ACTS OF THE CONGREGATION
CONGREGATION FOR THE EASTERN CHURCHES
Pontifical Ruling Regarding Married Eastern Clergy
A) Introductory Note
Canon 758 §3 [of the] CCEO (Oriental Code of Canon Law) states that: "Regarding the admission to holy orders of married [men], the particular law of [each] Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be observed."
That allows that each Church sui iuris can decide on the admission of married [men] to holy orders.
At present, all Eastern Catholic Churches may allow married men to the diaconate and the priesthood, except the Syro-Malabarese and Syro-Malankara Churches.
Thus, the Canon provides that the Apostolic See can enact special rules in this regard.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI, in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (Churches in the Middle East) of 14 September 2012, after having stated that "priestly celibacy is an inestimable gift of God to His Church, which must be accepted with gratitude, both in the East and in the West because it is a prophetic, timeless sign,” reminded that “the ministry of married priests is a component of the ancient Eastern traditions,” and encouraged them because “with their families, [they] are called to holiness in the faithful exercise of their ministry and in their living conditions in difficult times."
The issue of the ministry of married priests outside the traditional eastern territories dates back to the final decades of the nineteenth century, especially since 1880, when thousands of Ruthenian Catholics emigrated from Sub-Carpathia, as well as western Ukraine, to the United States of America. The presence of their married clergy aroused protests by the Latin Bishops that their presence would cause gravissium scandalum [grave scandal] to the Latin faithful. Thus, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, by decree of October 1, 1890, forbade married Ruthenian clergy to reside in the US.
In 1913, the Holy See decreed that only celibates could be ordained as priests in Canada.
In the years 1929-1930, the then-Congregation for the Eastern Church (CCO) issued three decrees, which prohibited the exercise of ministry by married Eastern priests in certain regions:
1) the Decree Cum Data Fuerit of March 1, 1929, by which [the Congregation] forbade the exercise of ministry by married Ruthenian clergy who emigrated to North America.
2) the Decree Qua Sollerti of 23 December 1929, by which [the Congregation] extended its prohibition of ministry to all married Eastern clergy who emigrated to North or South America, to Canada, or to Australia.
3) the Decree Graeci-Rutheni of 24 May 1930, by which [the Congregation] stated that only celibate men could be admitted to the seminary and promoted to holy orders.
Deprived of ministers of their own rite, a number, estimated at about 200,000, of the Ruthenian faithful passed into Orthodoxy.
The referenced legislation was extended to other territories not considered 'eastern regions'; exceptions were granted only after hearing from the local Episcopal Conference and receiving permission from the Holy See.
Since the problem persisted, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches involved the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On 20 February 2008, having reviewed the entire matter in Ordinary Session, [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] rendered the following decision: "Considering the existing rule - which binds Eastern priests in pastoral service to the faithful in the diaspora to obligatory celibacy, similarly to Latin priests - in specific and exceptional cases, the possibility of a dispensation exists, [which is] reserved to the Holy See.” The above was approved by the Holy Father Benedict XVI.
It should be noted that, even in the West, in recent times, with the [issuance of the] motu proprio Anglicanorum Coetibus, although not written for the Eastern clergy, a discipline was adopted, [which] considered specific situations of [married] priests and their families coming into Catholic communion.
B) Provisions approved by the Holy Father
The Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, held 19 to 22 November 2013 at the Apostolic Palace, discussed the issue extensively and subsequently presented to the Holy Father a request to concede to their Ecclesiastical Authority the faculty to allow pastoral service by married Eastern clergy outside of the traditional eastern territories.
The Holy Father, in the audience granted to the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, December 23, 2013, approved that request
contrariis quibuslibet minimum ostantibus, (all considerations to the contrary notwithstanding)
according to the following guidelines:
- in the Eastern Administrative Constituencies (Metropolia, Eparchies, Exarchates) constituted outside of the traditional territories, these faculties are conferred on the Eastern Hierarchs, to exercise according to the traditions of their respective Churches. Also, the Ordinary, possessing faculties to ordain married Eastern candidates from a respective region, [has] an obligation to give prior notice, in writing, to the Latin Bishop of the candidate's place of residence, so as to obtain his opinion and any relevant information [regarding the candidate].
- in Ordinariates for the Eastern faithful who are deprived of their own Hierarchs, the faculty [to ordain married men to the priesthood] is conferred on the Ordinary, and he shall inform the respective Episcopal Conference and this Dicastry of the specific cases in which he exercises [the faculty].
- in territories in which the Eastern faithful are deprived of a specific administrative structure and are entrusted to the care of the Latin Bishops of the place, the faculty [to ordain married men to the priesthood] will continue to be reserved to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, which will pursue specific and exceptional cases after hearing the opinion of the respective Episcopal Conference.
Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 14 June 2014
Leonardo Cardinal Sandri
Above translation by: Neil Foley, Charles Bransom, and Ryan Messdiener.