How can Eastern Catholics integrate into a surrounding majority Roman Catholic community?

I am an Eastern Catholic who attends a mission community. I am seeking advice mainly from Roman Catholics but I welcome insight from any who can offer it.

Our bishop is a long distance away and our eparchy (the bishop’s territory) is huge. Our mission community’s territory also falls within the geographic area of a large Roman Catholic diocese, but we’re isolated on an island amid the sea of fellow Catholics. The diocese refuses to work with us on anything, like the pro-life movement, joint celebrations like retreats, confession, or festal processions, or allowing our youth to attend regional youth activities. They say their safe environment program forbids cooperation with clergy from outside their diocese unless an extensive background check that takes 3-6 months is completed for every single day, and every activity, within every event in which our clergy are present. We thought this was a low-level person too rigidly going by the book when we first encountered it, but have since been assured the decision came from the bishops’ office to exclude us from all activities on those terms.

Those of their educators I’ve met, like catechists and RCIA instructors, are averse to learning about or teaching about our presence, saying it is scandalous to introduce to people the idea of married men being priests and of infants being confirmed and communed, even though their diocese probably has more married priests than our whole eparchy. They also say that our presence is a high level footnote that is unnecessary for any ordinary Catholic to know even within our surrounding community, and they say they are already overwhelmed and understaffed in teaching what they consider to be necessary and useful information. They will not accept any help from us to alleviate that burden.

When laity from the diocese encounter us, the exchanges are not usually charitable. They tell our priest’s wife that she’s robbing the church of her husband’s vocation, tell our deacon that they’re praying for him to join the true church, try to convert our seminarian to Catholicism, and tell us that we’re schismatics calling ourselves Catholic. There’s a tiny group who go to the other extreme, being sedevacantists who seek us out for the Eucharist and non-English language, because of their rejection of the ordinary form Mass and any priest ordained in it. They want us to be Roman Catholic, too, but in a different way. Even people who acknowledge on the surface that we’re Catholic will still refuse to receive the Eucharist, saying they can’t wrap their minds around how it is possible to be in full communion with Rome without being Roman. It is nothing more than our very presence that brings about these responses, as our community isn’t even all that well-formed in our theology or practices to consider a backlash to militancy as a possibility.

I’ve noticed that we walk on eggshells to be unintimidating and hospitable, but they really have no seed on which they can build any truth of our existence and they aren’t about to accept the story from us, whom they already disbelieve. When we point out documents like Orientale Lumen or Roman Catholic sources like St. John Paul II’s funeral where the Eastern Catholic heads of Churches prayed, they think every reference to Eastern Catholics is actually saying Eastern Orthodox and tell us we’re causing them more suspicion and confusion as it looks like we’re pointing to Orthodox references when they can’t tell the difference.

A few reject any document we could provide outside of Trent or the 1950s. Most point to their libraries of popular Catholic apologists who almost never mention Eastern Catholicism but who give apologetic responses which appear to dogmatize things like the age and order of reception of the sacraments, all-celibate clergy, and other western traditions that we don’t have in common. Even if they acknowledge our truth and existence, the fact that the big names don’t discuss us seems to be reason enough for them to never acknowledge us, either. Some of them tell us that uniformity of expression is the single most important identifier to being Catholic. They say they can go into any Catholic Church in the world and get the exact same Mass, prayers, and practices and that’s so important to them that it is their mark for universality and therefore for Catholicity, which means they see no place in the church for us. It is isolating and hurtful to constantly experience these same roadblocks and rejections from the people we’re in communion with, no matter what we try to cooperate on.

In a neighboring and traditionally-oriented diocese that has no Eastern Catholic presence within their geographic territory, they welcome our travelers and use the opportunity to educate their parishioners on the universality of the church. In another nearby traditionally-oriented extra-diocesan community, we’re told that they “don’t mix rites” and refuse to commune us at all.

We’re just a small and faithful community trying to live the faith as it has been handed down to us and want to be a functioning part of the Body of Christ. I am looking for constructive advice on how we can move forward from this position to being a fully active part of the local church community. Is it through education? Prayer? Service? Connections? Food? What is the process we can start working towards? I don’t need any advice on how to accept this as normal because we have a lot of experience with that already. How can we remain who we are, Eastern Christians in full unity with Rome, and come to eventually live out that unity in this climate and culture?

As there are a lot of clergy and religious, catechists, church leaders, and laity here who must feel the same way when they encounter us, I thought this would be a good place to get positive and prayerful support for moving forward.

I have not been here very long, but I dont see the animosity you are describing outright. Its mostly apathy and an ignorance that an Eastern Catholic parish exists. Our EC parish has converts here from RC, I can tell you that they do just fine involving themselves in the RC’s diocese activities and so do I. I’d like to see what others have noticed.

In my corner of the world, the Eastern Churches generally fly “under the radar.” Many Latin Rite Catholics do not know about the Eastern Rites, and are confused when they come into contact with them.

If the trouble from the Latin Rite Catholics is coming even from a diocesan level, I highly suggest you inform your eparch of it. If he were able to begin communication with his Latin Rite counterpart, I think it could benefit both parties tremendously.

I suggest that you direct those who give you trouble to closing of Orientalium Ecclesiarum [Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite], which succinctly states:

The Sacred Council feels great joy in the fruitful zealous collaboration of the Eastern and the Western Catholic Churches…

I admire the effort you’ve put into educating the other Catholics in your area and I am sorry you are seeing so little cooperation or fruit.

In your third or second paragraph, you mention that you’ve approached catechists and RCIA instructors about your presence, and they have told you that they won’t do any educating about you. If I’m reading that correctly, that means they know about Eastern Rite Catholics even if they don’t want to teach about Eastern Rite Catholics.

I think you could use that to your advantage. If some of the people in these teaching positions already seem to know about your community, you could refer the laity to them when they ask you questions or express false assumptions. For example, when people come up to you and say they wish you would convert, you could tell them, “We’re already Catholic, ask your RCIA director.”

That’s not asking the RCIA instructors to teach anything formally, it just puts the burden on the laity to find out about you from them, possibly in an informal way. Maybe they will just ask about your rite the next time they see their RCIA director. If enough people do that, it might give the parish the incentive they need to actually want to do some formal instruction.

Does that sound like a constructive idea?

If I wanted to go to a Roman Catholic prayer group, I wouldn’t have a problem, either. The issues arise when we want our clergy or religious to attend, or when we want the invitation sent to or including our parish. If the laity want to live like Roman Catholics, they don’t mind absorbing us as long as we don’t bring our clergy or any form of leadership with us. It’s outlandish to people who live in areas where our presence is taken for granted, but that’s the reality of where I live.

Thank you! I’ve tried these avenues in the past. I’ve learned that source documents haven’t changed any minds, but help to fill people in who already want to learn.

The older generation have an attitude of accepting this as normal and being self-sufficient. They came from much worse oppression, so it is what they expect. That works well when the community is cohesive and built on a shared culture. We’re reaching a point where enough intermarriage and subsequent generations have been born in the parish that the culture is cohesive for the older people, but we’re losing the younger people to the larger and more diverse programs the Roman Catholics offer. And the people are forced to choose because of the lack of integration, so they leave us. I feel caught in the middle and this is something that weighs heavily on my heart and soul, so I’ve taken it on myself to explore what other options are out there.

That’s a wonderful idea! I am going to start doing that immediately.

I am not so quick to question the decision by the RCIA director not to include Eastern Catholic matters in the curriculum. Sad as it may be, the Eastern churches really are a footnote for most American Catholics. And if the normal parishioners are as confused as you describe, it may not be wise to cause similar confusion for catechumens. Besides Eastern liturgies, the idea of a single rite of mass could also be refuted by the rites of some religious orders, or the Ambrosian rite, or the Zairean use, etc. But the catechumens who are really interested and can handle it will probably pick these things up in time, while such matters would simply sow confusion for the majority who just want to understand the basics.

I think dmar1408’s idea is an excellent one. However, while it could open up better interaction, it’s mainly immediate survival of attacks by the ignorant. And unfortunately, I’m at a loss as to how move beyond that to your goal of enriching your fellow Catholics in the Latin parish. If you had an active, physical parish it would be much easier, because there would be the opportunity for cooperation and interaction on an organizational level, and those you spoke with would assume at the start of the conversation that you were Catholic, not the opposite.

That’s the problem - it’s a Latin parish, and you can’t really push them to teach your spirituality, liturgy, etc. It’s entirely appropriate for the school kids or the adult ed class to spend one class learning about Eastern Catholics in general and your church in particular. But only if the priest or relgious ed director is interested in doing so. Until then, you may be stuck continuing to educate quietly the ignorant in whose parish you are a guest.

Yes, it is a step in the right direction and will help to create the culture we should have, but it is only a small step in that direction.

I do want to clarify that we are not guests in a Latin parish. We have our own building and community. I think this creates less opportunities for collaboration and involvement and allows us to be seen as other. If our priest was serving in one of their parishes, the safe environment issue would be gone. Our presence and liturgical customs would be seen and questioned. It’s harder in that way being on our own. Out of sight, out of mind.

We’ve tried inviting people in. It doesn’t go well. The one exception was when we hosted a purely Latin devotion. A group of ladies told us that they’d been praying for our conversion every week in their prayer group through the intercession of that devotion and were so thrilled that their prayers were being answered. :rolleyes:

Well, sounds odd to me. Our Archdiocese is very friendly with the Eastern Churches.
There are many shared events, and the clergy are invited and honored guests.
By the way, Background checks for Safe Environment take about a week. I manage them for our Parish. It’s not a big deal.

I’m surprised by this. When I lived near a couple of Eastern parishes recently, they had their own softball teams in the league of nearby parishes, they participated in the local multi-parish Catholic singles group, they participated in anti-abortion protests, their festivals were mentioned in many of the bulletins of the nearby parishes, and they were even listed in the online diocesan directory of parishes(!). I would say at least 2/3 of those in neighboring parishes had no clue about them, but the average parishioner’s assumption was that they were Catholic just the same as the next parish down the road that one has never been to.

How did you spread the word in the face of the resistance you’ve described?

I don’t understand why the background checks should be an issue anyway, since the Eastern Catholic eparchies in the USA do them for all of our clergy.

And something is wrong with what’s described in the OP. It doesn’t have to be done for every visit and interaction. You watch a video online, read a few web pages, sign some documents and the Church orders the background check. My recollection is that it is good for three years.



Why not make an appointment to meet with the bishop of the Roman rite diocese? Or if it is a large diocese with auxiliaries, you could meet with one of them.

You can then introduce yourself and your community, establish a good rapport, and tell him your concerns. Tell him you want to cooperate, etc. Even if his chancery is discouraging you, still you might find that he is different, and perhaps doesn’t fully know what is going on in this regard. But when you make the appointment, I’d be discerning about how I describe it to his secretary. You don’t want to put them off or get screened out.

Another option would be to find a Roman rite priest of good repute, establish a good rapport with him, and then have him introduce you to the bishop.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit