Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

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.

45 Responses to Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

  1. Mitch says:

    Sad. Especially since much of Italy was eastern rite at one point. Thank goodness the latin rite bishops in the US are more open to other legitimate traditions of the Church. As a Latin Rite-er my self I find this disappointing. I hope for reunion someday but at the same time I doubt it will ever happen, especially if Latin Rite Bishops keep doing the exact same things as before expecting a different result.

    • Byzcat says:

      Reunion? The Eastern Catholics are in full communion with Rome. The Roman Rite is only one of 23 valid Rites in the Catholic Church. I think you are confusing us with the Orthodox.

      • Ronaldo says:

        This is political hypocrisy. Eastern Churches are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church yet their married priests would not be allowed to say mass in Italy. Funny because that was the same reason why the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox separated. The former refuse to acknowledge the validity of the married priest of the early Bulgarian Church.

  2. John says:

    How incredibly disappointing. I admit to harboring the suspicion that this decision was based less on deep pastoral love for the people of God, and much more on considerations of control and authority, and on fear of losing same. One of the comments in the Italian link points out that there are already many married priests serving the Romanian community in Italy. What are they supposed to do? Pack up and clear out?

    I am Eastern Orthodox and desperately desire reunion with the Bishop of Rome and his flock. But… same old, same old. Reminders such as these help to keep us alert – and we are VERY alert when we see actions that don’t correspond to the soothing rhetoric.

  3. […] 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 entitle … Read More […]

  4. Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

    As in the days of Pope Pius XI’s 1929 decree “Cum data fuerit” which forbade the sending of married priests to serve in Greek Catholic Churches, we witness once again the moral failure of the Latin Catholic hierarchy in a particular country to respect the traditions of their Eastern Catholic brethren. This is a travesty of justice which should rightly – and flagrantly – be ignored by the Eastern Catholic hierarchy.

  5. Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

    One further comment –

    And what hope is there now of any union with the Orthodox in light of the sectarian behavior of the Italian Bishop’s Conference? Do they really believe that the Orthodox will accept such a restriction in their ministry – the imposition of a Latin sui juris discipline on their churches?

    It is as though the martyrdom of a multitude of Greek Catholics for their union with Rome is not enough to earn a small measure of equal treatment by the Latin hierarchy in Italy. While these Italian hierarchs were serving openly and freely nestled in the comfort of their rectories, the Greek Catholic faithful were holding services in their homes under the very real threat of martyrdom by the Communists.

  6. Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

    What would be a welcome – and very visible sign of the degree of seriousness on the part of Pope Benedict vis-a-vis Catholic-Orthodox unity -would be to have Pope vacate this decision by the Conference.

    Any failure on his part to act here in a decisively supportive way of the Romanian Greek Catholic faithful and the unique discipline of the Eastern Churches will undermine efforts to achieve East-West unity and do serious damage to our communion.

    Christ said, when you do things or do not do things to the weakest of His brethren, it is done unto Him.

  7. rosanne santos says:

    Each time a cleric puts celibacy rules above having enough priests to provide Eucharist and sacraments to the faithful, he obstructs the Word of God and Christ’s Real Presence. Further he suggests that Christ is not really present in Eucharist for, if he believed Christ was present, he would sacrifice the celibacy rule and not Eucharist. 50,000 churches and 100,000 missions have no priest due to a world-wide shortage of priests.

  8. Peter says:

    With all love and respect to my Eastern Catholic brethren, how long will you agree to remain second class citizens in “communion” with Rome? Come home to the Holy Orthodox Church.

    To the Eastern Catholic Deacon, we are alive to Rome’s duplicity brother. We know them of old. They will need more than soothing rhetoric to inspire us to forget 1,000 years of murder and treachery.

    • orthocath says:

      Peter, I understand your sentiment and this incident is a troublesome issue. Actions do speak louder than rhetoric. But, there are sins on both side of the schism between East and West. We should not let the sins of the past hold us prisoner. We ought to seek forgiveness from each other and not hold onto these memories.

      • Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

        Agreed, Ortho. There is certainly more than enough on both sides for which we must all repent. But just when one hoped that we were moving in a positive direction, an event like this one occurs and it is 1929 all over again. As the adage goes, those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

  9. What other profession on Earth can you not practice in a different country based on whether or not you are married? Doctors, lawyers, and professors may have to take a test or a class or two to work in a different country, but it is strange to say that you are a Catholic priest in one country, but you can’t practice in another country–ever–because of your maritial status.

    Roman Catholic bishops (Bishop Ireland for example) in America had the same policy in the 19th century regarding incoming Ukrainian immigrants and their priests. They would not allow married priests to do their jobs…the result was a lot of Ukrainian Catholics became Orthodox.

    Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the west…I do not know why they keep treating it as if it were an issue of Doctrine.

    • Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

      Pio – excellent points all.

    • MBd says:

      “Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the west…I do not know why they keep treating it as if it were an issue of Doctrine”

      I’m a roman catholic and i have the same complain that you have. I mean, we’re always told that “priestly celibacy isn’t a doctrine,but a discipline”.Yet these people take it as a doctrine. I kinda feel “cheated” in a way cause i feel some of them lie to the world by saying that.

      just 1 suggestion for my eastern catholic brethren… why not “rebel” a little bit and disobey the “law” by keeping their tradition of ordaining married men to the priesthood and taking the case to the Pope???I mean, what can they do besides blabbing? send the police to all the seminaries?

  10. Italian-American Byzantine says:

    There is a rather large presence of Italo-Albanian Byzantine Catholics in southern Italy. They have two diocese. I believe that there are at least some married priests serving this community. Does this decision also apply to them?

    • orthocath says:

      No. It only applies to the Romanian Catholics. There was a similar conflict with the Ukrainian Catholics about 10 years ago and I believe they still have the same restrictions in Italy.

  11. Fred says:

    How have married Romanian priests been stripped of their ability to exercise their priestly ministry? I do not believe that is an accurate portrayal of the situation.

    • orthocath says:

      They are being asked not to come to Italy to serve as priests.

      • Fred says:

        That’s a little back peddling, I guess that is a good thing. Asked not to come is much softer wording than stripped of their ability to exercise their priestly ability, as this would imply loss of jurisdiction, or so it seems to me. It would also be tantamount to being kicked out of the country. However, I also see no place where evidence has been given to show that they have been asked not to come to Italy to serve as priests by the bishop’s conference.

  12. Fr. Joseph Thomas, BSO St. Basil's Seminary 30 East St says:

    Two points: 1. These “arguments” of the Italian Conference were the very same ones made generations ago by the American Roman bishops, leading to the Vatican’s same prohibition in this country. That prohibition is now all but a dead letter, mainly because, as a now retired bishop once told me, the American Roman bishops no longer have an objection.

    2. To Orthocath and others of similar thought: unjust as this situation may be, there have been similar disputes between East and West throughout the first millennium, when there was still basic unity and inter-communion. In the end, this fact remains: even logically speaking, one simply cannot be separated from “the first among equals” [Orthodox expression] and be in the right place. The answer? Return to where you belong and — if necessary, as in the first millennium — struggle from within rather then carp from outside.

    • Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

      Amen, Father! We must bear the cross of our Catholicity, even when that means suffering unjustly at the hands of our brethren. The example of Christ teaches us this. He stayed and preached in Israel even when the religious authorities treated Him unjustly and persecuted Him.

      I believe in the Petrine ministry, which makes the pain of events like this even more exquisite. I hope that the Holy Father makes a personal commitment to right a grave wrong.

    • But why do Roman Bishops get to object to the practices of the Eastern Catholic Churchs in the first place?

