What Can Orthodox and Catholics Teach Each Other?

June 29, 2012

By Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck

Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are facing difficult new challenges. Christianity has become an open market where competition from upstart denominations is extremely fierce. The temptation to bury one’s head in the sand (Eastern Orthodoxy) or to mimic successful Evangelical methods and worship styles (Roman Catholicism) is as great as it is destructive. In North America, converts from Protestantism have provided their respective ‘teams’ with solid theological responses, but the struggle remains very difficult. In the rest of the world, the tide of sectarian Christianity (notably Adventism, Mormonism and Pentecostalism) continues its damage to the ancient apostolic Churches.

While Rome has effectively embraced a liturgical modernism as a remedy that has proven even worse than the disease, Orthodoxy is often in denial that anything needs to be fixed liturgically or organizationally. In fact, both sides can learn and benefit from the other’s strengths and experiences, as we shall see.

1. Catholics must become Orthodox

The rift between East and West was already extreme by the ninth century and reached its apex with Vatican I. But this apex was also marked by a growing sense that the theological and liturgical path of Roman Catholicism had reached some kind of a dead-end. Vatican II was an attempt to engineer a conciliar return to the sources that would reinterpret the Roman Catholic legacy of the past thousand years for the next millennium. Jean Danielou and Yves Congar – both Early Church scholars – were very influential at the council, but their vision was only partially achieved. As we have seen, the new mass of Pope Paul VI was an overreaction to the possible excesses of the Tridentine rite of Pius V. What was obscured or even lost in modern Roman Catholic worship is not just reverence and a few prayers; it is the eschatological experience of the Eucharist as an ascent to heaven, a manifestation on earth of the eternal liturgy of the angels and saints. Everything comes together to make the modern mass an expedited Eucharistic gathering of the community – or at least part of it since there are now various kinds of masses served at different times. Vestments and architectural styles are a manifestation of today’s trends and attitudes: universal ecclesiology becomes incarnate in its liturgical consequence. As a result of this anchoring in the present and disconnection from the apostolic past and eschatological future, the Roman Catholic priesthood is often disoriented. Liberal theology is rampant in seminaries and universities where many have rejected both patristic and scholastic theology in order to look for new ways to ‘rescue Christianity from the New Testament.’ I would like to suggest that if Roman Catholicism rediscovers and embraces the liturgical spirit of Eastern Christianity, the crisis of post-Vatican II liturgics will end. But this cannot be achieved without a concurrent embracing of eschatological-Eucharistic ecclesiology and pre-Nicene theology. Time is running short for a Vatican III council that would prepare the Roman Catholic world for the third millennium with an era of convergence and reconciliation with Eastern Orthodoxy.

2. Orthodox must become Catholic

The message of the Eastern Orthodox world to Roman Catholicism (and all other Christians) is often reduced to ‘leave us alone, we’d like to pretend you don’t exist.’ This fortress mentality is also a subconscious admission that ‘the God-protected city’ is in fact a weak and easy prey. The temptation to curl away from the world leads to nationalism and a failure to embrace the catholic-universal vocation of the Church. As a result, Orthodox Christians see themselves as Russian, Serbian or Greek Orthodox members of a national Church whose head is located in a political capital.

The contrast with Roman Catholicism is striking: the ability of the Church of Rome to coordinate worldwide missions, social work and a consistent doctrinal message should make the Orthodox think. The need for a universal center of unity and arbitration is obvious, and it does not have to mean absolute supremacy or infallibility. Two admonitions of our Lord come to mind:

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:40-41)

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The real tragedy about the Schism is the lack of concern about its tragic consequences. The voice that should still cry out from heaven is that of Patriarch Peter of Antioch who had written in 1054:

“I tremble lest, while you [Photius] endeavor to sew up the wound, it may turn to something worse, to schism; lest while you try to raise up what has been smitten down, a worse fall may be in store. Consider the obvious result of all of this, I mean the yawning gulf that must ultimately separate from our holy Church [Orthodox Antioch and Constantinople] that magnanimous and apostolic see [Rome]… Life henceforth will be filled with wickedness, and the whole world will be overturned…”

We should not have to think in terms of ‘mutual interest’ to discuss cooperation and reconciliation, but it may be that a common threat will do more for the cause of unity than our concern for the unity of the body of Christ.

3. Loving the Saints

If we confess Cyprian, Basil, Leo and Martin as saints and members of the same Body, what we also confess is that in spite of our earthly differences, heaven is filled with both ‘Roman Catholic’ and ‘Eastern Orthodox’ saints. In order to achieve visible and authentic unity, there must first be a desire to embrace what is best on the other side, and to find room for legitimate differences of expression. I am convinced that if Orthodox Christians can discover and love such lights as St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Solanus Casey, and if Catholics can embrace as their own St. Seraphim of Sarov or St. Elizabeth Fyodorovna, a new form of dialogue can take place: one motivated by love and respect. In general, Roman Catholicism has been more generous with its beatification and canonization process, with the result that a great variety of remarkable souls are presented as inspiring models for us today. By contrast, recent Eastern Orthodox saints tend to be martyrs and monastics: to my knowledge, not a single woman has been glorified for North American Orthodoxy, which means that if we can embrace Sts. Leo and Martin, we can certainly be inspired by Sts. Mary Cabrini or Katharine Drexel.

If we fail to realize that we are only “witnesses to the Truth” of Jesus Christ and imagine that our witness – in life and theology – will always be perfect, we are chasing the same mirage that leads countless American Christians from denomination to denomination, until one imagines that ‘the perfect Church’ has been discovered. If we accept the fact that our priests, bishops and ecclesial structures can make mistakes, we can focus on the incarnate Truth and deal reasonably with the theological formulas that are as fingers pointing to the moon: they are only signs, imperfectly crafted in human language, to a reality that is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible.” In a court of law, a human witness can be accurate without being perfect, but inaccuracies can also lead to a ‘falsification of the word of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:2) This is the mandate given to us by Scripture, both as individuals and as communities. Let us deal with our shortcomings without trepidation and strive to be conformed to Him who is the “faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5; John 18:37)

 Reproduced with permission from His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches by Laurent Cleenewerck. Google Books preview here. Blog readers may also enjoy Fr. Laurent’s website Orthodox Answers.

The New Ukrainian Catholic Catechism: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

June 22, 2012

Back in October, I posted an initial first look at the new Ukrainian Catholic Catechism Christ our Pascha, which had been published in Ukrainian in June, 2011. The new Catechism enjoys the unanimous support of all the Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), as well as its Major Archbishop/Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk. Since the UGCC is the largest body of Eastern Catholics, with over 4.2 million members, this new official Catechism has the potential to significantly influence other Eastern Catholic Churches. A translation into English is in the works and expected by the end of 2012. Plans are to also translate this new Catechism into Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. In November, Dr. Mikola Krokosh, a Ukrainian Catholic theologian, published a critical review of the new Catechism in Ukrainian.

Due to the great interest in the new Catechism and the possible ecumenical impact this new Catechism might have I contacted Dr. Krokosh and obtained permission to publish an English translation of his review of the new Catechism:

The new Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church “Christ – Our Pascha” from an ecumenical perspective:  One step forward, two steps backward

 By Mykola Krokosh

translated by Dr. Alexander Roman

In the context of Ukrainian church realities, the ecumenical breadth of the new Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (“CUGCC”) can be measured by the attitude of its authors toward Orthodox theology, and specifically to their own Orthodox roots.

At the outset, the very publication of such a document can be said to be an expression of the Eastern theological identity of the UGCC. When the basis of the first section of the 1992  “Catechism of the Catholic Church” is founded upon the so-called “Apostolic” Symbol of Faith, (See Footnote 1) which is accepted only in the Western Church and in the mainstream Protestant Churches, the CUGCC corrects this anti-Orthodox lapse of the Latin Church and makes specific reference to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith, which bears an unquestionable universal authority and is acknowledged as the authentic expression of the faith of the Ancient Church not only by Catholics and Orthodox, but even by the majority of the great Protestant denominations.

However, for some reason the creed is given with the “Filioque” addition, even though in brackets. The particular reasons guiding the authors of the CUGCC in making such an ecumenical faux pas toward their Orthodox brothers is truly incomprehensible. It is well-known that this unfortunate addition was one of the main theological reasons of the Great Schism between East and West.  This is even more incomprehensible, if we take into account the fact that the Filioque was dropped even in the declaration of the Vatican Congregation of the Faith’s “Dominus Iesus” (See Footnote 2) (2000 AD).  It is obvious that the creators of the CUGCC lacked the courage to clearly articulate the truth of the Eastern theological “Monarchy” or “Single Principle” of the Father.

Although the Father is acknowledged as the “Principle of the Person of the Son and of the Person of the Holy Spirit” (82), but the key word “only” is not included, and as a matter of fact there is no quotation anywhere throughout the CUGCC from the works of St Photios the Great, whose Trinitarian theology constitutes the crown of the teaching of the Eastern Church on the Holy Trinity.  However, with regard to the question of the Procession of the Holy Spirit, the CUGCC copiously attempts to keep to the Eastern tradition (comp. 91), while, at the same time acknowledging the legitimacy of the Western-Alexandrian tradition (comp. 98).

While articulating the Anaphora of Basil the Great, the commemoration of the Roman pope as the “Most Holy Ecumenical Pontiff” (8) strikes a discordant note, as this is actually a corruption of the anaphora, for this title of the Bishop of Rome is absent from its initial text.

It is a translation of the Latin phrase “episcopus universalis” – a term with a very doubtful theological basis, which Bishops of Rome had, for long, rejected (for example, Pope Gregory the Great-Dialogist) and which was slowly introduced into the UGCC after the Synod of Zamostia, of sorry memory, in 1720 with the goal of squeezing out from its (the UGCC’s) memory more than 600 years of communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Within the context of the ecumenical dialogue, this term is “past its best before date” and is a reminder of the struggle between Rome and Constantinople, so that it, in no wise, reflects the “Petrine ministry of the Bishops of Rome” (291) and should have been removed, post haste, from the Liturgy of the UGCC.

Affirming that the “Bishop of Rome – the bearer of Peter’s ministry – calls together Ecumenical councils, approves their affirmation, affirms and expresses the infallible teaching of the faith of the Church, deals with the difficulties that develop in the lives of individual particular churches” (293), the CUGCC only  parrots the contemporary Western perspective on the primacy, that is based, first and foremost, on the canonical falsifications of the 8th and 9th centuries.  In the one, undivided Church of the first millennium, the pope did not call together any Ecumenical council and the Eastern Church never acknowledged the pope’s infallibility, nor his jurisdictional primacy in the sense given by the First Vatican council.

To affirm that “Communion with the Church of Rome is the sign and condition of belongingness to the universal Church (304), the CUGCC unwittingly removes from the Universal Church all non-Catholics – a disturbing statement given its indirect put down of the Orthodox Churches. This is a witness to the fact that, for the time being, the UGCC has not liberated itself from the theological baggage of uniatism, whose basis consists in the view that the Eastern Churches are considered incomplete ecclesiological constructs.

In support of this is the equally false affirmation, that the Florentine and Brest unions were examples of the overcoming of schism in the Church (comp. 306) at a time when it is well-known that the first (that of Florence) ended in a complete fiasco, and the other not only did not renew the union between East and West, but divided the hitherto united Ukrainian Church – the effects of which we experience to this day.

Unfortunately, the authors of the CUGCC missed a wonderful opportunity for an absolutely necessary reassessment of the Union of Brest as the sin of the primary schism of the Ukrainian Church, which originated the beginning of the schism of our people into East and West, the effects of which we all continue to experience to this day.

In general, the CUGCC is characterized by a certain thinking in terms of fantasy or else by an effort to canonize myths that exist in the minds of many Greek-Catholics who are incapable of accepting the new reality of ecumenism which was finally solidified by the Balamand document of 1993, which clearly condemned uniatism as a method of renewing unity.  Rather than demonstrate the perspective of Balamand and, in this manner, express its own positive attitude toward ecumenism, the CUGCC continues to recite the fables of the epoch of uniatism with all of its negative stances toward ecumenism.

The catechism’s authors loudly proclaim that the Kyivan Metropolitans, who were in union with the Patriarchate of Constantinople,  were somehow in communion with Rome even after the rupture of communion between Constantinople and Rome, while the union of Brest was but an affirmation of this communion (between Rome and Kyiv – comp. 307).  This conclusion is simply illogical for if such communion with Rome existed in an uninterrupted state, then why the need for the union at all and why did the participants of the uniate sobor of Brest anathematize their countrymen, who didn’t join them in the union, but who decided to remain in the “communion with Rome” that existed prior to Brest?

Is it then the case that the rivers of blood and tears that ran throughout our Ukrainian land as a result of the union occurred as a result of some sort of affirmation of what was already in place?

In fact, it would have been entirely proper for the CUGCC to have acknowledged the error of the schism within the Ukrainian Church on the part of those bishops who created the union of Brest and who disregarded its foreseeable and sad aftermath for the unity of the Ukrainian Church.  Instead, the catechism makes a failed attempt to proclaim the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to be the “direct descendant of the Kyivan Metropolia in communion with the Roman Church” (307),  thus affirming the UGCC’s pretensions with respect to being the inheritor of the rights of the pre-union Kyivan Church.

However, the fact that the Kyivan Church was Orthodox was somehow lost.  This means that, logically, the true inheritors of the pre-union Kyivan Church could only be the Orthodox hierarchs.  In addition, from the point of view of church law, it is clear that after the union of Brest the Sees of those bishops who went into the union became vacant, including the Kyivan Metropolitan See, which is why their replacement with new bishops was the legal right of the Orthodox Church.

The glorification of Josaphat of Polotsk who “would rather have given up his life than allow for the shedding of brotherly blood” (323) indicates that the authors of the CUGCC weren’t overly concerned with the fact that this saint is a very controversial personage for the Orthodox and a symbol of uniatism personified – the desire to renew the unity of the Church of Christ by means of dividing the Eastern Church while placing portions of it under the jurisdiction of the pope of Rome.

Unfortunately, the attempt of the authors of the CUGCC to focus on the Catechism of the Catholic Church as their orientation is made manifest in the very foreword (p. 7) and in practice it took shape as a form of uncritical imitation of redoubtable ideologies of Latin ecclesiology.

In contradiction of known facts from the history of the Church when a significant part or even a majority of bishops fell into heresy (e.g. Arianism and Iconoclasm), the CUGCC adopts an idealistic view of the teaching authority of the Church defined as “when the bishops, in one mind, hand down that which they received from the Apostles always and everywhere” (58).  The Eastern Church does not know the idea of the “teaching authority of the Church” as this is a typically Latin ecclesiological notion, which makes truth the slave of the leadership of the Church.  And generally speaking, the UGCC is not obligated to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the UGCC is an Eastern Church, and the creators of the CCC placed it on the foundation of the pseudo-apostolic creed which was never confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils as an expression of the faith of the entire Church – which also makes that creed uncanonical.

In addition, the teaching about papal primacy is not characterized by the spirit of ecumenical openness, but, instead, is expressed within the framework of the First Vatican Council, where the Bishop of Rome is the guarantor of the maintenance of orthodoxy (p. 287) and the “teacher and rule (sic) of the Apostolic faith, to whom the Lord has given the gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals, in order to safeguard the purity and fullness of the Divine teaching.” (p. 291). And this in spite of the fact that the history of the Church indicates something quite different, for example, the case of pope Honorius I who was posthumously anathematized by the Sixth Constantinopolitan Ecumenical Council in 681 for his support of the Monothelite heresy or when the popes at the beginning of the second millennium illegally added the “Filioque” to the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith.

However, a step toward Orthodox ecclesiology is seen in the presented notion of the Particular Church (ukr. pomisna Cerkva) as such and which is created from the Local Churches (comp. 291).  This is foreign to the Latin tradition.  The catechism also classifies the Roman Church as being a Particular Church.  This shows that the Roman Church is truly the sister of the UGCC, and equal in rights with her (comp. 305 and 307), and not her mother.  Nonetheless, the CUGCC refuses to call matters by their proper names by avoiding the use of the term “autocephalous.”  To this is added wishful thinking when it is affirmed that the “one and catholic Church exists in the Particular Churches and is of the Particular Churches” (17), because the Second Vatican Council the “ecclesia particularis” is, in fact, identical with the notion of an “eparchy/diocese” (See Footnote 3) and not with a true Particular Church, which does not have any rightful place in the Catholic Church, because the particular unions of bishops, for example, the Episcopal Conferences, possess a status that is entirely dependent on Rome (See Footnote 4).

