NEW YORK (RNS) Top Catholic and Orthodox church officials in North America are calling on the Vatican to let married men become priests in Eastern rite Catholic churches, another sign that optional celibacy could become a front-burner issue under Pope Francis.

North American church leaders are increasingly supporting married men becoming priests in Eastern rite Catholic churches. Creative Commons image by Tony Mendez

North American church leaders are increasingly supporting married men becoming priests in Eastern rite Catholic churches. Creative Commons image by Tony Mendez

Eastern rite Catholic churches have a look and feel similar to Eastern Orthodox churches but are loyal to Rome and fall under the pope’s jurisdiction.

Like Eastern Orthodox churches, Eastern rite Catholics tend to have more local autonomy than their Roman Catholic counterparts, and they have particular liturgies and customs that date back to their origins in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

One of those customs is optional celibacy. While Eastern rite Catholic bishops cannot be married, the priesthood is open to married men.

The main exception has been in North America, where a 1929 decree by the Vatican effectively barred married clergy in Eastern rite churches. The move was spurred by concerns among leaders of the much larger Roman Catholic church in the U.S. that having married priests in Eastern Catholic churches would prompt Roman Catholics to demand a similar practice.

The decision was controversial even back then. A century ago, Eastern Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East brought with them the tradition of a married priesthood, and the Vatican decree “resulted in divisions in Eastern Catholic communities and even in families,” leaders of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation said in a statement issued on Friday (June 6).

The rationale for maintaining the U.S. ban has been losing ground in recent years as Rome introduced exceptions into its own laws to allow married converts from some Protestant churches to be ordained as priests.

In calling on Rome to reverse the 1929 policy, leaders of the Catholic-Orthodox group from the U.S. and Canada highlighted the ecumenical implications of the ban, noting that the Eastern Orthodox churches also allow married clergy.

“This action would affirm the ancient and legitimate Eastern Christian tradition and would assure the Orthodox that, in the event of the restoration of full communion between the two churches, the traditions of the Orthodox Church would not be questioned,” the group said.

There are about 500,000 Eastern rite Catholics in the U.S. and nearly 70 million Roman Catholics. Eastern Catholics worship in more than a dozen different churches, such as the Maronite, Armenian, Chaldean, Syriac and Ukrainian traditions. There are about 750 Eastern Catholic priests compared with just under 40,000 Roman Catholic clergy in the U.S.

But Friday’s statement on celibacy for Eastern Catholics has an import that goes beyond those numbers.

For one, the Catholic delegation to the consultation is headed by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who worked in the Roman Curia for many years. Tobin’s reputation as a moderate earned him few fans under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but Francis is said to respect his judgment.

In addition, all the Catholic members of the group are appointed by the conferences of bishops in the United States and Canada.

Moreover, Francis has sent signals that he is open to optional celibacy. In February, he gave permission for a married Maronite Catholic to be ordained in St. Louis, the first ordination of a married man in the Maronite Catholic Church in the U.S. in a century.

Francis also told a visitor in April that he would be open to discussing optional celibacy if national bishops’ conferences “make concrete suggestions.”

In a news conference last month, in response to a question about revisiting the celibacy rule for all Roman Catholic priests, Francis cited the example of Eastern Catholics to note that “since it is not a dogma of faith, the door is always open.”

KRE/MG END GIBSON

17 Comments

  1. As one who grew up in the Melkite Catholic Faith with rich customs and mysterious prayers I do have a certain nostalgia for the rituals and the routines. The melodies through the Mass can break your heart they are so beautiful and ancient.

    But the price is too high.

    My strongest hope is that all of these efforts to save the churches will fail. Married priests or not, there is no safe way to play with these ancient, barbaric toys.

    Too many people really believe them to be true.
    Religion must be abandoned. Children should not be told these horrible stories of Jesus anymore.

      • @Joey,

        THE PRICE OF RELIGION
        Harm to the believers themselves:

        The harm of self-abnegation
        Death worship/hatred of one’s life
        Self-denial
        Sexual self-repression, shame, guilt
        The unfreedom of thought from the idea that a punishing god can see what you are doing and know what you are thinking
        Compelled to Love that which you are enjoined to Fear; Sadomasochism and Stockholm Syndrome.
        The destruction of personal responsibility through vicarious redemption.
        The subversion of Love, the deepest integrity.

        The surrender to an unseen authority on all personal moral questions.
        
The ultimate subversion of freedom; a surrender to theocracy and totalitarian absolutes.
        Corruption and destruction of moral integrity replaced by obedience and fear.

        For a start.

      • @Joey,

        THE PRICE OF RELIGION TO SOCIETY
        Harm to the wider community:

        1. The DISPARAGEMENT of rational, critical thought.
        2. Vilification of homosexuality, resulting in discrimination; parents disowning their children, murder, and suicide.
        3. Women made to be second-class citizens based on religious teachings.
        4. Children growing up to hate and fear science and scientists, because science disproves their parents’ religion – leading to appalling scientific illiteracy.
        5. Tens of thousands tortured and killed as witches (a practice which still continues today in Africa and Asia).
        6. People aren’t making the most of this life because of belief in an afterlife.
        7. People dying because they believe their faith makes them immune to snake venom, or other lethal aspects of reality.
        8. People dying – and letting their children die – because their religion forbids accepting medical help.
        9. People choked, starved, poisoned, or beaten to death during exorcisms.
        10. Genital mutilation of babies demanded by religious texts – hundreds of needless deaths each year and a diminution of sexual health later in life.
        11. Psychological and physiological conditions blamed on demons, preventing believers from seeking medical care for themselves and their children.
        12. Shunning. People disowning family members for leaving their religion.
        13. Friendships and romances severed or never started over religious differences.
        14. “Abstinence-only” sex education, resulting in five times the amount sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies – often leading to ill-fated “emergency” marriages.
        15. Women dying of septic abortions—or being forced to have unwanted children they resent—because religious organizations have gotten laws passed making abortion illegal or inaccessible.
        16. Censorship of speech, art, books, music, films, poetry, songs, ideas.
        17. The demonization of other religions, e.g. Christianity demonizing Pagans (“They’re devil-worshipers!”). Islam demonizing infidels. Judaism demonizing Islam. Islam demonizing Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism
        18. Children using up the period of their lives when the brain is most receptive to learning new information reading, rereading, and even memorizing religious texts.
        19. People who believe the world is about to end neglect their education, are not financially responsible, and in extreme cases take part in mass suicides.
        20. Long-term environmental issues ignored because of beliefs that the rapture/apocalypse or something will happen soon, so they don’t matter.
        21. Wives told they will be tortured forever if they leave their abusive husbands (and vice versa).
        22. Holy wars – followers of different faiths (or even the same faith) killing each other in the name of their (benevolent, loving and merciful) gods who they can’t seem to abandon.
        23. The destruction of great works of art considered to be blasphemous, and the persecution of the artists sometimes leading to death.
        24. Slavery condoned by religious texts.
        25. Children traumatized by vivid stories of eternal Hell – burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question religion – stunting freedom of thought and trust in adults.
        26. Terminal patients in constant agony who would end their lives if they didn’t believe it would result in eternal torture.
        27. School boards having to spend time and money and resources on the fight to have evolution taught in the schools.
        28. Persecution of “heretics”/scientists, like Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake) and Galileo Galilei.
        29. Blue laws forcing other businesses to stay closed or limit sales, while churches can generate more revenue instead.
        30. Mayors, senators, and presidents voted into office not because they’re right for the job, but because of their religious edicts and proclamations leaving society bereft of practical managers and leaders.
        31. Abuse of power, authority and trust by religious leaders (for financial gain or sexual abuse of followers and even children).
        32. People accepting visual and auditory hallucinations unquestioningly as divine, sometimes with fatal results.
        33. Discrimination against unbelievers, agnostics, freethinkers and atheists, such as laws stating they may not hold public office or testify in court, or in half a dozen countries around the world, laws requiring their execution.
        34. Missionaries destroying/converting smaller, “heathen” religions and cultures.
        35. Hardship compounded by the guilt required to reconcile the idea of a fair god with reality (“why is God punishing me? What have I done wrong? Don’t I have enough faith?”).
        36. Human achievements—from skillful surgery to to emergency landings—attributed to gods instead of to the people actually responsible.
        37. The support for ignorant and unhelpful missionary enterprises such as those of Mother Teresa, a deluded psychotic who prolonged the agony of terminal patients and denied them pain relief, so she could offer their suffering and torture up as a gift to her god.
        38. HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS annually in the US alone spent to build, maintain, and staff houses of worship where almost nothing is accomplished but the spread of more of these problems listed herein.
        39. Grief and horror caused by the false belief that dead friends and family members will be tortured as punishment for disbelief.
        40. Natural disasters and other tragedies used to claim God is displeased and present demands to avoid similar events (it’s like terrorism, but without having to plan or do anything).

