Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Easterners live in Western Territories

Fr. George Gallaro is a professor of canon law and ecumenism at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, among many other distinguished positions he's held in these fields over the almost four decades he's been a priest, such as being a judicial vicar and a staff member for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He holds a licentiate in ecumenical theology and a certificate in liturgical theology as well as a doctorate in Eastern canon law.

I asked Fr. George about the Italian Episcopal Conference's leaked decision to forbid married Romanian Catholic priests from serving their faithful in Italy. Below is part one of three in which he presents the issues that occur when easterners live in western territories.

Canonical Integration of Eastern Faithful in Latin Dioceses
Fr. George Gallaro

In compliance with the Church common law, every faithful acquires a domicile or quasi-domicile in a diocese or parish from the place where he/she resides. In order to understand the obligation of a Latin bishop towards these faithful present in his diocese, it is necessary to see when Eastern Catholics “enter” into a Latin diocese and are therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the local bishop.

The 1917 Latin Code of Canon Law (cc. 215-217) underlined the territorial aspect of the diocese, and the jurisdiction of its bishop extended on all faithful residing within its borders. As a consequence, the faithful subject to another personal jurisdiction had to be explicitly indicated, as free from the jurisdiction of the bishop “of the place,” who normally was a Latin.

A precise determination on Eastern faithful without their own Church Shepherd goes back to Pope Leo XIII - in the Apostolic Letter On the Eastern Churches, Orientalium Dignitas, November 30, 1894. In its directive part of the document, Leo XIII solved the issue of the faithful residing outside the territory of their own ritual patriarchate (or equivalent) and lacking their own clergy, by establishing the norm that these Eastern faithful were subject to the jurisdiction of the local Latin bishop. By the same apostolic L\letter Leo XIII extended the jurisdiction of the Greek Melkite Patriarch to all the territory of the Ottoman Empire (later on, all the other Patriarchates followed this norm).

In 1949 these directives were still in force, even though outdated, as it appeared more and more clearly that each jurisdiction was and is at the same time territorial and personal. These groups of Eastern faithful were ritually different but subject to the local Latin bishop. These norms which considered the Latin diocesan bishop as the only bishop “of the place” were out-of-date with the promulgation of the canons On Marriage in the Eastern Church, Craebrae Allatae (1950). This motu proprio in fact recognized the co-existence of more jurisdictions in the same territory. The canons clearly indicated who, in case of a plurality of bishops or pastors, is competent in single cases to assure the validity of marriages celebrated by Eastern faithful residing outside their own territory.

The norm relating to domicile or quasi-domicile on the part of Eastern faithful lacking their own ritual authority was extracted from the canons On Persons, Cleri Sanctitati (1957) - not yet promulgated. It became then unequivocally clear the link between the single Eastern faithful and the bishop and pastor endowed with the faculty to validly assist and bless their marriages, although they were of “different rite.”

In those territories where there was more than one ritual bishop, the local Latin bishop was not automatically in charge of the Eastern faithful residing in his territory. These faithful were subject to Latin jurisdiction only when explicitly designated by the Holy See or, in specific cases, by their patriarch.

Finally, the Second Vatican Council underlined the community aspect within a diocese. Indeed, Vatican II describes a diocese prescinding from its territorial limits: “a diocese/eparchy is a portion of the people of God that is entrusted to a bishop and gathered in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist.”

The 1983 Latin Code (c. 372) also states that “a diocese is limited to a definite territory” so that it includes all the faithful living in the territory. But it adds that “where in the judgment of the supreme authority of the Church it seems advantageous after the conference of bishops concerned have been heard, particular churches distinguished by the rite of the faithful or some other similar reason can be erected in the same territory.”

The erection of an ecclesiastical province or region, even in the case of a patriarchal or major archiepiscopal Church (but “outside of their territory”) is in fact of exclusive competence of the Holy See. Such an erection is indicated by the decree on the Eastern Churches, Orientalium Ecclesiarum ( N. 4), as a provision to be adopted when it’s necessary. The norm is resumed by the decree On the Bishops Pastoral Office in the Church, Christus Dominus (N. 23, 3) which quotes the aforesaid paragraph of Orientalium Ecclesiarum, but only as a last resort. The Latin Code limits further this provision as it imposes on the supreme authority of the Church ( = the Roman Pontiff or an Ecumenical Council) to hear the Episcopal Conference concerned.

The pre-Vatican II Eastern norms – On Marriage (1949) and On Persons (1957) - is now incorporated, with due updating, in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (1990). Can. 916 § 4: “If there is no pastor for the Christian faithful of a certain autonomous Church, the eparchial/diocesan bishop for those same faithful is to designate the pastor of another autonomous Church, who is to assume their care as their proper pastor.” § 5: “In places where not even an exarchy has been erected for the Christian faithful of a certain autonomous Church, the local hierarch of another autonomous Church, even the Latin Church, is to be considered as the proper hierarch of these faithful. If, however, there are several local hierarchs, that one whom the Holy See has designated is to be considered as their proper hierarch or, if it concern the Christian faithful of a certain patriarchal (or major archiepiscopal Church), the one whom the patriarch (or major archbishop) has designated with the assent of the Holy See.”

I leave to others the answer to the question that could be raised by the term “as their proper pastor” (tamquam parochus proprius) used in the canon, and other canonical directives mentioned in cc. 148 & 193 of the Eastern Code. It could be in fact raised the doubt if the designated bishop and parish priest are truly (de iure) the bishop and parish priest of those faithful, or only temporary carers or simple substitutes.

Looking at the issue from the faithful’s side, one could ask if they are full-fledged members of those dioceses and parishes of acceptance, and have thus double membership, their own autonomous Church and the diocese or parish of their domicile, or if, as “entrusted” faithful, they are in a sense only “guests/visitors.”

Tune in tomorrow to read part 2 where Fr. George discusses the canons that come into play when easterners live in western territories...


  1. What truly outraged me about this whole thing is their reasoning was not based in any laws of the Church but simply that the faithful would be confused by married men as priests as it was stated by the Latin authorities. It is a sad thing when we use the rules to justify our prejudices or sins. It’s even sadder when we justify wrong doing using the laws. Laws in this case need to be reformed.

  2. It is interesting how the canons discussing the administrative handling of situations where those of two or more Catholic Churches come together are changed to reflect the current needs, especially considering how drastically the needs of Eastern Catholics have changed in the last 30 years with so many being forced into the diaspora because of communism, persecution, etc.


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