The CUGCC makes a general attempt to base the idea of particularity on the foundation of inculturation (301), and not in terms of the canonical tradition of the Eastern Church (34th Apostolic Canon), as this is done by the Orthodox Churches.  But this is extremely illogical, because if the inculturation factor in connection with ecclesial particularity was valid then we would see a movement toward ecclesial particularity in those regions of the Western Church with strongly and widely defined cultures, but this is not the case at all.  We should not confuse ecclesiology with cultural issues.  The Particularity of the UGCC is not derived from local Ukrainian identity but is rather a logical aftermath of the fact that the Uniate Churches are separated parts of the Orthodox Church and therefore they at least try to orient themselves on the basis of Orthodoxy’s ecclesiological principles.

In the entire CUGCC there is a felt absence of such a foundational (for Eastern theology) term as “the Uncreated Energies”: not to mention the fact that not even once is mention made of the greatest theologian of the Eastern Church in the second millennium, St Gregory Palamas.  This is an unacceptable lack in a theological document of such a level.  Deification (divinization) is mentioned a few times, however, and is even placed within the context of Eastern theology (comp. 850-855), however this is, in at least one place, understood in accordance with Latin theology, as an “entrance into communion with the Persons of the Holy Trinity” (255), which contradicts the Eastern apophatic theology of the Trinity and the Palamite traditions concerning the idea of God.  Instead, the Western theology of satisfaction is adopted, which is expressed in the dogma about purgatory (250), but there is no mention about indulgences.  Mention is made about the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos (576).

The acknowledgement, in the catechism, of the role of the Epiclesis in the sanctification of the holy Gifts (260,381) adheres to the tradition of Eastern theology.  In general, one great positive characteristic of the CUGCC from the ecumenical point of view is that it contains the entire authentic liturgical tradition of the Eastern Church which binds the UGCC with strong ties to the Orthodox Church.  In particular, an explication is given for the practice of standing during the Liturgy (627), the Communion of the faithful “who having piously placed their hands in cross-wise position on their chests, walk to the ambo before the Royal Doors” (389) and the Communion of baptized children (431).

Such a position taken in the Catechism regarding the renewal of the Byzantine liturgical heritage and the removal of the aftermath of Latinization is not only a legitimate obligation of our ecumenical time, but also is in complete agreement with the directives of the Roman curia which desires that “we take upon ourselves, even if this be via a progressive process, the renewal of elements that were lost, replacing them by important practices and regulations . . . even if this will mean going against the decisions accepted by local Synods or a moving away from directives given in various times and for various reasons by the dicasteries of the Apostolic See.” (See Footnote 5).

We may only hope that these principles of this official document of the UGCC, which applies to all its eparchies, won’t be ignored by the Latinized eparchies of the UGCC, for example, by that of Buchach where under the leadership of the Basilians the liturgical tradition of the Eastern Church is aggressively violated, including the relevant documents of the Apostolic See in this regard – for example, the Eucharistic supplications are served, the word “Orthodox” is left out during the Divine Liturgy and so on.  Sadly, the authors of the CUGCC could not bring themselves to condemn the Synod of Zamostia of 1720 and its directives which sanctioned liturgical and theological Latinization.

A very hopeful sign of the restoration of Eastern spirituality is the presentation of the theme of the great tradition of prayer (pp. 802-809), especially the Jesus Prayer (693-694) together with hesychasm (754).

In conclusion, the Catechism of the UGCC “Christ – Our Pascha” is a reflection of those theological processes which are occurring today in the UGCC itself.  On the one hand, it is a witness to a certain theological, even ecclesiological, state of progress where the UGCC affirms itself to be a Particular Church with an Eastern tradition and so it demonstrates that it moves forward with other Ukrainian Churches which are struggling to have their autocephaly recognized.  On the other hand, this document likewise demonstrates that the UGCC is still not ready to remove from itself that ecclesiological heritage which is founded on Western ideas about the unity of the Church which is called “uniatism.”

Alongside all its positive aspects, the CUGCC is, above all, a great missed opportunity to have made an ecumenical update by way of modernizing the irrelevant uniate ecclesial self-awareness of the UGCC and move towards the ecumenical achievements of today.  The publication of the CUGCC, first and foremost, indicates that the UGCC does not, at present, possess its own vision of the renewal of the unity of the Ukrainian Church that was divided by the union of Brest into two confessions.  In other words, notwithstanding all the rhetoric about the “Kyivan Church” the UGCC currently has nothing to propose to the Orthodox in the matter of ecumenism and church unity, for if the main leitmotiv of even a document of such a high level is . . . uniatism, what then can be said of the situation “on the ground” in the various eparchies?

All prior ecumenical intiatives of the UGCC which come down to the baseless desire to immediately renew Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Churches have turned out to be simply smoke and mirrors from behind which now comes this “manifesto of uniatism” – the new catechism of the UGCC.

This document has become dated even before its publication because it is a determined witness of the anti-ecumenical reaction in the UGCC rather than a step forward toward the creation in Ukraine of one Particular Church.  Not having quoted even once from the documents reflecting the consensus of the Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, the authors of the CUGCC have placed the UGCC in a bad light as a result of the negative attitude of this Church (as reflected in the CUGCC) toward ecumenism.

However, a hopeful sign is that the CUGCC demonstrated a certain acceptance of the Balamand document – it in fact has adopted the ecclesiology of the “Sister-Churches” as discussed in the Balamand document where “Every Particular Church has a salvific faith, an unbroken Apostolic tradition and valid Holy Mysteries and therefore the name “Sister-Church” means the recognition of these characteristics in the other Church and the equality of the Particular Churches.” (305) (See Footnote 6).  Unfortunately, praise of the various unias that follows (306-307) shows that the authors of the CUGCC were incapable of moving the ecclesiology of the Sister-Churches from its internal Catholic confessional level to the universal or ecumenical level which is what the intention of Balamand was, in fact.

In sum, the new catechism requires an immediate ecumenical overview, the sooner the better. As they say, “the catechism is dead, long live the new catechism.”  Therefore, we shall have to wait a while longer for a real ecumenical breakthrough to occur in the largest Eastern Catholic Church.


1)    For the history of this creed, see Kelly, John N.D., Altchristliche Glaubensbekenntnisse:  Geschichte und Theologie, Gottingen 1993, 362-425 (Engl. Kelly, John N.D., Early Christian Creeds, London 1972).

2)    Compare with the original Latin text of the declaration, point 1:  qui ex Patre procedit” – http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-jesus.html

3)    Compare with “Lumen gentium” 23 – here the discussion is about eparchies and not Particular Churches “Individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their particular Churches (in suis Ecclesiis particularibus), created in the image of the Universal Church (ad imaginem Ecclesiae universalis formatis), in which and from which there comes the one and only Catholic Church (in quibus et ex quibus una et unica Ecclesia catholica exsistit).”

4)    Compare with, for example, the motu proprio of John Paul II “Apostolos suos” from 21.05.1998 p. 12.

5)    “The Instruction of the application of the liturgical directives of the Codex of the Canons of the Eastern Churches” of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 6.01.1996, 39.

6)    Compare with the Balamand document, 13:  “On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to His Church – profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops – cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches.”

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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

That the Church of Christ May Be Shown to be One

April 22, 2012

What is the principle of unity in the Church? How are we to understand Christ’s words to St. Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”? (Matthew 16:18) St. Cyprian of Carthage (about 250 AD) explains how this unity of the Church is held together:

If anyone considers and examines these things, there is no  need of a lengthy discussion and arguments. Proof for faith is easy in a brief statement of the truth.

