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

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

With the Rise of Militant Secularism, Rome and Moscow Make Common Cause

October 23, 2011

H/T: Catholic Online

By Fr. Johannes Jacobse

NAPLES, FL (Acton Institute) – The European religious press is abuzz over recent developments in Orthodox – Catholic relations that indicate both Churches are moving closer together. The diplomatic centerpiece of the activity would be a meeting of Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kyrill of the Russian Orthodox Church that was first proposed by Pope John Paul II but never realized.

Some look to a meeting in 2013 which would mark the 1,700th anniversary of the signing of the Edict of Milan when Constantine lifted the persecution of Christians. It would be the first visit between the Pope of Rome and Patriarch of Moscow in history.

A few short years ago a visit between Pope and Patriarch seemed impossible because of lingering problems between the two Churches as they reasserted territorial claims and began the revival of the faith in post-Soviet Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. The relationship grew tense at times and while far from resolved, a spirit of deepening cooperation has nevertheless emerged.

Both Benedict and Kyrill share the conviction that European culture must rediscover its Christian roots to turn back the secularism that threatens moral collapse.

Both men draw from a common moral history: Benedict witnessed the barbarism of Nazi Germany and Kyrill the decades long communist campaign to destroy all religious faith. It informs the central precept in their public ministry that all social policy be predicated on the recognition that every person has inherent dignity and rights bestowed by God, and that the philosophical materialism that grounds modern secularism will subsume the individual into either ideology or the state just as Nazism and Communism did. If Europe continues its secular drift, it is in danger of repeating the barbarism of the last century or of yielding to Islam.

The deepening relationship does not portend a union between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics are more optimistic about unity because they are less aware of the historical animus that exists between Catholics and Orthodox. Nevertheless, while the increasing cooperation shows the gravity of the threat posed by secularism, it also indicates that the sensitive historical exigencies can be addressed in appropriate ways and times and will not derail the more pressing mission.

The cooperation has also caused the Churches to examine assumptions of their own that may prove beneficial in the long run. The meaning of papal supremacy tops the list.

On the Orthodox side the claims to a universal jurisdictional supremacy of the Patriarch of Rome have been rejected since (indeed, was a cause of) the Great Schism of 1054 (see here  and here ). That said, the Orthodox see the Pope of Rome as the rightful Patriarch of the Church of Rome and could afford him a primacy of honor in a joint council but not jurisdiction.

On the other side, the Orthodox do not have a Magisterium, a centralized Church structure that speaks for all the Orthodox in the world. This has led to some fractious internal wrangling throughout the centuries although doctrine and teaching has remained remarkably consistent.

It will come as no surprise for anyone to know that the Orthodox have difficulties with some of the claims made by the Catholic Church concerning the precise responsibilities and the nature of the authority associated with the Bishop of Rome. The Catholic Church has long recognized this as a basic difference between the Orthodox and Catholic worlds. The rise of militant secularism, however, and the cultural challenges this creates for Orthodox and Catholic Christians alike, have focused everyone’s minds on how they can cooperate to address these issues of ethics and culture.

Protestants have a stake in the outcome as well particularly as attitudes have softened towards Rome due in large part to Pope John Paul II’s exemplary leadership during the collapse of communism in the last century. Protestant ecclesiology has no real place for priest or pope which makes the nature of discussions between them and the Catholics or Orthodox entirely different. Nevertheless, as the soul denying ramifications of secularism become more evident, an increasing number look to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for leadership.

The most visible ambassador for the Orthodox Church is Oxford-educated Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokomansk who runs the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. Observers report that a deep respect and even genuine fondness exists between Hilarion and Benedict which has contributed to the recent thaw.

Both of them note with alarm the increasing attacks on the Christian faith in Europe and on Christians themselves in other parts of the world, a development they term “Christophobia.” Hilarion brought these points forward several years back when he first challenged the European Union for omitting any mention of the Christian roots of European civilization in the EU Constitution. That earned him considerable worldwide notice and he has become increasingly outspoken towards any attempts to silence the Christian testimony or dim the historical memory of Christendom.

From the Orthodox side it is clear that the leadership that deals with the concrete issues that affect the decline of the Christian West is emerging from Moscow. One reason is the sheer size of the renewed Russian Orthodox Church. The deeper reason however, is that the Russians have direct experience with the suffering and death that ensues when the light of the Christian faith is vanquished from culture.

