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the Anglicans and the Eastern churches

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 22, 2009

Secular journalists, hearing the news about the Pope's dramatic invitation to Anglicans, immediately fastened on the question of celibacy. If married Anglican priests can be admitted to the Catholic priesthood, will the issue of priestly celibacy in the Roman Church be re-opened for discussion? Probably not.

The opening for married priests will occur only within a clearly defined structure, created for those who are preserving the Anglican tradition within the Catholic Church. If you are a married Catholic from any other background who wants to be ordained, you'd have to absorb that entire Anglican tradition first-- and demonstrate your bona fides in doing so, no doubt-- before you could be considered for the priesthood. Will some men take that circuitous route? Perhaps. Many? I doubt it.

For the rest of us, Catholics outside the Anglican tradition, the same rules will continue to apply, for the same reasons. 

But the Pope's opening to Anglicans may bring a change in practice for Catholics from other traditions: specifically, those of the Eastern churches. Most Eastern Catholic churches admit married men to the priesthood (although a single man, once ordained to the priesthood, cannot marry). Their traditions, like the Anglican tradition, allows for married priests. 

When they first began establishing parishes in the US, however, the Eastern Catholic churches found that their married priests were causing consternation among their American Catholic neighbors. So for decades, the Eastern churches have agreed not to ordain married men in this country. (There have been a few exceptions to that rule, and married priests have continued to arrive in the US from other countries.) 

If the Pope's new apostolic constitution brings a large number of married Anglican priests into the Catholic fold, it will no longer be a novelty-- or a cause for raised eyebrows-- to encounter a married Catholic priest. So the reason for the old agreement with the Eastern Catholic churches will no longer exist. It's only a matter of time, it would seem, before the Eastern churches begin ordaining married men in the US, just as they do in their homelands. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Don Vicente - Nov. 13, 2009 1:20 AM ET USA

    "The Eastern Churches have agreed...?" Not really:by CUM DATA FUERINT (in 1929) the Eastern Churches were ORDERED by the Holy See not to ordain married men in this country, resulting in the schism of 37 Carpatho-Russian parishes who joined the Orthodox in 1939. With the new Eastern Code of Canon Law (1990), all previous laws and customs were suppressed (Canon 6), leaving the Eastern Churches free to follow their tradition; no special permission is now canonically required to ordain married men.

  • Posted by: cvillacorta9440 - Oct. 26, 2009 5:11 PM ET USA

    Coming from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and being the grandauhgter of a priest, I welcome the Pope's actions. I also appreciate the gift of celibacy and appreciate both traditions in the Church.