The Lord speaks to Peter:

‘I say to you,’ He says, ‘you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.’ (Matthew 16:18,19)

Upon him, being one, He builds His Church, and although after His resurrection He bestows equal power upon all the Apostles, and says: ‘As the Father has sent me, I also send you. Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of anyone, they will be forgiven him; if you retain the sins of anyone, they will be retained,’ (John 20:21-23) yet that He might display unity, He established by His authority the origin of the same unity as beginning from one.

Surely the rest of the Apostles also were that which Peter was, endowed with an equal partnership of office and of power, but the beginning proceeds from unity, that the Church of Christ may be shown to be one.

This one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Canticle of Canticles designates in the person of the Lord and says: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one is but one, she is the only one of her mother, the chosen one of her that bore her.’ (Canticles 6:8)

Does he who does not hold this unity think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against the Church and resists her think that he is in the Church, when too the blessed Apostle Paul teaches this same thing and sets forth the sacrament of unity saying: ‘One body and one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God’? (Cf. Eph: 4:4-6)

This unity we ought to hold firmly and defend, especially we bishops who watch over the Church, that we may prove that also the episcopate itself is one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by lying; let no one corrupt the faith by a perfidious prevarication of the truth.

The episcopate is one, the parts of which are held together by the individual bishops. The Church is one which with increasing fecundity extend far and wide into the multitude, just as the rays of the sun are many but the light is one, and the branches of the tree are many but the strength is one founded in its tenacious root, and, when many streams flow from one source, although a multiplicity of waters seems to have been diffused from the abundance of the overflowing supply nevertheless unity is preserved in their origin. Take away a ray of light from the body of the sun, its unity does not take on any division of its light; break a branch from a tree, the branch thus broken will not be able to bud; cut off a stream from its source, the stream thus cut off dries up.

Thus too the Church bathed in the light of the Lord projects its rays over the whole world, yet there is one light which is diffused everywhere, and the unity of the body is not separated. She extends her branches over the whole earth in fruitful abundance; she extends her richly flowing streams far and wide; yet her head is one, and her source is one, and she is the one mother copious in the results of her fruitfulness. By her womb we are born; by her milk we are nourished; by her spirit we are animated. [Chapters 4 and 5 of The Unity of the Church by St. Cyprian of Carthage.  Text here.]

According to St. Cyprian, the unity of the Church is seen in Christ’s promise to St. Peter. He says: “Upon him [Peter], being one, He builds His Church.” St. Cyprian then points out the other Apostles received equal power:  “after His resurrection He bestows equal power upon all the Apostles.” Still, even though “the rest of the Apostles also were that which Peter was, endowed with an equal partnership of office and of power,” the first promise was to St. Peter. St. Cyprian explains this means “the beginning proceeds from unity, that the Church of Christ may be shown to be one.”

What is this principle of unity, seen in Christ’s promise to St. Peter, according to St. Cyprian? How does it relate to the “equal power” given to the other Apostles? Re-read his words from above where he gives his explanation:

This unity we ought to hold firmly and defend, especially we bishops who watch over the Church, that we may prove that also the episcopate itself is one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by lying; let no one corrupt the faith by a perfidious prevarication of the truth.

The episcopate is one, the parts of which are held together by the individual bishops. The Church is one which with increasing fecundity extend far and wide into the multitude, just as the rays of the sun are many but the light is one…

Thus, according to St. Cyprian, the unity of the Church is expressed by a single episcopate (the collective body of all Bishops of the Church, represented by St. Peter) even though there are many Bishops (heirs of the Apostles) in different locations.

For a brief commentary on this passage, see His Broken Body by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck, pp 81-83. This post greatly expands on a similar posting from earlier.

An Orthodox Reply to “Why I Didn’t Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy”

April 4, 2012

By Rev. Pr. Laurent Cleenewerck

Introduction: Fr. Brian Harrison is a professor of theology and Catholic priest in good standing who wrote the article “Why I Didn’t Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy” for This Rock magazine, now known as Catholic Answers Magazine, in October 2008. The original article is available online here. Here is Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck’s reply:

At the outset, Orthodox Christians should be respectful and grateful as this article is a chance to open an in-depth dialogue on some of the deeper issues that divide us. My comments are in bold; however, there are few “Proposals” that were also in bold in the original article. The reader should be able to recognize those easily.

I am probably a rather unusual convert to Catholicism, in that my spiritual journey to Rome involved both the other major world divisions of Christianity—Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. As an undergraduate university student, guided by the rational λογος (logos) of classical philosophy (which Pope Benedict famously insisted upon as an attribute of God in his 2006 Regensburg discourse), I came to see the essential logical incoherence in Reformation Christianity: Its fundamental sola scriptura principle itself nowhere appears in Scripture and so is self-referentially contradictory.

I was also becoming increasingly convinced that if there is to be any true and definitive revelation from God to humanity, then—given that God has plainly not decided to offer this revelation immediately and directly to each individual—he will need to establish a completely reliable intermediary, perennially accessible here on earth to ordinary people like you and me. In short, an infallible teaching authority.

This is a very interesting – and very human, understandable – concern: the desire to have certainty on religious matters. However, this assumes that this is the way God actually works; with a rational, reliable, permanent answer on questions pertaining to God’s revelation. In other words, that spiritual truth is revealed rationally (a very Western / Scholastic leaning) in contrast with theoria (the vision of God in the Holy Spirit – the Eastern Orthodox tradition).

In fact, the record seems to indicate the very opposite, i.e. that God does not in fact provide complete rational answers to all theological questions. Even from a Roman Catholic perspective, there was no infallible canon of Scripture  until Trent (1500s), no infallible dogmatic position on the Immaculate Conception until 1854 and indeed no dogma of papal infallibility until 1870. Let us consider the canon issue again: until Trent (1546), it was impossible for a Roman Catholic to be dogmatic about the canonical status of the so-called ‘deuterocanonicals’ (see the discussion of Cardinal Cajetan with Martin Luther). Even there, we can see that the matter of 3 Maccabees for instance was not quite settled:

“From these we see that the bishops at Trent were not silent about their silence on this question. They had a discussion about it. At the end of that discussion, they took a vote. This is a matter of record, not of interpretation. On March 29, 1546 the Council Fathers took up the fourth of fourteen questions (Capita dubitationum) on Scripture and Tradition. At issue was whether those books that were not included in the official list, but were included in the Latin Vulgate (e.g. The Book of Esdras, Fourth Ezra, and Third Maccabees), should be rejected by a Conciliar decree, or be passed over in silence. Only three Fathers voted for an explicit rejection. Forty-two voted that the status of these books should be passed over in silence.”

Furthermore, there is no list of infallible papal statements (only a list of criteria which may apply to an unspecified number of proclamations), which has led Fr. Harrison himself to argue that Humanae Vitae (Paul VI’s encyclical from 1968) did in fact meet the criteria of 1870 for infallibility, but his arguments have generally been rejected. As I have proposed in my book His Broken Body (which discusses Fr. Harrison’s arguments and the whole issue of infallibility), it seems more logical to see the Church’s infallibility in a soteriological sense: if the Church (i.e. a local Church or diocese in proper ecclesiology) is indeed the Church, it/she cannot fail to witness to Christ as Lord and Savior and by uniting human beings to Christ, it/she cannot fail to bring about their salvation. Among the early Fathers (Ignatius, Cyprian) this was the concern: how can we be sure that we are in the Church so that we may have the assurance that we are uniting ourselves to Christ (Ignatius use the Greek word bebaeia which is often and mistakenly translated as ‘valid’ when it really means ‘assured’).

Now, how is truth revealed? Truth is first and foremost a person, Jesus Christ, whom we encounter in the Church-Eucharist, “the pillar and foundation of truth.” So, how was ‘truth’ revealed to God’s people in the days of the Old Covenant? The Orthodox answer would be that spiritual truth is revealed by the Holy Spirit, not by logic or through an infallible system of human authority. This is why we have the prophets of old, moved by the Spirit, in conflict even with divinely approved authority (i.e. the king, the high priest). This is why we (East and West) have Saint Maximus the Confessor. This is also why the Orthodox say that we have to let the work of the Spirit in many lives and many places to help us look back on councils and writings to affirm their truth (or inspiration, which is in fact equivalent). This explains the long process of discerning the canon of Holy Scriptures. In the Orthodox point of view, only the Council of Jerusalem was intrinsically infallible; the other ones – even Nicea – had to await for the witness of Spirit in the life of the Churches to be revealed as certain.

