We are Non-Roman Catholics

The first reaction of visitors to my lovely parish church is generally one of bewilderment, as they anoint themselves with air after reaching out for a holy water font inside the door and coming up empty. No statues, either. No stations of the cross. No confessionals or Rosary group either, for that matter. The first question visitors usually ask is, “Is this a Catholic Church?” Why, yes, it is. But not in the way most Catholics would expect.

A young man in my parish once summed up the prevailing assumption when he told me that he hadn’t been able to make it to our place the previous Sunday, “so I went to the regular Catholic Church.” If the Roman Catholic Church is the Regular Catholic Church, that would make my Melkite Greek Catholic Church and its twenty-two sister Eastern Churches in full communion with Rome Irregular Catholics – and so, for many, we are.

Most Catholics remain unaware that there are Eastern Churches in communion with Rome at all, or that there is any way to be Catholic other than in the Latin Roman tradition. When interacting with Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics often spend much of their time explaining that yes, we are Catholic; yes, we are “under the Pope”; yes, we share the same faith; yes, you can receive Holy Communion here; yes, coming here on Sunday fulfills your Sunday obligation; and so on. We don’t generally call ourselves “Roman Catholic” — not because we are not in communion with Rome (we are), but because we are not of the Roman Rite. Many (but by no means all) Eastern Churches are “Greek Catholic,” i.e., not ethnically Greek any more than all Roman Catholics are Italian, but Greek in taking our worship traditions from Constantinople.

The lack of awareness of the wondrous mysteries of the East is understandable: Eastern Catholics only constitute between one and two percent of the Catholic Church as a whole, such that the theologian Dr. Seuss expressed an overriding concern of Eastern Catholics vis-à-vis Roman Catholics in his renowned treatise on the Eastern Catholic Churches, Horton Hears A Who: “We are here! We are here! We are here!”

But just as God showered His mercy upon this present dust-speck among the galaxies, so the significance of the Eastern Churches is far greater than their minuscule numbers. The Eastern Catholic Churches stand as the chief expression of the Church’s kinship with over 300 million Orthodox Christians who share traditions of worship, spirituality and theology with those Eastern Catholics. They are also the only current manifestation of Pope Bl. John Paul II’s devout and winsomely expressed hope that one day the Church would again “breathe with both lungs.” As such, every Catholic who is aware of the potential of Irregulars to ride to the rescue should know about them and become familiar with some of their particularities.

The Eastern Catholic Churches, with the exception of the Maronite Church, were born out of the failure of the great reunion councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439-1445) to heal the Great Schism between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople. Giving up on attempts to unite the Western and Eastern Churches through an ecumenical council that would hammer out a theological agreement acceptable to all concerned parties, Counter-Reformation Rome began sending out missionaries to Orthodox lands (to the bitter resentment of the Orthodox), hoping to affect union with particular local churches. These efforts bore notable fruit with the Union of Brest in 1596 with large segments of the Ukrainian episcopate; the Union of Uzhorod in 1646 with a group of Ruthenian clergy; and the conversion to Catholicism of the Patriarch of Antioch, Cyril VI Tanas, in 1724.

All of these and other unions led to fresh schisms, so that almost all of the Eastern Catholic Churches (except, again, the Maronite) have Orthodox counterparts. But when these “uniate” Churches restored communion with the See of Rome, they were not required to give up their theological, liturgical, or spiritual traditions. After all, before the Great Schism the Church had featured a multiplicity of orthodox rites, devotional expressions, and approaches to spirituality, all with different emphases but no divergences on the substance of the faith; there was no reason why in the second millennium these would somehow have become illegitimate. Often, however, the adoption of Roman customs and practices became the most direct and visible way for Eastern Catholics to demonstrate their loyalties and identity – especially in areas where tensions ran high with the Orthodox.

This “Latinization,” however, hampered the Eastern Churches’ ability to bear witness to the catholicity of the Church to their Orthodox counterparts, who regarded the Eastern Churches’ adoption of Roman practices with contempt, as confirmation of what they regarded as Rome’s theological imperialism. The Second Vatican Council countered this directly, affirming that the various Churches and rites, including the Roman Church, are of “equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite, and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16:15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff” (Orientalium Ecclesarium 3). The Eastern Churches were called upon to “preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life” (Orientalium Ecclesarium 6).

In most Eastern Catholic Churches there ensued a discarding of Latin practices and a recovery of their Eastern traditions. And that process, in turn, is what can lead these Churches to appear so irregular to their Latin brethren. Eastern Catholics sometimes appear indifferent to Latin practices that Roman Catholics can assume are basic to a faith rightly lived. This is not out of hostility to the West, although there is no doubt that at times Easterners do display such hostility as an unfortunate overreaction to Latinization and the incomprehension and often unconscious triumphalism of their Latin brethren. Easterners are more often jealous for their own traditions and less receptive to Latin ones out of an awareness that if they do not bear witness to their own traditions, the Eastern Catholic Churches have no reason to exist. There are already Roman Catholic churches in abundance; Eastern churches thus serve no purpose in becoming merely Roman churches with “a different mass.”

