Monday, November 8, 2010

Critiquing an Melkite Archbishop's Proposal on a Married Priesthood

Source: A Lebanese archbishop’s practical argument for married priests « CNS Blog

Preliminary Note

I suspect what we really have here is a CNS blogger seeking to promote her own view about a married priesthood, rather than a Melkite Archbishop seeking to overturn the discipline of celibacy.  This is not written out of disrespect of the Archbishop of Tyre, but rather looking at an article which seems to be overly generalized.

The Article in Question

In CNS news, an article was published telling us of the Lebanese Melkite Archbishop, George Bakhouni of Tyre, speaking of the priest shortage in the West, saying he does not have a shortage of priests in his own archdiocese because Eastern Catholics have married priests.  The article generally uses sympathetic language instead of neutral language indicating that the author supports the idea.

The article describes his situation as:

For the archdiocese’s 10 parishes, “I have 12 priests. Eight of them are married and four are single, but two of the singles are serving in Italy,” the archbishop said.

This article also says,

“Christianity survived in the Middle East because of the married priests,” the bishop said. Because they are married with families and homes, they tend to stay even when conflicts and hardship send many celibate priests fleeing to safety.

The Archbishop tells us:

The Eastern tradition, he said, is “to choose someone who has his own work in the particular village, a good man, a faithful man, a Christian man. He will study a little bit, some theology and philosophy, and he will be ordained.”

The archbishop said it doesn’t matter that it’s impractical to send a married man to the seminary for six years. “We don’t want all of them to be doctors or theologians,” but witnesses. Priests don’t all have to be well spoken orators; they could even be fishermen, like the Apostles, he said.

The important thing, he said, is that they live exemplary lives among their fellow villagers, know a bit of theology and the Bible and that they are available to celebrate the sacraments.

This may sound appealing to us in the West, particularly with the modern Western aversion to a hierarchical Church.  However, before asking "where do I sign?" we need to ask whether such a thing would work elsewhere.

Are The Situations Equal?

This is indeed the Eastern tradition, and it seems to work in the region where his Excellency lives, however, before applying it to the West, one needs to consider whether the situations are equal, to avoid the fallacy of the false analogy.

Comparing the Melkite Archdiocese of Tyre to my own Diocese of Sacramento reveals some interesting things.  In his Excellency's archdiocese, he has 10 parishes and 12 priests.  In Sacramento, we have at least 90 parishes (I lost count) and 246 priests (192 diocesan, 54 religious priests in 2004) serving over 500,000 Catholics who make up about 16% of the total population in the region.

The question of course is whether the situations are similar.  Of course they are not.  In the Sacramento diocese we have priests who travel from place to place in small rural areas as well as those who serve larger fixed dioceses.

However, it is the celibate model which also exists in mission territory in Africa and South America, where priests must travel large distances to evangelize to those people who are only beginning to learn about Christ.

Comparing Apples and Oranges

I think the problem is, the situation in the Melkite Archdiocese of Tyre is more static, where the main function of the priest is described as "they live exemplary lives among their fellow villagers, know a bit of theology and the Bible and that they are available to celebrate the sacraments" is different from the role of the priest is more diverse.

For a comparison to work, we do need to remember that they must not have differences which make the comparison invalid.  If situations 1 and 2 have conditions A, B and C the same, but contradict on relevant issues X, Y and Z then to compare situations 1 and 2 would be inaccurate and misleading.

Thus it is not my intent to disparage one or build up another form.  Rather, I wish to point out that in the Catholic Church, there are many regions of the world, and what works in one region may not necessarily work in another region, and it is for the Magisterium, not the individual, to decide what is best for the Church.  Hence we do have other rites than just the Roman Rite.  The Church respects the traditions of her fellow Catholics in regions where the Eastern Rites are followed, and I acknowledge the wisdom of the Church.

The Church, in her wisdom, permits the married priesthood in the Eastern Rites and calls for celibacy for priests in the West.  The situations seem to fit the needs.  If it ever turns out differently, the Church can change her disciplines to meet the needs of the faithful.

However, it would be wrong to merely say "a married priesthood will solve the vocations crisis" as a blanket statement.  Such a statement is a Dicto Simpliciter fallacy, making a universal statement where there can be exceptions (exercise is good for most people, but if you have heart disease and are on a respirator, perhaps not).

If conditions in West and East are the same, then one can perhaps make a rule of thumb on married priesthoods.  However, if conditions are not the same, then it would be unwise to say "It works here, therefore it will work there" without considering there may be exceptions to the rule.


I do not think the Archbishop is making this error however.  Rather I think the author of this CNS blog is making this error in hopes that a married priesthood will somehow "fix" all the woes of the West.

Personally I think that is an oversimplification, ignoring the problem of the growing secularism of the West, and that such married priests would need faithful teachers so they would pass on the teachings of Christ faithfully.

This is the reform which is being undertaken in the West, and I suspect that once completed, perhaps we would find we did not need a married priesthood after all.


  1. I agree with your conclusion. As a Melkite from the Sacramento area, I do not think comparing the Eparchy of Tyre to the Diocese of Sacramento is possible. I really dislike how a certain crown with special agendas will use Pastoral Provision priests or Eastern Priests to advocate their position. Granted, I think there are some eastern priest who think married clergy in the west would be a problem, but I don't think just doing that would work. It really comes from a society's value of Holy Orders. In a society that does not value the charism, or even the church, you will have lower vocations. Sure, allowed married priests may help, and you may get a few more folks, but this would not really be treating the symptoms. Also if you compare most eastern parishes in the US that have an average family count of say 35 - 65 to Roman Catholic parishes who have around 2000 - 4000 families, its a very different situation and larger demands.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I find it helpful to see the perspective of one who is a member of the Eastern rites since my own knowledge of them are limited.

    Your point on the valuing the charism of Holy Orders is a good one indeed.

    God Bless

  3. First off, let me apologize for all the misspellings in my previous comments.

    We in america live in a society that does not value traditional religious institutions. The old Protestants denominations have splintered into a thousand and one denominations and with so many folks now saying they are “Spiritual”, why not just do your own thing. This is the backdrop which the church must deal with. In our own diocese, the melkite diocese of newton, I believe we only have two seminarians in training right now, and our diocese has 45 or so parishes in it. This is horrible. It’s not just an affliction of the Roman Rite.

    In Ukraine, or any of the other catholic countries that emerged from the soviet union’s fall. There are lots of vocations there. Precisely because through their experience of persecution, the faith was tested, and valued, and folks there value the church and the clergy.