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Nation/World

February 28, 2014

Married man becomes Maronite priest in US

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The new priest at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis is a married man.

Wissam Akiki was ordained last night in the church that sits near downtown St. Louis. Several hundred people — including Akiki’s wife and 8-year-old daughter — were on hand for the ceremony, which marked the first time in nearly a century that the church ordained a married priest.

Akiki was in retreat before yesterday’s ceremony and unavailable for an interview.

Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. However, the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners. But Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions. And over the years, popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America.

“Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it’s not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite Church, though in the United States it is,” Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St. Raymond’s, said Thursday.

Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained. Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the United States. Eastern Catholics accept the authority of the pope, but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.

Peters said the pope’s action does not lift the ban on married priests in the U.S. It is simply an exception.

Whether the decision would open the door for more married priests wasn’t clear. Experts cautioned against reading too much into it.

“This is certainly not an automatic indication that the mandate of celibacy within Roman rite will be overturned,” said Randy Rosenberg, a theological studies professor at Saint Louis University.

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