        For a start..

          • Chaplain Martin

            It’s me again Brother Max. I thought I would find you not missing a chance to rail against religion. I see you have expanded your “preaching” against all religions. Just glad to learn that it’s not against just my faith in a power outside myself which you are against. I am concerned that you might come to the edge of violence.
            You once called me a humanist and I take it as a compliment. I am also a bit of a nonconformist and something of a free thinker.
            I know from some of your previous sharing that you are concerned for people. I would think that you are a kind humanist. Just have trouble reconciling that with your rants with the good I see in you.
            The god you rant against is not the God I worship. I would suggest we swap gods but I don’t think I could stand that awful god of religion for long.
            Why don’t we join together and teach people the terrible truth of child sexual abuse throughout the world and in every community and house whole. Join the effort to protect children from the abuse they never completely get over.

          • @Chaplain Martin,

            Yes, hello again,

            There is not the slightest chance I would ever be violent.

            I am an artist, an author, a singer, an educator, a parent of grown children and married for almost 30 years. We are all atheists but I am the one who is anti-theist.

            When it comes to debating religion I am sorely disappointed that the Theists always give up. I urge them to bring their best arguments for their claims that God exists and they drop out too soon.

            However, I am very satisfied that the intellectual energy I apply is sufficient to calm me down. There is nothing like a good back and forth and a thorough examination.

            I believed very strongly in Jesus once. Prayed with my grandmother who I loved very much and, along with her, I feared Hell and the devil. The religious life was all very vivid and rather magical and mysterious.
            I was never abused by anyone. I suffered no agonies because of religion myself. Priests were always at the house on holidays and they were close friends of the family. The church was a welcoming place.

            Sounds perfect, right? It was a great childhood. There was a lot of laughter too. It was an Italian, Irish, Lebanese Catholic life. But liberal – so even the guilt wasn’t too bad!

            Of course I am a humanist. People first – and the needs of the poor and the middle class in particular.

            Now, why would a guy like that rant against religion so much? What on earth could get me riled up so much? What is behind this fury?

            I discovered the claims were NOT TRUE.

            Let that sink in.
            .
            .
            .

            All my beliefs, my prayers, my grandmother’s fears of Hell, my worry over my pre-marital sex, my lack of confessions, the beautiful girlfriend who couldn’t stay because she was Jewish and I was Catholic, the priest who agonized about leaving the priesthood….it was all for nothing!

            So, God is a lie*.
            And I’m quite pissed about that. I hate to see other people setting themselves up for the same disaster I went through, the same ‘floor dropped out from under me’ experience.

            And the fact* that God is a lie
            means all these rules and regulations around religion need to be more closely examined – not just by me – but by society as a whole.

            How did I arrive at the discovery that God is a lie? Well, the short answer is Jesus simply isn’t who he said he was, and neither is Yahweh. I admit a god of some kind may exist but it cannot be these characters. Nor can it be Allah. I looked into that one too.