However, with further reading, I found myself confronted by the reality of two great communions—the two largest in Christendom, in fact—presenting themselves as rival claimants to the gift of infallibility. I had long known of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the divinely appointed authority endowed with this charism. But now—in 1971, that is—I discovered the similar claim of Eastern Orthodoxy.

I would actually disagree that Orthodox makes an exactly similar claim, although under Latin influence similar ideas may have been expressed. As the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848 explains: “Moreover, neither Patriarchs nor Councils could then have introduced novelties amongst us, because the protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves…”

Constantinople now flashed onto my radar screen as a challenger to Rome. How was I to decide between them?

This reveals a misunderstanding. Constantinople is not a challenger to Rome. Constantinople does not claim any of the things claimed by Rome; it is simply the functional primatial center of the ancient and worldwide communion of the Orthodox Catholic Churches, including those of Jerusalem, Corinth, Thessalonica, Antioch, Cyprus, Alexandria (at least the Greek speaking community after 451), etc.

Not Quite “Catholic”

One reason for Orthodoxy’s attractiveness back then was simply that, for me, its image remained refreshingly untainted by the emotional anti-Catholic Calvinist prejudices which I had imbibed against “Romanism” during adolescence. Nobody, as far as I knew, was describing Istanbul as “Mystery Babylon.” I had read no reports of a Scarlet Woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, sitting astride a ten-headed Bosporus Beast. And I saw no accusatory fingers pointing at Constantinople’s white-bearded patriarch as “that man of sin”—the Antichrist invading the temple of God and blasphemously speaking “great things” against the Lord and his elect.

However, after a couple of tentative Sunday visits to Greek Orthodox liturgies in Sydney (I am an Australian), after which I attempted to converse with the local priest, obstacles of a very different sort soon began to swing the balance back in the other direction.

Fr. Harrison’s situation was indeed rather unfortunate. What if he had lived in England, France or North America, would he not have found Orthodox parishes and clergy of his own language and culture? At the time, maybe not… But what about a Carpatho-Russian emigrant to Pennsylvania considering Catholicism and whose only options would be the nearby Irish or Polish parishes? One should also consider that the Roman Catholic mass was said in Latin everywhere until the 1960s… This being said, it is true that Australia was and still is a land of new immigration with strongly ethnic parishes, as was the case in America in the late 1800s-early 1900s.

Given the priest’s very limited knowledge of English, any serious discussion between us on doctrinal or theological matters proved to be impossible. Indeed, he seemed rather surprised that I, as an “Anglo,” should even be interested in joining his denomination. All his other parishioners, even there in the center of a large and cosmopolitan city, were ethnically Greek.

I was running up against the rather obvious fact that Orthodoxy is, well, not exactly catholic. It lacks the cultural universality and openness, the capacity to provide a true and welcoming home for all the world’s tribes and nations, that is in fact one of the four marks of the true Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

It would be interesting to discuss the actual meaning of catholic, but the “rather obvious fact” is that Orthodoxy is amazingly universal. You can buy a world round trip airline ticket and visit the Alaskan natives, the Texan converts, the Lebanese, the Greeks, the Finns, the growing East-African communities: Orthodox has remained the heavenly pattern of worship and yet become a fully integrated part of all these cultures. There is no reason why the entire world – from Kyoto’s Orthodox cathedral to Chile could not be Orthodox! The missionary work of Saint Innocent in Alaska and Saint Nicholas in Japan are especially interesting here (1800s).

Every word of the liturgies I attended in Sydney—including the Scripture readings and preaching—was in Greek, of which I understood absolutely nothing. The thesis that Eastern Orthodoxy is the true religion was turning out to bear the practical corollary that, to share fully and fruitfully in the life of the Body of Christ, one would almost have to become a Greek. (Well, O.K., maybe a Russian, a Serb, a Syrian—but in any case the ethnic options would be very limited.) And this sort of very burdensome de facto addition to the Gospel was plainly foreign to the New Testament. On the contrary, its message stresses that in Christ there is no longer Jew, Gentile, Greek.

We have discussed this above: there are transitional situation when the Church (expressed in the parish) is going to be available in a particular language and culture that may not be our own. This was in fact the case in New Testament times and has unavoidable but temporary re-occurrences throughout history… Would this story still be true today? Here is some news from the area (Australia):

“From ten parishes at his enthronement in late 1999, the total at the end of eight years of Met. Abp Paul’s tenure, at the close of 2007, stands at approximately 34 parishes or missions and 1 monastery, including three English-language parishes in Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast, served by 42 clergymen, including two university chaplains in Melbourne and the first Orthodox military chaplain in Australia.

In 2008, a “historic moment in the history of…the Archdiocese” occurred, with the Archdiocese accepting two denominations in the Philippines, including over 30 religious leaders and 32 churches with 6000 adherents. This event was especially marked by a change in the name of the Archdiocese to include ‘Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines’, with Met. Abp Paul as primate of all three.”

Does Orthodoxy Make Sense?

In short, Eastern Orthodoxy, as far as I could see at that stage of my journey, had certain strengths over against Catholicism, but also certain weaknesses. So I still felt far from certain as to where to go. Indeed, I felt confronted by another version of the same problem I had faced earlier in trying to decide whether Protestantism was true or false: the problem of having to negotiate mountains of erudition that could easily occupy a lifetime of study, if I was to have any hope of arriving at a definitive answer. If these detailed questions of theology, exegesis, and history had kept the rival Catholic and Orthodox experts in these fields interminably divided in spite of centuries of scholarly debate and oceans of spilled ink, who was I to presume the ability ever to reach any certainty as to which side was right? In this case the debate was mainly over the nature of the Petrine primacy, as revealed in Scripture and manifested in ancient church tradition. And that huge controversy looked very daunting—and the outcome very doubtful—for this not-very-erudite young amateur searching for a clear and certain answer.

Of course, one simple answer would be to look at the nearest parish in full communion with the ancient Church of Jerusalem – the mother Church, in this case the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem/Holy Zion… Or how about the majority of Churches to whom New Testament letters were addressed? But that would also point to Eastern Orthodoxy… Another approach may be to read The History of the Church by Eusebius (I highly recommend Paul Maier’s version) and decide what communion looks like what Eusebius describes at the crucial juncture of 325 AD. Looking for a self-chosen silver bullet shows that finding an infallible answer does involve personal fallible choices doesn’t it?

Inevitably, in my prayers and studies, I began to wonder whether there was another quick, “silver bullet” argument like the one I had already found to be so fatal for Protestant theology?

And so, looking for a silver bullet or a short-cut seems quite simplistic, but let us consider Fr. Harrison’s concerns…

That is, could a clear answer perhaps appear from studying the internal logical coherence or incoherence of Orthodox claims, rather than from the attempt to accumulate, interpret, and evaluate endless masses of biblical and historical data? Eventually I found what I still believe to be that answer: I discovered a fatal flaw in Orthodoxy’s account of how we can know what God has revealed. In what follows I shall use a series of several simple propositions to argue that Eastern Orthodoxy’s account of how the Church transmits revelation is vitiated by a circular argument, and so cannot be true.

First, if God has given the gift of infallibility to his Church, there must be some identifiable authority or agent within her capable of exercising that gift.

As we have seen, this is a problematic starting point. What do we mean by Church? What do we mean by “infallibility?”  There “must” be an “identifiable authority”? It is very easy to start exploring these themes without a sure footing…

Now, Catholics believe that the College of Bishops—the successors of the apostles, led by the pope, the successor of St. Peter—constitute that authority. The bishops can exercise the gift in several ways (as explained by Vatican Council II in article 25 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). The whole group (the College of Bishops) can teach infallibly, either gathered together in councils that its leader, the pope, recognizes as “ecumenical” (that is, sufficiently representative of the whole Church), or even, under certain conditions, while remaining dispersed around the world. Finally, the pope, even when speaking alone, is guaranteed the charism of infallibility in his most formal (ex cathedra) pronouncements.

