Thursday, October 28, 2010

1934 Letter from Rome on Celibacy

To Bishop Basil Takach

Sacred Oriental Congregation.
Prot. No. 572-30

Rome, July 23, 1934
(Borgo, Nuovo, 76.)

Your Excellency:

It is certainly not without profound pain that the Holy See has had to realize that, among the Catholics of the Greek Ruthenian Rite in the United States of America, and in particular among the clergy and faithful of the Pod-Carpathian Ruthenian Ordinariate, grave agitations and deplorable rebellions are being intensified and expanded on the pretext that this Sacred Congregation had threatened the rights and privileges of the Ruthenian Church.

But your Excellency knows well how, under the appearance of vast questions, there lies prevalently that much more restricted question, which has its origin in the regulation of article XII of the Decree Cum Data Fuerit of March 1,1929, and by which was again decreed what had already been prescribed since 1890; that is to say, "that Greek Ruthenian priests who desire to betake themselves to the United States of America and to remain there must be celibates." This regulation indeed was not and is not a "lex de coelibatu apud clerum graecoruthenum," as some have wanted to affirm. By it, nothing has been modified or changed in that particular Ruthenian ecclesiastical discipline, to which, in so far as it concerns the privilege of a married clergy, the Holy See has consented and still does consent. This regulation arose not now, but anew, from the peculiar conditions of the Ruthenian population in the United States of America. There it represents an immigrant element and a minority, and it could not, therefore, pretend to maintain there its own customs and traditions which are in contrast with those which are the legitimate customs and traditions of Catholicism in the United States, and much less to have there a clergy which could be a source of painful perplexity or scandal to the majority of American Catholics.

And, moreover, when the Holy See recognized the peculiarities of the Greek Ruthenian Church and guaranteed them, it intended principally - as is evident from the Decree of Union of 1596, during the Pontificate of Clement VII, and of the Brief of Paul V of 1615 - to recognize and guarantee the ritual traditions of the Ruthenians.

As regards their particular canonical discipline, the Holy See could not have affirmed its integral application at all times and in all places without taking into account the different exigencies and circumstances. Thus one can well understand how a married clergy, permitted in those places where the Greek Ruthenian Rite originated and constitutes a predominant element, could hardly be advisable in places where the same Rite has been imported and finds an environment and mentality altogether different.

Let it not be said that the regulation of Cum Data Fuerit was new legislation, since the preceding Decree Cum Episcopo (August 17, 1914) - issued as a modification of the Constitution Ea Semper (June 14, 1907) - did not make any mention of it.

The fact that no mention was made of it in the Decree Cum Episcopo was not due in any way to a revocation of the regulation, adopted since 1890 and solemnly called to mind on several occasions; on the contrary, it was due to an indulgent attitude of the Holy See taken in view of the statements of the Ruthenian Bishops in Europe to the effect that the number of unmarried priests in their dioceses was still too few and that they could not very well reduce that number by aligning some of them to the spiritual assistance of the Ruthenian faithful in America. And that this was so is proven clearly by the fact that in the years from 1914 to 1929 - that is during the period in which the regulation in question did not appear - the Holy See upheld in practice the same regulation, which continued to be known to the entire Ruthenian hierarchy and clergy so much so that when the Ordinary of the Pod-Carpathian Ruthenians in the United States of America deemed it necessary in 1925 to ordain some married clerics, he asked the Holy See to permit him, by way of exception to do so. The Holy See in acceding to the request, took care to emphasize the exceptional nature of the permission and to add "exclausa quavis spe futurarum ordinationum."

As the situtation changed for the better, it seemed well that the decree of March 1, 1929, should state again, explicitly, that which in fact had never been abrogated. And so much the more so, because the regulation in question does not concern exclusively the Ruthenian clergy, but applies without exception to priests of all Rites.

But the Decree was accompanied on the part of the Holy See by an attitude of the greatest discretion and indulgence; so that even after it, no action was taken to send away from the United States those married Ruthenian priests who had already immigrated there in opposition to the regulation which would have forbidden them to do so; and these priests were not disturbed even when some of them showed themselves to be partisans of an altogether deplorable movement of hostility against their bishop and against the Holy See itself.

In the face of the simplicity and the logic of what article XII of the Decree Cum Data Fuerit disposes, it seemed immediately evident that some sought to bemuddle the situation, deceiving the ingenuous minds of the faithful by a misleading and a malign interpretation of every act emanating from the Holy See and put into effect by the Ordinary, Bishop Takach. And if there would have been any doubt about this, it would have been dissipated at lengths by what happened in the Convention, promoted by the KOVO and held in Pittsburgh from July 26 to 28, 1933 a meeting of intents and manifestations clearly schismatic, even to the extent of threatening the Holy See that unless it had - within sixty days - granted what was requested in the resolutions of the convention, the delegates at Pittsburgh and the people whom they represented would declare themselves "independent of Rome." A tremendous statement, which, however, was not surprising because it revealed without possiblity of further doubt, the true motives of a complete campaign of the press, of meetings, of protestations, of rebellions, of schisms, which under the cloak of the defense of the privileges of the Ruthenian Church had already grievously offended against the spirit of reverence and obedience to the Ordinary - even to the extent of depriving him of almost every means of substinence - and weakened the very attachment to the Catholic Faith . . .