            Most Atheists are former Christians. At 44 I had become an Atheist and I was scared of it.
            I hated becoming an atheist at first – I fought it. I tried to figure out how God might still be real despite my new awareness.

            But I finally had to accept it. I do NOT believe that God is a real thing and I don’t see how I could even imagine being a believer again.

            All the evidence indicates that God is a culturally maintained, traditionally accepted delusion.

            And that is my story. I am the same man – loving, caring and an excellent husband, dad and neighbor as I ever was. I help my 97 year old neighbor buy groceries every week.

            Lack of belief in God has not changed who I am – but it has opened my eyes to how little I really knew about life and much of that ignorance was supported and encouraged by a religious world view.

            And we are living in a world soaked in this delusion. And frankly, corrupted by it.

            ———
            * I say God ‘does not exist’ but I understand that I cannot prove a negative and so I don’t go so far as to make the CLAIM that god is impossible. I am open to the possibility that a god of some kind may exist – but I see no reason yet to believe in it and so ‘there is no god’ is a manner of speaking about it in plain english.
            For example there may be leprechauns and I cannot prove there are none – but I don’t go so far as to claim leprechauns are impossible. I can say ‘there are no leprechauns as I do not believe any exist’.

          • @Chaplain Martin,

            Yes, brother Martin, you might suspect (if you read all that) I am really an ‘agnostic’ and not an ‘atheist’.

            But I’ve examined this, too.

            Agnostic says: “I don’t know if the God exists”
            Atheist says: “I don’t believe a god exists.”

            I was probably an agnostic for several years – at least since 9/11 – still attending church on the idea that real faith would return to me if I worked at it with prayer and lots of churchgoing.

            But when I discovered I could simply not believe in a God at all – I had arrived at something completely different. It was almost Indescribably different.

            It was as if I had been trying to change channels on a TV set to get a better station and suddenly discovered there WAS NO TV SET AT ALL!

            That is Atheism.
            That is why Atheists are true explorers.
            The Agnostic is changing the channels looking for a better station in hopes there is one with a believable message.

            For the Atheist the entire TV has disappeared.

          • I strongly believe in the power of love, compassion, curiosity and empathy. This is what makes life worth living!

            Belief in GOD obstructs those things.
            ‘Scripture’ pollutes and disfigures them.
            It makes me mad that people are blinded by religion to not see
            how harmful it really is.

    • To Atheist Max. Unfortunately, people are abandoning God. And look at the news daily….shootings, violence, no respect for life, etc. All because people no longer have faith and hope. Nor are we taught to respect or honor anyone other than ourselves and the almighty dollar.

      So unfortunately. …people like you are “winning” and the world is quickly deteriorating because of it.

      To those who do not believe, you have my sympathy. I pray that someday you are able to have your own faith and hope.

  2. It seems hypocritical to me that the Catholic church can revise its rules on celibacy yet not revise its rules on homosexuality. By what standards does the Catholic church determine something is or isn’t a dogma of faith?

    • The fact that celibacy for clergy is not a dogma is in the Scripture. St Paul said that the Bishop and the Priest must be married once.
      Furthermore, marriage is natural union between man and women elevated to the dignity of sacrament by Jesus.
      Homosexuality is clearly condemned by Scripture as union against nature.
      If we are not able to recognize what is the order of nature and what is a terrible disorder of the nature, we need then to ask the Holy Spirit to give us clarity of mind,,,! Lord Have mercy!

      • All hail the Holy Tuberculosis, Holy Venereal Disease,
        Holy Brain Cancer, Holy Smallpox Virus and the Holy Worm that eats the children’s eyeballs in poor countries.
        For these are truly the order of nature as God wants it.

        Blessed be the natural order.
        Who are we mere mortals to try to change God’s loving natural afflictions?

  3. Anthony Cornett

    What on earth do Orthodox Bishops have to do with this, or the Vatican? I don’t see any evidence of Orthodox Bishops pushing the Vatican to allow anything, as they have no relation to the Vatican.

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