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.
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.”
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