The differences are far greater than that, even as the Faith remains common. Greek Catholic or Byzantine Catholic Churches, which include the Ukrainians, Ruthenians (who style themselves, confusingly “Byzantine Catholics,” as if they were the only ones), Melkites and others, are by far the most likely Eastern Churches that a Roman Catholic may run into in the U.S. The entire emphasis of Byzantine spirituality, upon the sinner as wounded and the Church as the source of his healing, rather than on juridical paradigms derived from Roman law, diverges sharply from Latin spirituality. Churches look like Orthodox churches, featuring an iconostasis, copious use of incense, usually a sung liturgy (most often the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), and – increasingly – married clergy.

It is the specter of a married priest that most often makes startled visitors ask, “Is this really a Catholic Church?” The Byzantine East, however, has ordained married men from the earliest period of the Church, and Eastern Catholic Churches were no different until 1929, when the Vatican decree Cum data fuerit stated that “priests of the Greek-Ruthenian rite, who wish to go to the United States of North America and stay there, must be celibates.” Although this referred explicitly only to the Ruthenian Church, it was always assumed to apply to the other Eastern Catholic Churches as well – a reasonable surmise, since Pope St. Pius X’s 1907 apostolic letter Ea semper had called for celibacy for all Eastern Catholic priests in North America.

The 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, however, takes married clergy for granted, saying that “in leading family life and in educating children married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful (can. 375) and that “once this Code goes into effect…all common or particular laws are abrogated, which are contrary to the canons of the Code” (can. 6).

Does this mean that the Vatican ban on married clergy was lifted by the Code? Certainly some Eastern Catholic bishops have thought so, and have ordained married men in the U.S. In any case, Cum data fuerit’s stipulation that even immigrant priests in America must be celibate is a long-dead letter, as many married priests serve here after having been ordained elsewhere. The situation, however, is unclear: in the 1990s, one high-profile Eastern Catholic ordination to the priesthood of a married deacon aroused considerable fury among the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the U.S.; subsequent ordinations of married men have either taken place outside this country or with considerably less fanfare.

The ambiguity about the legitimacy needs to be resolved definitively, as it was the ban on the Eastern Churches’ age-old practice of ordaining married men that dealt the most serious blow of all to the Eastern Catholic Churches in the U.S., and to the prospect that they would ever in significant numbers genuinely constitute the Church’s “second lung.” Those who believe that the Eastern Catholic Churches should rightly be compelled to follow Latin custom on this issue often assume that priestly celibacy is of divine origin, when in fact it is a matter of ecclesiastical discipline, or they believe that if the Eastern Churches ordain married men in the U.S., the Roman Catholic Church in this country will be bereft of young men with vocations, as all will join Eastern Churches in order to have both marriage and the priesthood.

Although that has never been true in countries where communities of Eastern and Roman Catholics live in close proximity, it was apparently the concern behind the ban in the first place. However, the obverse is actually true: the ban on married clergy certainly drives Eastern Catholics out of the Catholic Church. I will be happy to supply anyone who disputes this with an icon of St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre.

Fr. Alexis Toth (1853-1909) was a Ruthenian Catholic priest who came to the U.S. in 1889, settling in Minnesota. When he paid a courtesy call to the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, John Ireland, Ireland treated him with breathtaking rudeness, denying Toth (who was a widower) permission to serve as a priest in his diocese, and doubting that Toth was really a Catholic at all. Finding that other Eastern Catholic priests in the U.S. had been treated in similar ways, Toth and several other priests contacted a Russian Orthodox bishop in San Francisco, who eventually received them all into the Orthodox Church.

With enormous energy, Toth then set out to convert Eastern Catholics in the U.S. to Orthodoxy, and was immensely successful: as many as 100,000 Eastern Catholics became Russian Orthodox in the first two decades of the twentieth century, largely because of the prohibition of married clergy, restrictions on other Eastern traditions and practices, and indifference or outright hostility from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. For his labors, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Toth in 1994 as St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre. The kontakion (a thematic and often homiletic hymn) for his feast day exults that he “called back the sheep who had been led astray and brought them by his preaching to the Heavenly Kingdom!”

The life of Fr. Alexis Toth should serve as a cautionary tale for Roman and Eastern Catholics alike, that while there is one Faith, there is a legitimate and traditional multiplicity in its expression, and to insist on one expression of it to the expense of all the others does detriment to the Church and to the hope that Christians may one day all be one, as the Lord prayed (John 17:11). The Church will only be truly Catholic, truly universal, when the Council’s words are fully realized — that all the Churches and rites are of “equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite, and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations.”

That goes even for us Irregular Catholics.


For an extended discussion of the role of married priests in the Church see this essay by Catholic journalist Sandro Magister.


Robert Spencer is the author of several critically acclaimed books about Islam, including the New York Times bestsellers The Truth about Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is a columnist for FrontPage Magazine and the director of Jihad Watch.

