“Rome sees the Eastern Catholic Churches in America as essentially inconsequential”

That’s the bitter assessment of one Ruthenian Catholic priest, and it provoked an interesting essay in First Things on a subject we in the Latin Rite don’t hear about very much:

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.

Read more.


  1. Eugene Pagano says:

    It has been my impression that Eastern Catholic priests, like Orthodox ones, can marry before ordination but not afterwards, and that married priests cannot become bishops. Is the Cardinal trying to revive a pre-Vatican II ban on married clergy that caused many Eastern Catholics to join Orthodox church, a ban that was thought to have been revoked after Vatican II>

  2. Thomas Loya’s church is in Homer Glen, Illinois outside Chicago…check out their website:
    http://www.byzantinecatholic.com/music.htm# . There is a cd of chant available….you can listen on the website. He also had a radio program that I believe is still available on itunes,
    “Light of the East”…very informative.

  3. Deacon Norb says:

    Before this blog-stream get too toxic, the situation described by Eugene P above — Byzantine Catholics bailing-out to the Orthodox churches because of the attitude of Rome toward married priests — is absolutely true.

    Out here in an isolated area of the Midwest, a Russian Orthodox congregation was formed by break-away Byzantine Reuthenian Catholics because of that very reason. That is how a relatively small town (under 2,000) has all three: a Roman/Western Catholic Church; a Russian/Eastern Orthodox Church; and a Reuthenian/Eastern Byzantince Catholic Church.

  4. This has opened up lots of research homework for me on this holiday weekend, as even reading the full article left me in a state of utter confusion—and I thought I had a fairly good grasp of the underlying issues. But while I am off following historical and ecclesiastical trails, one musing remains: Interesting that Rome uses celibacy as both carrot (in the waiver of celibacy for priests in the Anglican Ordinariate) and stick (in this wrist-slapping of the Eastern Churches in America).

  5. Diakonos09 says:

    It was my understanding that the Second Vatican Council upheld that the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome were to maintain, and if needs be resotre, their full traditions and heritage. If Reunion with the Ordthodox is a goal of the Vatican then how can forbidding the tradition of married clergy be an invitation to reunion witout detriment to their customs? Wouldn’t it actually be a chance for hardcore anti-reunion Orthodox to say “See, I told you so?”

  6. ron chandonia says:

    The notion that the status of the “uniate” churches is an obstacle to reunification of Eastern and Western Christianity has much truth to it, but not in the way the Vatican official cited here makes it seem. Consider this: Talks on Catholic-Orthodox unity today are predicated on the so-called “Ratzinger principle” articulated by the present pope in 1976 when he was a university theologian: ” . . . on the doctrine of the primacy [of the papacy], Rome must not require more from the East than what was formulated and lived out during the first millennium.” Given the way Roman officials micromanage the affairs of the Eastern-rite churches already in communion with the Vatican, why should the Orthodox trust that the pope could stick to such a commitment?

    Last year, Nicholas Samra, the newly-chosen Melkite bishop of Newton, MA, announced his intention to ordain married men to the priesthood. His eparchy already includes America’s most famous married priest: Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, co-founder of Pax Christi USA, a Boston Irishman with 13 children who was ordained in Syria. Fr. McCarthy has provided a wonderful example of what a married priesthood in this country ought to look like. But from the sound of Father Loya’s letter I gather the Vatican will soon be putting a stop to Bishop Samra’s plans.

  7. about us being an ‘obstacle’ to unity between the Catholic and Orthodox…so….the new Anglican Ordinate is an “obstacle” to unity between the Church and the Anglican Church? No- these are true Catholics who want to continue to worship in their tradition- like us. I don’t need to choose between the Catholic Church (which is more than the Latin rite Liturgy) and my Eastern (specifically Romanian Byzantine) tradition- because a Byzantine Church in union with Rome already exists. It is very insulting that we are seen as an ‘obstacle”- no we are a (albeit tiny) reminder that the Church was ONE and this does not mean that the Church had one Liturgy (I would guess that the majority of Roman-rite Catholics do not realize this)

