Different Rules For Different Rites

June 19, 2012

Some commentary from Ukraine on the recent statement by Cardinal Sandri encouraging celibacy for new Eastern Catholic priests in the US. Personally, I think the Cardinal’s statement is not signaling a change back to the 1930s. I think it’s an ideal they want to see — but still offensive to the Eastern tradition, in my opinion. The author, writing from a Ukrainian Catholic position, notes the ecumenical difficulties involved.

Different Rules for Different Rites

By Andrew Sorokowski

Catholic News Service has reported that during an ad limina visit of fourteen Eastern Catholic bishops from the United States on May 15, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches, urged them to promote a celibate priesthood (Cindy Wooden, “Eastern Catholics have much to offer US church, cardinal tells bishops,” CNS May 15, 2012). Given the continuing mass migration of Ukrainian Greek-Catholics to the United States and other Western countries, whether for temporary work or permanent settlement, this purported statement has serious implications.

The retention of a married clergy was the ninth of the thirty-three Articles of the Union of Brest outlined in June 1595. True, these articles only expressed the Ruthenian bishops’ desiderata, and were neither accepted nor rejected by the Holy See (see Borys Gudziak, Kryza i reforma, L’viv 2000, pp. 296-97.) The right to a married clergy was reaffirmed, however, at the Synod of Zamosc in 1720 and the Lviv provincial synod of 1891. But in 1918, separate provision was made at the LvivGreek-Catholic seminary for candidate priests seeking ordination as celibates, and in the 1920s, mandatory celibacy was introduced in the Stanyslaviv (now Ivano-Frankivs’k) and Peremyshl’ (now Przemysl) seminaries. Nonetheless, in today’s Ukraine married men may be ordained as Greek-Catholic priests.

As Byzantine-rite Catholics began to immigrate in large numbers to North America from the 1880s, Church authorities on various levels issued regulations and opinions sometimes denying, sometimes affirming the right of married Greek-Catholic prieststo exercise their ministry, and of Greek-Catholic bishops to ordain married men, in Canada and the United States(see David Motiuk, Eastern Christians in the New World, Ottawa, 2005, pp. 123-31). Today, numerous married priests from Ukraine serve North American parishes, alongside American-born priests who either had transferred to the Ukrainian Catholic church after marriage but before ordination, or were ordained as married men in Ukraine.

The married Ukrainian Catholic priesthood has firm foundations in canon law. The Second Vatican Council’s 1964 Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches declared that these Churches “have a full right and are in duty bound to rule themselves, each in accordance with its own established disciplines” (no. 5). The 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states that while clerical celibacy “is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole Church,” ”the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor” (canon 373).

The chief argument that has been advanced against the Greek-Catholic ordination of married men, or even the ministry of married immigrant priests, in North America is scandal to the Roman Catholic faithful of the Latin Rite, where all priests are celibate. Cardinal Sandri was evidently referring to this rationale when he reportedly urged that new vocations be helped in “embracing celibacy in respect of the ecclesial context” of North America. But the underlying reasoning should be explored. Where, exactly, is the scandal? That is, how does the presence of married Catholic priests of a different rite stand in the way of the spiritual progress of Latin-rite Catholic laity? In the 1890s, it may have prompted some Latin-rite laymen to question clerical celibacy. But today’s American society is both more jaded and more sophisticated. In a time of continuing sex scandals, the presence of married Catholic priests is not likely to tarnish anyone’s perception of the priesthood. More importantly, after Vatican II, the Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, and the popularization of the principle of “unity in diversity,” the notion of different Catholic rites with different disciplines is more widely understood. People can grasp the idea that there is more than one way to be a priest within the Catholic communion.

To be sure, clerical celibacy is supported by a solid rationale. One can begin with St. Paul’s admonitions in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he notes that whereas the unmarried man is solely concerned with how to please the Lord, the married man is anxious to please his wife, and thus his interests are divided (I Corinthians 7:32-34). But this is a problem for laymen as well as for clerics. In fact, this passage appears to address both. If it unambiguously militated against marriage, one would have to take the position of some radical sects which prohibit marriage and sexual relations to all. But in fact, on a fair reading of the seventh chapter of I Corinthians in its entirety, celibacy may be preferable, but should not be mandatory.

It has been argued, however, that celibacy is essential to the very nature of priesthood. Jesus Christ, after all, was unmarried, and the priest should model himself after Him. Furthermore, a strong pastoral argument can be made that only a celibate priest, unburdened by family concerns, can be fully dedicated to his parish. He can also serve as a model of self-sacrifice and restraint – qualities which are as important for the married as for the celibate.

Mandatory priestly celibacy is also supported by socio-economic considerations. Parishioners can (and in prewar Ukraine, sometimes did) resent the burden of supporting not only the priest, but his wife and numerous children. In today’s world economy, many parishes would find it no less burdensome. On the other hand, with women having entered the workforce in great numbers, particularly after World War II, it is now economically feasible and socially acceptable for a professionally employed wife to help support a clerical family.

The arguments against mandatory celibacy do not, of course, advocate an exclusively married priesthood. They only call for the toleration of both types. First, however, we must dismiss two common but rather poorly reasoned arguments for permitting a married clergy.

The first holds that allowing a married clergy will solve the Catholic vocations crisis. The assumption is that young men fail to respond to vocations because they have no prospect of marriage, and that given the chance to marry before ordination, they would choose the priesthood. There is little solid evidence to support this assumption. Anyone familiar with both the single and the married life understands that each has its advantages and disadvantages, and that neither can be said to be universally preferable. In fact, churches that permit a married priesthood suffer from a dearth of vocations too. The likely reasons for the drop in Catholic vocations are broad and numerous, having more to do with the cultural atmosphere of our age than with mandatory celibacy.

The second argument is that the recent and ongoing sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church could have been avoided with a married clergy. Insofar as this argument refers to cases of sexual abuse of young women or girls, it is based on the assumption that celibacy is psychologically unhealthy, forcing men to channel their “sexual energies” towards the young and vulnerable. That assumption in turn is based on the vulgar-Freudian theory of an uncontrollable “sex drive.” Insofar as the argument refers (as it usually does) to same-sex child molestation, it assumes that celibacy turns men into predatory homosexuals, or alternatively, that a celibate priesthood tends to attract such individuals. Both versions of this argument presume that married men would not abuse minors. Until and unless these assumptions are definitively proved by empirical evidence, this line of reasoning cannot be taken seriously.

There are, however, several good arguments in favor of permitting a married clergy – none of which, unlike the two outlined above, condemns clerical celibacy. The “pastoral” argument points out that a married priest is especially qualified to understand the problems of married couples and to counsel them. The “exemplary” argument reminds us that the priest’s family serves as a model for married parishioners. According to the “socio-traditional” argument, this family – in which at least one son traditionally would enter the priesthood, and at least one daughter would marry a candidate priest – perpetuates vocations (although in the past, critics considered it a privileged “caste”).

The somewhat contrasting “feminist” argument holds that in a time when Catholic women are seeking a greater role in the Church, while feminists accuse it of waging war on them, the institution of the priest’s wife gives them a leading role in parish life. As adviser and assistant administrator to the pastor, sometimes as catechist or choirmaster, and as an often more approachable figure for the laity, particularly for other women, the “panimatka” may not be a satisfactory role model for the most radical feminists, who demand the ordination of women. But she does give women a voice that they do not have with a celibate priesthood.

