To understand the import of this story, it is preceded by a background of the problem. Otherwise, go down to the next section for the report from the Synod of Middle Eastern Bishops.
Earlier I blogged on the problems still existing in some places where Eastern Catholic Bishops experience restrictions on ordaining married men to the priesthood outside of their traditional homelands. Traditionally, the Eastern approach has been to ordain both married and celibate men to the priesthood and this tradition still exists in the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The various Eastern Catholic Churches which left their Mother Churches to enter union with Rome (generally from the 1500s to the 1700s) were guaranteed the right to maintain their tradition of a married clergy. However, when Eastern Catholics started emigrating outside of their homelands to Western lands they found that most Roman Catholic Bishops were not welcoming of married priests. Some were ordered to go back to where they had come from and eventually Rome was persuaded to restrict the ordaining of married men to “the old country.”
This “Ban” has not always been successful as some Eastern Catholic Bishops have imported married priests from Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania and other Eastern countries. The Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, which is the only self-governing Eastern Catholic Church in the USA, was forced by Rome in 1999 to put a clause into its Particular Law that it would have to get dispensations from Rome before it would ordain any married men as priests.
Some other Eastern Catholic Bishops have started ordaining married men in some areas but it’s not clear what Rome’s take is on this development. A 2003 America article carried a statement that such ordinations went against canon law:
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.
But, for many years no suspensions of married priests by Eastern Catholic Bishops operating without Vatican sanction have occurred.
Some have speculated that the right of Eastern Catholic Churches to ordain married men to the priesthood in the West is viewed of lesser importance by Rome (and thus the continued Ban) due to the drive by some in the Latin Rite for a married priesthood. From this point of view, opening the door to a married clergy in the Eastern Catholic Churches might bolster support for further criticisms in the Western Church.
Historically, the Ban has contributed to thousands of defections to Orthodoxy among Eastern Catholics and has also had an ecumenical impact. Some Orthodox have called upon Pope Benedict XVI to withdraw the Ban and apologize for its effects. (See, for example, “The Eightieth Anniversary of Cum Data Fuerit,” p. 4 of The Church Messenger, published by the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese.)
The Call to End “the Ban” at the Roman Synod of Middle Eastern Bishops
This month the Middle Eastern Bishops are participating in a Synod in Rome. A common theme brought up by the Eastern Catholic Bishops is for greater recognition of their rights. From Josephus at Byzantine, TX comes this report from Catholic News Service reports on speeches made on October 12, 2010:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The vast majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches, and their bishops spoke loudly at the Vatican, asking for greater respect and a higher profile for Eastern Catholics.
Reflecting the Catholic population of the region, 140 of the 185 voting members of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East come from the Eastern Catholic churches, and several of them addressed the synod Oct. 12.
Not only did they ask for recognition of their rights, they also emphasized the work they need to do to strengthen the Christian identity of their faithful, preserve their heritage and end a sense of rivalry that can exist among Catholics of different rites.
Coptic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Guizeh, Egypt, said that especially when there are more faithful of an Eastern church living outside than inside the church’s territory, “it is not entirely logical that some faithful who belong to a ‘sui iuris’ church have no relationship with the church they belong to, other than liturgically.”
“My request is that the patriarch be granted personal jurisdiction over the faithful of his church wherever they might be,” he said.
At present, many Eastern Catholics living outside of their home territories are under the care of Latin Rite Bishops unless an Eastern Catholic hierarchy has been set up.
Bishop Aziz Mina went on to request that Pope Benedict withdraw the Ban on ordaining married men:
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 has also reported on Bishop Aziz Mina’s speech on the Vatican website.
It’s too early to gauge any reaction to the Bishop’s request. Hopefully, the time has come for an end to the Ban. Would it be too much to also ask for an apology for the hurt caused by the imposition of this Ban on various Eastern Catholic Churches, especially in North America during the twentieth century?
For further reading: