Clerical celibacy, Catholics and the Greeks

Do the Greek Orthodox know something Catholics don't? Photo: Former Catholic priest Alberto Cutie (AP)

NEW YORK, May 11, 2013 ― Last Sunday was the Greek Orthodox Easter. For the past several years I’ve celebrated Good Friday at the Greek Church in Watertown, Mass., and the Resurrection Service at the Boston Cathedral. Cardinal O’Malley is often in attendance, and has spoken at times of looking forward to a further unification of the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

This Easter in particular I noticed how similar and yet different the two churches are. The architectural and artistic beauty of the Greek churches and cathedrals matches that of Roman Catholic churches, and it is always a surprise to see how much feels so familiar. Yet, Greek Orthodox practice differs in significant ways from what we find in the Catholic church.

You’ll find frankincense and ornate robes, candles and stained glass in an Orthodox church, but take a close look at the priest: He may be married. Orthodox clergy are allowed to have families. What would the Catholic church be like if our clergy were allowed to do the same?

Married men are ordained as priests in the Greek Orthodox church. Since Vatican II, this has seemed to be something the Catholic church should seriously consider. Traditionalists would object. Some believe the Catholic Church should adhere to every single doctrine and tradition of its long past for all eternity, but if that were the case, we still would still be restricted to fish on Fridays ― every Friday, not just during Lent ― and there are a lot of Catholics who would miss their pepperoni pie on Friday nights.

If married men ― as long as we’re playing this game, let’s even say women ― were allowed to be ordained priests in the Catholic Church, what would be so wrong with that? What is the fear? Marriage was discouraged among the clergy even in the earliest centuries of the church, but it wasn’t always banned, and marriages among the clergy were still considered valid, if illicit, until the Second Lateran Council in 1139 made them invalid.

Why can’t someone have a balanced family life and still lead a congregation? Have Orthodox and Protestant clergy shown themselves less capable and less dedicated in their pastoral duties than their Roman Catholic counterparts? Is sex itself a sin? If not, why can’t a nun serve God, the poor and other Catholics and still go on a date? There is certainly a historical significance to celibacy in the Catholic church, but with fewer and fewer people entering the vocations, does it make sense to exclude married people from service today?

I’ve never met a member of the Greek Orthodox church who’s felt that a priest’s family has prevented him from leading his parish community to the best of his abilities. If anything, a closer understanding to your parishioners’ personal experiences brings you closer to them and makes you a better servant to them, hence to God. The family unit has been put under stress and besieged by modern culture, and perhaps if our priests and religious hierarchy had their own experiences in marriage and maintaining relationships, they could better advise their parishioners on how to survive the ups and downs of family life.

The eastern (Orthodox) and western (Catholic) churches were in communion for a thousand years before the great Schism. Many on both sides hope for the day when they are in full communion again. Until that day, there are some things we can learn from each other. On this issue, perhaps it’s the Catholic Church that should do the learning.

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Nicole Pandolfo

Nicole Pandolfo is writer and actress who lives and works in New York City. 

This Bad Catholic has had publications of several of her works and has had plays produced throughout New York City and the United States as well as in Sydney, Melbourne, London, Singapore, and Toronto.

 She is from New Jersey and does not understand anti-Jersey sentiments.  She thinks meeting Cher would be the tops.  


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