents Rome from breaking all her promises to them? ‘alienating the Orthodox’ has been the traditional counterweight factor preventing Rome from completely Latinising and aggregating the Eastern Catholic Churches to herself. there is no such counterweight for the Latin Trads, and should Rome decide to do this, what prevents her from doing this, since Rome’s word is worthless? there is no appeal, since prima sedes a nemine judicatur…

  9. Bro AJK says:

    So much for breathing with both lungs.

  10. […] Wait, hasn’t this sentiment been expressed before? Signaling a possible shift in policy, Catholic News Service today reported the comments of the […]

  11. Archbishop Peter Paul says:

    The Ordinariates already know that the next generation of clegy will be celibate in spite of Anglican custom. However, I am sure there are other ways promises can be watered down to become meaningless. This move to impose celibacy on the USA Eastern Churches if foolish and unnecessary. There is barely any, if any, contact between the Eastern Churches and the Latin Churches. This does’t make sense.

  12. Archbishop Peter Paul says:

    The so called Majority Latin Church has a median priest age of about 75 who are fast entering heaven — they are not going to run off and get married. Is there anyone in Rome aware of the current demographics? Because of poor planning and poor vision, there won’t be any Latin priests in fifteen or twenty years. They will all be in heaven. Then the married laity will have to offer the Eucharist as it was in the beginning. Jesus did not ordain anyone. The church invented ordination.

    Does the Vatican think Latin priests are so uncommited to their celibacy that they will be jealous of their Eastern brothers. Or that it would be too much of a temptation for them? The Vatican is saying they do not have faith in their priests and that their priests are not mature enough to handle diversity. They are sending the wrong message.

  13. Dave says:

    I am saddened and don’t understand the lack of charity in most of the comments. Pray for peace and understanding. Come Holy Spirit!
    From the article: “Importation of celibate immigrant priests and limiting ordinations of new priests to celibate men among Eastern Catholics in the US has been Vatican policy since the 1890s . . . ” This is nothing new. It’s not “stupid” or “foolish” unless we say St Paul, who recommends celibacy in the Word of God is also ‘stupid’ and ‘foolish.’ It’s one thing to disagree, but being respectful is how we show we are Christians, by our love! Peace be with you! Pray for Christian unity!

    • Dave, there is an important distinction between recommending celibacy as a vocation and imposing it as a condition for ordination. The Orthodox Church is totally behind St Paul regarding the former; it is the conflation of celibacy and priesthood that she objects to, for that is ultimately a disservice to both vocations.

      While I agree that charity is important – and some people’s reactions on this issue produce as much heat as they do light – it might be helpful to point out that the Orthodox frustration comes because Rome does indeed seem to speak with two mouths when it comes to Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches. On the one hand, she seeks to assure us that her ecclesiology has changed since the 1890s (talk about “sister Churches”, “two lungs”, the Eastern Churches following their own authentic traditions etc.) and then she does something like this. And so people really are not that sure that she can be trusted.

      Moreover, some of the frustration simply comes because we really find it painful to see the Catholic Church doing something that is just tragically stupid.

      However, as someone said on Facebook, perhaps God will raise up another St Alexis Toth out of all this!

    • Archbishop Peter Paul says:

      I do not see a lack of charity in these posts. But this is a time when charity may have to be set aside. The fact is that Vatican II promised the reinstatement of ancient customs and traditions of the Eastern Churches and among them is a married priesthood. Some of the Eastern Churches in the USA have been ordaining married men and this then is a change that is being enforced on them. It is wrong for many reasons but especially because it deprives a man of his God given right to marry. Celibacy is something that should not be required in the Eastern Churches. Celibacy is not freely chosen when it is mandated as a job requirement for the priesthood in the Latin Church (or in the Eastern Churches USA). Celibacy is a form of institutional brutality and it must be countered with serious argument, protest and disobedience. A law that violates the rights of an individual is not a good law and it does not have to be obeyed. I hope the bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches will have the courage to ignore this new regulation. St. Paul recommended celibacy because he thought the Second Coming was to be immediate and near in his life time. Because we were all supposed to be swept up into heaven there was no need for marriage. He was simply wrong. We are still waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.

  14. Edward P. Young says:

    Your Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri:
    As Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Eastern Churches: Your Eminence is entreated to toil for Ecumenism within the Holy Catholic Church and for true restoration of the Holy Churches, as we have been taught by Blessed John Pail II.
    Respectfully yours in Christ,
    Archpriest Edward P. Young

  15. […] Rome to US Eastern Catholics: New Priests Should “Embrace Celibacy” […]

  16. Max says:

    I spoke to a Roman cleric present at the meetings just yesterday. He assured me that the speech was a mere reference to the policy still in place for the Eastern churches in the US (which, as we all know, has never actually been rescinded, despite numerous “work-arounds” that Rome no longer obstructs). The paragraph in question was not an attempt to champion clerical celibacy in the Eastern churches; still less was it meant as a “response” to +Nicholas’ comments in Sophia. It was merely a call for the churches to place an emphasis on the formation in celibacy of young seminarians in the US, since that is the formation long required in the US. The fact is, the policy is still in place, and prospective seminarians who are adopting the life of a celibate priest need to learn how to live out that calling successfully. The emphasis was entirely on formation, and not on the history, merits, demerits, should’s, or must’s of Cum Data Fuerit.

    Of course, I, like everyone else here believe that rule should be finally lifted. But suffice to say, after that 20min. conversation, it seems this post has read far more into this paragraph than +Sandri intended to be there. Nothing was changed because of the speech: it was not an attempt to reassert the policy or double-down on the Eastern churches in the US. When we all express our frustration about the standing policy on this thread (and we will), we should feel no new sense of urgency concerning it. This was not a moment of significance.

    (On a final note, he also reassured me that many voices in Rome are sympathetic towards fully restoring a married priesthood to the US Eastern churches, including himself. He thinks it must happen eventually, because it is part of the Eastern tradition. He was very adamant about this fact, and to be frank, I found his passion quite encouraging.)

    • orthocath says:

      Thank you, Max, for this update. The blog post had only spoken of a “possible shift of policy” and your report would indicate that is not what was meant. If so, I am very glad to hear it. As you say “the policy [celibacy] is still in place” and it appears the restoration of a married priesthood to US Eastern Catholic Churches is still a ways off. It is reassuring to hear there are voices in Rome for an overturning of the Ban.

  17. Fr. Deacon Daniel says:

    The Petrine primacy which resides preeminently, but not exclusively, in the Apostolic See of Rome, has as its co-mission from Christ Himself to feed the flock and strengthen the brethren. This means that whenever the Papacy acts in a manner that weakens and not strengthens the brethren, it is acting in a way that undermines its fundamental raison d’être in the service of the unity for which Christ prayed.

    The imposition of Latin sui iuris disciplines upon Eastern Catholic jurisdictions outside of traditional territories is simply an abuse of that primacy that weakens the Eastern Churches.

    In reflecting on these issues, it seems to me that the fundamental questions are “Is the Papacy (and by extension any curial officials who exercise delegated powers) bound by the moral law according to Catholic teaching?” and “If so, are the Papacy’s prudential judgments as ‘supreme legislator’ past and present that violate charity binding upon the consciences of any?”

    I would argue “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second.

    The fact is, Pope Benedict has simply inherited the unjust legislation of some of his predecessors vis-a-vis the Eastern Churches especially, but not exclusively, in North America.

    Substantive arguments have been made by Cholij (in a striking and thought provoking reversal of his previous positions) and others that all previous legislation have been vacated. Yet we see that according to Max’s unnamed source in Rome, the prevailing view is that the “ban” on married clergy is still in force and that Rome has taken a position that it will no longer obstruct or take punitive measures against bishops or married clerics (such as suspension of faculties, as was done some time back) who circumvent the ban.

    As with the lifting of the decrees of excommunication done by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, both of blessed memory, all legislation that subjugates the Eastern Churches, within or outside of full communion with Rome, should be banished to the memory of history. We have all inherited a history that none of us helped to create, but our Churches can contribute to a healing of memories that will help lead to a more productive and charitable future together.

    There are still those living who recall the effects of the unjust and arrogant rulings of the Pope and Vatican when their Greek Catholic parents and grandparents and clergy rejected the 300 year old “Unia” with the Apostolic See and were canonically erected as an Orthodox jurisdiction under Constantinople (now known as the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA or A.C.R.O.D.). Some years prior, many thousands of Greek Catholics abandoned the Unia for Moscow (now known as the Orthodox Church of America or the O.C.A.) for the same reasons.

    If history has taught us anything, it is that whenever Rome has acted in its own sectarian interests, it sows seeds of rupture among the Catholic East and deepens the mistrust felt by the Orthodox East, most especially since it violates both the letter and the spirit of previous agreements of union.

    Most Latins do not understand this type of response from the Greek Catholics who appear simply as “rebels” against Roman authority. The correspondence and responses from Rome and Latin hierarchs on this issue during this period are striking in their arrogance and ultramontanist insensitivity. One quote from this period, although I forget the source but recall that it was a bishop, was something to the effect that it was better to lose a few thousand Greek Catholic souls than to allow a married priesthood to come to North America.