  • F Lankus

    The last paragraph is stupid and heretical. So the Catholic Church is not NOW truly Catholic and Universal? So then there is no Catholic church truly in existence? So the gates of Hell have prevailed?
    Seeing that you print this trash idiocy, I am quite glad I never renewed my Crisis subscription years ago.
    I am disgusted.
    An Eastern Catholic

    • alex

      You are “disgusted”?

      Why is there so much sensitivity, and inclination towards indignation, over a slight lack of clarity in his wording? Do you not give a fellow Catholic the benefit of the doubt in small matters?

      Perhaps that is the fault of the internet. Anonymity allows us to indulge every small grievance so easily.

    • F Lankus

      I apologize to Mr. Spencer for my harsh words. I sincerely believe that there is only one True Church, and that Church is the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is the Church that is in Communion with (and submission to) the Successor of Peter, the Pope of Rome.
      If an ecclesial community or a particular church is not in communion with (and submission to) the Successor of Peter, then that communion or church is not in the Catholic Church. I believe this view reflects the contemporary official teaching of the Catholic Church.
      Also, the double icon of Alexis Toth seems to be inappropriate. Rev. Toth was a Catholic priest who departed from the Catholic Church in response to unjust treatment by the Catholic hierarchy. Unjust treatmest from the hierarchy is not a good reason for apostasy, or schism, or embracing heresy.

      • alex

        Thanks. God Bless.

  • I have no intention of being heretical; if anything I write is actually such, I withdraw it and defer to the judgment of the Church. Stupid, on the other hand, is another matter, and I suspect this is simply a case of unclear wording on my part. I was simply arguing that the Vatican should remove all restrictions on the Eastern Churches’ ability to do what Vatican II called them to do, “preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and established way of life.” Obviously whether or not this happens the Church in the larger sense is always catholic, as is affirmed by Catholics and Orthodox regularly and even by many Protestants when they recite the creed.

  • john spielman

    The word catholic (little c) refers to the church universal ie the body of Christ and includes all people who confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as savior and Lord (cf the apostles creed). So both Roman Catholics and Greek orthodox, Armenian,coptic Assyrian , protestant are all included in the body of Christ.)

    • Nathan

      I find this a frequent, and very poor argument from Protestants. How frequently do we hear of the importance of understanding a word’s meaning in the time it was written? When the Council of Nicaea declared that we believe in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” they had in mind… the Catholic Church – not all Christians that confessed Jesus was Savior and Lord, which would have included the Arian heretics the council was rejecting! The same is true for the Apostle’s Creed. You can twist a word’s meaning however you like, but at least recognize that you are not really confessing the creed as it was written and understood in the early Church.

      • Carson Lauffer

        You are completely correct. The little c versus big C argument is indeed fatuous.

  • E.I.B.

    When I invoke the word, “catholic”, I always think not about the church, but about the world that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and rose to save. The redemption and salvation are for ALL people, not just for some.
    When I invoke the word, “orthodox”, I think about adherence to doctrine; which is the life and furtherance of this endeavor of salvation.
    Mr. Spencer, you work for the salvation of the unbeliever, the reclamation of the lost, and the well-being of us all. God bless you.
    To care in a catholic manner is to be true to mind and heart of Christ.

  • Todd M. Aglialoro

    Inasmuch as you fall under the headship of the bishop of Rome, you are Roman Catholics (as opposed to, say, Anglo-Catholics or Old Catholics or Polish National Catholics), no?

  • Todd:

    In the sense you define the term, certainly. In the sense that the “Roman” in “Roman Catholic” refers to rite and liturgical tradition, as does the “Greek” in “Greek Catholic,” then no. The differing uses of the term give rise to some confusion, but the latter sense is predominant: that’s why Greek Catholic Churches such as my Melkite Greek Catholic Church call themselves that, and are called that by the Vatican — rather than something like “Melkite Greek Roman Catholic Church.”

    • Mr. Spencer,

      Indeed, you are a Roman Catholic, though not a Latin Catholic.

      On another note, Latin Catholics often confuse the role of the pope as Roman Pontiff and as Patriarch of Rome. The fact is that almost all of the time we see the pope acting a the Patriarch of Rome and very seldom as the Roman Pontiff, for instance in ecumenical councils. When they learn about the other patriarchs and their authority in their Catholic Churches, many don’t know what to think of them, for they act within their Churches as “popes”, when they just share the same role as the pope as patriarchs.

      Likewise, being the Latin Church the size it is does require its huge administrative and governing apparatus, something that the other rites are blessed to do without.

      On a final note, your tone is unfortunate when talking about celibate clergy in the Latin Church. It is our tradition and we cherish it a lot, much like Eastern Catholics cherish married and celibate clergy, which you failed to mention that celibacy is not uncommon in the East either and mandated – AFAIK – for bishops.

      I think that the Latin Church could and should know the Eastern Churches better, but unfortunately they are met sometimes with centuries of resentment. Though it’s explicable, it’s not right to direct it at a layman who had nothing to do with the mixed treatment that the East got from the West. Actually, it’s rather off-putting. It’s been a few decades since the rules of engagement have been changed, so let’s try to go by them and not by muddled water under the bridge.