  8. Bill Russell says:

    The persecution of Catholics by Orthodoxy has a long and sad history, inseparable from the traditional entanglement of Church and Emperor/Czar/KGB which was the inevitable consequence of Orthodoxy’s rejection of the Primacy of Peter. (cf. St. Josaphat Kuntsevych who relics are enshrined near the tomb of St. Peter himself in the Vatican.) The Orthodox will bend over backwards to justify their concession for married clergy dating to the Synod in Trullo, but the retention of celibacy as a prerequisite for bishops who posses the “fullness of the priesthood” is explicable only by the apostolic origins of clerical celibacy – this has been made clearer by recent historical studies by such as Cocchini and was the theme of a recent conference in the Vatican. The Holy See is only reaffirming this. Our Lord told those of his apostles who were married to forsake all for his sake. Name one apostle who was succeeded by a son.

  9. ron chandonia says:

    So why does the Vatican “reaffirm” this so-called “apostolic” discipline in the United States but let go of it in places where the Eastern Catholic (uniate) churches originated?

  10. Midwestlady says:

    There’s a lot more to this issue than whether priests can marry, a lot more. The Eastern churches have a different liturgy than we do, different prayer traditions than we do, and a different attitude toward the legalism that goes on in the Western church than we do.

  11. In the writings of Pappias, he writes of a conversation with the Apostle Phillips daughter. So, apparently, at least ONE apostle was married nad had a child.

  12. pagansister says:

    This may sound like a silly question but here goes anyhow! How can any part of a huge, world wide organization –The Church–be considered “essentially inconsequential”? Doesn’t unity make one stronger/

  13. Fiergenholt says:


    What is going on here is the second (or maybe third or fourth) stage of a process started by the saintly Pope John XXIII.

    Early in his career in the church, Angelo Roncalli served as “Apostolic Delegate” (ambassador in all but name) to Turkey and Greece from 1935 or so until 1944 or so when he was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to France.

    During his time in the Eastern Mediterranean, he developed a profound interest and respect for both Eastern Christianity and Judaism. [Fascinatingly enough, some Jewish circles identify him as a “Righteous Gentile” — the highest honor of respect they only give to non-Jewish folks who worked tirelessly against the ravages of Nazi Germany.)

    When he became Pope and then called the Vatican Council II into being, he went out of his way to make sure Eastern Catholic bishops would be in attendance, that Eastern Orthodox leaders would be invited as observers, and that Eastern Christian history/traditions/offices would be respected.

    His successors were a mixed-bag in this respect. Paul VI had little exposure to/ even less interest in Eastern Christianity; John Paul I did not live long enough to really make an impact one-way-or-the-other here. John Paul II was exposed to Eastern Christianity BUT Polish Roman Catholicism seemed to consider any form of Eastern Christianity tainted by the Atheistic Communistic politics of Eastern Europe where it thrived. Personally, he was far more interested in reconciling Catholicism with Judaism because of the impact of a childhood friend/playmate who was Jewish. I’m not sure what Benedict XVI priorities are but working closely with Eastern Christians of whatever color and flavor does not appear to be one of them.

    I wonder if “essentially inconsequential” isn’t better described as hyperbole: The current situation causing this “hype” to surface is probably correct — but like lot of “sound-bites,” the words are meant to have shock value.

  14. Bill Russell says:

    The Greek gave us the term “ecumenicism” but with them is seems to be a one way street. This case in point courtesy of the Catholic News Service:

    OXFORD, England (CNS) — Greece’s Catholic Church accused a leader of the Orthodox Church of “intolerance and fanaticism” after he sued a Catholic archbishop for illegal proselytism.

    “I hope the court rejects his petition, which has no legal or juridical basis,” said Nikolaos Gasparakis, spokesman for the Greek bishops’ conference. “It’s a pity he doesn’t say more about the plight of citizens during our grave economic crisis, rather than just attacking Catholics.”

    In April, Orthodox Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus filed suit against Athens Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos, for allegedly violating the Greek constitution by running a Catholic school in Piraeus. The metropolitan cited Article 13 of Greece’s constitution, which prohibits proselytism.

    In a May 24 interview with Catholic News Service, Gasparakis said Metropolitan Seraphim’s actions “infringed canonical rules” and “contradicted the Gospel,” but added that he was concerned other Orthodox leaders had not reacted to his actions.

    “In the 11 years since Pope John Paul II visited our country, Greek society has become more tolerant and less hostile toward Catholics,” Gasparakis said. However, he said, that was not true of the Orthodox leaders.

