Monday, March 30, 2009

Married Catholic priests gain acceptance

As The Apostles' Wives blog points out, this is about married priests who have waived into the Roman Catholic priesthood from other denominations under the Pastoral Provision, not Catholic priests who have to leave the priesthood to get married.

By Patricia Montemurri
Detroit Free Press
March 29, 2009

There are few women who can say they are married to a Roman Catholic priest. And few people who can say their dad is the man whom Catholic churchgoers address formally as "Father Steve."

But Cindy Anderson and her three sons can, and they were among the rush of congregants who gathered for 10 a.m. mass on a recent Sunday at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Goodrich.

The parish priest is Cindy's husband and the father of Austin, 24, Steven Jr., 14, and Christian, 11. The Rev. Steve Anderson has been a Catholic priest since 2003, when he became the second priest in Michigan to be ordained under an exception to the Catholic Church's celibacy rule for married ministers serving some Protestant denominations.

About 100 married men, mostly ministers in Episcopal churches in the United States, have sought permission from the Vatican to be ordained as Catholic priests since Pope John Paul II allowed it in 1980.

"It does take some explanation, for sure," said Austin Anderson, an automotive engineer. "People think I don't know what I'm talking about, at first. 'Maybe you mean deacon,' they say. 'Maybe you mean another denomination.' "

Then there's the joke he hears whenever he explains what Dad does for a living: "Do you call him 'Father father'?"

Novelty welcomed

For Cindy Anderson, being a priest's wife has meant a rare and challenging role.

"I've heard good response," the 49-year-old said. "I hear ... we'd like to see more of this. I've been well-received. Some say, 'We've been ready for this.' "

Laura Sullivan, a Kettering University mechanical engineering professor, is one of them. She followed Anderson from his previous parish, Holy Family in Grand Blanc, to his current posting.

"This is somebody my kids could talk to. Somebody married people can relate to. He brought such a fresh breath of air," Sullivan said after Sunday mass.

Kathie Trombley, another St. Mark parishioner, concurred.

"He inspires us all. I don't know of anybody who had a problem with" his being married, said Trombley. "As far as his preaching, having a wife has just enhanced it."

Michael Diebold, a spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, which oversees Anderson, acknowledged that parishioners have welcomed the novelty of a married priest, a concept that flies counter to the Vatican's unwavering support for priestly celibacy.

"If there are people who find he's more approachable because of that reason, then that's a good thing," said Diebold. "Not to denigrate all the single priests who are out there, but if there's a segment of the population that finds that to be a positive in their lives, that's a good thing."

Not against celibacy

Both Anderson and the Rev. William Lipscomb, a Traverse City parish pastor who in 1997 was the first married Episcopalian minister in Michigan to be ordained a Catholic priest, say they are not campaigning for an end to Rome's celibacy requirement.

"I'm a priest. I'm not a policy-setter," said Anderson, 50.

He carefully avoids taking sides, but he doesn't believe his marriage and family have impeded his ministry.

"As a married man, you see the fruitfulness and legitimacy of a married priesthood," said Anderson. "The ancient way is for priests to have been married. ... That's not the way it's done now."

From St. Patrick Catholic Church in Traverse City, Lipscomb, who is about to become a grandfather for the first time on Holy Thursday, April 9, said he concurs with the celibacy requirement.

"I agree with the rule. ... I'm not carrying a banner to change the rules. If something happens to my wife, I'm going to be what every other priest is," said Lipscomb, 70.

He and his wife, Shirley, live in a house they own a few miles from the church, instead of the parish rectory. Their four children are grown -- two of them are now Catholic. He officiated at one son's Catholic wedding last year.

Both Lipscomb and Anderson said their faith journeys to the Catholic Church weren't motivated by controversy over ordaining women and gay priests in the Episcopal Church.

Lipscomb said he was drawn to Catholicism, in part, because he was impressed with the Catholic priests and services he encountered while serving as an Episcopal chaplain for 28 years in the Air Force.

Anderson's journey has taken him through the Presbyterian Church of his youth, to earning degrees from the conservative fundamentalist Oral Roberts University. In 1995, he became an ordained minister in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, a movement founded in 1992 and described as a blend between traditional Episcopalian practices with a Pentecostal influence. Anderson founded a Charismatic Episcopal Parish in Brighton called Church of the Resurrection.

Anderson said it was his readings of early Christian scholarly works that fueled his desire to become a Catholic.

"I didn't come in out of a reaction. I came because God was guiding me that way," Anderson said.

He and his family converted to Catholicism in 1999. He entered Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit in 2000, the same year now-retired Bishop Carl Mengeling asked the Vatican to allow Anderson to study for the Catholic priesthood.

Cindy Anderson reverently -- and good-naturedly -- has gone along.

It was natural for her and her husband to explore together the impact of Christian teachings, she said. When he talked about where his studies were leading him, she agreed to share the journey.

'We're a good team'

Steve and Cindy Anderson met at summer Bible school at White Lake Presbyterian Church in White Lake Township. She was teaching music to the Bible school kids, and he was leading group activities.

"Thirty-four years later, I still do the music and teach all the songs. And he does all the other church activities, like the mass," she says. "We're a good team."