The “globalization” argument similarly arises out of the present age. It notes that today, most of the Eastern Catholic Churches are transnational. Communications among their lands of settlement are so intense that it makes little sense to impose one rule for the home country and another for the diaspora. Each rite should have its own discipline wherever it exists. Hence, the rule barring ordination of married Greek-Catholics in North America is no longer justified.

Finally, the “ecumenical” argument points out that depriving an Eastern Church in union with Rome of its traditional married clergy is certain to alienate the Orthodox, who would never accede to union under such conditions. It would only confirm their suspicion that Catholic ecumenism is merely a cover not only for bringing the Orthodox into the Roman Church, but for depriving them of their distinctiveness in the process.

In 1918, Greek-Catholic Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, faced with pressure to introduce Latin-style celibacy in his church and well aware of its advantages, reserved half the places in the Lviv seminary for celibates, and half for candidates intending to marry before  ordination. This dual approach provides a reasonable precedent for our times. The calling to serve as a priest comes first. Whether to marry or not is a secondary consideration. But once he is committed to the priesthood, a man should be able to choose in which form to serve.

In fact, this approach could be extended to the entire Catholic Church. A Latin-rite candidate priest who chooses celibacy will likely remain in his rite. But if he wishes to marry before ordination, he should be permitted to transfer to one of the Eastern rites with a married priesthood. There is no reason to think that this will cause a mass defection from the Latin-rite Church – any more than it is likely to solve the vocations crisis. But given that some men are inclined to celibacy while others are called to marriage, it would contribute to a healthier atmosphere by offering the priesthood to both. And it would help the Universal Church to “breathe with both lungs.”

For further reading:

Can East and West Coexist With Married Priests?

 


First Things on Cardinal Sandri’s Recent Statement on Celibacy

May 27, 2012

Eastern Catholic Bishops gathered in Rome (May 2012)

By Tim Kelleher from First Things

Gathered for their ad limina, Eastern Catholic bishops from the U.S. were addressed last week by Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Leonardo Cardinal Sandri. His injunction—made not about abortion, the HHS mandate, war, wealth redistribution, or gay marriage—could have a critical influence on the Christian response to all of the above.

Among the Cardinal’s remarks was a tersely reiterated expectation of celibacy for priests serving the Eastern Catholic Churches in diaspora—in this case the U.S. The message may not have been carried directly from the hand of Benedict but the effect has been unpleasant to say the least.

Enter Thomas Loya, a Ruthenian Catholic priest of the Parma Ohio Eparchy, writing his eparch in response.

In addition to being chillingly reminiscent of the demeaning attitude of the Latin Rite bishops toward the Eastern Catholic Churches during the beginning of the last century in America, the Cardinal’s remarks about celibacy seem to confirm what so many Eastern Catholics in America have suspected for too long: Rome and the Latin Rite see the Eastern Catholic Churches in America as essentially inconsequential, perhaps even in the way of ecumenism between Rome and the Orthodox Churches.

The chilling reminiscence refers, in part, to an exercise in aberrant ecclesiology—more a power play—engineered by Archbishop John Ireland that resulted in an entire body of U.S. Eastern Catholics breaking communion with Rome.

I’m not about to jump into the trenches on the issue of celibacy (I would rather the comments box not turn into a Mixed Martial Arts cage). I’ll simply repeat the known fact that celibacy it is not a dogma of the Church but a discipline, and that its normative status in the Latin Church is not of ancient provenance. Moreover, Loya’s point is not about celibacy per se but ecclesial integrity and mutual respect.

What moves us onto this more sensitive landscape is his suggestion that Rome views the Eastern Catholic churches as “in the way” of relations between itself and the Orthodox Churches. I can certainly see why it would occur to him and he’s not the first to say it. For centuries, the existence of the so-called Uniate Churches has been a vexed point in those relations.

But I wonder how much help he can realistically expect from the Eastern hierarchs. Too many Eastern Catholic bishops behave as though their mandate actually is to allow their Churches to die a slow, palliated death.

If Loya is correct, it’s difficult to see how Cardinal Sandri’s words advance the ecumenical agenda. In fact, it would seem to do the reverse. For, what possible inducement to deepening trust could the Orthodox find in Rome’s insistence that Eastern Churches compromise their traditions the moment they hit the customs line at JFK?

This is, at best, a very mixed signal. When added to other actions, however, it can begin to seem otherwise.

In terms of impeding the cause of reunion, perhaps the most inexplicable move in recent years was Rome’s decision suddenly to drop the title “Patriarch of the West” from the list of papal honorifics in the 2006 Annuario Pontificio.

As Adam DeVille points out in his superb, Orthodoxy and the Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, of all the titles claimed for the Pope, it is the office of Patriarch that is most meaningful to the Orthodox. It is the one most serious ecumenists agree holds the greatest potential to serve as a model for the “new situation” John Paul II invited all Christians to help him imagine and make real.

The practical stakes of this are high. As Loya goes on to say,

The Eastern Catholic Churches, and in particular the Ruthenian Church, are actually in a position to indeed supply what is lacking in the whole Church in America and to confront secular society with a type of vocabulary and spirituality that we alone can bring to the war on secularism and moral relativism. It seems that Rome understands none of this about us.

I’m not sure why he feels the Ruthenian Church is in the particular position he describes. I also wish he hadn’t chosen to depict the resistance to secularism as war. But, those are fairly minor points. Fr. Loya is doing something important by addressing the tip that reveals the presence of an iceberg—something I earlier suggested could and should have a critical influence on the Christian response to our myriad problems.

Others have suggested, as have I, that a quantum leap in cooperation between the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches is indispensable to the cause of revitalizing a Western culture suffering as a result of its repudiation of or indifference to the treasure of its Judeo-Christian heritage. Given how things have unfolded in the reformed churches over the last fifty or so years, it is imperative that Rome and its sister churches of the East do all within the scope of their human power to rise to this challenge.

Fr Loya is to be commended on his appeal for ecclesial integrity and mutual respect. They are not easy to come by. The historical and political obstacles are formidable, as those laboring in this cause well know. But without them the world will continue to be deprived of the fullness of the Body of Christ. And we will continue struggling in a sea of resentment, instead of rejoicing beside the sea of glass.

Tim Kelleher is the new media editor for First Things. Republished with permission of the author.

For further reading:

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


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

May 15, 2012

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


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

November 17, 2011

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Eastern Congregation, greets Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the Secretary of that Congregation, at the Abp's episcopal ordination in 2009.

Catholic News Service is now reporting that the Vatican’s ban on Eastern Catholic Churches ordaining married men to the priesthood in areas outside their traditional homelands was “reconfirmed” in 2008. In an article published Nov. 16, 2011, reporting on recent statements by an American Melkite Catholic Bishop on married clergy, Catholic News Service quoted the current Secretary of the Eastern Congregation (a department of the Roman Curia):

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS [Catholic News Service] in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, “but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops’ conference, a dispensation can be given” allowing the ordination.

This confirms a 2010 report by the Italian news service Adista:

On 20 February 2008, the regular meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the validity of the norm of a binding obligation of celibacy for priests of Eastern Catholic Churches who exercise the ministry outside the canonical territory. The pope, however, has given the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the authority to give a dispensation from this norm, with the approval of the Episcopal Conference in question. (Text here, translated from Italian.)