      Pax Christi

  • Understanding the Quran, multiple volumes of hadith by Bukarhi, Muslim etc.; the Sira and the four schools of Islam, etc. etc. is easy peasey compared to this complexity! Thank you Mr Spencer for your scholarship in both areas.

  • Mignon Thurow

    Mr. Spencer,
    Bravo! As a Byzantine Catholic, I found your piece really helpful and informative. I was unaware of the details of history on how the name “uniate churches” evolved. Fr. Alexis Toth’s story is just tragic, and, as I’ve understood it in the past, had much to do with racism/ethnocentrism as much as an bias against eastern Catholics. Do you think this played a part as well?
    Of course, that wouldn’t explain current biases against eastern Catholics, esp. regarding the honest repulsion many Roman Catholics feel over the idea of a married priesthood. Your assessment of this is insightful, and I think you are right— it really is not the case that married eastern clergy would cause tons of Roman Catholics wanting to be married and be a priest to “defect” to the east. An absurd proposition, really, when you think of it, since eastern worship is so very, very different!

    Thanks again for a great article!

  • Mignon Thurow:

    “Fr. Alexis Toth’s story is just tragic, and, as I’ve understood it in the past, had much to do with racism/ethnocentrism as much as an bias against eastern Catholics. Do you think this played a part as well?”

    Yes, certainly. I would expect that Bishop Ireland regarded the bearded Eastern European in his office with a measure of revulsion and contempt. In any case, he certainly regarded his expression of Catholicism as illegitimate, in defiance of the Treaty of Brest and the Vatican’s position.

    • Nan

      Please use his correct title, Archbishop. Please pray for his soul; although he did many good things in his lifetime, this one thing remains with us as it resulted in 300,000 souls converting to Orthodoxy. To this day, there are many who have no idea why some of their family is Catholic and some Orthodox.

  • I have a question to ask. Could both an influx or increase of Christians from the troubled Middle East as well as the upcoming addition of the Anglican Rite usage to start up on January 1, 2012 in the United States increase the easing of the practice of “married priests” in the Eastern Catholic churches? Thank-you for your response.

    • Nan

      The priest at my local parish is married but was ordained in another country. There are some eparchies here which ordain married men, others don’t.

      Note also that it has been made clear that the Anglican Ordinariate may have married priests to begin with, that won’t be the norm.

      • Dunstan

        Nan, The Anglican Ordinariate won’t grow very much if married Anglican priests aren’t permitted to join the Ordinariate and go on to ordination as Roman Catholic priests. Any signal from Rome that the admission of married men is a strictly temporary move, thus pulling the rug out from under the present policy of admittinmarreied seminarians will ultimately lead to the undermining of the Ordinariate completely.

        Imposed celibacy on young boys has for centuries led to the creation of sexually maladjusted seminarians and a severely suppressed sexual identity in Roman Catholic priests. Whether they were gay to start with or not upon entering the seminary. The “Flat Earth Society” types will argue differently, but there is an overwhelming amount of medical evidence pointing to this.

        It may also explain why the next great scandal to erupt is going to be the seminary in the past and today functioning as a sexual “cat house”: pimps or male madams with young boys being victimized in the seminary by predator professors and other older students. Our seminaries will then be equated more with state penitentiaries or prison camps than religious training centers.

        Imposed celibacy must go!

        The most explosive scandal of them all is sitting on the horizon.

  • Gowreen

    Don’t forget the Milanese rite. These are Latins but definitely not Romans. British Catholics were offered the choice of reverting to their national Old Sarum Rite in the 19th century. The chance was missed, but I understand that the rite is not forbidden and could be used by British Catholics. The English and Wesh martyrs used that rite, not the Roman one. I never accept for myself what I describe as a misnomer; “Roman” Catholic. I am a Catholic and a Latin , which is the normal way in latin of describing us. The gallican rites of French dioceses died out in the 19th century.

  • polycarped

    Thank you for this article – very interesting! I am yet to have the chance to attend a Greek Melkite liturgy but look forward to being able to one day. God Bless.

  • Rick DeLano:

    Heresy? Where? There is nothing heretical in my article. I addressed the misunderstanding above. You have something else, or just unspecified smears?

  • AW Volowski:

    It is possible, but it is also possible that the same restrictions will be brought to bear upon them. We’ll see.

  • CGW

    Excellent article as always, Robert.

    Can you recommend an informational website regarding Melkite Catholicism?

  • Hi CG

    Probably the best one would be the official website of the Melkite diocese in the United States, the Eparchy of Newton. That one is at http://www.melkite.org. There is an abundance of information there on a wide variety of topics if you search around.

