Rome to US Eastern Catholics: New Priests Should “Embrace Celibacy”…

Wait, hasn’t this sentiment been expressed before?

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.

Fr. Ireland anyone? Anyone?

In 1891, Ireland refused to accept the credentials of Greek-Catholic priest Alexis Toth, citing the decree that married priests of the Eastern Catholic Churches were not permitted to function in the Catholic Church in the United States, despite Toth being a widower. Ireland then forbade Toth to minister to his own parishioners, despite the fact that Toth had jurisdiction from his own Bishop, and did not depend on Ireland. Ireland was also involved in efforts to expel all Eastern Catholic clergy from the United States of America. Forced into an impasse, Toth went on to lead thousands of Greek-Catholics to leave the Catholic Church to join the Russian Orthodox Church. Because of this, Archbishop Ireland is sometimes referred to, ironically, as “The Father of the Orthodox Church in America.” Marvin R. O’Connell, author of a biography on Ireland, summarizes the situation by stating that “if Ireland’s advocacy of the blacks displayed him at his best, his belligerence toward the Greek Catholics showed him at his bull-headed worst.”

So what happened to all that previous talk about unifying the East and West? And I wonder how the married Anglican priest coming Home will interpret this. Or maybe my reaction is a silly one because as an obedient Catholic who acknowledges the Pope as the vicar of Christ I couldn’t bring myself to schism no matter the circumstances. Though, in all seriousness I cannot imagine a priest being told to choose between his spouse and The Catholic Church. Oh Wait, yes I can.

In the past, I’ve admitted to being torn on the subject. I known gads of married priest, several quite personally. For the sake of clarity “gads” meaning 5. Seeing a priest with his wife and children no longer shocks or confuses me. Not to generalize that Romans are shocked or puzzled by married priest, it’s just not a prevalent norm for them. From my own outside observations of these men I know it can be done – married clergy. However, I know it is profoundly hard to balance. I’ve heard their wives lament the loss of the husband and children’s fathers to parish responsibilities, especially the wives with young children. Why, they ask, didn’t their husband wait till the children were grown for ordination when, after all, husband and father was their first vocation?

So yes, married priesthood can be tricky, especially in the US, where Eastern Catholicism is made up largely of converts and people with no history or cultural ties to Constantinople. And certainly no one wants Byzantine Catholic vocations to be sought simply because it’s viewed as the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too option.

About Katrina Fernandez

Mackerel Snapping Papist

  • Dr. Eric

    Don’t worry, God will take care to make sure that “vocation” of having your cake and eating it too will never come to fruition. 

    • AtticusWolfstein

      Then surely the Catholic seminaries of Ukraine must not be full?

      A vocation to both marriage and the priesthood is perfectly licit in the Eastern Churches. It is merely a sad historical fact that American Eastern Catholics have had to go to the “Old Country” or Canada for their ordination.

      • Dominic

         Well put sir. It is both tragic and damaging that any group of men called to the priesthood in their tradition should be forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops, especially after Vatican II’s decree on the Eastern Churches.

  • Patricia

    Dr. Anthony Dragani covers this topic well on his East 2 West forum:

  • Mark Soroko

    Vatican’s problems with the Eastern Church go deeper than celibacy. In the 1940s & 50s
    Byzantine Catholics had ordained women Babuskas who celebrated Mass because they weren’t watched by the KGB.  This was ok with Rome, as women were priests in the Early Church. Now the Vatican has been caught with its pants down!   To avoid having to to admit that the Pope can be in error,  it attacks married priests.  Remember that tradition cannot be overruled  by the Vatican. The most rational thing to do-given Benedicta increasing inability to govern;  is to eliminate the Papacy and go back to Council Rule, as described in Acts of the Apostles.

    • Ad Orientem

       Rubbish and clap trap! The only thing that keeps me from using stronger terms is respect for the blog owner  who I doubt would appreciate my recourse to language I picked up in the Navy on a Christian blog. This comment is false in its facts I would have characterize it as outright lies.

    • Patricia

      I’d have to agree with Ad Orientem.  I have never heard anything about these claims you have made.  Could you back them up with some facts, please?  Thanks–

      • Ad Orientem

         No he can’t back them up, because they never happened. His comment is pure 100% unadulterated bovine fecal matter.