Based on this latest statement from Rome published by Catholic News Service, it appears that the occasional ordinations of married men to the priesthood by some Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA and Canada (by Ukrainian, Romanian and Ruthenian Catholic Bishops) were authorized by “individual” papal dispensations, granted through the Eastern Congregation. Prior to this, it was thought that only the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh had to get such dispensations as they were required to insert a canon requiring papal dispensations for ordaining married men  in their 1999 Particular Law. An earlier 2003 statement from a representative of the Eastern Congregation, published in America Magazine, similarly reconfirmed the Ban but did not specifically mention the dispensations.

It is also not known what the criteria would be that might result in a negative reply to a dispensation request. Some have speculated that one reason for the dispensations is to discourage married men from transferring from the Latin Rite who might also eventually seek ordination.

As Archbishop Cyril Vasil explained, these dispensations are given by the Eastern Congregation “in consultation with the [Latin Rite’s] national bishops’ conference.” In some countries (such as Canada and the USA), the national bishops’ conferences apparently do not object. The publication Program of Priestly Formation, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains how this works in the USA:

An applicant for the priesthood must testify that he is not married or, if he is married, he has the approval of the Holy See. If an Eastern Catholic candidate is married, a certificate of marriage is required along with the written consent of his wife (CCEO, c. 769§1, 2°) and the approval of the Apostolic See…” (Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition, 2006, paragraph 66)

However, the situation is different in other countries. For example, in Italy, the Italian Episcopal Conference has vetoed allowing married Eastern Catholic priests from serving in Romanian Catholic parishes there. The bottom line seems to be how the Latin Rite bishops’ conference in each country feels about the issue. It is believed that currently the only Western countries where Eastern Catholic Bishops are permitted to ordain married men to the priesthood with these dispensations from the Eastern Congregation are the USA, Canada and Australia.

This latest Catholic News Service report also noted that some Eastern Catholic bishops dispute the Ban:

Eastern Catholic bishops say the Second Vatican Council’s call to respect the traditions and disciplines of the Eastern churches, and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches affirmation of that call, in effect nullifies the ban, or at the very least makes the ban a “disputed question” and therefore not binding.

Cardinal Antonios Naguib has asked Pope Benedict XVI to remove the canonical ban forbidding Coptic Catholics from ordaining married priests in Western lands

However, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib acknowledged the canonical restriction in a 2011 interview:

“We are one in the faith, one in the highest authority, the Holy Father,” Cardinal Naguib explained. As with other Eastern Rite churches, the Coptic Catholic Church has a different historical, spiritual and patristic heritage than the Latin Rite that leads to some differences in church tradition and law, Cardinal Naguib explained, including married priests. But canon law only allows married priests to serve in Egypt, and the priests serving the diaspora around the world must be celibate, he said.

The Coptic Catholic Church has appealed to Rome to lift that rule….

This echoed a request listed in the Final List of Propositions sent to Pope Benedict XVI from the Synod of Catholic Bishops for the Middle East (dated 23 October 2010) and published by the Holy See Press Office:

Propositio 23
Married Priests

Clerical celibacy has always and everywhere been respected and valued in the Catholic Churches, in the East as in the West. Nonetheless, with a view to the pastoral service of our faithful, wherever they are to be found, and to respect the traditions of the Eastern Churches, it would be desirable to study the possibility of having married priests outside the patriarchal territory.

While the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (the Eastern Catholic canon law) honors the Eastern tradition of a married clergy:

[T]he hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor. Canon 373

Canon 758 §3 refers to “special norms” established by the “Apostolic See” (the Pope) for ordaining married men — a reference to the Ban:

The particular law of each Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders.

It is not known why the Coptic Catholic Church has not sought dispensations from Rome to ordain married men in the USA. This might be because they do not have their own hierarchy in the USA and their faithful are under the authority of the local Latin Rite Bishop.

Also this week, Italian news editor Sandro Magister wrote about tensions in the Catholic Church over married priests in an article entitled Married and Ordained: The Minor Leagues of the Catholic Clergy. In it, Magister noted comments made by Pope Benedict XVI at a general conference on November 9, 2011 about priestly celibacy. Commenting on Psalm 119, the Pope said:

Well, the Levites, mediators of the sacred and of the divine blessing, unlike the other Israelites could not own possessions, this external sign of blessing and source of subsistence. Totally dedicated to the Lord, they had to live on him alone, reliant on his provident love and on the generosity of their brethren without any other inheritance since God was their portion, God was the land that enabled them to live to the full….

Dear brothers and sisters, these verses are also of great importance for all of us. First of all for priests, who are called to live on the Lord and his word alone with no other means of security, with him as their one possession and as their only source of true life. In this light one understands the free choice of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven in order to rediscover it in its beauty and power.

Magister observes:

If celibate priests have a theological foundation for their free choice, recalled so insistently by the pope, a theological foundation of equal power is nowhere in sight for the married priesthood, although its full validity and dignity have been recognized by Vatican Council II and by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated in 1990.

This is the unresolved contradiction….

But pope Ratzinger has not yet produced an analogous teaching that would also provide a theological foundation for the other form of priesthood present with equal dignity in the Church: that of those who, before being ordained, have been united with their wives in a marriage that is itself a sacramental sign of the marriage between Christ and the Church, of which the priesthood is also a figure.

Magister also mentions the move by some Catholics to make mandatory priestly celibacy an “apostolic doctrine” by citing a “new historical reconstruction”  by writers such as Christian Cochini and Alfons M. Stickler.

The impact of such a development as this on Catholic theology would negatively effect the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck, Orthodox author of the book His Broken Body, comments:

…If this position becomes dominant in Roman Catholic circles, the effect on Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation cannot be ignored.

Fr. Cleenewerck then quotes Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos, of blessed memory, on the importance of this issue:

Very recently, there are disturbing signs of a new effort in Rome itself to claim that sacerdotal celibacy is “an apostolic tradition,” and to suggest that the married priests of the Eastern Churches are not fully canonical. This seems to have begun with the book of Christian Cochini, Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal and to have continued with special reference to the Eastern Churches in a tendentious book of Roman Cholij. The latter book carries a ringing endorsement from Alfons Cardinal Stickler, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church. From such one-sided works, the attempt to present sacerdotal celibacy as an apostolic tradition then began to appear in Vatican documents, such as Pope John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis of 25 March 1992 and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests issued January 1993 by the Vatican Congregation of the Clergy, which actually asserts that “the Church, from apostolic times, has wished to conserve the gift of perpetual continence of the clergy and choose the candidates for Holy Orders from among the celibate faithful.” If this attempt succeeds – and may God not permit it – it would have the gravest consequence for the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

For further reading:

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

Clerical Celibacy: A Matter of Ecclesiastical Discipline or Apostolic Doctrine?