The Andersons also live in their own house, several miles away from St. Mark's, in Grand Blanc. The couple begin their day with a standard set of Catholic prayers, reciting them together from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. in his home office.

On this particular Sunday, Cindy Anderson's outfit includes an orange T-shirt emblazoned with "This is our Faith" on the front and, on the back, "And what a wonderful faith it is."

It's the line her husband delivers to finish every homily. Youth groups at churches where he has served and at Flint Powers High School, where he is a chaplain and teaches a theology class, print the shirts to raise money.

Steve Anderson has some news to deliver this day. He's being reassigned to Good Shepherd Catholic Parish, about 37 miles away in Montrose after only several months at St. Mark's. There are audible gasps and sighs from the parishioners.

"The bishop thought something I had was something they needed," he said.

He is to begin his new assignment in July.

The news drew a tear from churchgoer Marjorie McElroy, 43, of Grand Blanc.

"He seems so like us, so normal," said McElroy, an information technology associate with three children. "It seems as if it's easier to relate to him very quickly, pretty much from the moment you get to know him."

Having Anderson and his family be part of the parish, she said, "tied the whole concept of the parish family together for us."

Additional Facts

  • Pope's action allowed a reunion of faiths
  • Pope John Paul II enacted a provision in church law in 1980 to allow married Episcopal ministers to become Catholic priests.
  • Some Episcopalian ministers wanted to convert because they long hoped for a reunion with the Catholic Church. Some simply felt the Episcopal Church was getting too liberal on issues such as female and gay priests and felt more at home in the Catholic Church.
  • The pope extended the conversion provision for the priesthood to both Episcopal and Lutheran ministers, in part, because the denominations share a rich sacramental life and rituals with the Catholic Church.
  • Pope Benedict XVI is continuing the practice.
  • The Catholic Church's first priests were married, but the church has had a rule of celibacy for about 1,000 years.
  • The Roman Catholic Church also encompasses some Eastern rite churches, such as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, that always have allowed their priests to marry.

Photo: Cindy Anderson takes communion from her husband.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ninety percent of Austrians support end to celibacy

Ninety percent of Austrian Catholics are opposed to mandatory celibacy and support allowing priests to have sexual relationships and get married, according to a poll released today.

The survey, conducted by the market research group Linzer Meinungsforschungsinstitutes based on a sample of 1000 residents over age 16, shows that the percentage opposed to celibacy is the same among Catholics as among the general population. Women were slightly more supportive of ending the celibacy requirement than men.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed opined that the Catholic Church should in all cases allow priests to have sexual relationships, while 22% said they were generally in favor of this.

Only 5% opposed sexual relationships for priests and defended celibacy, while another 5% declined to answer.

Seventy-two percent indicated that they were compltetely in favor of allowing priests and pastors to marry, and an additional 18% said they generally supported this.

At the same time, 89% were "understanding" of priests who have had children.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup for the Vienna daily "Österreich" found basically the same results as the market poll. The Gallup poll showed 87% of Austrians supported Catholic priests’ right to marry and only eight percent did not, with five percent having no opinion.

The newspaper added that around 700 priests in Austria have been suspended from their positions in the Church as a result of violations of their vows of celibacy.

The newspaper quoted theologian Paul Zulehner as claiming 22 percent of Austrian priests had relationships with women and said other sources put the percentage as high as 50 percent.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Eve of Retirement, Cardinal Breathes Life Into Debate on Priestly Celibacy

By Paul Vitello
New York Times
March 22, 2009

His remarks amounted to just a few sentences near the tail end of a radio interview, and near the end of his nine-year tenure as the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York. But ever since Cardinal Edward M. Egan made some brief comments this month about the centuries-old requirement that priests be celibate, Catholic scholars, pundits and clerics have been parsing what he meant and what it could mean for the church.

In a March 10 interview on the Albany radio station Talk 1300, the cardinal suggested that the Catholic Church would sooner or later have to consider whether to allow priests to marry.

“I think that it’s going to be discussed; it’s a perfectly legitimate discussion,” Cardinal Egan said, replying to a question from the host, Fredric U. Dicker, about whether the church’s severe shortage of priests might spur such a change. “I think it has to be looked at. And I am not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to decide on the basis of geography and culture not to make an across-the-board determination.”

At another point, he said: “Is it a closed issue? No. That’s not a dogmatic stand.”

For a millennium, the Vatican has signaled that it is, indeed, a closed issue. Despite inklings of a discussion in the 1960s, during the Second Vatican Council, each of the last three popes has quashed efforts to raise the matter at ecclesiastical synods.

In 2003, when 163 priests in the Milwaukee Archdiocese petitioned the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to open discussions on celibacy in light of the shortage of priests, they were soundly rebuffed by their archbishop, Timothy M. Dolan — whom Pope Benedict XVI chose last month to succeed Cardinal Egan.

Cardinal Egan, through a spokesman, declined to elaborate on his radio remarks. Archbishop Dolan, through the same spokesman, also declined to comment.

But in the Catholic news media and among church scholars, the departing cardinal’s words have sparked a spirited debate over what he meant to say on an issue central to the identity of a dwindling priesthood: Were his words a parting gift to the reformers he had no truck with for nine years? A last-minute crack in the discipline of a leader who had remained determinedly under the radar for so long in the media capital of the world? Or just a matter-of-fact response by a canon lawyer — which the cardinal is — to a question about church law?

