At this point, it might be tempting to dismiss the entire issue as ‘not an actual cause of separation between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy’ because it is just a matter of discipline, and one that is currently under review anyway. However, I am convinced that the question of celibacy was in fact a major cause of tension between East and West, and that this issue remains extremely divisive. On the one hand, the Eastern Orthodox world looks at the imposition of priestly celibacy on the Uniate communities with the same reaction as St. Photius: a great sense of not wanting to be in any shape or form under the control of the Roman Church. On the other hand, there is a strong traditionalist movement within Catholicism that sees the debate over celibacy as a liberal ploy to destroy the identity and essence of the Roman Catholic priesthood . This movement is supported by a current of thought that sees priestly celibacy not just as a discipline but indeed as an apostolic tradition. Among the few documents posted on the official Vatican web site on this topic, the overwhelming majority are strongly in favor of such a theory. We find for instance a lengthy article by a Roman Cholij who relies heavily on Fr. Cochini’s study: The apostolic origins of priestly celibacy. The title leaves no doubt as to the position being advocated, and this view, at least tacitly endorsed by the Vatican, is a factor that must be reckoned with.
This perspective will certainly surprise and challenge many, including the majority of Eastern Orthodox clergy who assumed that the Eastern discipline is the closest to the apostolic model. It must be understood, then, that the Latin insistence on priestly continence (which led to celibacy) has very profound roots, and that the underlying issues need to be squarely faced. If continence and celibacy are indeed an apostolic command, or even if this position becomes dominant in Roman Catholic circles, the effect on Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation cannot be ignored.
On the one hand, our Church has married deacons, married ex-Anglican priests and married Eastern rite priests, yet on the other hand we have a school of thought promoted at the highest level that clerical celibacy is more than just a discipline, but the normative apostolic tradition, undermining not only our Eastern Catholic Churches, but also contemporary practice of married permanent deacons.