Eastern rite priest tells Pope marriage has made him a better cleric

Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia) (AFP) –


An Eastern rite Catholic priest told Pope Francis on Tuesday that marriage and his family had made him a better cleric, during a meeting between the pontiff and local clergy in North Macedonia.

While Latin church priests must take a vow of celibacy, Eastern rite churches allow already married men to take the cloth.

"As a priest, God gave me the grace to be able to feel the fatherhood of the body, within my family, and at the same time the spiritual fatherhood, in my parish. I have experienced that these two things are complementary," said Father Goce Kostov, a member of the Byzantine rite Catholic Church in Skopje, accompanied by his wife Gabriela and their four sons.

"My family helps me in my pastoral work, in my relationships with people, with young people, with children. Without them I would be much poorer," he added.

The tiny Catholic community in North Macedonia -- less than one percent of the mainly Orthodox Christian population -- hails predominantly from the Byzantine rite.

"Your testimony has that 'Gospel fragrance' of the first communities," commented Pope Francis.

"Thank you for having shown the familiar face of the God with us, the God who never ceases to surprise us amid the pots and pans!" the Pope added in conclusion, interrupted by the cry of a baby inside the cathedral.

Catholic priests were in fact able to marry for centuries.

According to the Bible, Saint Peter, the church's first pope, had a mother-in-law.

Celibacy was only made mandatory for Latin rite priests in the 11th century.

In January, Pope Francis said he did not think celibacy should be "optional", though he conceded there could be "some possibilities for far flung places", such as the Pacific islands or the Amazon where "there is a pastoral necessity".

The idea is likely to be on the table at a synod this year dedicated to the Amazon, an immense territory where clergy are scarce.