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Melkite Catholic Church to Ordain Married Men to the Priesthood in the US

The move is a return to the ancient practice in Eastern Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox

The Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts announced that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States would be ordaining married men to the priesthood. These comments raise significant questions of what the consequence of such a move might mean for this Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

Melkite Eparch Nicholas Samra

Melkite Eparch Nicholas Samra

NEWTON, MA (Catholic Online) - During an August dinner speech, Bishop Nicholas Samra, Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton and Eparch of all Melkites in the United States made comments that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church would be ordaining married men to the priesthood.

These comments, recently published in the Melkite journal Sophia, has raised significant questions of what the consequence of such a move might mean for this Church, which is in union with Rome and struggling to maintain sustainable vocations to the priesthood.

Bishop Nicholas, the first American-born bishop in the Melkite Church, emphasized the need for encouraging vocations within the United States:

"We are grateful for our ancestors - priests and laity and bishops who came from the Middle East and brought us to where we are presently. But now we have come of age and we need priests from among our people in this American Melkite Catholic Church".

"God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood. We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call. The Deacon Formation Program is a good program; however is not the backdoor 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."

On first glance, some might view the Melkite Church as merely following in the same vein as that of the Anglican Ordinariate. However, the key difference with the Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church, which allows for some former married Anglican priests to join the Catholic Church and be ordained to the Order of Deacon and then to the priesthood, is that it is viewed as an exception.

The Melkite Greek catholic Church is simply reaffirming the ancient practice in Eastern Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox, of choosing married AND celibate men for both the order of deacons and the Priesthood. Those chosen for the Episcopacy remain celibate. The practice had been curtailed in the United States.Bishop Nicholas is announcing his intention, after study and preparation, to make the practice normative in the United States.This is not an act of "dissent" of any sort. Rather, a resumption of an ancient practice.  

Controversy is likely to arise over this announcement on a few counts. First, the Vatican's Congregation for Eastern Churches has not changed its approach to limiting the priesthood to celibate men as the norm, even in the Eastern Church, in the United States. There were a few past exceptions to the norm, but these have not been an indication of a new process for allowing married men to enter seminary formation on a normative basis. Whether or not this announcement will bring a reaction from the Congregation is unclear.

Similarly, there has been no recently history of previous American Melkite Catholic Bishops in pushing for priestly formation for married men as normative.There were a few controversial exceptions. There is also no clear indication of what Melkite Greek Catholics in the United States think about this recent announcement. However, it appears to be receiving strong support.

As indicated by Bishop Nicholas, other hurdles such as the financial cost of a married priesthood will need to be studied and considered if this new approach is to be successful. 

As to a reaction from the Vatican regarding this announcement from the American Melkite Catholic Church, none has been heard yet.


William Ignatius is a writer and blogger covering contemporary issues impacting the Catholic Church. His blog New Media Catholic engages how the Church can, and should, use new medias to advance the Gospel.


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Keywords: Melkite, Greek Catholic, Byzantine, Eparchy, Nicholas Samra, celibacy, married priests


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1 - 10 of 24 Comments

  1. Javed Masih
    9 months ago

    this is Javed Masih from pakistan.i have strong wish to serve Church but here in pakistan i do not have any opportunity to join seminary.i would to work with your my mail please.i will wait to hear from you.

    1. Why I want to be a Priest?
    Even, this question I asked many times to myself. Why I want to be a priest? Which help me reflect on this question? It also helps me to become my desire for priest –hood strong. There are three mains points which lead me to this call.
    First, when I was a child. I was very close to the church and I was altar boy in the church. Even so my good Christian family help to me go deeper and close to the lord. I was taking part in the school daily prayers too.
    Second, as I grew up physically, I grew up spiritually too. In my school group we were some friends very close to each other and in our early education we were together for the religious activities as well, but sometimes they left me. They were interested in other worldly matters, but I carry my journey with lord. Even many times I think why God wants from me. may be I good enough for God call, but I always encourage by these words God “The word of the LORD came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. "Ah, Lord GOD!" I said, "I know not how to speak; I am too young." But the LORD answered me; Say not, "I am too young." To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Jeremiah 1:5-8. I feel these are for me too.
    Third, I can reflect different vocations in life through my family and friends. In this way I can say that God called me to be priest to serve the whole my life. I want to commit my life with the Lord.
    Therefore, I want to be priest, so that I can go on with my priestly holy vocation for what I am called from God as Holy Bible says” You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. John 15:16”

    In Christ.

  2. Father Deacon Joseph Lawrence
    2 years ago

    @ Edward Burke: You are not listening Sir, and you are very much mistaken. The Pope at NO POINT, ever made Celibate Priesthood the model for all. The Pope himself AFFIRMS a married priesthood within the Eastern CATHOLIC Churches because that is their proper Traditional Discipline. This is affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, both promulgated by Blessed John Paul II, and in several Papal Encyclicals. For you to say that "The Pope has made a celibate priesthood the model for all," is a blatant falsehood and misrepresents the Catholic Faith. I recommend for your perusal the book "101 Questions and Answers on the Eastern Catholic Churches" by Edward Faulk, and Ut Unum Sint, by Blessed John Paul the Great.

    2 years ago

    I believe that representatives of the faith should be completely celibate.

    Also, I do not agree with homosexuals and lesbians being allowed to represent the faith. If they need charity, they can stand in line with a tin can and beg, as any beggar does. The church is not there to establish vocational egalitarian values for sex perverts, it is there to spread the Holy Word, as it came to us through Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

    I wouldn't starve homosexuals and lesbians to death, but I would stop them from officially representing the Christian faith.

