ST. LOUIS, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The ordination in St. Louis of a married deacon into the priesthood of the Maronite Catholic Church was done with the approval of Pope Francis, officials say.
Wissam Akiki's wife and daughter witnessed the ceremony Thursday at St. Raymond's Cathedral, one of the principal Maronite centers in the United States, KSDK-TV ,St. Louis, reported.
The Maronite Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic group. While it is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, it retains some distinctive practices, including allowing married men into the priesthood.
The Vatican has refused to countenance the ordination of married men in North and South America in the Eastern Rite churches. At the same time, many Catholics have come to believe the church should change its own stand on clerical celibacy.
Richard Cullins, a St. Raymond's parishioner, said Akiki's ordination is momentous.
"I think the problems of the Catholic Church could very well be coming to an end tonight," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's going to open the doors for so many people and bring people closer to God."
The Vatican has permitted a few married Anglican priests who have converted to Roman Catholicism to become Catholic priests but has generally resisted changing the ban on married priests, which took hold in medieval Europe.