  • Maxim

    I pray for communion of East and West, but I am offended by Latin missionary efforts in Orthodox lands. These people were already Christians. I would take exception to the idea that Eastern Catholics share all of the same theology with Orthodoxy. The Orthodox will never accept communion with Rome under the definitions of papal supremacy and Papal infallibility. There are numerous innovations that would need to be reconciled. Never the less. It is great to see the flowering relationship between Pope Bennedict and Metropolitan Hilarion and cooperation agreement they are pursuing to preserve Christendom in Europe. Lord we pray we may be one soon.

    • IrishEddieOHara

      Amen to that! It is no small scandal that this schism has been going on for over 1000 years now!

    • Nan

      One of the innovations that should be addressed is that of receiving leavened bread by intinction; 12th century innovation designed to emphasise differences.

      We have martyrs who were killed because of their desire for unity and the desire for the Orthodox to continue without it.

  • Don

    It is sad that so many Latin-rite Catholics are ignorant of both the existence of Greek-Catholic rites and the richness of their tradition and liturgies. I think it just comes down to poor catechesis.
    An interesting counter example of Fr. Alexis Toth comes from the Canadian Prairies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries where, due to large influxes of Ukranian Catholics, the Roman Catholic bishops in Western Canada, as well as the famous Fr. Lacombe, went to Europe to request that Ukrainian Catholic missionaries be sent to Canada to care for the religious and spiritual needs of the rapidly growing Ukrainian Catholic population. Also, as a stop-gap, some Latin-rite priests adopted the Ukrainian rite to provide some support to the Ukrainian and Ruthenian Catholics in Western Canada.

  • CGW

    Thanks, Robert. Great site; lots to explore. I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge about “other” Catholics. 🙂

  • Gina Nakagawa

    Perhaps it would have been better to use the term “Latin Rite” rather than “Roman Catholic.” All true Catholics are Roman Catholics because they follow and obey the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

    The non-Latin Rites contribute to the universality and dimension of the Faith which Jesus, the Christ established to remind us of Him until His coming. I don’t think the author of this article intended disrespect to the Holy Faith we should hold very dear.

  • RobbyS

    Have to put in my two cents. The Irish domination of the American Church had many good outcomes, but the Irish never shared power gladly. They fought with the Germans, the Poles, the Italians and the Puerto Ricans, and IMHO, the Irish yield to no one in ethnic bigotry. The Treatment of Father Toth was a disgrace, and the archbishop deserved a little time in Purgatory to reflect on his error. It is always hard for different “tribes”to get along, but the Church must be above all that. In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Natural distinction are good, they all have their purposes, but it is easy to let them forget our mission. I think of the debacle of the Chinese rites, and Benedict XV’s Ill considered opinion. I suspect that if the Jebbies had not been involved, things would have been otherwise.

    • Midwestern Trad

      Amen, Brother Robby! I suppose that the Irish were only being human, sadly. By the way, what is a “Jebbie”?

      • Fox 2!

        Jebbie = member of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

  • Cord Hamrick

    The link from the words “John Ireland” doesn’t really describe John Ireland; it links to an essay by John C. Rao which mentions Ireland once offhandedly. (And the essay is deeply wrong in several ways.)

    But the Eastern-Rite Catholics are great, and their liturgies beautiful. The first Mass I ever attended, long before I considered becoming Catholic, was a Melkite liturgy.

    The existence of the Eastern Rites, and the possibility of culturally diverse worship they represent within the Church, helps me to hold out some hope that the blended strands of the Anglican Use liturgy, the Novus Ordo, and the Extraordinary Form, may eventually weave into an “Anglo-American Rite” which is better enculturated to the Anglo-American culture than the existing rites are.

    (For all their glories, the existing N.O. and T.L.M. aren’t really an expression of a really Anglo-American Catholic spirituality, and the mismatch is keenly felt once one looks for it. And, yes, I said “glories” in reference to the Novus Ordo, but before anyone gives birth to a bovine, let me stipulate: I am thinking of the Novus Ordo respectfully and properly performed, sans puppets, et alia.)

    • Dunstan

      The existence of the Eastern Rites, and the possibility of culturally diverse worship they represent within the Church, helps me to hold out some hope that the blended strands of the Anglican Use liturgy, the Novus Ordo, and the Extraordinary Form, may eventually weave into an “Anglo-American Rite” which is better enculturated to the Anglo-American culture than the existing rites are.
      I think you’re on to something. I think a Romano-Sarum-Constantinopolitan rite is also another possibility. Of course, it would blow the minds of those who want the Tridentine Mass of 1962 as a one size fits all liturgy imposed by Rome on everyone.

  • Mr. Spencer,

    I’d like to nuance one statement you made right at the beginning of the article. “The Eastern Catholic Churches, with the exception of the Maronite Church, were born out of the failure of the great reunion councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439-1445) to heal the Great Schism between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople.”

    I’m canonically Ruthenian, but my family (which is Roman Catholic) comes from Sicily, which almost exclusively practiced the Byzantine rite the island was converted to Islam, following which Roman Catholicism was introduced by the Normans who drove out the Moorish invaders. The Greek rite has persisted in Italy, especially strong in Sicily and Calabria, in uninterrupted communion with Rome ever since the Greek and Latin rites developed far enough apart from each other to be distinguished. Communion with the Orthodox was also maintained until after the Council of Florence in most areas, and even through the 18th century in Venice (where many Orthodox writers lived showing unapologetic and clear communion with their Roman Catholic neighbors – Nicolaos Boulgaris being a good example).