  4. Judy
    2 years ago

    How interesting and informing are your posts! Being Roman Catholic, I agree w/tkh. On a more personal note, I have always believed the Eastern Church to be in communion w/the Pope. I do believe the Anglican church, w/its acceptance of SSA, etc., is more "outside" Rome's teaching, than are the Lutherans. This I say, by knowing persons w/in those Faiths. I must confess, that I am in favor of married priests before SSA. Perhaps that is a bias? It is what I was taught in the Church as a child. But then, I was also taught as WesL stated. Yes, brothers and sisters, we must at times bend w/the wind. And since the Pope has allowed such marriages within the Church, I do not see really how this is different. Again, my humble opinion, cannot stand the test of the gift of intellect, or the gift of Jesus Christ to Our Holy Father. I say that having read some of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI books. Being a devout Catholic, Whatever Pope Benedict says, "Thy Will Be Done." Blessings always...

  5. jose thomas
    2 years ago

    I have been a member of the laity of the Syro Malabar Church by birth. However I understood the Catholic faith by attending Latin Rite sacramental celebrations, and I am not even in a position to say whether I had continued to be a catholic if I had no such occasion. I don't actually know the reason, but I believe the concepts of the Latin rite Roman Catholic faith are truly inspired by the working of the Holy Spirit. Further reading books by Watchmen Nee, Tozer etc though protestants have helped to strengthening my faith. My humble opinion is that the baptized Catholics should be given the freedom for pursuing their faith journey in the rites which is acceptable to their inclinations and reasons. Of course celibate priesthood is very much acceptable to catholic faith than married priesthood, irrespective of whether the same had been the traditional norm or otherwise. Too much enslavement to Rites is hypocrisy condemned by Jesus Christ.
    Jose Thomas

  6. Wes Lisitza
    2 years ago

    It was always my understanding that Marriage and Holy Orders are specifically vocations, in respect to the Catholic Church. To become a husband means that you are called to such a rank, as well as being called to fulfill the role of fatherhood, grandfather, and/or even uncle and such. It is dedicating one's life to a wife and family, and gender conversely, dedicating to a husband and family. With respect to Holy Orders, a priest is called to essentially dedicate his life to being a husband to the Church, and a Father to his congregation. Not every person is called to the life of fatherhood, motherhood, priesthood, or sister/brotherhood - Jesus tells us this much. Though I can understand why the Melkites have chosen to follow their own traditions, it should be understood why the Roman Church stands as it has and for what reasons have influenced the continuing of such traditions. Whether it hinders the reconciliation of either lung of the Catholic Church to the other is yet to be seen, but I don't expect it to.

  7. Dave Brown
    2 years ago

    This *is* a new development for the Melkite Church. After a 1996 ordination of a married deacon to the priesthood in New Hampshire by a former Melkite Bishop was noted in the press, additional ordinations of married men were not done in America but were sent to the Middle East where the Ban does not apply. Afterwards, the newly ordained married priests were brought back to serve American Melkite parishes. So, Bishop Nicholas Samra is signaling that he will be starting to do what the Ukrainian and Romanian Catholics have been doing for a few years already in openly ordaining married men to the priesthood in the USA. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of the Ban.

  8. mamabear
    2 years ago

    Sister, in no way does allowing priests to marry "stop homosexuality." That's crazy. There is no evidence to support that at all.
    And we are not talking in this case about allowing priests to marry. We are talking about allowing men who are already married, to become priests, under the specifics of the Melkite Rite, of which I am a member.
    I highly, highly doubt that you, "Sister", are married to a validly ordained Roman Catholic priest in good standing. But if you are, I would be curious to know the circumstances.

  9. Stuart Koehl
    2 years ago

    There is nothing new in what Sayedna Nicholas has said. The Eparchy of Newton has been ordaining married men to the presbyterate since 1996 (there is a married priest in my parish, and a dozen more sprinkled throughout the Eparchy) All that has happened is the de facto policy is now official. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Romanian Greek Catholic Church also ordain married men here. That said, there are many more married Latin Catholic priests in this country--mainly former Anglican and Lutheran ministers--than there are married Greek Catholic priests. One wonders why we get all the attention.

  10. Father Deacon Joseph Lawrence
    2 years ago

    To Edward Burke: While I find your zeal for your faith heartwarming, and laudible, I fear you are laboring under an illusion. The Pope at no point ever made celibacy for the priesthood a universal norm. It is normative for the ROMAN Catholic Church, but has NEVER been normative for the Eastern Catholic Churches. The situation in the United States since the Late Archbishop John Ireland and those of like mind petitioned Rome for a legislation forbidding the ordination of Married Men to the priesthood in American Eastern Catholic Churches is an aberration which was put into place as a concession to the Roman Catholic Hierarchy in America who were afraid that other Roman Catholics would misunderstand that these Catholics were of a different sui iuris Church, and were nonetheless still Catholic of Equal dignity with the Roman Catholic Church. This legislation was completely inappropriate for it went against all previous Papal statements affirming the right and obligation of Eastern Catholics to fully live their traditions within Catholic unity.

    Having said this, I will reiterate the fact that the Eastern Catholic Churches, like their Orthodox counterparts have a very high esteem for Celibate priesthood. There have, indeed been many celibate priests who have ministered in an exemplary way within these Churches.

    The insinuation that an Eastern Catholic Church is nothing more than protestant (one of 30,000 plus other denominations) is offensive for a number of reasons which I will not mention here, but I will say that it ignores the historical reality that first and foremost, the Eastern Churches did not spring up last week, but rather, simultaneously with the Roman Catholic Church, and that the origins of Our Eastern Traditions are equally as ancient as those of the Roman Catholic Church. You may want to check your Catechism of the Catholic Church on this, for the Catechism speaks very highly of the Ancient and venerable traditions of the Eastern Churches.

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