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

The Orthodox Churches and Priestly Celibacy from the Vatican website

The Contribution of the Eastern Catholic tradition to the issue of Clerical Celibacy in the wider Roman Catholic Church

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

Romance Blooms in a Catholic Seminary for Fr. Roman


Melkite Catholic Church to Ordain Married Men to Priesthood in USA — Updated Report

November 5, 2011

Bishop Nicholas Samra was enthroned as Bishop for Melkite Catholics in the USA in August, 2011

Updated November 22, 2011

At his recent enthronement as the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop in the USA, Bishop Nicholas Samra stated that the Melkite Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Pope of Rome) will begin ordaining married men to the priesthood in the USA. While some American Melkite Catholic parishes currently have married priests, nearly all of these married priests were ordained in the Middle East where the Eastern tradition of a married clergy is normative. Instead of ordaining these married men overseas, the plan is now to develop seminary training of qualified Melkite men — both celibate and married — in America.

Bishop Nicholas Samra, Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts made the comment in a dinner speech following his enthronement on August 23, 2011. The Bishop’s speech, newly published in the Melkite journal Sophia, contains the first published public statements by the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (or of any Eastern Catholic Bishop in the USA) of their intention to ordain married men to the priesthood for the American Melkite Church.

Bishop Nicholas, the first American-born Bishop to serve the Melkite Church in the USA, noted that “we are on a shoe-string of clergy to serve our Church as priests.” At present, the American Melkite Eparchy, with 35 parishes and approximately 27,000 members  has only “one priest to be ordained next year.” Worldwide, Melkite Catholics number about 1.6 million and are part of the Melkite Partriarchate of Antioch. The Melkite Catholic Church shares similar traditions with the Antiochian Orthodox Church, but entered communion with Rome in 1729.

Encouraging vocations among his American flock is one of Bishop Nicholas’ goals:

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 Catholic Church.

Bishops at the Enthronement of Melkite Bishop Nicholas Samra in Newton, Massachusetts

Towards the end of his speech, Bishop Nicholas spoke of the need to both study and implement the training of married men to the priesthood in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church so that “hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy”:

God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the 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. The Deacon Formation Program is a good program; however is not the backdoor to the priesthood. 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. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also.

I began my talk with vocations and I end with it also. We need priests for your sanctification and the mysteries of the Church. Seminary formation is a must — please send us vocations. The Church is in our hands, mine and yours. Together we build His Body. [(Sophia, Summer 2011, pp. 8-9; issue released October 2011)]

The Sophia article did not discuss the history of earlier restrictions on the ordaining of married men to the priesthood in America. Bans on ordaining married men to the priesthood for Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA were imposed by Rome in the last century, but enforcement of the Ban has waned in the past fifteen years causing many Catholics, both Eastern and Latin Rite, to wonder if the Ban was still in effect. Earlier, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Melkite Church ordained five married men for service in America as priests but the ordinations were ruled illicit by Rome and their priestly faculties were suspended. However, a 1996 ordination of a married Melkite deacon to the priesthood was noted by the press but was considered “hardly a trend” with no recorded public reaction by Rome. At the time, the 1996 ordination was seen by some as “testing the waters,” but there was no push by the previous American Melkite Bishops to encourage married men to enter seminary. Nonetheless, the Melkite Catholic Church has long felt that their right to have a married clergy is an important part of their canonical tradition. Since 1996, a few married men were ordained as priests for the American Melkite Church, but not by Bishop Nicolas Samra’s predecessors. Instead, these ordinations took place back in the Middle East in the home territory of the Melkite Church where the Ban does not apply and the newly ordained priests returned to America to serve Melkite parishes.

However, this latest move by the Melkite Catholic Church in the USA should not be interpreted as a revolt against Rome. In a subsequent news report based on this story, Catholic News Service confirmed that even though the Ban is still in effect, dispensations from it are made available. The CNS news correspondent in Rome contacted the Eastern Congregation in Rome and received this explanation:

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS [Catholic News Service] in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, “but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops’ conference, a dispensation can be given” allowing the ordination.

Based on this latest statement from Rome published by Catholic News Service, it appears that the occasional ordinations of married men to the priesthood by some Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA and Canada (by Ukrainian, Romanian and Ruthenian Catholic Bishops) were authorized by “individual” papal dispensations, granted through the Eastern Congregation. Prior to this, it was thought that only the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh had to get such dispensations as they were required to insert a canon requiring papal dispensations for ordaining married men  in their 1999 Particular Law. An earlier 2003 statement from a representative of the Eastern Congregation, published in America Magazine, similarly reconfirmed the Ban but did not specifically mention the dispensations.

It is also not known what the criteria would be that might result in a negative reply to a dispensation request. Some have speculated that one reason for the dispensations is to discourage married men from transferring from the Latin Rite who might also eventually seek ordination.

As Archbishop Cyril Vasil explained, these dispensations are given by the Eastern Congregation “in consultation with the [Latin Rite’s] national bishops’ conference.” In some countries (such as Canada and the USA), the national bishops’ conferences apparently do not object. The publication Program of Priestly Formation, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains how this works in the USA:

An applicant for the priesthood must testify that he is not married or, if he is married, he has the approval of the Holy See. If an Eastern Catholic candidate is married, a certificate of marriage is required along with the written consent of his wife (CCEO, c. 769§1, 2°) and the approval of the Apostolic See…” (Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition, 2006, paragraph 66)

Presumably, the Melkite Church will be following this procedure when married men are ordained to the priesthood in the future.

The situation is not the same in other Western countries. For example, in Italy, the Italian Episcopal Conference has vetoed allowing married Eastern Catholic priests from serving in Romanian Catholic parishes there. The bottom line seems to be how the Latin Rite bishops’ conference in each country feels about the issue. For further on these most recent developments, see the article : Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Eastern Married Clergy in Western Lands is Not Dead.

Bishop Nicholas’ public call for married men to be included in the call for priestly vocations for American Melkite Catholics is a first and is likely to signal greater acceptance of married clergy for Eastern Catholics in the USA. Greater acceptance of married Eastern Catholic clergy by Rome in Western lands may also now be occurring. Will it lead to a full repeal of the Ban on the ordaining of married men in Eastern Catholic Churches outside their traditional territories? Only time will tell.

For further reading:

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

Monogamy, Celibacy, and Fatherhood: Meditations on Catholic Priesthood

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

Romance Blooms in a Catholic Seminary for Fr. Roman


Repost: Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

October 22, 2011

An earlier version of this article appeared soon after this blog began. It has since been greatly expanded with new research and recent developments noted. I beg the indulgence of long-time readers for this re-post for newer readers.

If, in the future, there is a reunited Church: Could Orthodox and Catholic parishes coexist with different disciplines — celibacy & married clergy?

The Question:

Catholic and Orthodox theologians and Bishops have been dialoguing with the eventual goal of solving their respective religious differences and working towards a reunion of the two Churches. There are varying views as to how successful the talks are proceeding or as to what issues must be resolved and which may not be as important. While the task might seem impossible to achieve, the doctrinal differences are not the focus of this article. Instead, imagine that the differences have somehow been solved or reconciled. Now, it’s time to live together.  How will the two Churches’ differing views regarding priesthood and celibacy fit into this equation? Could they coexist?

The Problem:

The normative Roman Catholic position is that only single men can be ordained to the priesthood. Likewise, the Orthodox have celibate clergy, but they are usually required to take monastic orders, to fill the family void. However, Orthodox Bishops will also ordain married men to the priesthood. (Neither Church allows single men who have been ordained to later marry.) In a reunited Church, could Orthodox and Catholic parishes live side by side with people possibly transferring between parishes, one ordaining married men to the priesthood and one limiting it only to unmarried, single men?

