Dominican Friars and Lutheran Wives

american-interest-logo-150x150Sounds like a sordid ecclesiastical soap opera. It isn’t. Instead it’s a thoughtful essay by Peter Berger. I can’t recommend some of the suggestions near the bottom because they presuppose female ministers but in the main it gives some valuable insights, some of which (I believe) Berger borrows from Eastern Orthodoxy.

This leads Yours Truly on an interesting tangent. If we Orthodox have the right idea of parish life — i.e. married clergy — then why aren’t we upholding it? And by upholding it I don’t mean some flunky looking at the census figures at Corporate HQ and saying “hmmm, in 1980 79% of our parishes had married clergymen but today that number has jumped to 92%. We’re on the right path.” And I certainly don’t mean said bureaucrat dreaming up new ways to burden parish priests with make-work administrative tasks.

Yes, we may very well be on the right path but have our central administrations looked at all the numbers to see what they really mean? How many parishes have closed in the meantime, for example? In other words has the subset of parishes shrunk? In which case the increased number of married clergy might not be indicative of a healthy trend but simply a static number in real terms which is bigger by dint of fact that the number of parishes with celibate clergy closed shop. Also, have they looked at the compensation packages given to “x” number of clergymen? Have they considered how many clergy families collect food stamps? Whether adding new duties to an overworked and underpaid priest is going to affect his family life? Or how many of the married priest are in the process of divorcing or whether their grown children are remaining in the Church> Finally, has he looked at the number of priests who are “between” assignments? How are these men’s families being cared for?

Leaving that aside and assuming the opposite — that the numbers for both parishes and married clergy reflect an increasing trend — we need to ask how the present episcopate treats its married, parish clergy. On this front the answer may not be as positive as we’d like it to be. For example, how many married priests are in suspension? (The case of Fr Vasile Susan springs to mind. He hasn’t been defrocked but he hasn’t been allowed to serve as a priest for eight years now. And all because he chose to not look the other way.) How many have been let go and unreleased? Or just simply let go and left to twist in the wind? This type of limbo exists for altogether too many priests. Many cannot get secular jobs because of lack of training in fields simply because their best years are behind them.

Is it too much to ask that we put aside this exaggerate sense of false obedience that priests are supposed to give to their bishops in everything? Wouldn’t it make more sense instead to have a criterion to the effect that –barring reasons having to do with valid ecclesiastical discipline–a diocesan bishop owes every priest in his diocese an assignment? Should he not be able to come up with an assignment because of economic conditions (i.e. a struggling parish), it should be incumbent upon a bishop to search out among his brother bishops for an opening in another diocese. In the meantime, the priest should receive a stipend from a fund created for this purpose. And please, let’s be done with the concept of “suspension.” If a priest is accused of some infraction, bring him up on charges and try him in a public fashion. That means give him the opportunity to defend himself as well as making the proceedings public. If he’s guilty, defrock him. If not, send him back to a parish. Enough of whispering campaigns, “you don’t the know whole story,” and so on.

We Orthodox have the ideal: married clergy for the parishes, celibate clergy for the monasteries. Yet we have an episcopate that is indifferent at best — and hostile at worst — towards the idea of optimizing the conditions in which married, family men can exercise their vocation. This has to change.

Dominican Friars and Lutheran Wives


Source: The American Interest | Peter Berger

On April 4, 2013 the New York Times carried a story about a group of Dominican friars in Ireland.  Contrary to the development in other Catholic monastic orders, these Dominicans had decided to continue wearing the traditional habit of white tunic and black cloaks (because of which Dominicans have been known as Black Friars). The point of the story is that this order has been unusually successful in recruiting new members, despite the overall steep decline of religious vocations in Ireland (in that quite typical of Europe, but particularly sharp in that country because of the recent crop of pedophile cases and the scandalous revelations about Catholic charitable institutions in the not too distant past). According to the Times story, the Dominicans have also been relatively successful in attracting recruits in other countries, including the US.

What caught my attention was the lifestyle of these Dominicans. This goes back to the earliest times of the order, but is particularly relevant in the current situation of the churches in Europe and other strongly secular environments. Unlike other monks, Dominican friars live, not in monasteries, but in communal residences, then go to work (mostly teaching and preaching) in the outside world. I was particularly struck by a quote from a recently ordained Dominican: “My hat goes off to diocesan priests, but I don’t know how they do it without community life. Today, you need the support of your brothers”.

