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.