    • Kim

      I think when you come up with these re-inventions of history, it is a sign that you respect history.   It is a great irony.  You respect it, and don’t like it, so you re-write it.

      • Ad Orientem

        Mark is showing the same sort of respect for history as Stalin. Which is to say he isn’t. One does not show respect for something with lies and fabrications. I’m not even Catholic and I am offended by the brazen nature of his slanders.

    • Anonymous

       Yea, no this isn’t even remotely true.

    • priest’s wife

      ….first of all the matushkas WERE watched by KGB and securitate….and the rest…..ugh….BEYOND WRONG

  • 777 Colleen S

    1 Corinthians 7:9:  
    9But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

    In an effort to get my husband to return to weekly Mass I began attending a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church just over 5 years ago.  I am still praying for his conversion, but I have to say I love that the Pastor-Priest is married with 6 children and the Assistant is married with a daughter.  Their is more of a connectedness in their preaching and interactions than I experienced in the RC parishes with celibate priests.    The advice particularly to parents and spouses is enlightened by more than just the Holy Spirit, it is from experience!

    I really believe that celibacy for all priests was an unfortunate over-correction due to several cardinals and bishops having multiple concubines and bringing scandal to the church.  I like the Eastern model of celibacy for monks and those called to it, including it as prerequisite for bishop.  I love having married parish priests at the parish level!  It just seems right…if they have to be surrounded by temptation, and they don’t have self-control that they would marry as it is better to marry than to burn with passion, and worse, act upon it causing scandal and the self-loathing that would be detrimental to their ministry.

    • Bergsteig

      I totally agree with your comments.

  • Akosmowski

    So much for breathing with both lungs.

    • Junk

      In my opinion, there is one lung, and its Eastern!  As a Byzantine Catholic, I could care less what this Cardinal has to say, it is simply irrelevant!   We are Eastern Catholics and if Rome wants to change us, we will join the Greeks or other Byzantines!  I have loyalty to the Byzantine Rite, not Rome.  And not to rant and rave, the constant belittling of Eastern Catholics by Latin bishops is getting old, we are not subservient to the Latin Rite, as some have suggested. 

  • Anon Y. Mous

    I know exactly one married Catholic priest–a convert to the Roman Rite from the US Episcopal church. He’s awesome, etc… His children are grown, so that’s a plus. But I still saw ways where his two vocations demanded his time at the same time. His wife’s needs won (as they should), but therefor the church’s needs suffered a bit (rescheduled masses, etc, nothing too huge).

    It was enough for me to see the wisdom of a celibate priesthood.
    At the same time, married men being eligible for the priesthood has been the norm in the East for some time, and I am loath to change an ancient tradition.Note also that, as far as I know, it’s never been “allow priests to marry,” but “allow married men to become priests.” The priest’s relation to his parishioners is always that of priest, never “possible husband.”

    • Dominic

       In all of the traditions that I am familiar with, this is the case. A priest may BE married, but he may not BECOME married.

  • AtticusWolfstein

    Why does the good bishop ignore the letter and spirit of Vatican II’s decree on the Eastern Churches?

    OE 2: “Between these there exists an admirable bond of union, such that the
    variety within the Church in no way harms its unity; rather it manifests it, for
    it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite should
    retain its traditions whole and entire” …

    OE 6: “All members of the Eastern Rite should know and be convinced that they can
    and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their
    established way of life, and that these may not be altered except to obtain for
    themselves an organic improvement. All these, then, must be observed by the
    members of the Eastern rites themselves. Besides, they should attain to on ever
    greater knowledge and a more exact use of them, and, if in their regard they
    have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take
    steps to return to their ancestral traditions.”etc, etc.

    • Dominic

       Or the much older articles of the Union of Brest:

      Article 9 states quite well:
      That the marriages of priests remain intact, except for bigamists.

  • Leo Ladenson

    “especially in the US, where Eastern Catholicism is made up largely of
    converts and people with no history or cultural ties to Constantinople.”