In interviews and blog comments, some conservatives dismissed what the cardinal said as the comments of a man speaking, as one said, “above his pay grade.” Many advocates of reform, who have long considered Cardinal Egan a conservative, said his remarks were surprisingly encouraging, albeit a little late in the day. The cardinal, 76, officially retires on April 15.

The Rev. Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, which is affiliated with the Conference of Catholic Bishops, said such words from a top American prelate, whatever his intent, would “put an issue on the table that a lot of people thought was off the table.”

A spokesman for the bishops’ conference would not comment on the cardinal’s remarks. But Father Vega, who emphasized that he was not speaking for the bishops but as a priest, added, “I think he breathed new life into the hopes of a lot of people.”

One of those people is Sister Christine Schenk, executive director of FutureChurch, a group promoting the ordination of women and an end to the celibacy rule.

“It would have been nice if he had said this five years ago,” she said. “But coming from Egan, I think it is a sign that the conversation is ripening. He’s not the poster child for progressivism. I think it shows we are much closer to having this issue addressed by the Vatican than most people realize.”

Official church policy on celibacy has remained substantially unchanged since the 11th century, when the obligation became the rule for priests. Until then, it was optional, and many priests, bishops and popes were married.

Lawrence Cunningham, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, said the mandatory celibacy rules were adopted for many reasons, both theological and practical. Among the latter, he said, was the need to avoid claims on church property by priests’ offspring.

The tradition of celibacy had its origins in the biblical portrayal of Jesus Christ as celibate and in the conviction among church leaders that a priest’s role as spiritual teacher required a single-minded dedication to the community.

In the Eastern Rite churches — the Ukrainian and Melkite denominations, for instance, which are autonomous yet recognized by the Vatican as fully Catholic — the requirement of celibacy was never applied as strictly. Married men can be ordained, although priests, once ordained, cannot marry.

Cardinal Egan cited the Eastern church experience in his radio interview, noting that many of the priests of those denominations were married, “with no problem at all.”

In 1980, Pope John Paul II made the one exception to the rule in the Western church, permitting the ordination of married former Episcopal priests who wished to convert to Catholicism. Since then, about 200 former Episcopal priests, most of them married with families, have become Catholic priests in the United States, according to the federation of priests’ councils.

As a result of another initiative begun in the 1970s, the church has also added about 15,000 deacons to its ranks of ordained men. Deacons, who can be married, are empowered to perform almost all the functions of priests except hearing confessions and consecrating the Eucharist.

The celibacy rule for priests has never been immutable church dogma. It is called a discipline rather than a doctrine or a dogma, and could theoretically be revised or reversed by the Vatican Curia, Professor Cunningham said.

But the Rev. Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of the conservative Catholic publishing house Ignatius Press, doubted that church leaders had any interest in change.

“There is no inevitability about it,” Father Fessio said. “To suggest that it is something that has to be looked at now — I do not see that happening. From time to time, perhaps there should be a discussion, but only so that reasonable people can see why things are the way they are — and why they should stay that way.”

Many church experts said that Cardinal Egan’s comments were surprising not so much in their content, but in his willingness to say them publicly.

“In a sense, what he said was obvious,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit author and former editor of the moderately liberal Catholic magazine America. “But not many cardinals do that. It was kind of brave for him to say what everybody’s been thinking. It’s interesting that he said it as he’s leaving.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

Celibacy and the Church in Africa

From Michelle Faul's Associated Press story yesterday on the Pope's trip to Africa:

...Some Catholic priests in Africa also ignore the church requirement that they take a vow of celibacy.

"Priests having affairs is rampant in the church" in South Africa, said Velesiwe Mkwanazi, a former Catholic lay leader who co-founded Women Ordination South Africa and says she knows two priests with children.

"Parishioners blame women, say we seduce the priests, but we are brought up to respect and honor men, and women can't say no to a priest who is held up to us as a fount of knowledge in daily communication with God," she said.

Co-founder Dina Cormick said priests who are caught having affairs are sent on retreats or moved to other parishes while nuns caught in sexual liaisons with priests are forced to leave their orders.

The Rev. Rodney Moss, the head of St. Augustine College, South Africa's only Catholic university, would say only that "a lot more effort is being put into dealing with problems of sexuality in seminaries. When I was a seminarian it was hardly addressed, but now there is quite a lot said about it."

The Rev. Simangaliso Mkhatshwa, a priest who is also a leading member of South Africa's governing African National Congress, said the church needs to have an open discussion about celibacy.

"It's an issue that needs to be more openly discussed among lay people, priests among themselves, the bishops in this country, but also internationally," he said. "Because some of these policies probably were designed for a particular era and it does happen from time to time we have to ask whether some of these policies are still relevant."

Others believe the church needs to go further.

"If we want to stop the scandal of ... children (born out of wedlock to priests), then we must change the thinking," said Mike Auret, who worked for Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops' Conference for more than 20 years. "Lay Catholic leaders have been talking about marriage for priests for years."

In one scandal, Zimbabwean Archbishop Pius Ncube admitted having an affair with a married parishioner and stepped down in 2007 after state media broadcast images purporting to show him undressing and naked in his bedroom with a woman.