Decades before the fall of Communism was even a conceptual possibility for most people, Pope John Paul II prophesied that the regeneration of Europe would come from Russia. At the time many people thought it was the misguided ramblings of a misguided man. It is looking like he knew more than his critics. We are fortunate to have these two leaders, Benedict and Kyrill, to help guide us through the coming difficulties.


Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North and South America. He is president of the American Orthodox Institute and serves on the board of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He writes frequently on social and cultural issues on his blog and elsewhere.
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The Action Institute is committed to Integrating Judeo-Christian Truths with Free Market Principles. This article frist appeared as an Acton Commentary and is used with permission of the Author and the Institute

Cathedral Consecrated to Commemorate Gulag Victims from Soviet Era

September 4, 2011

Holy Trinity Cathedral in Magadan, Russia built on site of a Soviet Gulag

On September 2, 2011 Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill consecrated a new Cathedral which commemorates the victims of the Soviet era gulag labor camps. Constructed over the site of a former camp, Holy Trinity Cathedral is in Magadan, Russia,  the center for the notorious Kolyma camps. Estimates of those who died in these camps range from 500,000 to 3 million, including countless bishops, priests, deacons, nuns and other believers.

Patriarch Kirill was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax:

“Kolyma is the Russian Calvary and perhaps those who tormented people on this earth, pronounced terrible words during transporting convicts “step to the right, step to the left – shooting without warning,” couldn’t imagine that a grand cathedral will be erected here,” the Patriarch said after the prayer.

He called the cathedral “a great sign showing that God’s truth is alive and none even most powerful human forces can destroy this truth” and called it a symbol of victory over evil, “faith in Christ, as for confessing Him many people were exiled here to Kolyma to become martyrs.”

Video and audio from the Cathedral’s consecration can be seen below:

Rome and the Zoghby Initiative: New Translation of the 1997 Letter

June 30, 2011

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby

I was gifted today with a new translation of the French original 1997 letter from Rome to the Greek-Melkite Patriarch of Antioch discussing what is known as the Zoghby Initiative. The translator, a good friend of mine, is a lay member of the Latin Church who is fluent in French but not desirous of credit. He graciously gave permission to have the translation
published here.

A little background: The Zoghby Initiative was an ecumenical proposal by the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby that sought to have the Melkite Church (an Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Pope of Rome)  have double communion with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Antiochian Orthodox Church. It was well known for its two main propositions:

  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.

Edward Cardinal Cassidy

It was accepted by the vast majority of Melkite Bishops and by many Eastern Catholics. A bold ecumenical proposal, it was also controversial in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. For those interested, more detail on the history of the Zoghby Initiative can be read here. In 1997, I read a news article that 3 Cardinals, at the urging of Pope John Paul II, had written the Melkite Patriarch with commentary on the Zoghby Initiative. The Cardinals were: 1) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2) Achille Cardinal Silvestrini of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and 3) Edward Cardinal Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. I contacted Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Eparchy in the USA and he graciously faxed a copy of the original French letter.

Achille Cardinal Silvestrini

This letter from the Roman congregations on the Zoghby Initiative has previously been translated into English a couple of times but I was impressed with this fresh new translation which I received today. I thought readers here might be interested in seeing it along with the original French text. I thus present it here without commentary.

What is the status of the Zoghby Initiative since this letter was written? The current Melkite Patriarch has re-affirmed his Church’s commitment to the vision of the Zoghby Initiative. Many Eastern Catholics still subscribe to the proposal but some, citing Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, have asked if it is “dead.” Orthodox reaction has been cautious, questioning whether unity of faith has actually been achieved between the Melkite Church and Orthodoxy, which is seen as a pre-requisite for inter-communion.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI

The new translation from the French original is below. It can also be viewed in a PDF along with supporting documents here.

Congregation for the Eastern Churches Prot. No. 251/75
June 11, 1997
His Beatitude Maximos V HAKIM
Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and of all the East, of Alexandria and of

Your Beatitude,

Word of the project for a rapprochement between the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch has been widely noted and given rise to much public discussion.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity have striven to familiarize themselves and examine with care those aspects that lie within their respective competence; the heads of these Dicasteries have further been charged by the Holy Father to share some observations with Your Beatitude.