      And If we are to return to the unity of the first millennium, the Western part of the Church will recognize the married priesthood of the east won’t it? A married clergy will be allowed? I don’t think we can arrive at unity unless the issues are clear first.

      • Fred says:

        They are not objecting to the practices of the Eastern Catholic Churches. They are not granting a dispensation to allow them to conduct ordinations in their canonical territory. Their reasons include protecting their own tradition of clerical celibacy and preventing confusion amongst the laity.

        I’m not saying I agree with it or with their reasons, merely that that is what actually happened.

      • I thought that the Roman Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church (for example) were two seperate jurisdictions within the universal church….how do RC bishops get to make these decisions over sections of territory. In the U.S., the Eparchies of the UC Church and the Archdioces of the RC Church occupy the same land, but are distinct…how is this not the case in Italy???

    • orthocath says:

      Thank you, Father, for your comment. The “Vatican prohibition” you refer to still has effects today. For example, the Ruthenian Church in the US must get dispensations from Rome for any ordinations of married men. So far, I believe, only one married candidate has been ordained for the Eparchy of Parma. As to ‘returning to where we belong’: I doubt that many Orthodox would take that suggestion seriously. Besides the doctrinal issues which were even more solidified on the Catholic side by Vatican I (and II) regarding the role of the Pope, there is no way that Orthodox would subject themselves to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which requires papal approval of all Bishops, even those from Patriarchal and Major Archbishop Churches (see canons 181-184 of CCEO). Things are much different now than in the first millennium.

    • John says:

      Thank you for your concern and the logic lesson, Fr. Joseph Thomas BSO. I can feel the pastoral love and understanding. But I am not carping. I am exactly where I belong, though I do not deserve to be here: in the Church, the Body of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. This is the place to which my Lord and Savior has brought me – against all odds – for which I drop to my knees in tears of joy and cry “Δόξα τω Θεώ!”…

  13. orthocath says:


    That’s not what the Italian news article says. See:

    It can be translated online through various sources. According to this article (and others published in Italy), the CEI does not wanted married Romanian Catholic priests sent to Italy. As to your first note, I never said that the Romanian Catholic priests were stripped of their priestly ministry. I said they were asked not to exercise it there.

  14. Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

    Fred wrote:

    “They are not objecting to the practices of the Eastern Catholic Churches. They are not granting a dispensation to allow them to conduct ordinations in their canonical territory.”

    Sorry – is there a concrete difference in this case? The faithful need priests and the majority of priests who would be available are married.

    But let us assume for a moment that the situation is reversed. Latin Catholics have set up a jurisdiction in what is the traditional patriarchal territory of an Eastern Catholic Church. The Synod of Bishops meet and decide that, it is perhaps pastorally unwise for the Eastern Catholic faithful to be exposed to the norm of a celibate-only clergy…the practice of a jurisdiction which exclude married men from consideration for the ordained ministry of presbyter at the parish level which is so contrary to common practice at the parish level of Eastern Churches. The faithful may become scandalized and start to question their own discipline of allowing married men to serve in this capacity. It will be too confusing for them.

    So the Synod votes and declares that the Latin Church may only send married priests (and there ARE a growing number) to their parishes in the traditional Patriarchal jurisdiction. No celibates – unless they are monks or bishops are allowed to minister to the Latin Catholic faithful.

    Absurd? Incongruous with our Catholic Communion and with the charity we should show one another?

    Absolutely. And this is precisely the behavior we have seen with the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference.

    • Mitch says:

      Perhaps that is exactly what the Romanian Church should do for Romania. It would bring to the front the ridiculousness of the Italian Bishops position. The Synod could stipulate that the requirement for married only priests will expire when Italy’s requirement expires. Perhaps that could start a serious talk about this issue between the Pope and the various Patriarchs, metropolitans, major archbishops, etc. of the eastern Churches on how to handle the issue of married priests in traditionally Latin-rite regions.