    The Italo-Greeks, who in America are under the Ruthenian jurisdiction, have never left communion with Rome, had the Pope as their local primate since the 8th century, and it is not correct to say of us that we were born of the failure of the Union Councils. Many of my Melkite, Rusyn, and Ukrainian friends (especially the Melkites) would not say that their Churches were born out of the Union of Brest or the failure of the Union Councils either, however. We are Orthodox in communion with Rome, and just as modern-day members of recently created Orthodox jurisdictions like ROCOR, ACROD, and the OCA would give the founding date of their mother church with St. Vladimir if asked when they were founded, so we also say that our Churches were born out of the fidelity of the Imperial (“Melkite”) Church to Orthodoxy against the Eutychian heresy and the evangelizing work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. St. John Chrysostom, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and even St. Alexis Toth (who is on the calendar in Russian Catholic churches in the U.S.) are our saints too, not saints of a different Church.

    Hope you are having a blessed Philipovka.



  • Mouse

    I think it’s misleading or maybe just inappropriate to have that icon of Father Alexis at the top, since for Catholics of any sort, he is not a saint, having left the Church and caused others to do so!

    Also, no offence to Fr Alexis, but if being treated rudely is all it takes to make one leave Holy Mother Church, how deep is the faith? Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is a good cautionary tale, and it really shows the impact misudnerstanding and rudeness can have. Many Catholics leave the Church because someone was rude to them…but typically they are not firm Cathlics but one who already have issues or who are hanging by a thread. I can’t imagine a priest leaving over that kind of thing, Yes, I know they’re human, but still!
    I am not condmening him – God knows his heart, and I hope he is in heaven with him…just saying, it surprises me.
    Anyway, I was shocked to find out that sometimes Maronite and other Eastern Catholics were kind of shunned or looked down on by Latin rite Catholics. It’s too bad. Personally I think the Maronite rite is beautiful! Never been to the Melkite…

    • IrishEddieOHara

      There is rude and then there is Roman rude. You need to better acquaint yourself with the understanding that Eastern Catholics have of the Roman rudeness in this country before you spout off. Some of the older people in our parish still bear considerable emotion regarding heavy handedness from Roman bishops who were less than charitable in their dealings with the East.

      What is very surprising to me is the level of venom that pops up in the West when the celibacy issue is brought up. Methinks that behind all the eccumenical smiling, there is a latent streak of jealousy towards the East, best expressed by those who have the power to make life miserable for anyone who does not tow the celibate line — such as Fr. Toth.

      I would caution those who have a tendency to look down upon the Orthodox as “not the Church” (which is a STRONG tendency among Latin Traddies) that the Orthodox Church is filled with quite a number of miracle working saints.

      I think the whole sad affair is an example of parochialism run amok.

  • Jim

    Bishop Sheen was an Ruthenian Catholic.

    • Nan

      Bishop Fulton Sheen was biritual; he was originally from Ohio, where there are many Byzantine Rite Catholics.

  • The ban on ordaining married men to Eastern Catholic Churches in the US was not abolished by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. The Code (758.3) specifically refers to “special norms established by the Apostolic See [which] are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders.” It was not generally known until very recently that the ordinations of married men in the US Eastern Catholic Churches has been done with Vatican approval. Catholic News Service reported last week how this is done: “Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, ‘but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops’ conference, a dispensation can be given’ allowing the ordination.” This is also confirmed by a publication of the USCCB: “An applicant for the priesthood must testify that he is not married or, if he is married, he has the approval of the Holy See. If an Eastern Catholic candidate is married, a certificate of marriage is required along with the written consent of his wife (CCEO, c. 769§1, 2°) and the approval of the Apostolic See…” (Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition, 2006, paragraph 66).” However, the situation is different in other countries. For example, in Italy, the Italian Episcopal Conference has vetoed allowing married Eastern Catholic priests from serving in Romanian Catholic parishes there. The bottom line seems to be how the Latin Rite bishops’ conference in each country feels about the issue. As far as I know, the USA, Canada, and Australia are the only countries where these dispensations are given.

  • Graham Combs

    During Lent of 2009 when I was in RCIA, the director of religious instruction arranged for five different rites to celebrate a Wednesday evening mass over five weeks. As it happens, Southeastern Michigan is home to all 22 rites.

    It was an extraordinary education for me and I still consider it the heart of my catechetical studies at that time.

    My question as a convert from Anglicanism is: Should the new Anglican Use parishes under the Anglicanorum Coetibus ordinariates be considered as a possible 23rd rite?

  • Is that mean… you said…. thank you for your church my Lord BUT …. I don t want Peter and all his successors… I dont want your chose… as… Peter I will build my church on you. unfortunately… it is Peter that got the keys… ????? or do I miss something here ?
    For me… if it is the chose of my Lord, I am happy of His chose, and by the way we love the successor of Peter our Pope.