The Vatican said Ncube's resignation was accepted under a church law that says a bishop should retire if he is ill or if "some other grave reason" makes him unsuitable for office. The statement did not address the reputed affair; Ncube now works in a rural parish.

Benedict indirectly addressed the scandals in African churches while meeting Wednesday with the bishops of Cameroon.

"I urge you, then, to be especially vigilant regarding the faithfulness of priests and consecrated persons to the commitments made at their ordination or entry into religious life," the pope said. "The authenticity of their witness requires that there be no dichotomy between what they teach and the way they live each day."

Noting the high numbers of young men seeking to be ordained, the pontiff said "serious discernment" was needed to ensure future priests are "mature and balanced men."...

Restoring clerical authority

By Fr. Richard McBrien
Tidings Online
March 20, 2009

One of the most tangible changes that has occurred in the Catholic Church over the past several decades is the decline in the deference that Catholic laity display toward their clergy.

It is not that Catholics no longer like or respect priests. On the contrary, they are similar in mentality to U.S. voters who may have a generally low opinion of Congress, but who keep re-electing their own Representatives every two years.

Surveys have disclosed that, while Catholics may have lowered their opinion of priests and bishops as a group, largely because of the sexual-abuse scandal and the cover-ups that followed, parishioners continue to support and even cherish their own pastors.

At the same time, however, Catholic mothers no longer encourage their sons to become priests the way they used to 40 or 50 years ago.

Many recoil at the thought of their sons alone in old age, without a family to love and care for them. They are aware more than ever before that loneliness, not the curbing of one's sexuality, is the real cost of obligatory celibacy.

And they also want grandchildren. When families were larger, it was less of a concern. In a recent "60 Minutes" interview, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a self-styled traditional Catholic, noted that he has five sons, one of whom is now a priest.

He told Leslie Stahl that when his son Paul announced that he wanted to study for the priesthood, his four other sons were relieved. Paul, he said, "was going to take one for the team."

But that day is over and so is the Catholic culture that supported it.

Another sign of change is the decline in confessions. Adults and children alike would line up in great numbers outside two or more confessional boxes on Saturday afternoons and evenings to have their sins forgiven and to perform whatever penance the priest might impose.

Nowadays, only a minority of parishes have more than one priest. Confessions in some places are by appointment. In many, if not most, churches they are held in reconciliation rooms where the encounter between priest and penitent is face-to-face and where that encounter, if conducted properly, is far removed from the assembly-line experience of old.

A third sign of change is the general disappearance of the Latin Mass. It had been celebrated in a foreign language that only the priest could recite and understand, and at an altar that faced the back wall.

Whatever the priest was up to, with his back to the congregation, was mainly between God and himself. Not even the altar boys could see and hear everything that the priest was saying and doing at Mass.

This lack of understanding, however, was coupled with an unshakeable faith in the priest's power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The "mysterious" aura which permeated the whole ritual strengthened the laity's conviction that something sacred and holy was taking place, thanks always to the priest who alone knew what to do and possessed the power to do it.

Some priests complained about the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council because they felt that there was no longer any significant place for them in the life of the Church.

The council had welcomed the laity into ministries formerly reserved exclusively to priests, even allowing them into the sanctuary, not only to read portions of the Scriptures assigned for the day's Mass but even to distribute Holy Communion.

Furthermore, most members of the congregation now received Communion without first going to confession --- a need which many had once felt even if not in the state of mortal sin.

Is there perhaps a thread that runs through three recent attempts to restore some of the elements of the pre-Vatican II Church: indulgences, confession and the Latin Mass?

The renewed attention to indulgences, sparked by a front-page story in The New York Times (Feb. 10) on the bishop of Brooklyn's offer of plenary indulgences during this Year of Paul, is a case in point.

Indulgences are a spiritual benefit that only the pope or a diocesan bishop can grant. But one of the conditions for the reception of a plenary indulgence, or the full remission of punishment in purgatory due to sins that have already been forgiven, is that the prospective recipient go to confession.

And the Latin Mass is something that only the priest can perform, without lay involvement.

Cynthia Jurisson of Chicago may have put her finger on it in a recent (Feb. 17) letter to The New York Times: "The salutary benefit [of these changes] may be to buttress waning clerical authority...."

Father Richard McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Group not allowed to celebrate Mass in Catholic church

Naples Daily News
Originally published 5:25 p.m., Monday, March 16, 2009
Updated 6:12 p.m., Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NAPLES — The local arm of a faith-based organization cannot celebrate its annual Mass in a Catholic church.

The group, Voice of the Faithful of Southwest Florida, recently was denied access to the sanctuary of St. John the Evangelist, 625 111th Ave. N., for its annual Mass. The Mass, said president Peg Clark, is held each year to pray for victims of sexual abuse and for the future of the Catholic church.

“This was a total unexpected surprise,” Clark said. “I thought they’d never ban us. We were caught absolutely dumbfounded. We are devoted and devout Catholics.”

The Rev. John Ludden said he made the decision based on his knowledge of the group, but had nothing to do with the people involved in the organization.

“I know some of the people who come to Mass every Sunday are part of the group, and by no means does this mean they are not welcome to the church,” Ludden said. “We are here to foster faith, to nurture it.”