    • Michael David says:

      Traditional, the Eastern Churches require that men being ordained are either married, or – if celibate – have taken monastic vows, and are attached to a monastery. Although there are exceptions, in general the practice of celibacy is seen as part of a particular context – monastic life – rather than as simply part of the priesthood, per se.

      I agree that if it is seen as scandalous to have married Eastern rite clergy serving outside of their traditional areas, there should be a similar restriction placed on secular priests in areas where a married clergy is traditional.

  15. Hi there!
    the author of this blog asked me by mail to write something about the article i wrote on adista about the marrie catholic priests.
    I apologize in advance for my english. I speak and write english just a little. But i will try to explain as well as i can.
    Adista is a press agency born in 1967 after the Council. We are catholic and not catholic, and we try to do news on politics and religious things. we are a little independent agency, but we are some famous in the religiou information world. If we wrote something not correct, sure bishops or catholic church or people were informed and could complain and ask us to remove what we wrote on internet (and what we publish weekly, cause we have a journal, not only a site). Nothing happened about the letter of Bagnasco. I have it, as I have all the documents i write about in my articles.
    In any case in Italy that letter was sure not a scandal cause it is an old questions: latin church don’t like married catholic priests. they have few ancient diocesis in Italy in which they can stay, but they are not allowed to do mass and to work in other italian churches, cause bishopes are worried that people could start to think (and to ask to hierarchy…) that it is possible for a catholic priest to be married. and infact it is… but very few people know it… and catholic Church prefer to keep things in that way. You live far from Italy and perharps you cannot understand completely the atmosphere here, in Italy, near the Vatican… what it is possible to discuss everywhere is not so allowed here… the celibate of priests is one of this “forbidden” matter…
    Hope to have helped the debate started in this nice blog.
    Best regards
    Valerio Gigante

    • orthocath says:

      Mr. Gigante,

      Thank you for writing and explaining further about this issue in Italy. Hopefully, the Italian Bishops will realize the importance of showing respect for the Eastern tradition of a married clergy for those Eastern Churches in their midst. Certainly, if a time of reunion ever comes for Orthodox and Catholics (and I realize there are some issues left to be resolved on that issue), Orthodox would not accept being told they would have to have celibate priests in Italy instead of married priests.

  16. And I thought the Filioque would be a problem…. 😉

    • Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

      The Filioque has actually been all but solved as an issue if you read the reports from the official dialog.

      Now if only we can get the Italian Bishops to relinquish their sectarianism, we would REALLY be getting somewhere…

  17. So sad- this is exactly why the OCA formed in America. In the 1900’s there were far more Romanian Byzantine Catholics than Orthodox in America- Bishop Ireland and more refused to allow married men ordained in Romania to come and serve the people- so, thousands of people left the Church.

    • orthocath says:

      It’s a parallel situation. Back in Bishop Ireland’s day, the American Bishops had similarly requested and received Vatican approval to restrict having married clergy here. Most of those clergy were from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is now broken into many countries in Eastern Europe. Sadly, the idea of canonical territory forming a restriction (unless dispensation is given) on the tradition of a married clergy still obtains.

  18. Michael David says:

    Sad. Perhaps there are some arguments to be made for this, but it cannot be pretended that this sort of thing does not do serious harm to possibilities of reunion with separated Eastern Churches, as well as providing significant difficulties for the life and witness of Eastern Catholic communities. It is hard not to interpret this as simple xenophobia.

  19. skakaw says:

    Very interesting but very sad… I’d like to know what the situation is in Italy; they already know about the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches (not like a lot Latin priests in different countries – like Asia), but seem they still do not respect the Eastern Churches discipline or think that it is better to limit the married priests instead of educating and understanding the Latin people on this issue…

  20. alepine says:

    The real question is, How long will Eastern Catholics put up with this sort of thing? It is only one issue among many where the Catholic hierarchy is attempting to suppress the Eastern tradition despite official decrees, and the Pope quite simply doesn’t care and won’t intervene.

