The married man became a priest only after Pope Francis, the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church, gave his permission.

The Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in United States. Eastern Catholics accept the authority of the pope, but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.
   
The Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. However, the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners. But Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of the Eastern Catholic traditions.
   
And over the years, popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in US.

"Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite Church, though in the United States it is," Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St Raymond's, said on Thursday.

Whether the decision would open the door for more married priests wasn't clear. Experts 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, 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 has been a deacon at St Raymond's since 2009 and worked as the assistant to the bishop. He and his wife, Manal Kassab, have one daughter, Perla, 8.

(Agencies)

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