Clark said she put in a request to use the church for its annual Mass a little more than a month ago. After several weeks without hearing from the church, Clark said she called tried to contact Ludden to see whether they could use the church’s sanctuary.

Clark said she never got in touch with Ludden, but another board member spoke to him. That conversation, Clark said, ended with Ludden saying the organization was not welcome to celebrate the Mass in his sanctuary.

Clark said Ludden’s message was that the Eucharist was “so sacred that the Voice of the Faithful would compromise it.”

“It tore the rug from underneath us,” she said.

Ludden said he said no such thing, but did say he was concerned the group would “stand in contradiction for what the Mass is all about.”

“In terms of the Eucharist, the Mass for Catholics is the sacrament of unity,” Ludden said. “The bottom line was I viewed the Eucharist as (a symbol of unity) and the Voice of the Faithful stands in stark contrast (of that).”

Ludden said he was concerned the organization as a whole because “they’re becoming a group within the church that are aligning themselves with other groups that ... don’t trust the hierarchy and want to change our structure.”

Voice of the Faithful was founded in 2002 as a listening group in the basement at St. John the Evangelist in Wellesley, Mass., in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The lay organization has grown over the years, and now has thousands of supporters across the United States.

Jessica Lillie, director of communications for the national organization, said this isn’t the first time an local affiliate hasn’t been allowed in a church.

Lillie said it was disappointing to hear that the pastor wasn’t allowing the group to use the church.

“We are the Eucharistic ministers, the parish musicians, the lectors, the CCD teachers (and) the pastoral and finance council members who constitute the backbone of numerous parishes,” Lillie said in a statement Friday. “It is shameful that any pastor would seek to deny the Eucharist to such faithful members of the church, or worse to defame those members by claiming they cannot be in the presence of the Eucharist.”

This was not the first time the local branch of Voice of the Faithful has been banned from a Naples-area church. In 2008 the group was banned from having its lecture series at St. John the Evangelist. According to a March 2008 report in the Naples Daily News, the Diocese of Venice said the speakers were prohibited from speaking in a Catholic venue because the speakers “repeatedly expressed positions which contradict the Church’s teachings and doctrine.”

Ludden’s decision not to allow the organization access to the church isn’t stopping the group from celebrating its annual Mass, though. Clark said the organization was able to rent out space at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church, 1225 Piper Blvd., for the Mass.

The service will be held in the church’s sanctuary, Clark said.

“We will have the Mass in the appropriate venue,” she said.

Clark’s also hopeful that the organization will be back in a Catholic church for next year’s service.

“We are determined,” she said. “We will have Mass in a Catholic church (next year.)”

The Southwest Florida branch of the Voice of the Faithful will celebrate its annual Mass at 3 p.m. March 26 at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church.

Related Document: Statement by Peg Clark, President of Voice of the Faithful (.pdf)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Culture Notes: St. Patrick

Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. He could also be the patron saint of the movement to abolish mandatory celibacy in the Catholic Church because, if historians are correct, had celibacy always existed for Catholic priests, St. Patrick would never have been born and Ireland would not be the predominantly Catholic country it is today.

From Philip Freeman's St. Patrick of Ireland:

NOTE: The icon of Saint Patrick is by Nicholas Papas.

Patrick was born in Britain during the closing years of the fourth century, probably during the reign of the Roman emperor Theodosius (347-395). ..Patrick's father was Calpornius, a common name in Roman Britain, and his grandfather was Potitus. Potitus was probably born early in the fourth century, during the days of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of the Romans. Potitus was a priest, but at this time in Christian history such a role was no impediment to marriage and children. His son Calpornius followed in his father's religious footsteps and become a lower-ranked member of the clergy, a deacon....

From St. Patrick's Confession (as translated from Latin):

I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Father Josef Friedl removed as dean

(I just hate to have to rely on CathCon for these translations! Isn't there anyone who works on this blog who speaks German and would be willing to follow what is going on in Austria for us? Please?)

Anyway, according to CathCon, here is the latest:

Statement from the Bishop of Linz:

Dean and Parish priest Josef Friedl has publicly and on his own initiative declared that he in the last few years did not keep his promises on priesthood to live in celibacy and he maintains his relationship. In our service as priests, we have both take on the sign of celibacy for the kingdom of heaven's sake.

This rule still applies today and is clearly underlined in its validity on the level of the universal church. Also discussions on this subject were part of the Bishops' Conference recent meeting and the chairman, Cardinal Schönborn has stated on the matter: "For a priest, as well as for all other people fidelity and promises of fidelity are carrying major values in society. Failure brings no blessing in the long term."

Specifically, we (the Vicar General as the personnel manager and I, the Bishop), have been in contact with Father Friedl in recent days and with today’s discussion.

Father Friedl has understood that as of today he retires from his post as dean. In this position, he was the direct representative of the bishop in his deanery.

The incompatibility with his now personally declared life form with the original promise requires now - as it turns out - a further clarification of what was meant by his “partnership for life”.

He himself has never outlined the circumstances further in any way to the general public. Further talks are necessary in the near future. In canon law, ongoing discussions for such situations are already foreseen.

I ask again for your understanding for these measures and also that this matter is not being dealt dealt with publicly.

Secret Meetings of Unfaithful Priests

More on the Father Friedl case.

