Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Canadian Greek Catholics on the married priesthood

I've taken the orientally pertinent bits of the interview and put them below. The entire interview is available here.

Rome (Crux) - On March 27-31 some 22 bishops from Canada were in Rome participating in the semi-regular visits to Rome the world’s bishops pay every five years, to meet with the pope and all the offices of the Roman curia.

“The very first words [Pope Francis] said to us were ‘I understand that being a bishop is a very difficult task, and I want to thank you, and I want you to share with me what you’re experiencing in your homes, and allow me to talk to you as a pastor’,” said Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Ukrainian Diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia.

Nowakowski spoke at length with Crux about their meeting with Francis on Monday 27, after celebrating Mass on the tomb of St. Peter, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Among the issues they spoke about with the pope during their 2.5-hour encounter was the youth, Canada’s assisted suicide bill, and sinodality.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest of the 22 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, and has a large membership in Canada, where many people went after leaving Ukraine.

Talking on March 30, Nowakowski also spoke about the “blessings” and “many challenges” of having married priests, something the Ukrainian church has had for centuries, in response to comments recently made by Pope Francis on this regard.

Although they’re set to occur every five years, this was the first ad limina visit for the Canadian bishops since 2006. The reasons for this delay were many: From the fact that the five-year term is somewhat flexible, to the resignation of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’s election, and the Holy Year of Mercy in 2016, during which most ad liminas were suspended.

Crux spoke with Nowakowsi in Rome on Thursday. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.

Can I change gears completely, to talk about married priests? The pope recently made some comments about this, signaling an openness to ordaining married men. The Greek Catholic Ukrainian church has optional celibacy, hence, married priests. Can you talk about your experience with this?

For my understanding, the pope was answering a question about the possibility of ordination of married deacons in the Latin Church. In the Ukrainian church, we have a centuries-old tradition of ordaining married deacons into the priesthood. In fact, the concept of permanent deacons is not one that we would understand, because all our deacons tend to be transitional.

For us, normally, you would not ordain someone a deacon until they are 24, and it would be assumed that within a certain period of time, they would be ordained priests. The majority of our deacons are married men.

I think it’s a blessing, but there are also many challenges.

Such as?

When I was growing up, my parish priest was a married man. I think that it wasn’t until I was 12 that I realized that not every priest is married, both in the Latin Church and the Eastern rite.

When I entered the seminary at 26, here in Rome, I had a pretty clear understanding that I wanted to be a celibate priest. Both because it’s a vocation, and because in our Church there’s optional celibacy, which means that not everyone marries.

Both marriage and the vocation to the priesthood and celibacy are charisms and vocations, and we need to be open to the Holy Spirit. As a result, over the centuries, our Church has had to understand how we have both celibate priests, some of whom are diocesan, plus those who belong to religious orders, as well as married ones.

In my eparchy, where our parishes are so far apart from each other, I think that having a wife and a family is a very good thing for support of that man, who most of the time are not from British Columbia, so they have no family there.

We need to understand how a married priest can be wonderfully supported by his wife and children, and by the community.

I think that in Ukraine, in the past, certainly before the Soviet Union, the wife of the priest played a key role in the life of the parish, giving catechesis, helping with the choir, through acts of charity. The reason for that was that daughters of priests often married seminarians, so they had a very clear understanding of their own vocations.

When I was rector of Holy Spirit Seminary in Ottawa, for the Greek Ukranian Catholic Church in Canada, one of the things that for me was very clear was that if your wife did not have the vocation to be the wife of a priest, you didn’t have vocation to be a priest.

Why not?

Because as a celibate, your discernment is with your rector, your spiritual director, formation staff and your bishop. But in the case of married seminarians, the discernment absolutely has to include his wife. It has to include what’s going to be her participation and role in the Church, the parish, his life.

This is a profession where often transfer is the norm, and with celibate clergy, transfers tend to include fewer considerations. In the case of a married priest, if he has school-aged children, you don’t want to transfer half way though the school year. You don’t want to transfer him when they have a kid in their last year of school.

And, you have to take into consideration the possible career of the priest’s wife. You’re not just transferring a person, but a family. Also, you have to take into consideration the rectory you’re transferring the priest into. Not every rectory that I have in my eparchy could fit a family with six children.

You told me earlier that if they become widows, they can’t remarry. What happens if he and his wife separate?

It happens. These are all things that we have to face, but on an individual basis, just like in the case of celibate priests who leave the priesthood to marry. In the case of married priests, you have marriage breakdown, though hopefully, not often.

You also have to consider the children. They often have to be far better than any other child in the parish. And that can be a great psychological pressure. The kids did not sign up for that! And it’s a very important aspect of married clergy.

I can only talk about our tradition. I don’t think I would even want to comment on the possibility of married priests in the Latin Church. My formation, and my understanding of the way our clergy works, is different than what is experienced in the Latin Church, and it has to be discussed in that tradition.

We can give an example of what happens with us, but we’ve had these traditions for hundreds of years. Our seminaries, in general, are ready for this. Our married priests don’t live in the seminary but in houses and apartments close by, and we invite the wives and families for activities on Sundays, and we have the traditional coffee or brunch.

And also, it’s a wonderful opportunity for those preparing for priesthood to understand the struggles of young families when we see that the seminarian is serving on the altar, and his child is crying in the first pew.

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