The Dominican Order of Preachers was founded by a Spanish priest, Dominic de Guzman, and officially recognized in 1216. Like the other so-called mendicant order, that of the Franciscans, the Dominicans were to be more mobile and flexible than the monks confined in monasteries. Unlike the Franciscans, the main purpose of the Dominicans was to combat heresy and to teach correct doctrine. Their history is rather a mixed bag. They played a very unsavory role in the brutal suppression of the Albigensian heresy in what is now the south of France. Worse, they were put in charge of the Holy Office, better known as the Inquisition, in which capacity they tortured suspected heretics and, if found guilty, handed them over to the state authorities to be burnt at the stake (so as not to sully the Church by acts of cruelty which, somebody seemed to remember, were in some tension with the teachings of Jesus). The notorious Grand Inquisitor Torquemada was a Dominican. But the order also has much brighter dimensions to its history. It has a brilliant intellectual tradition (with Thomas Aquinas as its high point), as well as a mystical one (Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena). Bartolome de Las Casas, who defended the rights of the Indios of the Americas against the oppression by their Spanish conquerors, was a Dominican; so was Yves Congar, one of the major figures in the theological movement leading up to the Second Vatican Council. It is important to emphasize that this brighter side of the Dominican heritage is operative today, though there is continuity with the early mission of teaching and preaching the supposed truth of the Catholic faith.

Much of the current debate concerning clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church has focused on its sexual aspects—the difficulty of maintaining the celibate ideal in a strongly sexualized culture, the sexual frustration that must go with celibacy, and the possibility (not proven) that the latter may foster a homosexual inclination (which, for a number of those so inclined, may or may not lead to pedophilia). I don’t want to speculate here on any of these aspects. But I think that there is a very simple human aspect, quite removed from any sexual issue, which ought to be in the center of this debate—the loneliness of being a Christian minister in social environments in which this vocation is implausible. As is a frequent habit of mine, this thought led me to an issue far removed from the topic of the Times story: the decline of the Protestant parsonage.

If one gives credence to the monastic vocation at all, it is arguable that the Eastern Orthodox Church has solved the matter of celibacy in a much more practical way than Rome: The monastic life is separate from that of ordinary priests. Such priests are expected or actually required to be married. Bishops must be monks. In an Orthodox perspective, the entire Roman Church is one big monastery, from the Pope on down!  [If I may voice a hunch here: Given the theological fact that the Eucharist is at the heart of Catholic piety and that only priests can celebrate it, and given the empirical fact that the shortage of priests is reaching crisis proportions,  Rome will be pushed in an Eastern direction.]

But there is a more proximate comparison—with married Protestant clergy. The solution there has been simple and drastic: The overwhelming majority of Protestant ministers have solved the problem of loneliness by getting married. [In this as in many other matters, Luther led the way: When a group of nuns joined his movement, he felt obligated to find husbands for them. Nobody wanted one of them, Katherine Bora, who had the reputation of being opinionated and headstrong. He ended up marrying her himself. By all accounts, the marriage was a happy one.]

A couple of years ago I heard a very interesting lecture by a historian about the cultural role of the German Protestant parsonage (das evangelische Pfarrhaus) and its recent decline. (The same historian very recently helped to organize an exhibition on this topic in a Berlin museum.) For several centuries this had been a central institution in German cultural life. An amazing number of scholars, artists and statesmen started out as children growing up in this milieu. The main point of the lecture was that this institution no longer exists. There are probably a number of reasons for this, but the most salient one is that few women today are prepared to play the traditional role of the minister’s wife (as Frau Pastor)—having no outside career of her own, being her husband’s helpmeet (a sort of unpaid curate), and his special deputy in matters involving women and children in the congregation. Add to this the strong possibility that she does not fully share her husband’s faith. This of course does not mean that such marriages cannot be happy. They are certainly capable of making the minister less lonely. But they make the traditional function of the Protestant parsonage quite obsolete.

At the lecture one participant asked whether one could imagine a new institution that could perform a similar function. At the time nobody seemed to have an idea. One idea occurred to me afterward. It may be relevant beyond the particular situation of German Protestantism.