    The fact is, if you return to the Orthodox faith you these will all become non-issues. Your traditions will never be suppressed; you will still retain Apostolic succession, and even recognize the Pope of Rome as the “first among equals”, though rejecting his universal authority; you can finally free yourselves of post-schism dogma which is completely at odds with Orthodox theology and which you are commanded to accept as loyal Catholics; etc. etc.

    I understand “Eastern Catholic Deacon” when he says that you all must bear the cross of your Catholicity. But at what cost?

    • Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

      @ alepine –

      Thank you for your remarks. I think what you say is mostly true regarding certain behaviors of certain members of the Latin hierarchy which seem to indicate a preference to keep their Eastern Catholic brethren “safe, legal and rare (or at least hermetically contained)” in their own respective territories.

      The same can also be said of the Orthodox, though, to an even greater degree.

      Abandoning the unia with Rome, while it certainly appears to solve many of the issues you mention, also brings with it many more, including the problem of dealing with tyrannical hierarchs, as we have even seen here in the States. There is also the issue of cross-jurisdictionalism and Orthodox infighting, not to mention certain congregationalist aspects that have been adopted by Orthodox churches and which can make parish life a misery for clergy.

      Then there is the general lack of a unified magisterial voice to address the very real problems facing families and communities, especially in the field of life and bioethical issues.

      So speaking for myself, I have no plans to abandon the unia, but at the same time I believe we need to push for greater administrative autonomy from Rome, especially in the diaspora. There is no reason why Rome has any business being involved in selecting our bishops duly appointed by our synods or regulating our clerical life according to the norms of its own sui juris Latin Church. Rome needs to back its many praiseworthy assertions of Eastern Patriarchal and Archepiscopal autonomy with praiseworthy actions. This is especially the case if it has even the slightest hope of unity with the Orthodox Churches, who would rightfully never tolerate such nonsense.

      • orthocath says:

        Father Deacon,

        While the situation in Italy is unsettling, I think we Orthodox should refrain from being triumphalistic about it. We have our own problems though I might not state it as strongly as you did and I think some of these issues could make interesting discussion topics, but not here. Having said that, I do believe that the fullness of the faith is found in Orthodoxy, despite its warts. Still, many Orthodox (and I count myself among them) are interested in possible union between our Churches if all the doctrinal issues could be worked out.

        The current situation with regards to how the Eastern Catholic Churches are set up (especially the Eastern Code of Canons) is not something Orthodox would ever consider as a possibility for themselves. Unity is not within our grasp. Much would still need to be done as this case shows. But, the biggest hurdles, such as papal authority, remain and there is no easy solution to that one.

  21. Eastern Catholic Deacon says:

    @ orthocath,

    Thank you for your measured reply to me. I certainly did not intend to start a discussion on those topics, only to highlight that there are problems and challenges within our respective communions that we must all face. Every change in many ways represents both a loss and a gain. For those who leave the unia for Orthodoxy, something is lost and something gained, as well as for those who enter communion with Rome.

    Like your own view of Orthodoxy, I am an Eastern Catholic because I believe in the principles of Catholicism. I do not believe that events like this simply are a manifestation of aberrant principle within Catholicism, but rather are the abuse of a true principle.

    The balance of the concerns for unia and autonomy is always a delicate one, especially when the Gordian knot of multiple jurisdictions is involved. I’m not sure that either jurisdiction has found a way to successfully untie this (and I agree with you about the Eastern Code). I believe that part of the hope of the International O-C Dialog is that a path through those issues might also redound positively to the Eastern Catholic Churches already in communion with Rome.

  22. I have spoken to many Eastern Catholic clerics, they say the Eastern Cathoic Rites are in full union with Rome. The problem develops when Rome fails to respect our traditions. In othe words, Rome fails to be in full union with the East. The Orthodox churches see this and they will never in union with Rome. Perhaps it is time for the Eastern Churches to break a way from Rome.

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