A Microcosm of the Problem and its History

This tension has actually existed inside Catholicism itself. Many people are unaware that the Catholic Church actually has two disciplines regarding married priests. The Eastern Catholic Churches (Churches which, for the most part, reunited with Rome after breaking communion with Orthodoxy) actually permit a married clergy. One reason this is not as well known is because Eastern Catholics make up only about 2 per cent of the entire Catholic Church.

So we can take a look at the history and current status of these two disciplines already existing in the Catholic Church and this can help us evaluate whether the two disciplines could coexist if Catholicism and Orthodoxy were to reunite someday.

This difference in discipline already existing in the Catholic Church is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” …

1580 In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities….

Another reason the Eastern Catholic discipline of a married priesthood is relatively unknown is because it is generally restricted to the traditional homelands of these Eastern Catholic Churches. This can be seen in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (the Eastern Catholic canon law). While Canon 373 states:

[T]he hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor.

Canon 758 §3 refers to “special norms” established by the “Apostolic See” (the Pope) for ordaining married men:

The particular law of each Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders.

In practice, this means that according to Eastern Catholic canon law there is no restriction on Eastern Catholic Bishops ordaining married men to the priesthood in their home territories (Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, the Middle East, etc.), but there are restrictions in place outside of their homelands.

This issue of restrictions on ordaining married men to the priesthood in other lands became a burning issue for some Eastern Catholics in the USA from about 1890-1935. But, first, a little more historical background of how this all developed.

Most of the different Eastern Catholic Churches arose in the 16th – 18th centuries as groups of Orthodox Christians decided to enter communion with Rome. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, for example, concluded a formal accord called the Union of Brest in 1596. One point of the agreement was:

9. That the marriages of priests remain intact, except for bigamists.

In Eastern Europe, even today, a married priesthood is the norm for Ukrainian, Ruthenian, and Romanian Eastern Catholics, with thousands of married priests in the Eastern Catholic homelands. Married clergy is of absolutely no issue in areas where Eastern Christians predominate

But, when Eastern Catholics started emigrating to the United States from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the latter part of the 19th century, they discovered that the idea of a married clergy was offensive to Roman Catholic Bishops and priests in the USA. The official website of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh recounts the Vatican’s intervention to solve this conflict:

With tensions between the American Catholic bishops and the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful escalating, the Holy See in Rome intervened. In an attempt to clarify the situation, on October 1, 1890, the Holy See issued a decree concerning Greek Catholics in the United States. This decree instructed the newly arriving Greek Catholic priests to obtain jurisdiction from and to function under the authority of the local Roman Catholic bishop. Additionally, the decree stated all Greek Catholic priests functioning in America should be celibate. All married priests, according to the decree, should be recalled to Europe.

Rather than resolving the situation, the Vatican’s decree only served to exacerbate the relationship between the bishops, the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful. Inevitably, these differences between the American Catholic hierarchy and the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful ended in a schism.

At a meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Father Alexis Toth was harshly rebuffed by the Roman Catholic Bishop John Ireland. The parish had no services that paschal season. Later that year Father Toth and his parish of 361 souls petitioned the Russian Orthodox bishop, residing at that time in San Francisco, to accept them under his jurisdiction. After investigations and exchanges of visits, this was accomplished. A zealous missionary, Father Toth, by the time of his death in 1909, brought fifteen Carpatho-Rusin parishes with over twenty thousand souls into the Orthodox Church.

An Eastern Catholic clergy meeting in 1890. Fr. Alexis Toth is seated third from the left.

The move to Orthodoxy, spurred on by the confrontation between Archbishop John Ireland and Fr. Alexis Toth (exacerbated when Ireland was told that Toth was a widower), laid a foundation for the Orthodox Church in America. Ea Semper, a 1907 papal decree, “reaffirmed celibacy” in the US Ruthenian Church. It is estimated by one source that by 1916, 163 Eastern Catholic parishes with 100,000 faithful had gone over to Orthodoxy. (St. Alexis Toth was canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1994.)

The Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church website details another schism over enforced celibacy by the Holy See on Greek

St Alexis Toth, canonized by the Orthodox Church in America in 1994, is viewed as helping to establish Orthodoxy in America

[Byzantine] Catholics, starting in the late 1920s:

In 1929, the Holy See issued a decree entitled Cum Data Fuerit. In this decree, the Holy See reiterated its previous position that the Greek Catholic clergy in America must be celibate….When the Holy See rebuffed all appeals, Bishop Takach insisted that the celibacy decree must be obeyed. Using the celibacy decree as a rallying cry allegedly to safeguard traditional Eastern traditions, some priests and laity started an open campaign against him and attacked his authority to govern the Exarchate. Many parishes were drawn into the conflict and numerous legal battles for control of church properties ensued. Regrettably, the conflict produced a schism within the Exarchate and led to the formation of the Independent Greek Catholic Church.

A contemporary analysis of the conflict appeared in Time magazine in 1937, and reflected back to its beginnings :

With the growth of Greek Rite Catholicism in the U. S.—it now numbers 1,000,000 faithful with 300 churches—the Roman hierarchy instituted a subtle campaign to Latinize its conduct. Feeling that a minority of married priests might cause envy among celibate Catholic priests, Pope Pius X in 1907 issued an apostolic letter enjoining celibacy upon all priests laboring in the U. S. In the same year he established the first U. S. Greek Catholic diocese, sent Bishop Stephen Soter Ortynski to fill it and enforce the order. So incensed were the Uniats—claiming that by the Treaty of Ungvar in 1646 their clergy had been granted the right to marry before ordination — that Carpatho-Russian and Ukrainian members of the church snubbed the papal letter. It remained unenforced.

Last week in Pittsburgh this old battle was once more raging. Its centre was the person of the fat, gimlet-eyed, Carpathian-born bishop of the Carpatho-Russians, Rt. Rev. Basil Takach. Sent to the U. S. in 1924, Bishop Takach had won instant approval by ordaining married men to the priesthood. But in 1929 another apostolic letter was issued by the Vatican, this one forbidding bishops to appoint married priests to Greek Rite posts. Bishop Takach obeyed the order, but in Bridgeport, Conn., a priest dared not only oppose it but circularized Greek Catholic churches to stir up more opposition. This priest, a widower named Rev. Orestes Peter Chornock, was thereupon removed from his rich, comfortable Bridgeport parish, rusticated to a tiny church in Roebling, N. J.

Last week, Bishop Takach, sitting tight in his episcopal residence in smoky Munhall, Pa., had a full-fledged revolt on his hands. Father Chornock was named bishop of a new, dissident faction, to be called the Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholic Diocese of the Eastern Rite, U. S. A. Bishop-elect Chornock’s diocese was born when 36 of Bishop Takach’s priests petitioned him to appeal the second papal order. Father Chornock and five other clergy were excommunicated by the Vatican. By last week their faction had grown to include 40 parishes, drew 300 lay and clerical delegates to a convention in Pittsburgh.

In 1929, Rome issued the document Cum Data Fuerit which forbade the ordination of married men to the priesthood in Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA.