In the Roman Catholic system, “the Church” is the universal body of Roman Catholic believers and the Pope is the true head who has the charisma of infallibility. Ultimately, the Church and Episcopacy is absorbed (subsumed) in the office of the Pope where things are decided beyond appeal (who shall be appointed bishop, what will be the code of canon law, proclamation of saints, proclamation of new liturgies, proclamation of new dogmas). In a sense, there is one point of failure – it is a star-shaped organization.

Now, what does the Eastern Orthodox communion see as the agent of the infallibility it claims for itself? In fact, it recognizes only one of those forms of teaching mentioned above. Let us highlight this answer:

Proposition 1: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of ecumenical councils.

However, does this mean that the Orthodox recognize the authority of all the same ecumenical councils that we Catholics recognize? Unfortunately not. While our separated Eastern brethren claim that, in principle, any ecumenical council between Pentecost and Judgment Day would enjoy the charism of being able to issue infallible dogmatic decrees, they recognize as ecumenical only the first seven councils: those that took place in the first Christian millennium, before the rupture between East and West. Indeed, even though they claim theirs is the true church, since that medieval split they have never attempted to convoke and celebrate any ecumenical council of their own. For they still recognize as a valid part of ancient tradition the role of the See of Peter as enjoying a certain primacy—at least of honor or precedence—over the other ancient centers of Christianity (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria).

Indeed, the ecumenical Councils took place in a particular context – that of the Mediterranean world and the Roman Empire – its decrees having force of Law in the Roman Oecumene. Without a doubt, this framework collapsed and the ecumenical-imperial context came to an end. Moreover, if ecumenical is taken to mean universal, it would have been less than honest to call a council ecumenical without the participation of the Western bishops. For that reason, although some Orthodox documents talk about an 8th ecumenical (still with Rome’s participation), there is a sense that a universal-ecumenical council should not be attempted without the participation of the West – this seems more like realism and respect than anything, considering that important local councils have taken place in the Orthodox world after 1054. Finally, one may wonder if there are still dogmas to proclaim more than a thousand years into the history of Christianity…

Thus, mainstream Orthodox theologians, as I understand them, would say that for a thousand years we have had a situation of interrupted infallibility. The interruption, they would maintain, has been caused above all by the “ambition,” “intransigence” or ” hubris” of the bishops of the See of Peter, who are said to have overstepped the due limits of the modest primacy bestowed on them by Jesus. However (it is said), once the Roman pontiffs come to recognize this grave error and renounce their claims to personal infallibility and universal jurisdiction over all Christians, why, then the deplorable schism will at last be healed!

Actually, this is quite true, with the qualification that the Orthodox world never considered Rome’s primacy as “bestowed by Jesus” but granted by the bishops (i.e. Nicea, Sardica, Imperial rulings, Constantinople, Chalcedon canon 28) for the sake of good order… In 1848, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs did write:

“We see that very primacy, for which his Holiness now contends with all his might, as did his predecessors, transformed from a brotherly character and hierarchical privilege into a lordly superiority… Therefore let his Holiness be assured, that if, even now, he will write us such things as two hundred fathers on investigation and inquiry shall find consonant and agreeing with the said former Councils, then, we say, he shall hear from us sinners today, not only, “Peter has so spoken,” or anything of like honor, but this also, “Let the holy hand be kissed which has wiped away the tears of the Catholic Church.”

The whole Church, with due representation for both East and West, will once again be able to hold infallible ecumenical councils.

An Insufficient Proposal

This position, however, turns out to involve serious problems. Our separated Eastern brethren acknowledge that any truly ecumenical council will need to include not only their own representatives, but also those of the bishop of Rome, whose confirmation of its decrees would in due course be needed, as it was in those first seven councils of antiquity. Well, so far so good. But does this mean the Orthodox acknowledge that the pope’s confirmation of a council in which they participate will not only be necessary, but also sufficient, as a condition for them to recognize it as ecumenical? Unfortunately, the answer here is again in the negative.

Yes – this is an important point: Orthodox Christians do not see that a Council can be declared ecumenical on account of its membership. It would be said that as the Bishop of Rome represents the West, his presence it necessary, but certainly not sufficient. Otherwise, the Pope is infallible ex-sese (from his own see) and has no need of the council. This is why the Vatican council of 1870 (Vatican I) ended up in a papal bull (Pastor Aeternus) in which the pope mentions “the agreement of the sacred council” but ends up proclaiming the dogma of papal infallibility on his own authority.

And it is the Easterners’ own history which has, as we shall now see, reshaped their theology on this point during the last half-millennium.

Actually Orthodox theology was not so much shaped as confirmed by historical developments. The Eastern churches knew that a pope could write heresy in a strong letter and thus can be condemned as a heretic (Sixth Ecumenical Council). Of course, a pope could also (and historically usually wrote) wonderfully orthodox theology, as Leo at Chalcedon. However, there were major changes in the papacy during the ninth century and one century does not guarantee the next. This is why an Orthodox review of the Latin councils after the schism (considered ecumenical by the Roman Catholic Church) and major papal statements only confirmed the Orthodox view that Western Christendom was unreliable. Indeed, I would argue that Vatican II ended up reversing or at least revising a number of past papal and conciliar statements (compare Council of Florence below with the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, such as:

“It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives…”

However, Fr. Harrison himself is well aware of these problems and has expressed his support of the above decree (and the Feeneyite position) against what is taught in Roman Catholicism today.  For more on Fr. Feeney see here.

In this article posted here, Fr. Harrison considers the above decree of the council of Florence as infallible and admits being in the minority in rejecting the revised teachings of Vatican II and the Catholic Catechism.  NOTE: The article has since been removed. [ED: It can be read here at the Internet Archive.] You can find some quotes here.

After the East-West rupture that hardened as a result of the mutual excommunications of 1054 and the brutal sack of Constantinople by Latin crusaders in 1204, two ecumenical councils were convoked by Rome for the purpose of healing the breach. They were held at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439, with Eastern Christendom being duly represented at both councils by bishops and theologians sent from Constantinople. And in both cases these representatives ended up fully accepting, on behalf of the Eastern Church, the decrees, promulgated by these councils, that professed the true, divinely ordained jurisdiction of the successors of Peter over the universal Church of Christ—something much more than a mere primacy of honor. And these decrees were of course confirmed by the then-reigning popes.

Why, then, did neither of these two councils effectively put an end to the tragic and long-standing schism? Basically because the Eastern delegations to Lyons and Florence, upon returning to their own constituency, were unable to make the newly decreed union take practical effect.

Indeed, the bishops represented their Churches and in this case the people the Church rejected this council as politically motivated and at odds with the ancient faith.  This is the Orthodox understanding of ecclesiology and of the role of the bishop as icon/representative of his Church, but not in an autonomous way.

At Constantinople, the nerve-center of the Byzantine Empire, an attitude of deep suspicion and even passionate hostility toward the Latin “enemies” was still strongly ingrained in the hearts and minds of many citizens—great and small alike. The result was that politics and public opinion trumped the conciliar agreements. The Eastern Christians as a whole simply refused to acquiesce in the idea of allowing that man—the widely feared and detested bishop of Rome—to hold any kind of real jurisdiction over their spiritual and ecclesiastical affairs.

As a result, in order to justify their continued separation from Rome, the Orthodox have had to nuance their position on the infallibility of ecumenical councils. They have had to maintain that the participation in a given council of bishops representing the whole Church and the confirmation of their decrees by the pope, while undoubtedly necessary, is still not sufficient to guarantee the true ecumenical status of that council. For over and above the fulfillment of those conditions, it is also necessary (so they have told us in recent centuries) for the faithful as a whole in both East and West—not just the pope and bishops or even the entire clergy—to accept that council’s decrees as expressing the true faith. So the simple Proposition 1 set out above is now modified as follows:

This is exactly what history shows us was the case with the ecumenical councils.  They were only recognized as ecumenical over time, and at different paces by different parts of the Church.  Nicaea took almost a century to gain adherence, and many bishops were loath to use the language discussed there for a long time after, even by those that attended the council.  You can see the confirmation in action in most councils when they include in their proceedings an explicit acceptance of past councils, demonstrating that the past council has gained acceptance in the Church and is now recognized as binding.  While this process may lack a nice and tidy character as an “infallible answer”, it is the historic truth.  The idea that a council of bishops merely had to convene, discuss a matter, and then get confirmation from the Bishop of Rome to settle a matter is a-historic.

