Pope Fran­cis

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHICO HAR­LAN chico.har­[email protected]­post.com

de­clined to ap­prove mar­ried priests in the Ama­zon, but cou­pled cler­ics are the norm in parts of Eastern Europe.

ROME — Af­ter 1½ years of feel­ing their bond deepen, af­ter cof­fee mee­tups and French study ses­sions, Oleh Kindiy leaned in close to his girl­friend in a mostly quiet chapel and of­fered her a ring. She said yes. But ask­ing for mar­riage was just his first ques­tion.

Be­cause soon af­ter, Kindiy sat down with her again. He told her, this time, that he was in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a pri­est in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. If he started down that path and en­rolled at a sem­i­nary, he’d see her ini­tially only on week­ends. And that was just the first sac­ri­fice they’d have to make to­gether. Was that okay?

“I wanted to be hon­est with her,” said Kindiy, now 41.

Her agree­ment helped to launch, for Kindiy, the kind of life im­pos­si­ble in most parts of the Catholic world — that of a pri­est who is mar­ried, not celi­bate, and who di­vides at­ten­tion be­tween his fam­ily and his cler­i­cal du­ties.

Catholic lead­ers have long re­sisted the idea of mar­ried cler­ics in the main­stream Latin Church, con­sid­er­ing celibacy an es­sen­tial el­e­ment for de­voted priests, and this week Pope Fran­cis de­clined to ap­prove the or­di­na­tion of mar­ried men in the Ama­zon re­gion.

But in parts of Eastern Europe and the Mid­dle East, in rel­a­tively small and dis­tinc­tive branches of Catholi­cism that are loyal to the pope, mar­ried cler­ics are the norm — and their lives rep­re­sent an al­ter­na­tive ver­sion of the Catholic priest­hood.

In that ver­sion, the typ­i­cal pri­est is one like Kindiy: some­body who jug­gles his du­ties, some­times has to re­ar­range his sched­ule, and watches movies or plays chess with his kids on days he gets home early enough. His fam­ily gath­ers to­gether with all the oth­ers at a church cafe af­ter Mass. He has asked parish­ioners to serve as god­par­ents. Some­times, Kindiy takes his 10-yearold son on vis­its to the sick. If they ask for a bless­ing, his son serves as can­tor.

Be­yond the day-to-day lo­gis­tics of be­ing a pri­est and a fa­ther, there is also a sense among mar­ried priests that the broader Catholic fears are un­founded.

Mar­ried priests say they ad­mire the tra­di­tion of celibacy, but they also feel like hav­ing a fam­ily can help them be more in­te­grated in the com­mu­nity and more un­der­stand­ing of some of their parish­ioners’ prob­lems.

“Ba­si­cally priests and lay people are on the same level,” said Kindiy, who lives in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and serves at a large parish where eight of the nine priests are mar­ried. “Mar­ried priests are not above the folks. My wife is friends with the parish­ioners. My kids are grow­ing up with parish­ioners’ kids.”

The rules of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church might feel con­tra­dic­tory to Ro­man Catholi­cism, but they show how Catholic lead­ers have gen­er­ally been will­ing to tol­er­ate self-con­tained ex­cep­tions to the celibacy rule.

The Eastern Rite churches rep­re­sent just 2 per­cent of the Catholic faith­ful. The Vat­i­can has also pro­vided celibacy ex­cep­tions for al­ready-mar­ried Angli­can min­is­ters who con­vert to Catholi­cism. In 2014, Fran­cis with lit­tle fan­fare drew up an ex­cep­tion of his own, al­low­ing for mar­ried Eastern Catholic men to be or­dained out­side their tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory — in­clud­ing in the United States.

But what popes have been un­will­ing to do is grant ex­cep­tions that would open any pock­ets of main­stream Catholi­cism to mar­ried priests.

Latin Amer­i­can bish­ops had pro­posed the or­di­na­tion of mar­ried men in the Ama­zon as a way to ad­dress dras­tic cler­i­cal short­ages and help re­mote ar­eas that some­times go years with­out Mass. Tra­di­tion­al­ists were ve­he­mently op­posed, ar­gu­ing that the ex­cep­tion would set a prece­dent that could rev­o­lu­tion­ize the priest­hood. In one rep­re­sen­ta­tive cri­tique, con­ser­va­tive Car­di­nal Robert Sarah told the Na­tional Catholic Regis­ter that a mar­ried pri­est is “un­able” to be “to­tally and ab­so­lutely given to God and the Church.”

“Right now, we are in a pe­riod of re­trench­ment,” said the Rev. Paul Sullins, a mar­ried for­mer Epis­co­palian pri­est who con­verted to Catholi­cism in 1998. “I don’t think the Latin Rite Catholic Church or the vast ma­jor­ity of dio­ce­ses are any­where near the place of ac­cept­ing mar­ried priests on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.”

The prospect of mar­ried clergy presents ad­di­tional com­pli­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts who have stud­ied the is­sue. Mar­ried priests tend to cost the church more in terms of hous­ing and health care. If they have young fam­i­lies, it can be harder for them to move be­tween parishes mid­ca­reer.

And al­low­ing for mar­riage may not be enough to at­tract young people to the priest­hood. Arch­bishop Svi­atoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, told re­porters last year that his rite, too, is deal­ing with short­ages.

“It’s not like mar­riage is some au­to­matic cure,” said Adam DEVille, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Saint Fran­cis in Fort Wayne, Ind., who has edited and con­trib­uted to a forth­com­ing book on the mar­ried Catholic priest­hood. He said that the strains of the priest­hood can also take a toll on fam­i­lies and mar­riages.

“I know that from see­ing people re­ally, re­ally strug­gle,” Deville said.

In Ukraine, a man is al­lowed to marry be­fore or­di­na­tion, but not af­ter. And the wife must of­fi­cially sign off be­fore her hus­band can en­ter the priest­hood.

Kindiy is not the first Catholic pri­est in his fam­ily. His great­grand­fa­ther was one, too — and was de­ported to Siberia dur­ing the Soviet era. Af­ter Ukraine be­came in­de­pen­dent in 1991, churches emerged from the un­der­ground, and Kindiy, who had grown up in a secular en­vi­ron­ment, found him­self cu­ri­ous.

“This was my ques­tion: Why are we suf­fer­ing? What is the way out of it? In the 1990s, we didn’t re­ally have much money for food,” Kindiy said. “It was eco­nomic dif­fi­culty. The an­swers I heard in church re­ally called to me.”

Kindiy never had to choose be­tween mar­riage and the priest­hood — “mar­ried priests are so nat­u­ral for me,” he said — but in the early 2000s, he stud­ied at the Catholic Univer­sity of Amer­ica in Wash­ing­ton, sur­rounded by as­pir­ing priests who’d be bound to celibacy.

“I re­spect the Catholic in­sis­tence on celibacy,” Kindiy said. “They lived to­gether, joked to­gether. I liked to hang out with them. But I re­al­ized, af­ter the sem­i­nary, they would have to go home, where they would be alone. That is some­thing that is chal­leng­ing.”


Oleh Kindiy, a pri­est in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with his wife, Ivanka, and two of his four chil­dren. Kindiy serves as a pas­tor in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, at a parish where eight of the nine priests are mar­ried. In Ukraine, a man is al­lowed to marry be­fore or­di­na­tion, but not af­ter. And the wife must of­fi­cially sign off be­fore her hus­band can en­ter the priest­hood.

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