    American Eastern Catholicism is not largely made up of converts, but rather of ethnic Americans, the descendants of immigrants–Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Assyrians, and Arabs, mostly, with a smattering of others.

  • Nan Skovran

    Note that those entering the seminary must enter the seminary in their own rite; in order to enter the Byzantine Catholic seminary, a man would have to belong to that rite.  In the US, those who enter the seminary are well aware that they’ll be celibate priests, according to a seminary dropout.

    Please also correct “Fr. Ireland” to Abp. Ireland. You don’t have to like him, but please respect his office. While we still endure difficulties due to his actions, he also did much good. St. Paul Seminary is overflowing with vocations and this year rented temporary space in the former convent at a parish nearby to house seminarians and a couple of priests. 

    • Katrina Fernandez

      It was not meant as disrespect but thanking for reading it as such. 

  • Lisa Graas

    Yes, I can’t even imagine how hard that must be. Wow. Our priest (who is not married) barely has time for anything, but then, he is responsible for three parishes. I think the more priests we have, the better. If we had lots of priests, then they could share the burden.

  • Patricia

    Interesting post by Priest’s Wife on a letter written by Fr. Thomas Loya to our newly elected Metropolitan Archbishop William:

  • Kenneth DeWeese

    As someone who left Rome for Orthodoxy, I would like to add that the very fact that having married Byzantine Catholic priests is viewed as “having your cake and eating it too” illustrates quite well the gulf that separates the everyday perception of a Latin rite Catholic and an Orthodox Christian when it comes to married clergy. If the Byzantine Catholic Churches are meant to be an indication of the manner in which the Orthodox Churches would be treated if they were to readmit Rome to their communion, then I think this would have to change. The Latin bishops are perfectly at liberty to draw candidates for priestly ordination only from celibate men, but the problem is when this becomes so intensely promoted and venerated that a married presbyter is then looked down upon or considered some kind of exception rather than the norm for his tradition.

  • priest’s wife

    I could respond to every comment- but I won’t! :)   

     just one thing… husband is a full-time hospital chaplain and MANY times the doctors will either not see their family because of a surgery (neglecting the family!) or reschedule a surgery when possible so he can go to a family event (neglecting his patient!)—but no one seems to mind either way because he is bringing home the big bucks. 

    So the argument that a married priest (Byzantine Catholic- I have no right to give an opinion for the Latin-rite) can not have 2 vocations is maybe, partially about $$$ People were concerned for me when I was engaged (he will never have time for you) but were simply happy for a family member whose husband is a lawyer….anyway….

    • handmaidenbyzcath

      I am a doctor…do not bring home the big bucks…paid for school, spent most of my career spending extra time teaching students and residents, not “getting ahead” in private practice or academics. I am a woman so I do not compare my vocation to priestly orders. But we all have as our first and only vocation to God. Sorting out the timing and conflicts is difficult, but we just have to pray and try to make the decision Christ would…we need to be as St Martha, and as St Mary.
      I think conflicts and difficult choices are faces by all of us, and we just have to do our best, learn, and try to do better.
      …big bucks does not change things.
      a couple of generations ago, men would commonly leave for months at a time to go off and work, and then return to the family. It was just how family and provisions were possible.
      I think maybe now there is this idea of a cookie cutter family pattern, with mother and father attending every meal and event. Maybe it is not quantity but the example and message.

      just my little two cents. I was called to the single life and that is how my doctoring life works for me, but it works for the married too!

  • Noe

    The great number of Catholic laity in America are openly disobedient, yet Eastern segments of the Church in America, who globally have hundreds of years of history of married priests, are the ones whose lives are made difficult in being *obedient* to their normative, licit religious practice, they are the ones told to be ‘obedient’ to authority when they state they shall abide their normative, global, licit Catholic observance. In the US, there is one Melkite seminarian - ONE. I am moved to distance - by this sort of thing – from Catholicism as such. Centuries-old facets of The Jewel are being chipped away as it is; In the world at large in the Middle East, Eastern Catholics are substantially, materially threatened and shrinking as the young flee to America and the West - where the communities here, also dying, AND being told to fast and submit to american norms - and the Latin response is “obedientia”.

  • paul-harvey du bois

    Proof that Uniatism is a sham!