Proposition 2: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole Church.

In the post-Enlightenment Western world, wherein opposition to clericalism (real or imagined), and the ideas of democracy and popular sovereignty have long enjoyed great popularity, this Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, with its emphasis on the role of the laity, will naturally sound attractive to many. But on further examination a fatal logical flaw in the Orthodox theory comes to light.

Let’s take a closer look here. If the crucial factor in deciding whether a given council’s teaching is infallible or not depends on how it is received by the rank-and-file membership of “the whole Church,” then it becomes critically important to know who, precisely, constitutes “the whole Church.” How are her members to be identified? Who has voting rights, as it were, in this monumental communal decision?

A Murky Question of Membership

In answer to this question, our Eastern friends cannot (and do not) say that for these purposes the whole Church consists of all who profess faith in Christ, or all the baptized. For on that basis the Orthodox would rule out as “un-ecumenical” (and thus, non-infallible) not only the second-millennium councils recognized by Rome and the Catholic Church, but also the seven great councils of the first millennium which they themselves recognize in common with Catholics! For each one of those councils was rejected by significant minorities of baptized persons (Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians, etc.) who professed faith in Christ.

It is equally clear that the Orthodox cannot define the whole Church as Catholics do, namely, as consisting of all those Christians who are in communion with Rome, the See of Peter, the “Rock.”

Actually, determining what is the “whole Church” is not quite as simply as what Fr. Harrison explains here. In Dominus Iesus (2000), an official document prepared by then Cardinal Ratzinger and approved by Pope John Paul II, the Orthodox churches are considered true Churches:

“Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church…”

As I have explained at length in His Broken Body, this statement reflects problematic terminology and faulty ecclesiology, but it is important nonetheless.  As a result, we find Orthodox saints such as St. Sergius of Radonezh in the Roman Catholic calendar, which indicates a much more nuanced position on the part of official Roman Catholicism.

For they themselves have not been in communion with Rome since medieval times. Could they perhaps try to define the whole Church in terms of communion with their own patriarchal See of Constantinople? No way. As far as I know, no Orthodox theologian has ever dared to claim that the need for union with Constantinople is part of revelation or divine law. For not only was this see itself in heresy at certain periods of antiquity, it did not even exist for several centuries after revelation was completed in the apostolic age.

In short, any Orthodox attempt to define the whole Church in terms of some empirically verifiable criterion will land our Eastern brethren in impossible absurdities. So the only other course open to them, logically, is the one they have now in fact adopted: They attempt to define the whole Church in terms of an empirically unverifiable criterion, namely, adherence to true, orthodox doctrine.

This is where accurate terminology and theology are essential. We are dealing with several key concepts that need to be understood: whole, Church, catholic, orthodox. I would invite those interested in the critical topic of ecclesiology to read Zizioulas’ Eucharist, Bishop, Church as well as my own His Broken Body. The Church is the local Eucharist assembly with his bishop, presbyters, deacons and people. This is what the scriptures call the whole Church (do a BibleWorks search) and this indeed the same (even in etymology) as catholic Church. So “the Church is in the bishop and the bishop is in the Church” as St. Cyprian wrote. To be specific then, the Church is ‘catholic’ and the Faith is ‘orthodox’ – this is the normative language. The ideal is that the ‘catholic Church’ should always be orthodox, but that is not always the case, as happened during the Arian crisis. The ‘catholic Church’ (again the diocese) is the historic community with a continuity of ordinations in the city and normally in communion with the nearby Churches. From an Orthodox perspective, the Church of Rome still is ‘catholic’ but in error and therefore unorthodox. But sending in an Orthodox bishop and making him ‘bishop of Rome’ is not the solution – the Orthodox have never done that because the orthodox Faith does not necessarily make the catholic Church.

The concern expressed by Fr. Harrison about who is in the Church is projected at the universal level, who belongs to the right communion of Churches?

Unlike cities, sayings, and sacraments, doctrinal orthodoxy cannot be recognized as such by any of the five senses. It cannot, as such, be seen, touched, or heard—only discerned in the mind and heart. Thus, if we ask the Orthodox why do they not recognize as constituent parts of the whole Church those baptized, Christ-professing Aryans, Nestorians, etc., who rejected one or more of the seven first-millennium councils, they will respond, “Why, because they were unorthodox, of course! They lapsed into heresy while we—and up till that time the Latin Church under Rome as well—maintained the true faith.”

Actually, it takes a long time for the Orthodox to say that a schismatic or heretical Church is no longer the Church at all. This can be seen in the effort of the Nicene Council to reunite the Novationists and later of Basil with the Arians. A local Church or group of Churches can be in schism or heresy for a while and then re-enter the Orthodox Catholic communion. It is only after long process of separation and decay that a judgment may be made that local Church is “beyond recovery…” As we can see in the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848, this still considered it possible to reintegrate the Bishop and Church of Rome into the Orthodox Catholic communion without much difficulty and without having to say that there was no manifestation of the Church in Rome for 900 years…

Now that the Orthodox position regarding infallibility and ecumenical councils has been further specified, we can reformulate it a third time, replacing the expression “the whole Church” at the end of Proposition 2 with another which clarifies what is meant by those three words:

Proposition 3: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole community of those Christians who adhere to true doctrine.

But here, I am afraid, we come face to face with the fundamental logical flaw in the whole Eastern Orthodox account of how we can know what—if anything—God has revealed to mankind. Since Christ founded his Church on earth to be a visible community, we cannot define her in terms of an invisible criterion—possession of doctrinal truth—without falling into absurdity.

The Orthodox view is that Church is literally (“this is my body”) identified with the Eucharist which is the bishop, presbyters, deacons and people celebrating the Eucharist. However, the proposition above is not bad and does represent the Orthodox sense of how the Holy Spirit works among his people and how we can discern the work of the Spirit with assurance, as in the case of the canon of Scripture and with the inspired ministries of the Old Testament prophets.

Fr. Harrison says that it is impossible to define a visible community in terms of an invisible criterion, but that is precisely the type of criterion used to define the Roman Catholic Church.  The body relies on an attitude (submission to the Bishop of Rome) and beliefs (adherence to the dogmatic positions of that Bishop), neither of which are visible.  A group or individual holding these invisible criterion is considered to be in communion with Rome.  While Orthodox, who hold neither of those invisible criteria are considered to be out of communion.  Obviously it is quite possible to define the communion in terms of invisible criteria since that’s exactly what Rome does.

This has always been the truth of the communion of Christians.  Over time certain doctrinal positions have become dogmatic sign posts to membership in the continuous organic life of the Church.  Adherence to those positions is an invisible criterion, but important nonetheless.  And the visible community has a responsibility to safe guard those invisible criterion by visibly demonstrating unity or disunity with those who do not hold those beliefs.  Thus a person not holding to the standard of the community may be excommunicated, put out of communion.  An invisible criterion is judged and results in a visible result.  There’s nothing difficult or illogical about that.

The flaw this involves is that of a circular argument—including the term to be defined within the definition itself. This results in a mere tautology: a repetitive proposition that provides no information at all.

We can see this more clearly if we remember that the whole purpose of an infallible church authority is simply to enable Christians to distinguish revealed truth clearly and certainly from falsehood and heresy.

Actually, the emphasis is somewhat different. The purpose of the Councils is to avoid schism and to maintain the Eucharistic unity of the local Church and of the common union of Churches.  It wouldn’t be correct to say that this was the purpose of the councils.  Councils (not necessarily ecumenical) were convened infrequently, many times on non-doctrinal issues, as needed.  The council worked to restore unity (and uniformity), but the means of distinguishing truth and falsehood to the Christian was the local Church which was always available.

Keeping this in mind, we can formulate once again the Eastern Orthodox proposition, rewording Proposition 3 above so as to unpack the word infallible, spelling out its meaning and function:

Proposition 4: Christians can come to know with certainty what is true doctrine by recognizing the solemn doctrinal decisions of those councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole community of those Christians who adhere to true doctrine.

