The headline I wrote for today's article says it all. Are there going to be married Catholic men ordained to the priesthood in the United States? Possibly.
While it hasn't made many headlines, a surprising announcement came earlier this week when the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation passed a resolution urging the Vatican to give blanket permission for eastern-rite Catholics in United States to ordain married men to the priesthood. As Catholic World Report noted, this recommendation carries significant weight because its members “are appointed by the conferences of bishops in the United States and Canada. The Catholic delegation was headed by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who worked for several years as a high-level Vatican official”. In other words, the organization making this recommendation consists of many high level bishops in the U.S. Catholic Church.
The report was duly reported on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Perhaps one of the reasons it may not be getting much media coverage is because the recommendation doesn't cover Roman Catholics at all – and Roman Catholics make up the vast majority of priests in the United States. Rather, it covers eastern-rite Catholics. Various married men are already serving as eastern-rite Catholic priests in the United States, but virtually all of them were ordained oversees and later sent to the U.S. Pope John Paul II declared in 1994 that the mandatory celibacy rule for all Catholic clergy in the North America would no longer be enforced for eastern-rite Catholics, but individual bishops would have to decide whether it was appropriate to admit married men to the priesthood. Furthermore, whenever a married man does seek to become a priest, it usually requires final approval from the Vatican on a case-by-case basis.
Earlier this year, there were some eyebrows raised when a married Catholic man was ordained a priest in the United States for the first time in over a century. Wissam Akiki – who had served as a deacon for over a decade at St. Raymond Cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri – sought and obtained an ordination to the priesthood. He had also been married to his wife Manal for over a decade, and they have a young daughter named Perla. Fr. Akiki became a Maronite Catholic priest, but he has the same facilities and responsibilities as any Roman Catholic priest in the United States, and is a full member in good standing of the Catholic Church. (for example, any Roman Catholic could attend a mass he presides over, and receive Holy Communion from Fr. Akiki) In fact, Pope Francis had to personally approve Akiki's ordination, which had been in limbo for nearly a year.
As I've noted in an earlier article, there are also examples of married Catholic priests in the United States in the Roman Catholic Church as well. In those cases, they are former Protestant clergy members who converted to Catholicism and were allowed to continue their roles as clergy even though they were married. Many traditionalist Catholics balk at the idea of married Catholic priests as another example of trying to break with tradition and move the Catholic Church towards a liberal agenda. However, one of the reasons that the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation recommended ordaining married men is that this has always been a tradition in eastern Christianity going back to the early Christians. Therefore, it can hardly be argued that ordaining married men from eastern culture constitutes some kind of modernist trend or an insidious liberal plot. On the other hand, when it comes to western Christianity and Roman Catholics, the tradition of an unmarried priesthood dates back over 800 years. Would they be able to adjust to the change?
Perhaps I will leave this question up to my readers. Is it a wise move to start ordaining married men as Catholic priests in the United States? Let me know your thoughts.