    In March, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I — considered first among equals of the Orthodox patriarchs — wrote the Orthodox archbishop of Athens about an “unjustified and dangerous” sermon by Metropolitan Seraphim. In that early March sermon, the metropolitan invoked an anathema against Pope Benedict XVI as well as against Protestants, Jews, Muslims and ecumenists.

    The 200,000-member Catholic Church has often complained of discrimination in Greece, a European Union and NATO member-state whose constitution declares Orthodoxy the “prevailing religion” and prohibits Bible translations without Orthodox consent.

    On May 7, the bishops’ conference said it would take action in the European Court of Human Rights against Greece’s failure to provide equal rights and legal status for the Catholic Church.

  15. pagansister says:

    Thank you so much for that brief history of this situation thus answering my inquiry, Fiergenholt! Appreciate it.

  16. Billy Bean says:

    Thank you for your observations, Priest’s Wife. I am grateful for the Eastern Catholic Church, having been brought up Roman Catholic. In my youth, I fell away from God completely and returned to Him in my twenties as an Evangelical Protestant. I am now a 57 year old Eastern Orthodox Christian (OCA), but if there was an Eastern Catholic parish in our vicinity, that’s where I’d be. I have visited Byzantine Catholic services, and find the same piety and wisdom there that I love in Orthodoxy. The witness of the Eastern catholics to the true unity of the Church is both beautiful and indispensable. I loved the fact that the Pope is commemorated in each Byzantine Catholic liturgy. Other than that, I could have been in an Eastern Orthodox liturgy; there was no other real difference.

  17. Billy Bean says:

    It occurs to me that some Catholics seem to regard regard the Eastern Catholic churches as the United States has lately regarded Taiwan, and is increasingly regarding Israel: useful at one time, but increasingly inconvenient to their own political goals. The Latins want relations normalized with the Eastern Orthodox, but the EO’s bristle at the accusatory existence of the “Uniates.” The price for making nice with the Orthodox is to throw the Eastern Catholics under the bus, as the price of relations with Communist China is the betrayal of Nationalist China.

  18. Joe Piccione says:

    Father Thomas Loya is one of the most energetic promoters of Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body. Father Tom expresses a cry of the heart and should be heard as such. He is devoted to Catholic unity yet naturally expresses concern about the regard for his Church in the view of the Holy See.

    There is a very positive trend of respect and development for the Eastern Churches that began with Pope Leo XIII. An offense of this magnitude must be voiced. That is what happened at the First Vatican Council and it prompted pain to the Eastern bishops in the short term but significant improvement due to attention these bishops brought to the problem.

    In the early 20th century it was claimed that Catholics in this nation would not understand the phenomenon of married Eastern Catholic clergy. Twenty years after the acceptance of married former Episcopalian and other clergy into the Catholic presbyterate, that old claim is quite groundless.

    Charity and sound ecclesiology call for respect for the Eastern Churches in the entirety of their living tradition. As Father Loya notes, the ancient and dynamic Christian anthropology of the Eastern Church has nothing but promise for the new evangelization of the 21st century.

  19. All this vitriol! STOP! :)
    This has been one of the healthiest debates I’ve ever seen on the web.
    Learn a lot just from the commentary, as well as the article.

  20. IF I remember correctly, the Reuthenian Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Parma in Ohio produced a 20-30 minute video about Byzantine liturgical customs and the audience was deliberately intended to be Roman-Rite parish-level adult faith formation programs. All of their parishes are encouraged to have “Speakers’ Bureaus” where Reuthenian Catholics layfolk can go out with literature and that video to inform others about their traditions.

    That presentation in my parish maybe eight years ago put a whole new perspective on a lot of issues that had surfaced in our area. For instance, these Reuthenian Catholics never genuflect PERIOD! They have always used the profound bow as a sign of honor instead.

    Even at the clergy level in my Roman Rite diocese, this is true. Our liturgical custom is that priests/deacons who have orthopedic concerns due to age or illness do not have to genuflect or kneel at those times in the mass where this is appropriate. A profound bow is considered just as respectful.

    Lay-folks who have orthopedic issues, also, don’t try to genuflect when they really should not — they use the profound bow and it works very well.

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