Maronites ordain married priest
Pope Francis has granted permission for a married deacon to be ordained to the priesthood for the Maronite Catholic Church for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.
Father Wissam Akiki was ordained Feb. 27 at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. He is married to Manal Kassab and they have a daughter, Perla. He is the first married man to be ordained for the priesthood for the U.S. Maronite Catholic Church.
The Maronite Church is Eastern rite and is among 22 Catholic Churches that are in union with each other and under the authority of the pope in Rome. The spiritual heritage of the Maronite Church is traced to a fourth-century hermit, St. Maron.
Eastern Catholic Churches have held an ancient tradition of allowing married men to become priests, although since the 1920s the practice generally has not been permitted in the United States, according to a press release from St. Raymond's Cathedral.
St. Raymond's statement also noted that having a married priesthood should in no way "detract from the value that the Church finds in the vocation to celibacy. The celibate priesthood continues to be highly esteemed. We need to always keep in mind that it is a vocation to be married and a vocation to be a priest."
In the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church (including the United States) celibate priesthood has been the normal practice, explained Msgr. Michael Witt, professor of Church history at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. The Council of Trent, he said, realized that celibacy within the priesthood was a Church discipline.
"In other words, the Church says that she wants her priests to be celibate so that we priests then stand in for Christ at the altar and also beyond the altar," said Msgr. Witt. "There is a marriage bond between the clergy and the Church just as there is a marriage covenant between the Church and Christ. And we as priests are supposed to image that."
Eastern Churches traditionally have dealt with the issue of married priests in a different way. "During the Council of Trullo, the council fathers there acknowledged the legitimacy of a married clergy, but it is highly restricted," said Msgr. Witt. "A (married) priest is not allowed to be a bishop — in fact most bishops (in the Eastern Church) are monks and they must be celibate. And if you're ordained a priest and you're not married, then you're expected to remain celibate the rest of your life."
"The important thing to remember about celibacy in Roman Church is that it is a covenantal relationship between the individual priest and the Church itself. The priest is standing in for Christ — the 'alter Christus' — and he stands in for Christ, not only when he is performing the sacraments, but in a much broader sense than that. We are really married to the Church in a unique kind of way."
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