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U.S. Melkite Bishop Considers Ordaining Married Men

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Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Nicholas J. Samra of Newton, Mass., concerned about the shortage of priests in his nationwide eparchy, has called for a serious study of allowing married men to be ordained as priests. Bishop Samra is pictured during his 23 Aug. installation Mass as the head of Newton-based Melkite Greek Catholic eparchy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in West Roxbury, Mass. (photo: CNS/Justin Bell, The Pilot)  

17 Nov 2011 – by Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) — To address a shortage of priests in his nationwide eparchy, the Melkite Catholic bishop of Newton, Mass., is exploring the possibility of ordaining married men as priests.

Bishop Nicholas J. Samra of Newton notes that of the 40 parishes in his diocese, eight have no resident priest. And, while the answer is more priests, the question is how to get them.

The strategy Bishop Samra prefers is to develop priests from within the diocese rather than ask Melkite Catholic bishops from the Middle East, where the rite has its roots, to supply priests.

Bishop Samra made his views clear during an address he gave Aug. 23, the date of his installation as bishop.

“God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood,” he said in his remarks. “We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call.”

He added, “The (diocesan) deacon formation program is a good program; however, (it) is not the back door to the priesthood. Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also.”

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.”

The Vatican began placing limits on the ordination and assignment of Eastern Catholic married priests in the West in the 1880s. In 1929, the Vatican, at the request of the Latin-rite bishops of the United States, ruled that married priests could not serve the Eastern-rite churches in the United States. The ban was applied to Canada in the 1930s and to Australia in 1949.

But by the early 2000s, the Vatican had stopped suspending married men ordained to the priesthood for service in the Eastern Catholic churches of North America and Australia.

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, “but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops’ conference, a dispensation can be given” allowing the ordination.





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Tags: Middle East Christians United States Melkite Greek Catholic Church