The “celibacy wars” of this period are chronicled in depth in the bookHistorical Mirror (pp. 127-304), compiled by Fr. John Slivka, one of the last married men ordained to the priesthood in the Byzantine Catholic Church before the 1929 ban. The “Independent Greek Catholic Church,” led by Metropolitan Orestes Chornock,  was received into Orthodoxy by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1938 and is now known as the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (ACROD). The story is told from the ACROD point of view in the book Good Victory by Fr. Lawrence Barriger. Barriger’s book reproduces some information not found in Fr. Slivka’s book, including a document from the Roman Curia in 1934 explaining why the Pope was insisting on the ban on married clergy in the USA. The Cardinal in charge of the Oriental Congregation wrote:

This regulation [re: celibacy] arose not now, but anew, from the peculiar conditions of the Ruthenian population in the United States of America. There it represents an immigrant element and a minority, and it could not, therefore, pretend to maintain there its own customs and traditions which are in contrast with those which are the legitimate customs and traditions of Catholicism in the United States, and much less to have there a clergy which could be a source of painful perplexity or scandal to the majority of American Catholics….As regards their particular canonical discipline, the Holy See could not have affirmed its integral application at all times and in all places without taking into account the different exigencies and circumstances. Thus one can well understand how a married clergy, permitted in those places where the Greek Ruthenian Rite originated and constitutes a predominant element, could hardly be advisable in places where the same Rite has been imported and finds an environment and mentality altogether different. (Full text of letter can be found here.)

After this, the idea of a married clergy in the Eastern Catholic Churches was seen by some as something that was being phased out, even in the home territories. For example, in the 1950s Australian priests Rumble and Carty wrote the following in the popular apologetics series Radio Replies, (published with a preface written by Fulton J. Sheen):

These [Eastern Catholic] churches are gradually leaning towards the complete acceptance of celibacy, just as it prevails in the Western Church. Though the Holy See has not imposed the discipline of the Latin Church upon them, they are gradually imposing it as an obligation upon themselves….Today the great majority of priests in the Uniate [Eastern Catholic] Churches do not avail themselves of the right to marry before ordination. They voluntarily choose to remain single, and being ordained as single men, adopt celibacy as the law of their future lives. The time will certainly come when these Eastern Uniate Churches will wish to have the full discipline of the Latin Church in regard to celibacy extended to them also….[M]any of the Uniate Eastern Churches were for long periods separated from Rome by various Eastern heresies, and returned to unity with Rome only after having contracted habits rife amongst Eastern heretics. The Pope insisted that, on returning to the unity of the Catholic Church, they should renounce all heretical elements, and accept everything essential to the Catholic Faith. But in disciplinary matters, he did not desire to impose the full severity of Western regulations suddenly, preferring to lead them gradually to an appreciation of the higher Latin ideals. Provided the Eastern Churches are prepared to accept all the essential things, there is no reason why they should be excluded from the unity of the Church. And granted their submission, it is but reasonable to make allowance for their previous customs, and patiently wait for them to grow into the full discipline of the Church gradually. Of recent years this growth in the direction of a full acceptance of celibacy is most pronounced. (Volume 3, 1183, 1185)

However, this negative view towards a married clergy began to change after one of the decrees of Vatican II affirmed:

[Celibacy] is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches.  (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16)

Still, it seems there is no agreement in the Catholic Church if the Eastern tradition of a married clergy is a “right,” or an exemption which is tolerated. The toleration model is how Radio Replies (Vol. 1, Sec. 1195) presented it in the early 20th century:

1195.    Are there not Oriental Churches united to the Catholic Church, yet without the law of celibacy?

Yes. They have been exempted from the law obliging all Priests of the Latin Rite. The Church has tolerated the ancient custom of marriage in those Eastern Churches which have sought re-union with her, allowing married men to be ordained amongst them, though marriage subsequent to ordination is forbidden.   But in the Western Latin Church the full law must be observed.

Does that view of married priests being an exemption to be tolerated still prevail?

The Post-Vatican II Situation

In 1978, Pope Paul VI wrote Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos V after the Patriarch ordained a married American to serve the Melkite Eparchy (Diocese) in America, while he was visiting in Canada. The Pope termed the ordination “illicit” and the priestly faculties were removed. In the letter, Pope Paul VI asserted what he felt was his right to regulate this tradition and explained that having married priests in America

poses some delicate problems for the Latin-rite community. This is why the Holy See, as your Beatitude has been informed from time to time, has decided, on this particular point, to suspend the application of the general principle of the preservation of the traditions proper to Eastern communities outside their patriarchal territories. [Source, page 41]

Writing in an article in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly in 1986, Melkite priest Fr. Philip Khairallah complained that things were still at an impasse regarding ordaining married men to the priesthood in the USA:

This question has still not been resolved. The five married priests now serving in the Eparchy are held in limbo. They have not officially been given pastoral assignments. Whenever the question has been raised, the answer has been that (1) the Patriarch and his Synod are still dialoguing with Rome, and are waiting a resolution to the problem, or (2) they have to wait until the new Canon Law for the Oriental Churches is promulgated. In ecumenical meetings with the Orthodox, one question is always asked: Why has Rome forbidden the Melkites to live according to their traditions, and if this is what is meant by being in communion with the Church of Rome, then will all the other Orthodox traditions go the same way? (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Fall 1986, Page 210)

It is apparent that if the Eastern Catholic tradition of ordaining married men is a “right,” it is still subject to regulation by the Pope. This can be seen most clearly in what happened to the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church when it canonically sought to restore a married priesthood. In 1998, the Ruthenian Church was set to promulgate, after consultation with Rome, its Particular Law (to be used in conjunction with the Eastern Catholic Canon Law). It received a receptio or approval of the new laws from Rome in July of that year. Statute 44 of the new Law caused great excitement among Byzantine Catholics:

Statute 44 – 1. The Council of Hierarchs of the Metropolia of Pittsburgh notes the very clear direction of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Eastern Churches, canons 373, 28, 39, and 40 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, paragraph 1 of Orientale Lumen, which direct a return to the original patrimony of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Council of Hierarchs also notes that there is currently a married clergy in the Latin Church in the United States, and that it has been implemented without scandal to the faithful of the Latin Church.

2. This same Council of Hierarchs ascertains that the imposition of clerical celibacy introduced by the decree Cum data fuerit and reaffirmed by the decree Qua sollerti are currently in effect for the Ruthenians in the United States.

3. The Council of Hierarchs declares that these special restrictive norms imposed by the Apostolic See are no longer in force and, thus, in the Metropolia of Pittsburgh, marriage is not an impediment to presbyteral orders.

The first news dispatch about the new laws, written by a member of the canonical commission and published by a Byzantine Catholic newspaper in August 1998, was entitled “Married Priesthood Restored to U.S. Byzantine Church.” It gave these reasons for the restoration of the right to ordain married men and also noted the ecumenical implications:

The law concerning married priests is based on the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, Eastern canon law, and the pope’s apostolic letter Orientale lumen, all of which direct a return to their authentic patrimony by the Eastern Catholic churches.

