Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation Urges Church To Lift Ban on Ordination of Married Priests in Eastern Catholic Churches in North America

This action would affirm Eastern Rite tradition, would encourage restoration of unity between Catholic, Orthodox Christians, and would enhance spiritual lives of Eastern Catholics.

WASHINGTON—The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation voted in early June to encourage the “lifting of the restrictions regarding the ordination of married men to the priesthood in the Eastern Catholic Churches of North America.”

“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 consultation said in a statement released June 6.

“We are convinced that this action would enhance the spiritual lives of Eastern Catholics and would encourage the restoration of unity between Catholic and Orthodox Christians,” the statement said.

The Theological Consultation agreed to the statement at its 86th meeting, June 2-4, at the Saint Methodios Faith and Heritage Center in Contoocook, New Hampshire. The meeting was hosted by the Orthodox co-chair, Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston; the Catholic co-chair is Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis.

The Theological Consultation issued the statement on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the promulgation of the 1929 decree Cum data fuerit from the Vatican Oriental Congregation, which oversees the Eastern Catholic churches.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Eastern Catholic immigrants to North America from Eastern Europe and the Middle East brought with them the tradition of a married priesthood. This Oriental Congregation decree effectively limited future ordinations to celibates, and resulted in divisions in Eastern Catholic communities and even families over this issue.

The agreed statement cites two documents of the Second Vatican Council which call for Eastern Catholics to return to their authentic ancestral traditions, and exhorts those men who have received both the sacraments of priestly ordination and marriage “to persevere in their holy vocation.” Consequently, the Consultation “encourages the lifting of the restrictions regarding the ordination of married men to the priesthood in the Eastern Catholic Churches of North America.

At this meeting the Consultation also continued its study of the relationship between the clergy and laity in the two Churches. The members also examined the December 2013 statement by the Patriarchate of Moscow on primacy in the Church and the response by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Consultation also reviewed the recent meeting between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation was founded in 1965 and is sponsored by the Committee for Ecumenical Relations of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its agreed statements are available at http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/dialogue-with-others/ecumenical/orthodox/orthodox-dialogue-documents.cfm

and http://assemblyofbishops.org/about/scobaresources/orthodox-catholic/

The full statement follows.

Statement of the North American Orthodox/Catholic Theological Consultation

On the Occasion of the Eighty-fifth Anniversary of the Promulgation of the decree Cum data fuerit

The year 2014 marks the eighty-fifth anniversary of the promulgation of the decree Cum data fuerit. In 1929, the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental [Eastern Catholic] Churches issued this document, which stated that “priests of the Greek-Ruthenian Rite who wish to go to the United States of North America [sic] and stay there must be celibates” (Article 12). This statement led to a general prohibition of the ordination of married Eastern Catholics to the priesthood in North America. This resulted in divisions in Eastern Catholic communities and even in families.

The Second Vatican Council spoke of the importance of preserving the legitimate traditions of the Eastern Churches. In the decree, Orientalium ecclesiarum, the Council emphasized the need to preserve the “legitimate liturgical rite and … established way of life” of Eastern Catholics. The Council continued, stating that Eastern Catholics “should attain to an even greater knowledge and a more exact use of [this rite and way of life] 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” (par. 6). Furthermore, the decree Presbyterorum ordinis states, “This holy synod, while it commends ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches. It permanently exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their holy vocation” (sec. 16). Nevertheless, until recently, very few married Eastern Catholic men have been allowed to be ordained to the priesthood in North America.

With these things in mind, the North American Orthodox/Catholic Theological Consultation encourages the lifting of the restrictions regarding the ordination of married men to the priesthood in the Eastern Catholic Churches of North America. 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. We are convinced that this action would enhance the spiritual lives of Eastern Catholics and would encourage the restoration of unity between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

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