Therefore, let every dissension and - every suspicion by banished, so that there may be reestablished, in the pride of the common Catholic faith and in fraternal sentiments inspired by a common origin and membership in the same Rite, that mutual charity which should bind closely together all the Ruthenian people in America with their Bishop and clergy, and make of them, even in that land far distant from their native county, a magnificent appeal to dissidents to return to the unity of the Catholic faith.

Your Excellency, who by reason of long practice of office and of affection, has closely at heart the spiritual welfare of the Ruthenian people in the United States, will convey to all the good people, and first of all to Bishop Takach - so sorely and unjustly tried - the trustful word of the Holy Father, who, the guardian of ecclesiastical discipline by reasons of his apostolic ministry, desires that the exact observance of whatever regulations this Sacred Congregation has issued be, on the part of the Ruthenian Church in the United States of America, the most worthy proof of its Catholic faith and of its willingness to live, increase and flourish in works of holiness.

May there descend upon Bishop Takach, his clergy, his faithful - and among them, upon also those who are sorry for their transgressions and return to the proper disposition, the comforting and vivifying blessing of Almighty God, which the Holy Father, through the intercession of the most glorious Virgin Mother, invokes generously and with a fervent prayer that it may be abundant in heavenly graces.

With sentiments of esteem and best wishes, I remain,

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Luigi Cardinal Sincero
Bishop of Palestrina, Sicily
G. Cesarini, Assessor



  1. Thanks, Scott, for posting this letter.

    Some background: the letter's provenance is from Fr. Lawrence Barriger's (an Orthodox priest) book "Good Victory":

    The reason I know this is because I first posted this excerpt back about 1995 on the old CINEAST discussion board and supplied it for a writer for Catholic World Report who used it in this article originally published about the same time:

    This letter from Rome was cited in this Orthodox publication to show how Rome can not be trusted to honor agreements to respect legitimate Eastern traditions such as celibacy. As such, I think it shows how the issue of celibacy (intertwined with the issue of how papal primacy should be exercised) does impact relations between East and West.

  2. I don't think this is a matter of "trust" - as this was part of the "agreement" from the git-go with the Ruthenians. If a different arrangement is made with Orthodoxy, "from the git-go" then why would one question the "trust" or "honesty" of Rome on this? It seems your choice of words is a bit polemic.


  3. The source I used for the letter, is here:

    I have added that to the original blog entry now too.


  4. You'll find very few Ruthenians who felt it was part of the agreement from the "get-go." That's why it caused such a schism. This is an issue that tore the Ruthenian Church in the US apart.

    So, is it your opinion that a future pope would have the right to impose celibacy on Orthodox in a reunited Church, if he so wished?

  5. SW: If a different arrangement is made with Orthodoxy, "from the git-go" then why would one question the "trust" or "honesty" of Rome on this? It seems your choice of words is a bit polemic.

    DB: I don't think so.

    The Ruthenians felt they had an agreement from Rome that their traditions would be respected when they entered union with Rome back in the 1600s. Yet, Rome decided the part about married priests would not be allowed here in the US. This was not something the Ruthenians ever agreed to and many felt that Rome had reneged on the agreement.

    How is a concern that a future pope might decide that it was necessary to impose celibacy again despite any agreements is viewed as somehow being polemic?

  6. Concerns about what a future pope MIGHT do are not warranted. In 1600 there was scarcely a white man in the Americas - much less any Ruthenians. Any agreement back then would not have been considering migrations of Ruthenians to the Americas, especially not CENTURIES after Western Christianity had set up jurisdictions there. When the Latin bishops of the 19th and 20th centuries expressed legitimate concerns over how this would affect their communities in the Americas - they were supported. NOW these same bishopicks are stating they see no problem with married priests in Eastern rites. The situation is wholly different.

    In JMJ,

  7. "Legitimate concerns"? Perhaps if the Latin Rite Bishops and priests had explained to their faithful that there were two equally valid traditions in the Church there'd have been no problem. Instead, the Eastern Catholics were treated like second-class citizens. This was a terrible injustice, not a "legitimate concern."

    It's no secret there is a movement by some to have priestly celibacy treated on the level of dogma. For example, this book published by a well respected Catholic publisher:

    Given that this has a significant following, it is not inconceivable that this view could obtain more of a following in the Catholic Church. Some priests in Rome are quite vocal about it:

    The situation is not wholly different now as you say. This may well be one reason why the "Ban" has not been officially abrogated.

    Side note: the priest who wrote the book noted above published by Ignatius Press has renounced his work. Ignatius Press still prints it, however. A good reply to such arguments is given here:


Keep in mind while posting:
1) Please respond ON TOPIC to the article at hand.
2) Posts more than 4 weeks old are set to automatically save new comments for moderation - so your comment may not show up immediately if you're responding to an older post.
3) The "Spam Filter" is on - and randomly messages get caught in that filter. I have no control over which messages get caught in the spam filter and those that do must wait for me to mark them as "not spam." A message caught by the spam filter may show up for a moment, making you think it posted, and then disappear. Do not assume I have deleted your comment, it's probably just the spam filter and it will show up.