EWTN Catholic Q&A
Orthodox priest to Catholic priest, vice versa
Question from Fr. Gabriel on 09-26-2002:

Dear Anthony

I'm an Orthodox Hieromonk (monk priest) and have some questions concerning validity of priesthood, not many orthodox scholar understand or know how to answer my questions. In the Orthodox Church, when a Roman Catholic priest becomes an orthodox priest, he will not be Re-Ordained. This is because of the Orthodox Church viewed the priesthood of the Roman Catholic as valid (from a valid Apostolic Succession). The bishop will only vest him with an Orthodox vestment, I saw this with a fellow friend a Roman Catholic priest who became a Greek Orthodox priest. This is also the same norm for the sacrament of Baptism where a Roman Catholic person will never be re-baptized in the Orthodox Church, only chrismated. Orthodox Church DO viewed the Eucharist, Priesthood, and other sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church as Valid! Though they are not in communion with each other. Many times I accompanied Orthodox monks and nuns to visit Roman Catholic shrines and churches and they do bow themselves in respect infront of the tabernacle and images of Our Lady, I asked them and their answered always: "Apostolic Succession" or "They have valid sacraments".

Now my questions are about a valid ordained celibate Eastern Orthodox Priest who desired to become Roman Catholic priest:

1) Can he remain as a priest? Or he has to go trough seminary process again? How about if he already gone through Orthodox Seminary?

2) Will he be re-ordained?

3) Does the Roman Catholic Church view our Priesthood and Apostolic Succession as Valid too? Recently I read the document "Dominus Iesus", an excellent document! It stated: The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches (17). Is this document viewed as the official viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the Eastern Orthodox Church and her validity? Is this viewed adopted globally in the whole body of the Roman Catholic Church?

4) What is the norm for priesthood is he becoming Eastern Catholic priest or Western Latin priest? Can he choose? If he choose to be western priest can he enters a religious order or congregation? Or must he become a diocesan priest?

5) In the document Vatican Council II: "Orientalium Ecclesiarum" (25), it stated that Eastern clerics, seeing that a valid priesthood is preserved among them, are permitted to exercise the Orders they possess on joining the unity of the Catholic Church, in accordance with the regulations established by the competent authority. What are the regulations? And who is the authority? How is the norm here? What are the steps of process in changing, of an Orthodox priest who want to become a Roman Catholic priest (also regarding canonically process)? Is it the same in every diocese?

6) If the Orthodox priest happened to be a married clergy will he be accepted as a Roman Catholic priest? Will he go through the same norm and process as his fellow celibate Orthodox priest who desired to become a Roman Catholic priest.

Quite frankly I am pleased with the recent effort concerning dialogue Catholic and Orthodox, it is my prayer that one day the two sisters will be united with one shepherd, Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Peter for the Catholic and St. Andrew for the Orthodox, both of them are blood brothers, holy siblings, let us pray for the unity of the churches. Again thank you for taking your time to answer my questioned, may God bless you and keep you.

In Jesus and Mary


Answer by Anthony Dragani on 09-27-2002:

Father Gabriel,

You have raised some very interesting questions. First off, for the sake of clarity, I should mentioned that the term "Roman Catholic" properly only refers to the Western or Latin Catholic Church. The Eastern Catholic Churches actually are not Roman Catholic. However, the major media has taken to referring to the entire Catholic Church as "Roman Catholic" to distinguish it from other churches, but this is not accurate.

Now to your questions:

1. An Eastern Orthodox priest who becomes Catholic is not re-ordained. Nor must he go through seminary training again. He can continue serving as a priest in the Catholic Church, at the discretion of his Catholic bishop.

2. See above.

3. Yes, the Catholic Church views the Orthodox Churches as true Churches with apostolic succession and a valid priesthood. Dominus Iesus is an authoritative document that gives the official position on this matter.

4. Any Eastern Orthodox Christian who becomes Catholic must retain his own Byzantine rite, and therefore automatically becomes Byzantine Catholic. This applies to clerics as well as to laity. Thus, an Eastern Orthodox priest who becomes Catholic automatically becomes a Byzantine Catholic priest. As to whether or not he may enter a religious order or be diocesan, this is up to the discretion of the bishop who receives him into the Catholic Church.

5. An Eastern Orthodox priest who desires to become Catholic should contact a Byzantine Catholic bishop to discuss possible arrangements. There are several different kinds of Byzantine Catholics in the United States, including Melkite, Ukrainian, Romanian, and Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics. Each group has thier own bishops. Each bishop may handle these cases differently. Ultimately it is the bishop who makes the final decisions in such matters.

6. In general, there is no problem with a married Eastern Orthodox priest becoming a Byzantine Catholic priest. However, the final decision ultimately rests with the bishop. Some bishops may handle these situations differently than others.

These situations must be handled with the utmost care and diplomacy. While we cannot turn away those whose consciences lead them to Catholicism, we also do not want to give the impression of trying to proselytize our Orthodox brethren. Again, each bishop may take a different approach in dealing with such cases.

Please keep praying for the unity of our Churches. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the day may eventually arrive in which we are all one Church.

God Bless, Anthony