Friday, November 18, 2011

More on married Melkite priests.

Earlier this month, I shared a report from Orthocath indicating that Melkite Bishop Nicholas (Samra) of Newton (pictured above) intends to ordain married men for priestly service in his eparchy. Yesterday, Orthocath posted a follow-up with more information from a Catholic News Service story on Bishop Nicholas' proposal - and how it has been received in Rome.

The CNS report notes that Rome's policy on the ordination of married Eastern Catholic priests in the West remains unchanged - that is, such ordinations are still not generally permitted, though dispensations may be granted on a case-by-case basis. The reaffirmation of this de facto 'ban' may be news - many had thought that such dispensations were no longer required - but Bishop Nicholas' viewpoint on the issue certainly should take no one by surprise, as the CNS report notes:
In a Nov. 9 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Samra said his comments should not provoke any surprise at the Vatican.

"This is not new that I said this. I've said it before. They must have known this when they named me (bishop)," he said, adding he has even published his views in a book. "I know a copy went to Rome and I'm sure they saw that."

"I haven't hidden the fact that it's a necessity for our church," he said, noting that any such initiative would need to be "properly managed, and not just ordaining somebody who thinks they have a vocation."
In my earlier post on this topic, I discussed some of the practical considerations that American Melkites would have to deal with if they had more married clergy. In his comments to CNS, Bishop Nicholas has more to say about two of these issues, namely the thorny questions of formation and finances:
"We have a bunch of people who want to be ordained, yeah, but we need to have men who have the credentials," [the Bishop] said, adding there are priests in the diocese who have complained, "If I had to go through all that training to get it (ordination), why shouldn't they?" To that end, Bishop Samra said he planned on meeting with representatives of the Byzantine Catholic seminary where Melkite seminarians are educated to work out those issues.

There are some married priests serving the diocese; four are assigned to small parishes that struggle to pay the expenses incurred by the priests' families. To address that, Bishop Samra said he would like to reinstate a dormant philanthropic arm of the diocese, and apply 30-40 percent of the funds raised as an escrow account to have the dioceses pay the costs of a priest's family, leaving the individual parish to pay the same costs whether the priest is celibate or married.
Last but not least, I liked these lines at the end of the CNS report, in which Bishop Nicholas offers a wry reference to the words with which bishops are greeted in the Byzantine liturgy, Eis polla eti, Despota! ("Many years to you, Master!"):
Melkite parishes have been closed, not for a lack of priests but for a lack of parishioners, according to Bishop Samra. He said Melkite Catholics without a priest will typically worship at a Latin-rite church, but that the longer they attach themselves to a Latin-rite parish, the harder it is to bring them back to the Melkites once a priest becomes available.

"I haven't had people calling me up complaining they have no priest. They just don't understand modern-day assignment procedures," Bishop Samra said. "I'm a bishop, but that doesn't mean I can be a dictator. ... Although they sing 'despota' in the liturgy, I can't be a despot."

He added, "God provides, and that's my faith. We're working on it."
For more on the larger issues involved, read the latest report from Orthocath. AMDG.


At 11/19/2011 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. The "de facto Ban" *is* news because prior to Archbishop Cyril Vasil's explanation, which was given in the CNS story, it was thought that the only Eastern Catholic Church in the US required to get dispensations from Rome was the Ruthenian Church. It was assumed the Ukrainians and Romanian Catholics didn't. Archbishop Cyril made it clear that in countries where the Latin Rite doesn't object then the Eastern Congregation can give dispensations for the ordination of married men to the priesthood in those Churches. Otherwise, priestly celibacy is required.

At 11/19/2011 12:22 PM, Blogger Joe Koczera, S.J. said...


Yes, I had read Archbishop Cyril's comments, and they do clarify where things stand. I can see why the assumption was made that only Ruthenian Catholics were bound by the dispensation requirement, since the Ruthenian Metropolia was apparently unique (at least as far as I'm aware) in making this requirement explicit in its own law. Even if the other churches didn't 'have it in writing' before, Rome's expectations are clear now.

At 11/23/2011 3:34 PM, Blogger Julian said...

Interestingly enough, my father (a very good friend of Bishop Nicholas's) had to move to Ukraine to get ordained there because the Roman Archdiocese of Chicago was overstepping its boundaries and forbade our eparchy to ordain married men.
By the way, the photo of Bishop Nicholas is very old, I hardly recognized him!

At 11/24/2011 11:45 AM, Blogger Joe Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for that - I know of other priests in the UGCC with similar stories, and I agree that the Latin diocese was out of bounds. I admire the courage and tenacity that men like your father must have needed to persevere to ordination under such circumstances.

As for the photo, I know that it's out of date - I imagine it was taken when he was first made a bishop in the 1990s - but it's hard to find good photos of Bishop Nicholas on online. The photo I used for my last 'Melkite ordination' post was actually of Bishop Nicholas ordaining a man to the diaconate, though his face wasn't visible in that one.


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