  • I appreciate your intention to better explain what the Eastern Catholic Church is, but following your article I can sense some bias on your part with regards to the Roman Catholic Church. I am a Roman Catholic and very much interested about Eastern Catholicism but I don’t like the way you explain it here. It sounds as though you’re introducing another “non-Roman Catholic” independent Catholic sect which you belong. Besides, the more I read your article the more I feel that you’re not one of us.

  • I appreciate your intention to better explain what the Eastern Catholic Church is, but following your article I can sense some bias on your part with regards to the Roman Catholic Church. I am a Roman Catholic and very much interested about Eastern Catholicism but I don’t like the way you explain it here. It sounds as though you’re introducing another “non-Roman Catholic” independent Catholic sect which you belong. Besides, the more I read your article the more I feel that you’re not one of us. Your arguments sound more like an Orthodox or an Aglipayan.

  • pvw

    What an interesting article! I’m a former Roman Catholic, now Protestant (Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian), and I enjoy reading works on church history. Thanks!

  • This is a wonderful article, Robert, thank you for sharing! This cradle (Roman) Catholic has learned much today, thanks to you.
    Funny, I had been under the (obviously false) impression that you were Jewish! 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your faith with us, I truly appreciate it. I want to learn more about non-Roman Catholicism.

  • Idahopov

    Thanks for this article, Robert. I learned a lot from it. The church universal has so many beautiful facets. Peace and all good!

  • Bernard S

    I find this article very good. As a child, my parents went to Novus Ordo mass and then when the FSSP started in our area we went to their church. When I was 12 my parents sent me to a boarding school by Shamokin, PA and there I went to an Easter Right church that was Ukrainian for six years. As you all can tell I have had experience living in quite a few rites. I find beautiful prayers and traditions in all of them. Thanks Robert for writing this article. Oh and by the way I am a subscriber to Jihad Watch and would highly suggest it to anyone. God bless.

  • F Lankus

    I apologize to Mr. Spencer for my harsh words. I sincerely believe that there is only one True Church, and that Church is the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is the Church that is in Communion with (and submission to) the Successor of Peter, the Pope of Rome.
    If an ecclesial community or a particular church is not in communion with (and submission to) the Successor of Peter, then that communion or church is not in the Catholic Church. I believe this view reflects the contemporary official teaching of the Catholic Church.
    Also, the double icon of Alexis Toth seems to be inappropriate. Rev. Toth was a Catholic priest who departed from the Catholic Church in response to unjust treatment by the Catholic hierarchy. Unjust treatmest from the hierarchy is not a good reason for apostasy, or schism, or embracing heresy.

  • Troy Jones

    As a life-long Latin-rite Catholic from the Great Plains, my exposure to the other rites is virtually non-existent except for an occassional walk-by when in a city. This said, I’ve quit referring to myself as “Roman Catholic” for three reasons:

    1) Non-Catholic Christians who have a hostile attitude toward the use the term “Roman” with derision and falsely claim we are the church started by the Roman Empire. I take comfort knowing we began at Pentecost (or Last Supper).

    2) More importantly, the various rites grew out of the diaspora of the Apostles to different regions and culture. It is our CATHOLIC mission to speak to people “where they are at” that led to the divergent rite traditions. It basicaly goes to who we are at our core.

    3) And most importantly, it is not my rite that will save me nor what unites me to the Body of Christ but what I believe. And, my faith/beliefs are universally accepted and taught by all the various Catholic rights. I’d rather distinguish myself by my beliefs than my liturgical traditions.

    4) Finally, as I’ve become aware of these other rites, I don’t want my use of “Roman” to be interpreted as exclusive of my eastern brethren or I think my rite is superior. Pride is a deadly sin and charity is a virtue.

    This said, I think the Church needs to find some ways to address the “problem” of married eastern Catholic priests in predominantly Latin-rite countries (I have not suggestion or bias on a what would work. Just that the current situation is untenable). Here in the US we have many Latin-rite Catholics who advocate for a married priesthood and reference the eastern rite allowance which feeds dissension on fundamental matters. Furthermore, how can we fulfill our mission from Christ “we all be one” when we have problems in our own house. It is is a disservice to our eastern brethren to allow them to be used in this way.

  • 1) Eastern Catholics also have prejudices when it comes to Roman catholics. I do not see anyone writing about those things.

    2) The case of the Priest who left the Church is certainly tragic because … why would one leave the TRue Church due to how someone in It treated him? Does this make sense at all? Not only that, but then he tried to convert all Easterners to the Orthodox church and her errors!

    3) The whole issue of celibacy always causes strong disagreements because the East has always been weak in its arguments for it, but at the same time has been insistent that it was the older practice in the Church.

    This is not correct. Most of the Apostles seem to have been celibate. Most of the Deacons in the early Church seem to have been celibate.