Maximos V Hakim, Melkite Patriarch of Antioch (1967-2000)

The Holy See follows with great interest and wishes to encourage initiatives that could ease the way to a complete reconciliation of the Christian Churches. It recognizes the imperatives behind the decades-long effort of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate aimed at promoting the realization of this sought-for fullness of communion. The Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches recognizes in this a duty for every Christian (Can. 902), that becomes for the Eastern Catholic Churches a special munus (Can. 903), to be pursued according to “normis specialibus iuris particularis moderante eundem motum Sede Apostolica Romana pro universa Ecclesia” [“by the special norms of particular law, the Apostolic Roman See directing the movement for the entire Church”] (Can. 904).

This is all the more valid for two communities that see themselves as especially tied to one another from their common origin and shared ecclesial tradition, as well as through a long experience of joint initiatives, placing them without a doubt in a privileged state of closeness.

It is the wish of the Church that appropriate ways and means be found to proceed in future along the path of fraternal agreement, and through the assistance of new forms that would allow the further realization of progress towards full communion.

Your Patriarchate, in pursuing such goals, is spurred by the sensitivity, the situational understanding, and the experience that are uniquely its own. The Holy See intends to aid this process through the formulation of a few observations that it believes could contribute to a future furthering of the initiative.

The responsible Dicasteries broadly welcome joint pastoral initiatives between Catholics and Orthodox, undertaken as proposed in the Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, most particularly in the fields of Christian formation, education, common charitable endeavours, and shared prayer when this is possible.

Specifically with respect to theological heritage, one must proceed with patience and prudence, and without precipitation, in order to assist both parties in following a shared path.

A first dimension of this sharing concerns the language and categories used in the dialogue: one has to apply the greatest care that the common use of a word, or of a concept, not lend itself to differing points of view or interpretations of a historical or doctrinal nature, nor to any form of over simplification.

A second dimension necessitates that the sharing of the contents of the dialogue not be limited solely to the two direct interlocutors, the Greek-Melkite Catholic and Orthodox Antiochian Patriarchates, but that it should also implicate the wider Confessions with which the two Patriarchates are in full communion: the Catholic Communion for the former, and the Orthodox Communion for the latter. The Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities in the Patriarchate of Antioch have, in any case, highlighted analogous concerns. This more comprehensive participation would also help ensure that initiatives aimed at promoting full communion at the local level do not give rise to misunderstandings or suspicions, even with the best of intentions.

Let us now turn to the terms of the profession of faith of his Excellence Mgr. Elias Zoghby, Greek-Melkite Catholic Archbishop emeritus of Baalbeck, signed in February 1995, and to which many prelates of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Synod have subscribed.

It is evident that this Patriarchate forms an integral part of the Christian East whose patrimony it shares. With respect to the declaration on the part of Greek-Melkite Catholics of complete adherence to the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy, one must keep in mind the fact that the Orthodox Churches are today not yet in full communion with the Church of Rome, and that this adherence is thus not possible so long as there is not from both sides an identity of professed and practiced faith. Furthermore, a correct formulation of the faith requires reference not only to a particular Church, but to the whole of the Church of Christ that is limited in neither space nor time.

With respect to communion with the Bishops of Rome, one must not forget that doctrine relating to the primacy of the Roman Pontiff has been the subject of some development within the elaboration of the Church’s faith through the ages, and that it must thus be upheld in its entirety from its origins all the way to the present day. One need only reflect on what the  First Vatican Council affirms and on what has been declared at the Second Vatican Council, particularly in NN. 22 and 23 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium and in N. 2 of the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio.

As to the ways in which the Petrine ministry could be exercised today, an issue distinct from that of doctrine, it is true that the Holy Father has recently reminded us all how it is possible to “seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned” (Ut unum sint, 95): but while it is also legitimate to approach the issue at the local level, there is a duty to do so always in communion with a view to the universal Church. In this regard, it would in any case be appropriate to recall that “the Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is—in God’s plan—an essential requisite of full and visible communion” (Ut unum sint, 97).

As to the various aspects of communio in sacris, an ongoing dialogue will have to be maintained in order to explore the rationale underlying the respective norms currently in effect, and this in light of the theological assumptions that underlie them; in this way premature unilateral initiatives or eventual outcomes that would not have pondered sufficiently might be avoided: these could lead to significant negative consequences, including with respect to other Eastern Catholics, most especially to those living within the same region.

All in all, the fraternal dialogue pursued by the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate will contribute all the more to the path of ecumenism insofar as it strives to include in the development of new sensibilities the whole Catholic Church to which it belongs. There is a good basis for believing that Orthodoxy also shares this concern, and this largely also in consideration of the requirements for communion within its own body.

