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  • Pontifical Precepts on Married Oriental Clergy*Congregation For the Oriental Churches

A) Introductory Note

Canon 758 §3 of the CCEO establishes that: “The particular law of each Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders.”

This allows each Church sui iuris to decide about the admission of married men to sacred orders.

At this moment, all the Catholic Oriental Churches can admit married men to the diaconate and the presbyterate, with the exception of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches. The canon allows the Apostolic See to establish special norms on the matter.

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente of September 14, 2012, after having confirmed that “priestly celibacy is a priceless gift of God to his Church, one which ought to be received with appreciation in East and West alike, for it represents an ever timely prophetic sign”1 recalled “the ministry of married priests, who are an ancient part of the Eastern tradition”2 and encouraged them since they “along with their families, are called to [End Page 659] holiness in the faithful exercise of their ministry and in sometimes difficult living conditions.”3

The question of ministry of married clergy outside the traditional oriental territories goes back to the last decades of the 19th century, particularly from 1880 onwards, when thousands of Ruthenians emigrated to the United States from the sub-Carpathian regions as well as from Western Ukraine. The presence of their respective married clergy aroused protest from the Latin Bishops according to whom such presence would provoke a gravissimum scandalum among the Latin faithful. Therefore the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, by a decree of October 1, 1890, prohibited the married Ruthenian clergy from residing in the United States.

In 1913 the Holy See decreed that in Canada only celibate men could be ordained priests.

In the years 1929–1930, the (then) Congregation for the Eastern Church (CEC) issued three decrees prohibiting the exercise of ministry of married oriental clergy in certain regions:

  1. (1). the Decree Cum data fuerit of March 1, 1929, prohibited the exercise of ministry of the married Ruthenian clergy emigrating to North America;4

  2. (2). the Decree Qua sollerti of December 23, 1929, extended the prohibition of ministry to all the married oriental clergy who emigrated to North and South America, to Canada and to Australia;5

  3. (3). the Decree Graeci-Rutheni of May 24, 1930, established that only celibate men could be admitted to the seminary and promoted to Holy Orders.6 [End Page 660]

Deprived of ministers of their own rite, an estimated number of about 200,000 Ruthenian faithful passed to Orthodoxy.7

The aforementioned legislation was extended to other territories not considered ‘oriental regions’: exceptions were only granted after the local Episcopal Conference was heard and the authorization of the Holy See was obtained.

Since the question persisted, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches involved the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The latter, on February 20, 2008, in the Ordinary Session reexamined the entire question, and arrived at the following decision: “the current legislation remains in force—that oriental priests providing pastoral service to the faithful in diaspora are bound to celibacy, similarly to Latin priests—while foreseeing, in concrete and exceptional cases, the possibility for a dispensation from the norm, reserved to the Holy See.” This decision was approved by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.

It should be noted also that recently in the West, with the motu proprio Anglicanorum Coetibus, which does not regard the oriental clergy, a discipline was adopted that is attentive to the concrete situation of priests and their respective families who joined the Catholic communion.

B) Regulations Approved by the Holy Father

The Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, held November 19–22, 2013 in the Apostolic Palace, addressed the issue extensively and subsequently presented to the Holy Father the request to grant to the respective ecclesiastical authorities the faculty to allow the pastoral service of married eastern clergy outside the traditional oriental territories.

The Holy Father...


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