Imagine a group of pastors and their families sharing a large residence. Today the pastors will be both men and women, as will the non-pastoral spouses. Such a residence could easily be structured so as to safeguard the privacy of each family and yet provide space for community activities—including cultural activities attended by outsiders. If the church authorities paid for this residence, it would surely be cheaper than maintaining, say, four or five separate parsonages. There would always be someone available to do babysitting. And who knows, there might be enough synergy in such a place to be bring about new cultural vitality, in addition to making ministry loss stressful and more effective.

German Protestantism after World War II created imaginative new institutions, foremost among them the so-called Protestant Academies, a unique type of think-tanks dealing with morally relevant issues of public policy. The above idea would thus be one of a succession of institutional innovations. But this one reminds me of an event very far removed from Europe and, as far as I know, with no religious associations—the institution of the “joint family” in India. This was very traditional—a group of brothers residing in one big house with their several families. In recent times it was looked upon as an old-fashioned arrangement, to be discarded by university-educated middle-class people, who wanted to be modern and to live exclusively with their nuclear families. As professional women in this class increasingly worked outside the home, child care became an increasing problem, aggravated by the difficulty of finding reliable domestic servants. Suddenly the old “joint family” seemed like a solution to the problem, and it underwent a modest revival. Sometimes necessity is the mother of imaginative social innovations.

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  1. Seraphim98 says

    If I’m not mistaken, I think the Copts do something similar within their larger diaconate. I’ve heard of small groups of deaconesses (two or three) who maintain a home for Coptic girls gone off to school This way they are not left alone, stay in contact with their faith, and have mature adults to look after them and provide room and board. I would assume though I don’t know they may have men to do the same thing for their young men away from home as well. I am also given to understand that the Copts refer to those engage any kind of full time service for the Church as deacons/deaconesses. The term is not as narrowly construed, retaining the old more general sense of “servant”. These are not necessarily liturgical deacons who serve with priests and bishops. It is my impression these sorts of deacons function somewhat like “brotherhoods” do for Eastern Orthodox.

    Perhaps some creative expressions of Orthodox brotherhoods/sisterhoods might be useful to serve as community anchors for the Orthodox, service organizations, OCF sponsors in college towns, etc.

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      A good idea. My second granddaughter, who will be starting as a freshman at a major state university this Fall, will be living in a “Christian house”, which collectively consists of a few adjacent houses near campus owned and operated by a group of churches, and which have Church-related housemothers, etc. (These are of course a group of Protestant churches.)

      I was glad to hear of it, and glad to hear that this housing scheme was available.

  2. Philippa says

    married clergy for the parishes, celibate clergy for the monasteries. Yet we have an episcopate that is indifferent at best — and hostile at worst — towards the idea of optimizing the conditions in which married, family men can exercise their vocation. This has to change.

    I’ve several thoughts about the article and George’s commentary:

    1) A rectory is expensive to maintain. If the mentality of a parish has not moved to and practices stewardship, I believe they will have a hard time managing a rectory and a priest’s salary package. I’m not super in favor of a community home idea either. That would take some real special people to make it work.

    2) A episcopate made up of those monastics who have never experienced marriage are, I believe, unable to fully understand the need for the optimization you write of George. Or at the very least, it is very challenging and they need to be sensitive to marital issues. While I understand that monastic life is supposed to be one of sacrifice and learning to live in community, I still don’t think it gives the necessary experience of the marital state and burden that goes along with maintaining financial stability to feed the family. I think a Synod needs to have more than a few bishops who have been married and had a family. This way a Synod is not made up of solely monastics. But, I am writing as one who has never experienced monasticism, so even I don’t know what it takes to live in that type of community.

    3) Priests need to have some other means of supporting themselves and their family as a back-up plan if a parish is unable to fully support them. Whether it be computer tech skills, carpentry, plumbing, psychological counseling training, teaching, tutoring, something they can use to either a) supplement their income, b) fall back on if they are without a parish. Or a spouse who works full time and the priest is the stay-at-home-parent.

    4) We have so many retired bishops. Why can’t they be put into parishes to keep them moving forward until a suitable priest can be found? Now please understand, I don’t know what is proper or not, so the question comes from a point of ignorance. It just feels like we have so many men out there that are twiddling their thumbs. Why waste the talent?

    5) Are there enough viable parishes for the seminarians who have graduated?

    • George Michalopulos says

      Philippa, I completely see your points and concerns. My only quibble is point #3. While it might be wise for a priest to have a “back-up plan” (and I would have one should I have been one), what does it say about our faith? Barring some canonical transgression, I don’t think they should be without a parish for any reason whatsoever. I don’t care if one pissed off his bishop. That’s not a good enough reason to unemploy him, destroy his marriage, and reduce his kids to near-starvation. Nor should his wife be forced to work outside the family home. The primary concern of the priest’s wife is to care for her husband and his family; as Archbishop Dmitri of thrice-blessed memory said: she should do it because nobody else will. (I also think that the priest’s family should strive to be an ideal for the parish to follow. And finally, if the parish cannot sustain a living wage for the priest, then shouldn’t have one. Our grandparents’ generation were poor immigrants, the majority of which were living on the knife’s edge of poverty. None of us –and I’ve been unemployed so I know the sting–have experienced anything near the level of want that they did.

      I’m sorry to be a Johnny One-note on this, but if people tithed a lot of these problems would be alleviated.

      • Philippa says

        George, I agree with you 100% x 100. Tithing presupposes a spiritual maturity and pastoral teaching that is not often seen in Orthodox parishes – at least the ones I’ve been in, few as they are, as well as the ones my priest-friends have been in. Until such time that becomes the norm, I think it is less than wise to not be prepared in some fashion.

        But again, I agree with you.

      • Tim R. Mortiss says

        I have seen some surprising information concerning the state of congregational giving at some Orthodox parishes.

        My information may very well be quite scant or misleading, but I can say that any respectable Presbyterian stewardship committee can probably do a better job at rounding up the dough. This is just the business of running a church. The pastor has to support his family, the building and grounds have to be kept in top shape, the reserves have to be maintained, and the outreach and deacon programs have to have funds.

        You don’t get money if you don’t ask for it, and regularly remind the congregants of their responsibilities. And festivals and fundraisers (and “patrons”) are no substitute for regular, serious giving by each and all.

  3. Is this all because of the Nathan Monk “resignation from the priesthood” to support single-sex marriage:

    Statement by ROCOR Synod of Bishops

    I apologize if this has been discussed. I’ve not had time to follow every article and comment on this blog recently, but I did not see any discussion of these developments. As someone who is not Orthodox, can someone explain to me what just happened, especially the punishments given to Bishop Jerome and what exactly this means for the Western Rite in the US.

    • Heracleides says

      Um – your best bet for insight into this matter is to join the ‘Occidentalis‘ Yahoo Group. However, the following two posts below sum up current thinking on the situation quite well (admittedly a great deal remains to be clarified):

      “Pondering, reflecting, praying, “decompressing,” I come to the following
      conclusions plus a few tentative thoughts.

      Bishop Jerome is still a hierarch of our Church. Monk Anthony is still a monk of
      our Church. We love them, support them, remember them at Liturgy, pray for them,
      accept them, and wish them every good thing. I am very glad that both were
      spared any severe punishments. I have addressed to Vladyka Jerome that he should
      come to us (in the ROCOR) with any hardships, since a bishop of our Church
      should not have to worry where the next meal will come from, or whether there’s
      enough money for medications, clothing, or other such necessities. We should
      never let one of our bishops suffer want.

      The Western Rite Vicariate has not been closed, abolished, or ended. It is
      referred to as an existent thing in the Synod document, and it is not abolished
      in that document, although clearly it is re-structured such that Western Rite
      clergy shall betake themselves directly to the Metropolitan without going
      through any intermediary.

      The Western Rite has not been ended, although it is clear that its boundaries
      and operating principles are to be ruled on, in future, by means of a defining
      epistle. No one knows what the epistle will say. May God grant strength to those
      who will serve on the Commission, and to all our bishops. May God preserve them
      all for many years.

      For Western Rite, this is a time of great hope for the future, as well as a
      sobering time that can be unsettling. Our prayers and best thoughts and wishes
      are with all of our Western Rite brethren and sistren. Above all, we love you in
      the love of our Saviour.

      Our Church is equal to this task! “O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine

      Fr. Aidan+”


      >I will concede every point regarding the canons and multiple
      >elevations. Is that justification for the extinction of the Western
      >Rite, altogether? The statement from ROCOR makes it quite plain that
      >such is their goal.

      “That is *not* the goal of the ROCOR, and the Ukaze does *not* make
      any such thing plain. While those who are not accustomed to
      expressions used among the Russian Church clergy *might* not get it,
      the Ukaze addressed abuses and problems in the implementation of the
      W/R in the ROCOR, not the W/R itself.