The Dicasteries concerned are ready to offer their collaboration in furthering this exchange of reflections and clarifications; they further express their satisfaction with the meetings held so far on this subject with representatives of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church, and both hope and wish to see these exchanges maintained and deepened in future.

Fully recognizing that Your Beatitude will wish to share these reflections, please accept the expression of our fraternal and cordial regards.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

Achille Card. Silvestrini

Edward Card. Cassidy

Below is the original 1997 letter from the Cardinals in French (also available in PDF here):

Page 1 of the Letter from Rome to the Melkite Patriarch on the Zoghby

Page 2 of the Letter from Rome on the Zoghby Initiative

Page 3 of the Letter from Rome on the Zoghby Initiative

Comments turned off. Permission is granted to re-post this article. Please provide a link back to the original article when so doing.

For further reading:

Are the Ratzinger Proposal and Zoghby Initiative Dead? by Joel I. Barstad

Metropolitan Kallistos on Orthodox – Catholic Union

June 29, 2011

Recently posted to You Tube are these lectures given by Metropolitan Kallistos at an a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia:

Part One:

Part Two:

“The life of a child is far more valuable than the construction of a new cathedral.”

June 6, 2011

“The life of a child is far more valuable than the construction of a new cathedral.” So says Russian Orthodox Bishop Panteleymon in this powerful new video entitled: “The Gift of Heaven.”

The video relates the work of the the First International Festival of Social Technologies “PRO-LIFE — 2010.” It was held in the Salut Hotel in Moscow, Russia on July 23-24, 2010 and gathered representatives of pro-life organizations and activists from 65 cities of Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia as well as guests from non-CIS countries. The most significant results of the festival included, among others:
– activation of charity support for pregnant women and families with children in the Russian Orthodox Church as an instrument of induced abortion prevention,- engagement of major charity funds in funding this direction.

Information about the 2011 gathering can be read here.

Italian Catholic Episcopal Conference Vetoes Married Priests

March 2, 2011

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference

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

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

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

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

Lucian Muresan, Major Archbishop of the Romanian Catholic Church

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

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

For further reading:

Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

Additional Italian coverage can be found here and here.

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

Good News From Egypt

January 10, 2011

In Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Christians make up about 10 per cent of the population

From an Egyptian news service:

Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as “human shields”
Yasmine El-Rashidi, Friday 7 Jan 2011
Muslims turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular Muslim televangelist andpreacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly Street. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.

The attack has rocked a nation that is no stranger to acts of terror, against all of Muslims, Copts and Jews. In January of last year, on the eve of Coptic Christmas, a drive-by shooting in the southern town of Nag Hammadi killed eight Copts as they were leaving Church following mass. In 2004 and 2005, bombings in the Red Sea resorts of Taba and Sharm El-Sheikh claimed over 100 lives, and in the late 90’s, Islamic militants executed a series of bombings and massacres that left dozens dead.

This attack though comes after a series of more recent incidents that have left Egyptians feeling left out in the cold by a government meant to protect them.

Last summer, 28-year-old businessman Khaled Said was beaten to death by police, also in Alexandria, causing a local and international uproar. Around his death, there have been numerous other reports of police brutality, random arrests and torture.

Last year was also witness to a ruthless parliamentary election process in which the government’s security apparatus and thugs seemed to spiral out of control. The result, aside from injuries and deaths, was a sweeping win by the ruling party thanks to its own carefully-orchestrated campaign that included vote-rigging, corruption and widespread violence. The opposition was essentially annihilated. And just days before the elections, Copts – who make up 10 percent of the population – were once again the subject of persecution, when a government moratorium on construction of a Christian community centre resulted in clashes between police and protestors. Two people were left dead and over 100 were detained, facing sentences of up to life in jail.

The economic woes of a country that favours the rich have only exacerbated the frustration of a population of 80 million whose majority struggle each day to survive. Accounts of thefts, drugs, and violence have surged in recent years, and the chorus of voices of discontent has continued to grow.

The terror attack that struck the country on New Year’s eve is in many ways a final straw – a breaking point, not just for the Coptic community, but for Muslims as well, who too feel marginalized, oppressed, and overlooked by a government that fails to address their needs. On this Coptic Christmas eve, the solidarity was not just one of religion, but of a desperate and collective plea for a better life and a government with accountability.


Bishop Benjamin on St. Nicholas and the Christian Life

December 7, 2010

His Grace Benjamin, Bishop of San Francisco and the West, visited St.Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Diego, California on December 6th, 2010. He sermon on St. Nicholas and the Christian life is excellent: