To learn about the discipline of Greek Catholics on celibacy and the orientations that can result from their experience, we turned to Bishop Ladislav Hučko, Apostolic Exarch for the Czech Republic. He was born in Prešov (eastern Slovakia) into a family where generations of married priests had succeeded one another. Excluded from theological studies by the communists, he earned a doctorate in physics and was later ordained a priest. He has been a formator of seminarians. He also holds a doctorate in theology and is a professor of dogmatic theology. Ordained bishop in 2003 in Prague, he has been Secretary General of the Czech Episcopal Conference.
In the conversation that follows, Bishop Hučko explains the regulation of celibacy in the Eastern Churches; he points out the positive and negative aspects, as shown by experience; and, among other things, advances the proposal that the space granted to celibacy be widened, while favoring the common life of priests.
What is the discipline of celibacy in the Greek Catholic Church?
-The discipline of celibacy in the Greek Catholic Church (which was united to the Latin Church by the Union of 1596) is governed by the same principles as in the Orthodox Church today, although it is not easy to compare them exactly, because the practical forms may be different. However, this discipline basically consists in the fact that married men can be ordained, but ordained celibates can no longer marry.
A major problem arises when the woman dies or abandons the priest; the situation is then resolved on a case-by-case basis. If the woman dies... the priest can be reduced to the lay state and remarry. And if she abandons him, the situation is worse, because the marriage is valid.
Why is it stated that bishops (among Greek Catholics, eparchs and exarchs) must be celibate? Is there a theological or practical reason?
-Neither one nor the other. It is a consequence of historical development. We probably agree that it is easier to choose celibacy (at least at that particular moment) than to give one's life for the faith, out of fidelity to Christ, as was frequent in the first centuries of Christianity. After the
In the fourth century, many substituted the martyrdom of blood for the sacrifice for Christ in their exclusive ser- vice. St. Paul also writes clearly about this, saying that for the Christian it is better to remain unmarried than to marry (at that time it was thought that the second coming of Christ was near). And this for several reasons, which were not only practical.
The first councils demanded celibacy for priests and deacons. After the division of the Roman Empire into an Eastern Empire (under the influence of Constantine the Great) and a Western Empire (Rome), different cultural and civilizing influences began to impose themselves in each of the two zones. In the West a weaker emperor ruled, and there the Pope assumed power and government progressively, and was recognized by the entire Christian world, although not always to the same extent or with the same degree of obedience. In Constantinople, on the other hand, a sovereign reigned and the model that today we call Caesaropapism was established. For example, among other things, the Caesar also decided who was to be archbishop, and later patriarch. As far as ecclesiastical celibacy is concerned, Cardinal Alfons M. Stickler studies it in a very scientific way in a publication (Der Klerikerzölibat. Seine Entwicklungsges- chichte und seine theologischen Grundlagen, Taschenbuch, July 23, 2012; Czech translation: O cirkevním celibátu. Jeho dějiny a teologické základyEpiscopal Conference of Czech Bishops, Prague 2008); in the following I will rely on their data and arguments. The first express testimonies on the continence of clerics come from the Popes Siricius (letter of Pope Siricius to Anicius, bishop of Thessalonica, in 392; also, to the question on the obligatory continence of the senior clerics, in the letter Direct of 385 Siricius replies that many priests and deacons, who beget children also after ordination, act against an inviolable law that binds the older clerics since the beginning of the Church) and Innocent I. Pope Leo the Great, in 456, writes on this question to Bishop Rusticus of Narbonne: "The law of continence is the same for altar servers (deacons) as for priests and bishops...". Therefore, it is certain that continence was required from the beginning (although there were married priests and deacons before ordination), but after ordination they were no longer allowed to make use of marriage. Hence when it is published somewhere that this or that holy bishop was married, it is true, but that only to a certain extent and up to a certain time. That today there are married Eastern priests is a consequence of this praxis that married men were ordained, who then could not make use of marriage. After a certain time, however, this was changed by the Second Trullian Council in 691. This Second Trullian Council, or Quinisextus, was a council of the Byzantine Church alone. It was convoked and attended by its bishops, was promoted by their authority and rested decidedly on the authority of Caesar. The Western Church has never recognized this council as ecumenical, despite repeated attempts and pressure from Caesar. The Roman Church recognizes the Trullan canons as a particular right that was taken into consideration without recognizing it only insofar as it does not contradict current Roman praxis, even though it is clear to researchers that the texts of the Synod of Carthagena of 419 that it uses were manipulated and used in a sense contrary to the original meaning. Consequently, according to the conclusions of the Trullian Council, bishops remained celibates obligatorily (if they were married, they had to separate from their wives...), but priests could be married and continue to live with their wives even after ordination. That is, they could be married before ordination, but could not be married after ordination. The difference between the praxis of the Eastern and Western Church is also based on different practical and theological reasons. In the Eastern Church the priest was from the beginning (although many do not like to hear it) more an administrator of the sacraments than a spiritual director and teacher. This was above all the bishop. And the administrator of the sacraments was often considered in the Orthodox Church more of an official or manager than a spiritual father. That is why it was the monks, the religious, from whom the candidates for bishop were chosen.
So, can it be said that the exclusion of the possibility from that contract matrimonio the priests now ordered, obeys to a purely disciplinary reason?
-To do so would be in contradiction with the history and praxis of both the original Eastern Church and the Western Church. It has not been done until it was introduced by the separate Protestant Churches.
