Wissam-AkikiWhen people start asking about the possibility of a married priesthood usually detail escapes them. The  fact is, the Catholic Church has had a priesthood for millennia. However, in the Latin Church the priesthood has been celibate for the most part since the 11th century (or thereabouts) and Eastern Christianity has retained to a unity of marriage/family and the ministerial priesthood. Only since the late 1980s has the Latin Church started to admit married men to the priesthood in small numbers and now with the Anglican Ordinariates more married men have been ordained. Bishops are never married according to the discipline of the Church.

Among many things, the Eastern Christians in the USA have had to suffer without a married priesthood, something that is very connected to their traditions. In part, the plight of Eastern Christians in the USA has a lot to do with inadequate episcopal leadership which had dire consequences for all sorts of issues ranging from the Liturgy to canonical matters and identity.

One of the problems surrounded the time of Archbishop John Ireland (r. 1888-1918) of Minneapolis, who specifically in 1891, questioned the Catholicity of the Byzantines in Minneapolis. Acrimony ensured. And open hostility became common among various of the Latin Church’s bishops. As consequence of the argument Ireland told the Byzantine Catholic priests to become more Latin and that they were banned from being married in the USA.  Ireland obtuseness ultimately gave rise to a 1929 Vatican decree called Cum Data Fuerit, which imposed a requirement of celibacy on Eastern Catholic clergy in the West.

Archbishop Ireland is credited, hence, with the creation, in 1892, of the Reuthenian (Russian) Orthodox Church in America which gave rise to the Orthodox Church in America with Father (now saint) Alexis Toth and others breaking from the Catholic Church by uniting with Orthodoxy.

If you fast-forward a bit, we have to recognize that certain Eastern Catholic bishops in the USA have ordained married men since the 1990s, namely in the Byzantine tradition, and there have been a few married priests in the Maronite Church in the West but usually this  is kept quiet. That is, until the Maronite Bishop Robert Shaheen requested of Pope Benedict –prior to the famed resignation– for permission to ordain a married deacon a priest. A new Pope, a new openness to an old question. Not long ago Bishop Shaheen retired and his successor received word that Deacon Akiki could be priested. What we’ve seen with the ordination of Father Wissam Akiki there is finally a living of an ancient tradition held by Catholic theology and supported by canon law.

Jennifer Brinker wrote a great article that’s paired with Lisa Johnston’s photos for the St Louis Review, “A Vocation to Family.” I highly recommend the article AND viewing the images.

Best wishes and abundant blessings for Father Wissam Akiki and his beautiful family.