    Bishops were allowed in the Bible to marry once. However, in the East, pretty much all Bishops are chosen from among the monks to guarantee that they will be celibate. This is hypocritical.

  • “It is a pity that the Russian rebels were sent to destroy the Rusin people. Fr. Alexius Toth’s personal egoistic interests caused all the trouble for the Greek Rite Catholic Rusins in the United States of America.”

    Overstatement? Maybe. But this is how the Eastern Catholics who remained faithful to the Catholic Church interpreted the Toth schism and its aftermath. Worth considering.

  • Boby

    “” “The Eastern Catholic Churches, with the exception of the Maronite Church, were born out of the failure of the great reuniMost Eastern Catholic Churches arose when a group within an ancient Christian Church that was in disagreement with the See of Rome returned to full communion with that See.”””””””

    churches that has no counterpart in the Eastern / oriental orthodox communion.

    (a) The Maronite Church was never out of communion with Rome, and has no counterpart in the Eastern Orthodox communion.

    (b) The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church which, unlike the Maronite Church, uses the same liturgical rite as the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    (c) The Syro-Malabar Church, based in Kerala, India. Other Christians of Kerala, who were originally of the same East-Syrian tradition, passed instead to the West-Syrian tradition and now form part of Oriental Orthodoxy. ””””

  • fr. Philip

    Bravo, Mr. Spenser! It is long past time that folks realize that the Church is not Roman (only) but Catholic.
    Without the Eastern Churches the manifestation of this is lacking. “Universal” does not simply mean “everywhere” but means “all embracing.”

    There are those who continue to try to build up”walls” between the Churches, between the Catholic ones and Orthodox ones. But in Paradise, where God is “all in all” these walls are obliterated. The divisions formed or enforced here below are not found in the lives of those who live in heavenly communion of the Holy Trinity.

    The words of Metropolitan Evlogy of Paris (+1946) are appropriate,

    “Men like St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Francis of Assisi and many others have in their lives accomplished the union of the churches. Are they not citizens of the same holy and universal Church? At the level of their spiritual life they have gone beyond the walls which divide us, but which, in the fine expression of Metropolitan Platon of Kiev, do not reach up to heaven.”

    May St. Alexis Toth and Bishop Ireland, pray to God for us!

  • Shawn A. Dorisian

    Shlomo Lkhoolkhoon (Peace to you all in Aramaic),

    What gets to me is the laziness of many of us Eastern Catholics. Back at World Youth Day in Toronto, I did a presentation on Evangelization for the Eastern Catholic Youth. I then developed that paper into a guide which is the official guide for Evangelization for the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.

    Many times that I have talked with my fellow Eastern Catholics as to what is their parish doing to bring in members they look at me dumb founded and state that it is the Roman Church’s responsibility for Evangelization; and when I tell them that no, it is all of our responsibility they then say that they could not do it since they can not speak, write, etc. eloquently.

    If the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches can Evangelize they we can too.

    Fush BaShlomo Lkhoolkhoon (Stay in Peace),


    One thing I find interesting is that no where in the New Testament do I find a requirement for celibacy of minister, deacons, Apostles, Bishops or other leaders of the church. In fact, a requirement is that ministers in the Church be married and show they can properly lead their own household as proof they can lead the church. So it seems the Roman Catholic Church need to review its practices and bring them back in line with scripture. Maybe a lot of the problems in the Roman Catholic Church may resolve themselves.

  • thomas

    latinass1983, You are demonstrating typical Roman ignorance. I’m writing as a Syriac Catholic with many friends in the Greek rite of the Church. Why do some easterns have prejudices against the Latins? Well, centuries of Latins trying to rob us of our heritage and enforce Latin customs that have NO place in our Church. Most of the apostles were married. We respect your tradition of clerical celibacy, now respect our position against it. There is nothing contrived or hypocritical about our bishops being monastics, it is our tradition! Stop trying to Latinize us. We have never tried to Arabify you or Byzantinize your churches.

  • Vic Jiompkowski

    Thank you for explaining the delima of our Eastern Rite Catholics. I am of the Ruthenian jurisdiction and to this day families are split because of the deeds of Fr. Toth.

    There are parallels with the establishment of the Polish National Church.

  • Fr. Richard

    I suppose we will never get American Catholics to stop identifying themselves as members of the ROMAN Catholic Church, which is not the term the Church uses to describer herself. (See the title of the Catechism.) People using other languages besides English do not use the equivalent of ROMAN Catholic when they speak of the Church. It is simply the Catholic Church.

    For those who are uncertain about why this is so, check out the article under “Roman Catholic” in the 1917 edition of the “Catholic Encyclopedia” to see why they did not name it the “Roman Catholic Encyclopedia”:


    The article begins like this: “A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church. Out of condescension for these dissidents, the members of that Church are wont in official documents to be styled “Roman Catholics” as if the term Catholic represented a genus of which those who owned allegiance to the pope formed a particular species…..

  • Pingback: Exclusive: Reverend Deacon Robert Spencer of Our Lady of the Cedars Church | Spencer Watch()