In the talks besides Bishop Schwarz and Father Friedl, Vicar General Severin Lederhilger participated as the person responsible for diocesan personnel.

Friedl was confident prior to the meeting. "In a year I can retire, I do not think that I can still be sacked." He favours a "temporary celibacy" to combat the priest shortage in an effective manner. A coexistence of celibate and married priests would make the church more human and credible he believes. Finally, the conscience is always the last resort.

The parish priest of Ungenach was most recently a red rag for conservative groups, after his commitment to the Zogaj family. He was also a participant in the deans conference which in a majority rejected Gerhard Maria Wagner for Bishop , and thus triggered a unique situation in the Diocese. Meanwhile, Wagner's consecration is off the agenda.

The Ungenach priest Josef Friedl received prior support. On Saturday night, the networking group "Future Church" published letter online. The letter was published on the website of “We are Church” in which priests speak of their partners as a "gift from heaven".

The letters of support indicate that the priests who belong to this group give Friedl the highest levels of respect: "(...) As those who are in the same situation, we network in self-help groups in Austria and other adjoining German-speaking dioceses. According to our insight, the reality is that there are about one third of the Catholic priests in the same situation. We ask the church leadership to seek a path which liberates this priestly form of life in the Church. We are all aware of the service of the priest as vocation and fulfilment in life. Our partners are our gift from heaven and valuable assistance in our lives and service. (...)"

The networking group "Future Church" operates in several dioceses in Austria and Bavaria. Secret meetings of the priests take place regularly.

PS: CathCon is very conservative and they seem disappointed that the bishop did not just string Fr. Friedl up by his toes and they are now talking about the idea of removing the bishop as well. This is why I would like to find someone to cover this beat who can read straight from the Austrian news sources so I don't have to remove all of CathCon's little editorial asides.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Catholic Dissidents Pressing For Liberalization Of Church Authority

Hartford Courant
March 15, 2009

Critics of a now-withdrawn bill, designed to reshape the way the Roman Catholic Church in Connecticut governs itself, viewed the proposal as an attempt by the state to interfere with the free exercise of religion. But this is only part of the story. The legislation is one more example of what sociologist Peter Berger calls the "secularization from within" the church.

On the surface, the proposed bill, which would have relegated priests and bishops to an advisory role in their parishes, looks like unconstitutional interference by the state in church matters. But the real force behind this bill is a small group of Catholics — unhappy with church teachings on moral and governance issues — attempting to enlist the state as a partner in radically transforming the church from within.

To understand the underlying impetus for the proposed legislation, people can visit the website of Voice of the Faithful, a national organization of disgruntled Catholics. Fairfield University Professor Paul Lakeland, a longtime member of the group, has been on the front lines in leading the charge for the legislation. Among his publications is the book, "Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity Can Save the Church."

Voice of the Faithful emerged in response to the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals. Its goal from the start was to hold bishops accountable for abusive priests in their dioceses. But the group's agenda broadened from protecting children to reducing the power of the Catholic hierarchy, eliminating the requirement for priestly celibacy and supporting the ordination of women.

And although the membership is small, this organization reflects a powerful minority within the church — one that has been engaged in a battle with the hierarchy over these and other issues including sexual morality, academic freedom on Catholic campuses and reproductive freedom.

The Bridgeport chapter of Voice was revitalized in the past few years when the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, a Bridgeport pastor, was convicted of stealing $1.4 million in parishioner donations to support a lavish lifestyle with his gay partner. The Fay case is most often cited by those promoting the new legislation.

The bill was raised by those who have an incentive to exaggerate the claims of abuse by priests and mismanagement of parishes by bishops and pastors. Catholic feminists, many of them teaching in theology programs on Catholic campuses, have exploited the clergy abuse scandal to criticize what they regard as the church's patriarchal hierarchy.

In the midst of the clergy abuse scandal, Lisa Sowle Cahill, theology professor at Boston College, published an opinion piece in The New York Times asserting that the priestly abuse "exposes the weaknesses of a virtually all-male decision-making structure." Her solution was to ordain women, and encourage "all Catholics to withhold funds from all diocesan and Vatican collections and organizations."

Others have been relentless in drawing attention to the Catholic scandals of the past by presenting the cases as part of a systemic problem caused by the celibacy requirement and the church's teachings on homosexuality. Former Maryknoll priest Eugene Kennedy claims to long for a "post-clerical, de-centered priesthood, in which the adjustments to celibacy are varied." For Kennedy, the priesthood must be changed to include "the love and understanding of a specific woman, or, in some cases, a certain man."

It is likely that the attempt to pass this legislation will continue in Connecticut and elsewhere — not because of a perceived need by most Catholics for state oversight, but rather because there are so many within the church who can gain by keeping this issue alive.

For feminists lobbying for women's ordination, the image of the "problem priest" like the Rev. Fay surely points to the need for women to fill priestly roles. For gay rights activists, intent on denouncing what they view as the church's hypocrisy on homosexuality, the Fay case is often used to illustrate what can happen when gay men are not allowed to express their sexuality openly as priests.

And for organizations like Voice of the Faithful that want the church to become a "democratic" institution, the state becomes a partner in creating an egalitarian church that reflects the will of the people rather than the guidance of her leaders.