    Remarkably, there are still those among our Latin brethren who support this view. The quite recent action taken by the Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops reflects the unfortunate perpetuation of sectarian attitudes and interests. In a vote, the Conference rejected the specific fraternal requests of both the Romanian and Ukrainian hierarchs to send married clergy to serve the pastoral needs of the many hundreds of thousands of immigrant Greek Catholic faithful from their respective jurisdictions. The excuse offered for the disapproval to extend the territories where married priests can serve in Italy was quite reminiscent of the one stated by the Latin US Hierarchs around the turn of the century for the imposition of the ban in North America: the Latin faithful will be scandalized by the presence of non-celibate married priests.The very fact that Eastern disciplines were, as per CDF policy, subject to a vote by a conference of mostly Latin hierarchs, some of whom clearly suffer from less than Catholic impulses, is in itself a sad reflection that a sectarian spirit still exists and some are unwilling to learn the lessons of often our tragic history.

    That said, I take heart from the anecdotes and observations in Max’s post – not to mention the writings of both the Council Fathers and the Papal magisterium as well as the public theological works of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. It appears such views are no longer the predominant sympathy within the Vatican, notwithstanding recent and unfortunate remarks made at events sponsored by the Congregation of the Clergy.

    Additionally, one should mention that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in their official document on priestly formation makes a specific and positive reference to the unique discipline of the Eastern Catholic Churches, including those in North America:

    http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/priesthood/priestly-formation/upload/ProgramforPriestlyFormation.pdf

    But as with most “reactions” from the East past and present it is usually in response to some form of Roman/Latin intervention or innovation, often based upon a lingering yet powerful and presumptive Latin universalism. (This was something also addressed quite directly by the recent and inspiring Middle Eastern Synod of Catholic Bishops.) It is precisely this kind of issue that gives the Orthodox pause in considering reunion with Rome, and so long as Rome perpetuates this perception – even in offhand remarks by curial officials – their suspicions will most certainly be supported.

    This alone is reason to renounce publicly and definitively the legal fiction of the ban, that old millstone inherited from previous generations. It is a holdover from a disfigured and anemic vision of Unia long since rejected. And yet, as we have seen recently, it is also like a splinter in an old wound that still causes great pain when touched.

    • Archbishop Peter Paul says:

      Deacon Daniel, I wish I had said that. You have done a wonderful service to ecumenism with your strong and thoughtful statement. Thank you.

  18. […] Rome to US Eastern Catholics: New Priests Should “Embrace Celibacy” Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookRedditDiggTwitterStumbleUpon […]

  19. John in Washington says:

    As an Eastern Orthodox Christian longing for legitimate unity between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church, there is much I could say about this most recent discouragement, though others have said it better. Perhaps I might just ask a question instead: Why is it that the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Eastern Churches is an Argentinian Latin Rite cardinal, rather than a Eastern Catholic bishop? That speaks volumes in itself.

  20. MP says:

    My English is poor but I have to say something here as I am quite confused reading these

    A lot of priests in communist, Muslim or some very poor countries around the world, are doing it tough and they don’t complain much.

    However, priests in rich countries like America, Europe…they have freedom, nice house, fine food, good education, travel the world from time to time… are complaining and want a wife because they are bored?

    Should they help the priests in the poor countries who are doing it tough because these are their brothers in Christ? If people are busy helping others, they don’t have time to feel bored but grateful to God because God gives them so much so they can share to the less fortunate. Instead of travel the world, they can travel to visit the priests, who are put in jail for being Jesus’ followers.

    Does Jesus have multiple standards on judgment day for His disciples?

    If you live in communist countries, you have to live poor, facing harassment, jail… to be called My disciples
    If you live in America or Europe, to be called My disciples, you can have whatever you want including a wife and children
    If you live in the first millennium, to be My followers, you have to live in underground churches, and have to face persecution on account of My Name
    If you live in the year 2000 onward, as My disciples, you can have a good life and it is OK to mock or condemn My Church whenever you want.

    Looking at the buddhist monks, to achieve enlightenment, they have to live very poor and celibacy. They are strictly vegetarian, no drinking alcohol and they have been doing fine, NO campaign for a wife for 2 and a half millenniums….[edited for length]

  21. MP says:

    Archbishop Peter Paul says:
    “Because of poor planning and poor vision, there won’t be any Latin priests in fifteen or twenty years.”

    My comment:
    Catholic church is formed by Jesus (Catholic Church has apostolic succession) and He shed His blood for His Church, therefore I trust in Him.

    There will be more Catholic priests or NO Catholic priests in the next twenty years is His will. Jesus is The Son of God and God created the world, He wants to keep the Catholic Church or not is up to Him.

    I am happy to be His follower, to be a Catholic no matter what will happen in the next 20 or 50 years or 1000 years. I firmly believe that Jesus loves me and He would never abandon me or His people or His Catholic Church.

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