There's A New Priest In Town, And He's Married! Yet Again, We Can Thank Pope Francis For This One

Last Thursday, a St. Louis man was ordained into the Maronite Church, a sect of the Eastern Catholic Church. Sounds ordinary, right? Well, the priest, personally approved by Pope Francis, is also married. Yup — married. The Pope, recently named TIME magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year, had approved of Deacon Wissam Akiki’s request to join the priesthood on a case-by-case basis. But Akiki's was a special case, since married men haven't been allowed into the priesthood in the Catholic Church in almost a century — until now.

The Pope “merely made an exception for Akiki” and shouldn’t be considered a reversal on the U.S. ban, according to the church’s American spokesperson.

Akiki, who has an eight-year-old daughter with his wife of nearly 10 years, emigrated from Lebanon in 2002. Akiki then became a subdeacon with the Maronite Church and in 2009, he became a deacon. Almost 18 months ago, he petitioned with the church to the Vatican to allow for his ordination into the priesthood.

The Maronite Church, which was first founded in the Middle East and is now prominent in the U.S., is just one of 22 Eastern Catholic Church groups that “accepts the authority of the pope,” but maintains its own liturgies and rituals.

The last married Maronite priest was ordained almost a century ago in the U.S., and it's an unusual occurrence here, to say the least. However, it’s a common tradition in Lebanon where almost half of all Maronite priests are married. Also, many Eastern Catholic Church priests are married in Europe.

But perhaps it means more married men will be accepted into the priesthood.

The Maronite Church has often taken a “conservative stance on the issue of married priests” in the United States so this particular ordination is “momentous,” says Adam Deville, a University of St. Francis professor of Christian East in Fort Wayne, Ind. “If they can do it, anyone can do it.”