• Anne Hendershott of Milford is professor of urban studies at The King's College in New York and the author of the recently released, "Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What does the Rev. Marek Bozek's laicization mean for St. Stanislaus Kostka?

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

For something that had been in motion for years, the official laicization of the Rev. Marek Bozek was surprisingly quick.

"It took 10 minutes," Bozek said Monday as he drove back to St. Louis from Springfield, Mo., where he was given the news. "I drove four hours there and four hours back for a 10-minute conversation."

At the end of those 10 minutes, in which, Bozek said, he was shown a letter from the Vatican dated Jan. 31, 2009, confirming his laicization, the question changed from "when will it happen?" to "what does it mean?"

Bozek had received the sacrament of holy orders when he'd been ordained a priest in 2002. What happened to that sacrament now that Pope Benedict XVI had returned him to the status of a layman? Was Bozek still a priest?

According to canon lawyers, that's a hard question to answer, and it has been since the first centuries of Christianity. In those earliest days of the church, Christians frequently debated the standing of ordained men who had committed heresy.

Could heretics still be priests? If they repented and returned to the church, could they function as priests? Or had they lost their priesthood by committing heresy?

"The theological resolution to these questions remains the same today," said one canon law professor at Catholic University of America. "Once a man is validly ordained, he remains a priest forever. Holy orders — as with the sacraments of confirmation and baptism — cannot be repeated. Their effects are permanent."

Since late 2007, when former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke first began the official proceedings that led to this week's laicization, Bozek has repeatedly referred to the permanence of the sacrament of holy orders. "Once a priest, always a priest," he has frequently said.

Bozek's bishop in Springfield suspended the priest's "faculties" — or the authority to perform as a cleric — after Bozek fled the diocese in 2005 to become pastor of St. Stanislaus.

The traditionally Polish-American parish just north of downtown had been locked in a battle with the archdiocese over control of its property and assets, and Burke had removed its priests 18 months earlier.

The archdiocese filed a suit in July that, if successful, would allow it to regain the power to assign the church's pastor and approve its board members.

Only a bishop can appoint the pastors in his diocese, and when the church's lay board hired Bozek, the Vatican called it an act of schism. That led to Bozek's excommunication and the excommunication of a number of the church's lay leaders.

The purpose of a priest's suspension and excommunication is to warn the errant priest that he is distancing himself from the church. When Vatican leaders feel the local bishop has done all he can to bring the priest back into the fold — without success — they act to reduce the harm he can cause the wider Catholic community by removing his license to minister. The man can return to the church by requesting reconciliation, but he generally would not be allowed to exercise his priesthood again.

Monsignor John Shamleffer, the chief canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said that while Bozek is still a priest, "He's no longer considered a member of the clerical state. He loses all rights and obligations that go along with that, including conferring the sacraments."

(Including his title: the archdiocese is now referring to Bozek as "Mr." rather than "The Rev." or "Father.")

The sacraments are the seven liturgical rites — baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders — through which Catholics believe they experience God's grace.

Besides receiving holy orders, when a man is ordained a Catholic priest, he enters into the legal status of a cleric.

While the sacrament of holy orders means a man can't lose the priesthood, he can lose the clerical state. In other words, he remains a priest, but cannot exercise that priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church because he has been "dispensed from the obligations of the clerical state" — the preferred term for laicization these days.

The sacraments conferred to his parishioners by Bozek will still be valid, said Shamleffer, but they will be illegal. "He has the power, but not the license anymore," he said. "It would be the same as a doctor who has lost his license. He might be able to perform surgery, but he'd be doing it illegally."

But that's in the Roman Catholic Church. In anticipation of his laicization, Bozek requested — and was granted — faculties in two Catholic organizations independent from the Vatican more than a year ago. He was accepted into both organizations, with the authority to perform his religious functions under the supervision of their bishops — Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan of Married Priests Now!, and Archbishop Phillip Zimmerman of the Reformed Catholic Church.

Last summer, Bozek disparaged such independent Catholic groups, telling the Post-Dispatch they were "full of weirdos."

Bozek did not return a message Friday requesting an interview.

Zimmerman said Bozek "wasn't really clear" about the etiquette of overlapping faculties from independent Catholic organizations when he requested them last year. He said he gave Bozek an ultimatum two weeks ago. "I did tell Marek Bozek that he had to make a choice," Zimmerman said. "Our faculties or their faculties."

Bozek chose the Reformed Catholic Church. Brennan confirmed that Bozek had recently repudiated the faculties that he was granted by Married Priests Now! in February 2008. "He may have found the baggage a little too difficult," Brennan said, adding that he wished Bozek "the very best in his ministry."

Bozek has said that he will be able to provide the sacraments to the faithful of St. Stanislaus because Zimmerman can claim "apostolic succession," the idea of the perpetuation of bishops that extends chronologically from today back to Christ's apostles. Zimmerman said he was ordained in 2003 in the independent Old Catholic Church.

Burke supressed St. Stanislaus in 2005, which means it is no longer Roman Catholic. But Zimmerman said St. Stanislaus would not become a parish of the Reformed Catholic Church either.

"The faculties are between me and Marek, so that he can continue his ministry," Zimmerman said. "If the people of St. Stanislaus ever feel he's no longer the pastor for them, it's up to them to relieve him of his position. I'm not making any claim to that community."

