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Pope Permits Ordination for Married Men in Eastern Catholic Churches in US, Other Countries

Ramona August
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Longstanding tradition was frowned on when immigrants came to US.

Pope Francis approved lifting the ban, also doing away with the provision that, in exceptional cases, Eastern Catholic bishops in the diaspora could receive Vatican approval to ordain married men. In recent years, however, some Eastern Catholic bishops went ahead with such ordinations discreetly without Vatican approval.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, signed the decree June 14. It was published later online in the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," the official periodical through which Vatican laws and decisions are published.

The new law says the pope concedes to Eastern Catholic bishops outside their traditional territory the faculties to "allow pastoral service of Eastern married clergy" and "to ordain Eastern married candidates" in their eparchies or dioceses, although they must inform the local Latin-rite bishop in writing "in order to have his opinion and any relevant information."

"We are overjoyed with the lifting of the ban," Melkite Bishop Nicholas Samra of Newton, Mass., told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 15 email.

The Vatican decree explained that in response to the "protests" of the Latin-rite bishops in the United States, in 1890 the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples prohibited married Ruthenian priests from living in the United States. And in 1929-30, the Congregation for Eastern Churches extended the ban to all Eastern-rite priests throughout North America, South America and Australia.

The 1929 prohibition, known as "Cum data fuerit," had significant repercussions for the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States. Cardinal Sandri’s decree noted that soon after the law was promulgated, "an estimated 200,000 Ruthenian faithful became Orthodox."

Ruthenian Bishop John Kudrick of Parma, Ohio, told CNS Nov. 16 that he sees the end to imposed celibacy for Eastern priests in the diaspora as an acknowledgement of the Eastern Churches’ "obligation to maintain their integrity" and "of the right of the various Churches to equal responsibility of evangelization throughout the world."

"The world needs the Church in its fullness," he said, adding he believes the "change of policy results from the longstanding experience of married priests in the Western world, especially the Orthodox, but also Eastern Catholic."

Bishop Kudrick said Eastern Churches in the diaspora have a responsibility to minister to new immigrants, who are accustomed to married priests.

"Because of the dual responsibilities to maintain continuity with our past and to reach out to the society to which we are called, some degree of freedom is necessary," he said.

Father Alexander Laschuk, a canon lawyer, said the new decree also "regularizes a situation" in which some Eastern married men were being ordained despite the 1929 law. Father Laschuk is a Ukrainian Catholic married priest and university lecturer, who also works for the regional tribunal of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

In the 1970s and 1980s, in an attempt to circumvent the Vatican restriction, some Eastern Catholic married men were ordained clandestinely outside North America. Many of them received suspension notices from the Holy See, he said.

By the mid-1990s, Ukrainian Catholic bishops were ordaining married men in Canada, he said, and the suspension notices eventually stopped coming. Such ordinations, though few, were even less frequent in the United States.

Still, Father Laschuk said, the ordinations did not represent a "regular" situation in the Church. "It was something that was happening. I wouldn’t even say that it was tolerated," he said. "It was happening underground. The Holy See and the Latin bishops were being informed after the fact because I think it was understood that if they were told before, permission would not be coming and it would be stopped."

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