Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 28, 2014

Married dad becomes Maronite Catholic priest in US

(Continued)

Stephanie Baker, a 57-year-old lifelong member of the church, agreed.

"I really think it sets a precedent," Baker said. "There are a lot of people who have it (the priesthood) in their hearts. This opens it up for other people."

That remains to be seen. Peters said the pope's action does not lift the ban on married priests in the U.S., but that it's simply an exception

Experts, too, cautioned against reading too much into it.

"This is certainly not an automatic indication that the mandate of celibacy within Roman rite will be overturned," said Randy Rosenberg, a theological studies professor at Saint Louis University.

Akiki, 41, emigrated from Lebanon in 2002, and almost immediately became a subdeacon at St. Raymond's, ascending to deacon in 2009. It was about a year-and-a-half ago that he and the church petitioned the Vatican to allow him to enter the priesthood.

Akiki completed seminary studies at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in Washington, D.C., and the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.

He and his wife have one daughter, 8-year-old Perla. She read a brief prayer at her father's ordination.

Peters said that in the most recent Maronite Patriarchal Synod, the church reaffirmed its position in support of allowing married priests, a tradition that, worldwide, dates back centuries.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of St. Louis congratulated Akiki.

"The Archdiocese of St. Louis values its strong relationship with the Maronite community in St. Louis," the statement read in part.

Those attending the ordination applauded the new priest several times, which clearly left him moved.

"It is a day of grace and of joy," he said.

------

Associated Press Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.

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