This week, the Pope took an important step towards protecting the rights of various Eastern rite churches that are part of Catholicism.
In their traditional territories, many non-Latin Rite Catholic rites (churches with their own patriarchs, bishops, canon law, and Mass formats, but which acknowledge the Pope as being in charge) ordain either celibate laymen who will never marry, celibate monks who will never marry, or married men (who traditionally have certain special rules for their conduct and that of their wives). These days in Eastern rites, a previously married priest usually cannot ever become a bishop, although this was not true in early Christian times. (Dynasties of hereditary bishops have turned out to be able to happen, and they are Not a Good Thing.)
Because Protestants were constantly attacking Latin Rite Catholics for having celibate priests, a lot of Latin Rite bishops were uncomfortable with even having married priests of other Rites in the same territory as their flocks (and the Protestants), much less having seminaries of other Rites that would ordain married priests. There was also fear that young men who wanted to be priests but dropped out over girls would switch rites and go over to the other rite’s seminaries. (Although of course most Eastern rites are not at all interested in having some other rite’s sloppy seconds.) Ordinary Catholics and Protestants who heard about these “married priests” had a hard time getting it through their heads that it’s before seminary that Eastern men of these rites have to decide to marry or not.There were already a lot of ethnic conflicts in US parishes. Catechisms for kids were written under the assumption that Latin Rite Catholicism was the only Catholicism. Change would be difficult, and priests would have to do a lot of explanation and diplomacy.
It was a big ball of mess, and the Latin Rite US bishops often decided to handle the problem by cutting off the Easterners and whining to Rome a lot. One US bishop was so nasty that he drove all the local Eastern rite fellow Catholics into the arms of the Greek and Eastern Orthodox churches, and is called “the founding father” of the US version of one whole denomination.
In a less than satisfactory attempt to control the chaos, Rome set groundrules for places like the US, the UK, and Australia that basically said, “Fine, you whiners. In exchange for not being able to keep messing up the poor Easterners, we’ll tell the Easterners not to send married priests over for their people. Whiners.” This was not exactly encouraging to the Easterners, though, and a bunch more became Orthodox. Oooooops.
Nowadays, people are better catechised, and it never really was a good idea to penalize the innocent for being normal and keeping their lawful traditions. So this week the Pope has removed the regs set in place “because of the hardness of their hearts.” Good. It’s been time for a long time.
Next, let’s stop penalizing people in the Latin Rite for following our own legit traditions, and we’ll be getting someplace!