Does admission to the priesthood of a married man depend solely on the personal decision of the candidate?
-The admission of a married man to the priesthood depends on his preparation, his spiritual level and his studies, and is regulated by the needs, as well as the requirements, of Eastern Canon Law (the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches). As a general rule, a young person first prepares himself in the seminary for five or six years, and then decides whether or not to marry. Before that, the bishop and superiors decide whether he is a worthy candidate, that is, whether he meets the necessary moral and intellectual requirements. There are practical difficulties in the case of married priests. For example, except for the first two or three years, my grandfather was in a parish all his life (1913-1951). And the same was true for almost all priests. They were not transferred very often.
Today it is different, but that does not mean it is easy. During my sixteen years of service in the Czech Republic I have transferred maybe two or three priests out of thirty-five.
Does the Church also assume the support of priests' families?
-You can't separate one thing from the other. But sometimes it is a complicated problem, at least as far as the Czech Republic is concerned. Here, we usually do not have our own churches and parsonages, but we have to rent them, and we rent them to Roman Catholic parishes, paying them a small rent, in addition to a rent for parish housing.
Until recently the State paid parish employees from its budget, but since an agreement was reached with the State in 2013 whereby the State returned its property to the Church (to the Churches) and will continue to pay for 30 years plus compensation for the non-restituted patrimony, the Churches must live from their own sources, although for a certain time the State will finance the Church for 17 years with an ever decreasing sum.
It is a somewhat complicated process, and is currently being fought in the Czech parliament by the communists, who are demanding that compensation be taxed at 19 %. They have the support of the current coalition government. Quite a few of our priests, especially those in smaller parishes, also have other jobs to support their families.
When the priest has a large parish with many faithful, they also take care to support the priest. An example: Ukraine. In the Czech Republic, each diocese has at its disposal a certain amount of money to support the priests. But if the parish is small and we want to take care of the faithful, either we raise the priest's salary (not very often) or we look for some other source of income. In recent times some priests who are in smaller parishes also help parishes of the Latin rite (which need it because of the shortage of vocations) and in return they receive help. But first they must obtain the authorization of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, which is called the faculty of "birritualism". In this sense, it depends a lot on how big the parish is that the priest has. If it is large and has good faithful, they never let the priest have a hard time... And not only that, but they contribute to the parish to the extent of their possibilities.
In what way does the above influence the number of vocations? Are there enough vocations?
-So far, yes, but it is not certain what will happen in the future, because being a priest in today's conditions is not easy and, although sometimes it may seem easier, serving faithfully is more difficult if you have a family. If the priest takes on his mission with a sincere and pious approach and wants to strive for holiness, he has to be a holy father and a holy husband, as well as a holy priest. He has two families: his family and the parish. And not everyone succeeds. Or else he gives preeminence to one and neglects the other... Those who succeed are really saints. And I must say that nowadays they are not few.
Based on your experience, do you consider this system satisfactory, or do you think it should evolve in some way?
-This system has its weak sides, but in certain circumstances also its strong aspects. It is objective that the married priest cannot devote himself to his faithful as much as the unmarried one, and his family duties often also partially hinder his intellectual preparation. He has to worry more about feeding his family, especially if he has several children. In case of difficulties with the children, he suffers a lot personally, and the parish is also affected. There are difficulties with transfers to another parish. Many times the family is affected by the absence of the father, especially during the most important liturgical feasts.
On the other hand, it cannot be denied that in certain circumstances this system also has a very positive influence on the faithful, as well as on the person of the priest or the family. But only if, as a family, they give an example of Christian life to others, to their environment. We know that in the fifties, when priests were forced to accept the obligatory passage to the Orthodox Church, often it was precisely their wives who supported them so that they would persevere and not sign their acceptance, and they went into exile with them with a willing spirit. This is what happened in the case of my father.
It is also very positive that the priest does not live alone, and does not become an individualist or a solitary or rare person. In the Eastern Church (also in the Catholic Church) there are few priests who live or work alone. They either live in celibacy, most of them in religious congregations, or in a family. Man is a social being, and it is natural for him to live with others, although it cannot be denied - as we know from many biographies of saints, but also of our Savior himself - that dedicating short periods of time to meditation in solitude is very necessary and beneficial for the human dimension of the person.
The future will show which aspect will prevail in the life of the Church. In my family, my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather were Greek Catholic priests; and no doubt from this family tradition, when I wanted to go to the seminary my father told me that if I wanted to be a (Greek Catholic) priest, the best thing to do was to get married.
In my opinion, the ideal would be that, following the initial tradition of the Church, celibacy should be given more space, and at the same time the common life of priests should be favored. And that the eventual ordination of married men - where there are not enough priests - be limited only to those who are already elderly and whose children already lead an independent life, the so-called "married men". viri probati. The decision on whether or not to return to the initial system should be up to the councils or the pope.
Could you tell us if the same regulation applies in the Orthodox Churches?
-The discipline of the Orthodox is substantially the same, although among them there are many things that are much freer (marriage discipline, confession in common, intellectual preparation of the priests...), while in others they are, on the other hand, stricter (required fasts, duration of prayers...).
As far as I know, in the question of the marriage of clerics they have in principle the same general principles as we do. With regard to their concrete praxis, I cannot pronounce myself with sufficient foundation.