The words italicized above lay bare the underlying circularity—the tautology—that vitiates the logical coherence of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. We want to know how to identify true Christian doctrine with certainty, but the proffered solution to our problem assumes we already know the very thing we are seeking to discover. We are being told, “To discover what is true Christian doctrine, you must pay heed the teaching of those who adhere to true Christian doctrine”!

Not long after I came to the firm conclusion that Eastern Orthodoxy was illogical, so that its claim to infallibility could not be sustained, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church at the Mass of the Easter Vigil in 1972.

Maybe this would be a good time to express the Orthodox proposition in one paragraph. It cannot be so short as to be reduced to a slogan but needs to be workable. True doctrine is revealed in Holy Scripture and this is discerned by the operation of the Holy Spirit in the life of the people of God, which is those who participate in the life of the Church. When a controversy occurs, the truth is discerned by a network or community, the wider and deeper (historically) the better. Once a Council takes place (e.g. Nicea in 325) it may take many years (or centuries) for the common union of Churches to function as a network of sensors that will harmonize and stabilize. This is why the Orthodox often spoke of the five senses (five patriarchates) of Christendom as reflecting such a mechanism. One may ask then if it was wise for the Latin West to have dogmatic ‘ecumenical Councils’ without the sensus fidelium of the ancient Greek-speaking Churches.

Fr. Harrison sees an issue with identifying a starting point in the Orthodox position.  How can one determine the community one should adhere to?  When looking back from a vantage point 2,000 years later this can seem daunting.  What must be done is to start from the other end of history.  Following the continuity of the apostolic community forward one can see the faithfulness of the Orthodox community.  It also becomes clear that the development of the papacy demonstrates the arbitrariness of holding to the Bishop of Rome as the hub of Christian communion.  Following history forward that way provides a strong demonstration of the stability and faithfulness of Orthodoxy.  The same cannot be said for the Roman Catholic communion.

A Problem at the Root

It remains only to add that, in the 36 years since I returned to full communion with the one Church founded by Christ, my conviction as a Catholic has only become stronger. For the Orthodox church today is by no means in the same condition as it was then.

Since this article was written in 2008 – 36 = 1972 (the post-Vatican II explosion of experimental liturgics), one has to wonder if it is the Orthodox or Roman Catholics who have ‘adhered strictly to their ancient, stable liturgical traditions’ to use Fr. Harrison’s expression (below).

The very features which had most attracted me to it back then have now largely faded into a twilight of doubt and confusion. For some centuries the tenacity of the Orthodox in adhering strictly to their ancient, stable liturgical traditions, together with their relative isolation from the post-Enlightenment West, combined to act as a quite powerful antidote, in practice, to the effects of the ingrained virus of illogicality that we have just exposed. But in recent decades, with more extensive cultural and ecumenical contacts, and with an increasingly large and active Eastern diaspora in Western countries, Orthodoxy’s underlying vulnerability to the same liberal and secularizing tendencies in faith, morals, and worship that have devastated the West is becoming more apparent. That virus—an inevitable result of breaking communion with the visible rock of truth and unity constituted by the See of Peter—is now inexorably prodding Orthodoxy toward doctrinal pluralism and disintegration.

Honestly, all Christians have to deal with modernity and are influenced by it – for the better and for the worse. There is also an certain, acceptable, level of doctrinal pluralism that is both unavoidable and healthy, unless one would wish to see everything dogmatically defined, as indeed seems to be the leaning of Fr. Harrison.  It would be interesting to have Fr. Harrison provide a list of the issues in the doctrinal disintegration he’s referring to.

Actually, the unifying mechanism in Roman Catholicism is acceptance of papal supremacy, even though the liturgical, theological and spiritual experiences are so varied as to be irreconcilable. Unity is then administrative and juridical. In the Orthodox communion, unity is brought about by an irresistible, indestructible bond of love and shared faith and spiritual-sacramental life in the Orthodox Churches.  The unity is in worship and teaching, not administration.

A traditionally minded Orthodox apologist might reply, of course, that confusion and dissent on these and many other matters are also rampant within Roman Catholicism, and indeed, to a great extent have spread to Orthodoxy as a result of powerful liberal and neo-modernist influences going largely unchecked in our own communion since Vatican Council II. This objection, unfortunately, is all too well founded as far as it goes. But it misses the vital point for present purposes, which is that the admittedly grave confusion in contemporary Catholicism is not due to its own underlying structure—its own fundamental theology of revelation. It is due rather to what many of us Catholics would see as a temporary weakness at the practical level: the level of Church discipline and government. We have witnessed a failure of many bishops, and arguably even recent popes, at times, to guard and enforce with sufficient resolve that doctrine which remains coherently and infallibly taught in theory and in principle by the Catholic magisterium. A solution to the present problems will not require the reversal of any Catholic doctrine; on the contrary, it will involve the more resolute insistence, in theory and in practice, on our existing doctrines. (This insistence, it is true, may need to include further authoritative papal interpretations of certain Vatican II texts whose ambiguity or lack of clarity betray something of the conflicting pastoral, philosophical, and theological tendencies that were apparent among the Council Fathers themselves.)

This where an Orthodox theologian would have to say that the current problems affecting Roman Catholicism are in fact rooted in its single-point of failure, highly centralized and administrative approach to unity. The changes to the liturgy (and the subsequent transformation of Roman Catholicism) were brought about by the papal pen and liturgical abuse authorized and tacitly endorsed (tragically) under Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. In the Orthodox system, this would be impossible: Orthodoxy is a mesh or self-correcting network: any bishop who would alter the Church/Eucharistic life would be promptly removed, and there is no one pen who can effect change to the “faith (or pattern or worship) once delivered to the saints.”

In Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, the currently growing problem of internal confusion and division goes down to a deeper level. It is rooted in unsound principle, not just defective practice. It is a problem involving the essential defining feature of the Orthodox communion over against Catholicism, namely, its fateful medieval decision to repudiate the full primacy and authority of that rock established by Christ in the person of Peter and his successors in the See of Rome. Perhaps, if more of our Orthodox brethren can come to recognize the underlying logical flaw in their ecclesiology that I have tried to pinpoint and explain in this article, we shall see more fruitful ecumenical progress toward the restoration of full communion.

There is indeed a need to discuss ecclesiology and to be willing to look at the possible over-reactions and distortions that have taken place since the schism (and indeed before). However, if we start with the Orthodox (and we think Biblical and Patristic view) that the Church (“the whole Church” of Romans 16) is what we now call the diocese, than we can discuss the following:

  1. how the Churches relate to the Church
  2. how the Churches form structures of communion, at the regional, national and worldwide level
  3. what was the nature of the relationships among the Churches (including that of Rome) during the first thousand years
  4. what were the exact privileges of the Church/Bishop of Rome and what the difference is between a primacy of hierarchical privileges (Orthodox view) and the absolute authority envisaged by the post-schism papacy…

This is what the Ravenna documents for instance are starting to discuss and this is extremely positive and encouraging.

Apart from theology, it would seem that there is a great divergence in the liturgical life of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy today (especially since Vatican II) and this is a major obstacle that must be addressed.

In bringing such arguments to the table, Fr. Harrison is actually being helpful because it fosters in-depth dialogue. May it be rooted in Scripture and in the Fathers, and guided by the Holy Spirit who is the only revealer of Truth.

Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck is author of His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism Between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and is editor of the website Orthodox Answers. This article is reprinted with permission from here.

For further reading — additional articles by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck:

Papal Infallibility


Reflections on the Infallibility of the Church

The Filioque Controversy

Oxford Orthodox Christian Student Society Lectures

November 25, 2011

Within the last couple of weeks some notable lectures have been posted to Vimeo which were delivered to the  Oxford Orthodox Christian Student Society, which are not generally available elsewhere. A sampling:

“Eastern Sacred Chant” – a talk by Dr. Dmitri Conomos

“Translating The Liturgy: Was there a Great Entrance at the Last Supper? ” – a talk by Fr. Ephrem Lash

“Aquinas and Orthodoxy” – a talk by Fr. Andrew Louth

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