The Council of Hierarchs, in commenting on this restoration of the married priesthood, noted that the retention of the married presbyterate was one of the conditions of the Union of Uzhorod, that the prohibition of married clergy for Eastern Catholics in the United States brought great harm to the church, that there are currently over 100 married Roman Catholic priests serving lawfully in the United States and that there has been no difficulty among the faithful of the Latin church, and, finally, ecumenical considerations vis-a-vis the Orthodox churches. The Byzantine bishops also noted their many efforts and successes in returning to the Eastern patrimony in the areas of liturgy and doctrinal teaching. (emphasis added)

In 1999, Metropolitan Judson of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church promulgated canons which required dispensations from Rome before ordaining married men to the priesthood

However, some inaccurate initial press reactions by news media outside the Byzantine Church suggested a possible “showdown” between the Ruthenian Church and the Vatican and some conservative Catholic groups represented it as a rebellion against Rome. The upshot was that the Vatican withdrew its approval and stopped the promulgation of the “married priest’s statute.” A news report from 1999 explains:

Last year, [Metropolitan Judson] Procyk was set to announce that Rome had approved 50 new canons governing everything from seminary education to sacraments. One would have allowed Byzantine bishops in the United States to ordain married men without special permission.

But a conservative Catholic news organization misinterpreted the change as a revolt against Rome. The Vatican then placed all 50 laws on hold while talks continued between officials of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches and Byzantine canon lawyers from the United States. The Vatican approved the final text this year.

It is speculated that the Eastern (Oriental) Congregation gave the original approval, only to have another section of the Curia in Rome get involved once some negative reactions reached Rome. The final version of the Ruthenian Particular Law, promulgated a year later, removed what had been called “the married priests’ statute” and reaffirmed the right of the Pope to regulate whether married men could be ordained, this time on a case by case basis:

Canon 758 §3 §2. Concerning the admission of married men to the order of the presbyterate, the special norms issued by the Apostolic See are to be observed, unless dispensations are granted by the same See in individual cases.

In the past ten years things seem to be lightening up somewhat. One Eastern Catholic webpage notes a few ordinations of married men (after being vetted by Rome) have occurred in the USA. Many more ordinations have happened in Canada (and a few in the USA) in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Other news reports state these ordinations are “allowed by Rome,” but are done “with little fanfare to avoid attention,”  and “celebrated quietly.” The Melkite Greek Catholic Church ordained one married deacon to the priesthood in 1996 with no public response from Rome.  (See “A Quiet Revolution,” from Catholic World Report, March 1997.) However, subsequent ordinations of married deacons to the priesthood in the American Melkite Church have occurred in the Middle East where the Ban does not apply.

In 1998, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, reversing a previous stance, went on record to state they had no objection to the ministry of married Eastern Catholic priests. Yet, tensions still exist in some places between Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Bishops over this matter. In 2002, the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) asked the Ukrainian Catholic Church to not send any married priests to staff Ukrainian Catholic parishes in Italy because “they would create confusion among our faithful.” Chiesa news reported:

And as long as each group stays in its respective country of origin, it’s okay with the Vatican. But as soon as married Eastern priests emigrate and mingle with the celibates, Rome enters a state of alarm. The Vatican has asked Western bishops to raise a barrier and the CEI did so immediately, as did other European episcopates.

The same source notes a 1998 directive from the Vatican Secretary of State that married Ukrainian Catholic priests leave Poland and return to Ukraine was eventually reversed after interventions by other Cardinals. Helping to resolve that conflict was determining that the historic Ukrainian Catholic territory includes part of what is now Poland (due to border changes over the years), and so it was determined that these married priests were not working outside of their historic homeland after all. That 1998 news report highlighted this issue of “canonical territory,” explaining that

According to canon law for Churches of the Eastern Rite, the ordination of married men is allowed. However, the reported request from the Vatican says that the paragraph of the canon law governing the issue [ordaining married men to the priesthood] is valid only in traditionally Eastern-rite countries, but not in the countries where Eastern-rite Catholics have immigrated.

Accordingly, this later article notes the concept of territory is still considered important:

But the dominant position in the curia remains that of cuius regio eius est religio: no mingling between celibate and married priests in the same territory.

In 2010, Italian news sources were reporting that the Italian Bishops’ Conference was blocking the introduction of married Romanian Catholic priests to serve the estimated 500,000 Romanian Catholics in Italy to “prevent possible confusion among the faithful.” At issue, again, is the concept of “canonical territory.” These news reports also noted that the papal regulation of married clergy in the Eastern Catholic Churches outside of their home territories still remains:

On 20 February 2008, the regular meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the validity of the norm of a binding obligation of celibacy for priests of Eastern Catholic Churches who exercise the ministry outside the canonical territory. The pope, however, has given the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the authority to give a dispensation from this norm, with the approval of the Episcopal Conference in question. (Translated from this Italian news source.)

These more recent events above demonstrate that the conflict between Roman and Eastern Catholics over a married priesthood is not something that belongs to the past, but still has reverberations today.

Recent Calls to Remove the Ban

In 2009, Fr. Lawrence Barriger, writing in the ACROD publication Church Messenger, noted the 80th anniversary of the 1929 Vatican decree Cum Data Fuerit and proposed two things Pope Benedict XVI could do to improve ecumenical relations over this issue:

The tragedy is that Rome, eighty years later, is still unwilling to regard the Byzantine-Rite Catholic Church in the United States as anything but a tolerated Church. In recent years the Byzantine-Rite Church attempted to secure the restoration of the married priesthood in the United States once again. The Vatican reaffirmed the celibacy provision of Cum Data Fuerit by its refusal to act on the request of the Byzantine Church.

If Pope Benedict really wanted to demonstrate his understanding of and regret for the divisions in families and the heartaches that Cum Data Fuerit had caused in the Byzantine Church since 1929 he could do two things. In the external forum he could rescind the excommunication of Metropolitan Orestes Chornock with the admission that his return to Orthodoxy was done out of the love of his Church and people which Rome, wittingly or unwittingly, was in the process of destroying.

Internally the Pope could rescind the celibacy provision of Cum Data Fuerit to demonstrate that Rome no longer regards our Eastern Rite brothers and sisters as unwanted and unloved, subject to the needs and prejudices of the American Roman Catholic Church. Until then we can only conclude that no matter how “Eastern” services appear in the Byzantine Church that it is still fundamentally simply a group of Roman Catholics who have a “different Mass.” (February 22, 2009) p. 4

In 2010, Coptic Catholic Bishop Aziz Mina called for the end of the Ban on ordaining married men outside of traditional Eastern Catholic homelands

In 2010, at the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome, Coptic Catholic Bishop Aziz Mina from Guizeh, Egypt made a call for the end of the Ban on ordaining married men outside of the traditional homelands of the Eastern Catholic Churches. According to Catholic News Service:

The Coptic bishop also asked Pope Benedict XVI to revoke a decision made in the 1930s that Eastern churches can ordain married men only in their traditional homelands.

The Holy See Press Office also reported on Bishop Aziz Mina’s speech on the Vatican website. Proposition 23 from the Final List of Propositions sent to Pope Benedict XVI for the Synod of Catholic Bishops for the Middle East (dated 23 October 2010) included this request:

Propositio 23
Married Priests

Clerical celibacy has always and everywhere been respected and valued in the Catholic Churches, in the East as in the West. Nonetheless, with a view to the pastoral service of our faithful, wherever they are to be found, and to respect the traditions of the Eastern Churches, it would be desirable to study the possibility of having married priests outside the patriarchal territory.

Cardinal Antonios Naguib has asked Pope Benedict XVI to remove the restriction against married Coptic Catholic priests outside of Egypt.

