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Melkite bishop plans to ordain married men to priesthood in the US

Catholic World News - November 08, 2011

A Melkite Catholic bishop has announced plans to begin ordaining married men to the priesthood in the US, bringing an end to a longstanding agreement.

Bishop Nicholas Samra, who was installed in August as head of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton (which spans the entire US), said that he would ordain married men to ease a shortage of priests serving the Melkite Church in America.

The Eastern Catholic churches allow for the ordination of married men to the priesthood. But in order to avoid confusion and conflict, the bishops of the Eastern churches agreed to refrain from ordaining married men in the US. Although that agreement is not codified in canon law, it has held for nearly a century. Some married men have been ordained in the Middle East and later served in American parishes. But the Eastern Catholic bishops continued their moratorium on ordaining married men in the US.

As Roman Catholics became more accustomed to seeing married clerics—primarily because of the rise in the number of married deacons, but also because of married Anglican priests accepted into the Catholic clergy—Eastern Catholics have argued that the old constraints should no longer apply.

In December 1996, Bishop John Elya—a predecessor of Bishop Samra as head of the Melkite eparchy—announced without fanfare that he had ordained a married man to the priesthood. That break from the old agreement caused no noticeable public backlash, and now Bishop Samra has given advance warning that he will ordain other married men to the priesthood.

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  • Posted by: daveignatius7680 - Nov. 08, 2011 8:08 PM ET USA

    The 1992 Eastern Catholic canon law (758.3) specifically refers to "special norms established by the Apostolic See [which] are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders." In 2003, the Eastern Cong. in Rome affirmed the Ban but said it would not suspend any married priests ordained by Eastern Catholic Bishops in Western lands. Last year, the Coptic Catholics formally requested an end to the Ban. The Ukrainians, and now the Melkites, have been ordaining married men for a few years.

  • Posted by: John Chrysostom - Nov. 08, 2011 7:14 PM ET USA

    There has never been a longstanding mutual agreement by Byzantines not to ordain or use married priests in the U.S. In 1929 Rome prohibited the ordination of married men to the priesthood at the demand of Roman Catholic bishops. That prohibition was lifted in 1992 with the promulgation of a new Eastern Canon Law. The pressure does continue, but not from Rome or the Holy Father. Currently there are about a dozen married priests serving Byzantine parishes.

  • Posted by: rpp - Nov. 08, 2011 5:05 PM ET USA

    It is their rite and church so they can administer it in whatever manner they choose. I do not believe that married Melkite Rite priest would really be noticed in most places as there are few Melkite parishes in the USA compared to Latin Rite. Even then, I do not think it will cause confusion among the faithful.

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