      Note the makeup of the Commission: the Metropolitan, who has for a
      long time been not only irenic toward the W/R, but has fostered it
      even in his own diocese in Australia before becoming Metropolitan;
      Fr. David, who came into Orthodoxy via the Western Rite years ago in
      the Antiochian Church, Bishop George who is not a Russian, but a
      convert from American protestantism and has no preconceived notions
      in this; and I, who serve the W/R and have done so for over 30 years
      in the Orthodox Church – and only in Orthodoxy. None of us want to
      see the W/R go away. We want to see it thrive *within* the Church,
      true to the tradition, and not parallel to it…not some Frankenstein
      or collage of rite and practice, and not a pitting of the Church
      against Itself.

      I suggest that a little trust in God and His ability to work out His
      will is the proper response to the Ukaze. Some patience would be
      helpful to that.

      Fr. Anthony”

    • Even the Orthodox Wiki isn’t updated:

      I never really understood how Vladika Jerome was made head of the Western Rite in 2011. The statement you posted was curious as to his serving atthe service at the cathedral in NY

      As for Nathan Monk, compare and contrast

      His latest sermon seems to be


    • Archpriest John W. Morris says

      You might remember that several months ago, I complained that the Western Rite of ROCOR was not sufficiently screening or training its Western Rite clergy. Just requiring a background check and an exam in Orthodox theology is not sufficient, especially when rejects from the Western Rite of the Antiochian Archdiocese use them to get into Orthodoxy through ROCOR. In our Western Rite it takes several years of training, education and screening before a man can be ordained a Western Rite priest. It should have been obvious to all that Monk is a very troubled person. He was taken in much to quickly. As a convert, I am the first to demand that converts not be advanced to the priesthood too quickly. I at least was a layman in a parish and attended seminary before I was ordained. I believe now that the Antiochian Archdiocese requires that a convert be a layman in a parish for at least 5 years before he applies to seminary. Even if a priest comes in with a community, it still takes several years before he can be ordained.
      This is not to be taken that I oppose the Western Rite. I am all for it, but believe that to be successful, it needs to be led by leaders who are willing and able to take the time to see that Western Rite communities and their clergy are educated and willing to accept and follow the Orthodox Faith without reservation.

  4. Heracleides says

    Further clarification from Met. Hilarion here.

  5. Tim R. Mortiss says

    “Clarification” is a relative term, then….

    • I’m really not trying to be critical, just trying to understand.

      In a church where all bishops are equal and in charge of their own domains, the punishment of Bishop Jerome is truly a severe punishment. To me, it only makes sense as an act intended to send a message to individuals and groups other than Bishop Jerome himself.

      It seems like the kind of thing one does to place a signpost in history that we are correcting heresy or grave error. That’s the only way to really justify or understand this kind of intervention, as best I can understand what happened. But if this is the case, I believe the bishops then have an obligation to very clearly articulate the “heresy” and why it was deemed necessary to correct it.

      This vague stuff about needing more unity doesn’t seem consistent with the punishment. If he was just not administrating the Western Rite correctly, then remove him from that role — simple solution to a well-defined problem. But they took away his actual see and inhibited him from serving in any location but one and even then only with special permission from the ruling bishop of his former see. Isn’t that the kind of thing that usually requires a court proceeding of some kind? Shouldn’t clear charges be brought and addressed?

      Again, I’m not trying to criticize, because I know I don’t understand what happened, but I have to admit this whole situation makes me uncomfortable even from the outside looking in. Those in the Western Rite have to be extremely unsettled by these developments and by the questions they are forced to answer on their own.

      As a separate issue, I cannot say that the synod abused its power in this case, because I do not know that. But it does seem like a despotic action. I know that Roman Catholics grant their pope this kind of despotic power explicitly. But it seems like the despotic power of local synods in the Orthodox church has kind of emerged without definition in writing anywhere. I don’t dislike the ROCOR bishops. I don’t know them, but I have generally positive impressions of ROCOR and its clergy and bishops. So this is not a personal issue for me at all. But I definitely prefer greater clarity about governance structures in the general and about public acts of discipline and correction in particular.

      If I had joined ROCOR through the Western Rite, right now I would be very confused. I would feel like my spiritual journey was starting over, but I would not know where it was going or why it was necessary to change the course it was on. I’d be confused and extremely unsettled.