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib referred to this request for permission to ordain married priests for Coptic Catholic parishes in the USA while on a parish visitation in Nashville, Tennessee in July, 2011. The Patriarch explained to the local press that the Coptic tradition allows

married priests. But canon law only allows married priests to serve in Egypt, and the priests serving the diaspora around the world must be celibate.

He added that

The Coptic Catholic Church has appealed to Rome to lift that rule…

It is too early to gauge what the reaction from Pope Benedict XVI will be to this request.

Why are some Eastern Catholics ordaining married men outside their traditional homelands but others aren’t?

UPDATE: November 23, 2011 — For updated information on the Ban and how it is currently applied, see the article: Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Married Men in Western Lands is Not Dead.

So, why are married Eastern Catholic priests starting to appear in some parishes (for example, in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Canada and the USA), but are more closely regulated (for example, in the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh), or are not permitted (for example, the Coptic Catholic Church parishes in the USA or the parishes of the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church in Italy)? This appears to be tied to three factors:

1) The status of the Particular Law for that Eastern Catholic Church

2) Whether that Eastern Catholic Church has its own parallel hierarchy in place

3) And, if that Eastern Catholic Church has its own parallel hierarchy, do the Bishops of that Eastern Catholic Church encounter opposition from the local Latin Rite Bishops?

For example, the Particular Law (an addendum to the Eastern Code of Canons) of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh only applies to the American Church. As noted earlier, the statute requiring dispensations for the ordination of married men was imposed by Rome and made a part of their Particular Law in 1999. This happened after complaints were made by some in the Latin Rite to the earlier version which would have permitted the ordination of married men. Other Eastern Catholic Churches (such as the Ukrainian and Melkite Churches) have their own Particular Laws, but these were formulated inside the traditional homelands and do not address the issue of ordaining married men outside their the homelands. As a result, the Ruthenians in the USA have had the unfortunate experience of having the restriction explicitly spelled out in their canon law.

Parishes of Eastern Catholic Churches which do not have a parallel hierachy in place (such as the Coptic Catholics in the USA or the Romanian Byzantine Catholics in Italy) usually end up following the celibacy rule because their parishes are subject to Latin Bishops. So, Catholic Coptic parishes in the USA become subject to the Ban. With no parallel heirarchy in Italy, the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church ends up being required to only send in celibate priests because their parishes in Italy are overseen by Italy’s Latin Rite Bishops.

The situation is different for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada (UGCC) and the USA as it has its own parallel hierarchy in place. UGCC parishes there are not subject to the Latin Rite Bishops but to their own Ukrainian Catholic Bishops. As noted earlier, some Ukrainian Catholic Bishops have been quietly ordaining married men to the priesthood in UGCC parishes in the USA and Canada. How has this been received by Rome?

In discussing this situation, the Catholic weekly America reported in 2003 that the Vatican is not suspending such married men who are ordained to the priesthood in Western lands:

Despite a rule the Vatican insists is still in force, it has stopped suspending married men ordained to the priesthood for service in the Eastern Catholic churches of North America and Australia. The ordinations are occurring regularly, although they are not great in number, and they are celebrated quietly. “Rome will allow the ordinations, but it does not want a bishop to ordain married men, then splash pictures all over the place,” said the Rev. Kenneth Nowakowski, rector of Holy Spirit Seminary in Ottawa and spokesman for the Ukrainian bishops of Canada.

However, the Ban is viewed as “unchanged”:

Msgr. Lucian Lamza, an official in the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, said on May 22 that the Vatican’s ban on the ordination of married men for the Eastern churches in the West “remains unchanged.” The ordinations “are against the norm,” he said. “But, of course, these priests can validly celebrate the liturgy and sacraments,” since the ordinations are sacramentally valid. He would not discuss the Vatican’s reaction or lack of reaction to the ordinations.

Questions that remain

Can East and West coexist regarding married priests? Certainly, the relationship between the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches on the issue of married clergy has seen an improvement over conditions that obtained throughout most of the 20th century. Still, there are many questions that remain that prevent a clear answer if conditions are such that West and East could peacefully live together with these two traditions in place.

Why must Eastern Catholics still live with restrictive rules regarding ordaining married men in many countries which have a large Roman Catholic presence? Would Orthodox need to live similarly in a reunited Church?

In a reunited Church, would the Latin Church feel a need to ask for special cooperation from the Eastern Churches on this issue? For example, would future candidates for ordination from Eastern Churches in a reunited Church need dispensations from Rome, thus ensuring, for example, that men from Western parishes weren’t going over to the East to get ordained?

Would ordinations of married men in Eastern Churches need to be done quietly? Or, could both Churches (West and East) live side-by-side with the differing traditions without any restrictions?

Finally, would the Orthodox tradition of a married clergy be viewed as a custom that is tolerated and subject to regulation by the Pope, or as a right?

For further reading:

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

Romance Blooms in a Catholic Seminary for Fr. Roman


Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

March 2, 2011

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference

Italian news sources are reporting that the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) has vetoed the idea of allowing married priests of the Romanian Catholic Church (one of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the pope of Rome) to exercise their priestly ministry in Italy.

In an article entitled “Priests of a Lesser God: CEI — New Veto to the Presence of Married Catholic Clergy in Italy,” Italian news service Adista reported obtaining a copy of a confidential letter written last September 13 by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference to Lucian Muresan, Major Archbishop of the Romanian Catholic Church. In it, Cardinal Bugnasco explained the position of the Italian Episcopal Conference regarding not allowing the presence of married Romanian Catholic priests in Italy. (The Romanian Catholic Church follows the Byzantine liturgical rite and retains many customs — such as a married priesthood — similar to Eastern Orthodoxy, from which it broke away in 1698 when it entered union with Rome. It is estimated there are more than half a million Romanian Catholics in Italy.) Cardinal Bagnasco, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 to be President of the CEI, said that the Bishops’ Conference

“after having carefully examined the issue in light of the figures relating to the consistency of the ethnic communities from Eastern European countries and the situation of clergy in the Italian dioceses, believes that, at present and in general, there is not ‘just and reasonable cause’ to justify the granting of the dispensation.”

The letter from the Bishops’ Conference cited the importance of “protecting ecclesiastical celibacy” and the need to “prevent confusion among the faithful.” At issue is the concept that the free exercise of the right of Eastern Catholic Churches to ordain married priests is limited to their “canonical territory” or traditional homelands. Outside of their traditional territories, this right is seen as subject to regulation by the Pope.

Lucian Muresan, Major Archbishop of the Romanian Catholic Church

The Adista news article cited a 2008 meeting of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which affirmed the norm of priestly celibacy for Eastern Catholic priests ordained outside of the traditional “canonical territories” of their respective Churches, unless dispensation is given by the Pope:

“On 20 February 2008, the regular meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the validity of the norm of a binding obligation of celibacy for priests of Eastern Catholic Churches who exercise the ministry outside the canonical territory. The pope, however, has given the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the authority to give a dispensation from this norm, with the approval of the Episcopal Conference in question.” (Text here, translated from Italian.)

For further reading:

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Additional Italian coverage can be found here and here.

UPDATE: November 23, 2011 — For updated information on the Ban and how it is currently applied, see the article: Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Married Men in Western Lands is Not Dead.


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