Zimmerman said there were no other priests under his authority who were pastoring a church whose members still consider themselves Roman Catholic. "This is uncharted territory for all of us," he said.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cardinal Egan says possibility of married priests not to be dismissed

By Catholic News Service
The Catholic Review
Mar 12, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. – The possibility the Catholic Church will allow married priests shouldn’t be dismissed, New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan said March 10 during a radio interview.

“It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion,” he said during a talk radio program in Albany hosted by Fred Dicker. “I think it has to be looked at.”

Cardinal Egan was in the state capital as part of a legislative lobbying visit. He also discussed various New York legislative issues as well as the broader picture of the church’s public policy on topics such as same-sex marriage and access to abortion for minors.

Cardinal Egan’s resignation as head of the New York Archdiocese was accepted by the pope Feb. 23. He will serve as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until April 15 when Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee will be installed as his successor.

In the radio show’s final minutes, when asked about priestly celibacy by Mr. Dicker, who also is state editor of the New York Post newspaper, Cardinal Egan said he thought the subject would be coming up for discussion by the church’s hierarchy.

“I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to decide (whether priests can be married) on the basis of geography and culture, not to make an across-the-board determination,” the cardinal said. He noted that priests in the Eastern Catholic churches – such as the Romanian, Maronite or Melkite churches – are allowed to be married with “no problem at all.”

The Eastern Catholic churches often admit married men to the priesthood in their regions of origin but do not permit marriage after ordination. Outside their regions of origin, the Eastern churches may not admit married men to ordained ministry without a dispensation from the Vatican.

Some married clergymen from other Christian faiths who have joined the Catholic Church have later been ordained as Catholic priests.

In 1980 the Vatican approved special provisions under which former Episcopal priests who had become Catholics could apply for ordination in the Catholic priesthood. Since then several dozen married former Episcopal priests have become Catholic priests, including Father Stephen R. Sutton, the associate pastor at St. Ignatius in Hickory.

In addition, a few married former Methodist and Lutheran ministers have been ordained Catholic priests.

Frederick J. Luhmann, an author and researcher who has kept track of the ordinations of married men for more than a decade, told Catholic News Service March 11 he counted 93 former Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist clergymen among U.S. Catholic priests currently serving the church.

In 2002 Mr. Luhmann wrote a book titled “Call and Response: Ordaining Married Men as Catholic Priests.”

In a 2006 interview with the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de Sao Paolo, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who had just been named head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, said that “even though celibacy is part of Catholic history and culture, the church could review this question, because celibacy is not a dogma but a disciplinary question.”

The newspaper went on to quote Cardinal Hummes as saying the shortage of priests in some areas of the world was a challenge, and the church was not “immobile” but “changes when it should change.”

However, a couple of days later he issued a statement to clarify his remarks, saying priestly celibacy was not currently up for discussion by church authorities. He emphasized it was a long and valuable tradition in the Latin-rite church, based on strong theological and pastoral arguments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI defrocks St. Stanislaus priest Marek Bozek

By Doug Moore
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — The Rev. Marek Bozek, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, has been stripped of his functions as a priest by Pope Benedict XVI.

Bozek said he will ignore the action of the pope and continue leading services at St. Stanislaus.

We don't recognize this unjust action, the same way we don't recognize the excommunications," Bozek said, referring to himself and the church board.

The announcement of Bozek's laicization came Monday and is the latest chapter in a protracted battle between the Catholic church north of downtown and the Archdiocese of St. Louis on how St. Stanislaus is run.

"His status in the Catholic Church as a cleric is now a thing of the past," said Bishop James V. Johnston of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese. Bozek's authority as a priest was assigned to that diocese.

Aside from offering absolution to the dying, Bozek can no longer function as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.

Bozek left the Springfield Diocese in 2005 to take the position with St. Stanislaus, then a part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Doing so led to the board and Bozek being declared excommunicated by then-Archbishop Raymond Burke.

"His actions have caused great harm, scandal and sadness within the Church," Johnston said in a statement released Monday afternoon after meeting in Springfield with Bozek. "While Marek Bozek no longer has the status of a priest, I continue to hope for his reconciliation with the Catholic Church, and am committed to working with him so that he might be return to full communion with the Church."

Bozek said he was "ambushed" with the news about his laicization after being called to Johnston's office in Springfield, ostensibly to talk about the ongoing battle between St. Stanislaus and the Catholic Church.

Without permission of the Catholic Church, Bozek arrived in St. Louis in December 2005 from Springfield, Mo., to oversee St. Stanislaus, a parish that had been deprived of the Eucharist for more than a year by its archbishop.

In 2003, then-Archbishop Justin Rigali restructured the archdiocese so that each parish became a nonprofit corporation instead of an unincorporated association. It was seen by St. Stanislaus as an effort to get more control over the parish and its finances. Two years earlier, the St. Stanislaus board amended church bylaws to remove the ability of the archbishop to fire the pastor or appoint board members.

After Bozek was hired by St. Stanislaus, Burke declared the church suppressed, meaning it was no longer considered Roman Catholic.

Bozek was initially embraced by parishioners of the Polish church. But his vision for reshaping the church has divided parishioners. It calls for supporting female ordination, allowing priests to get married and accepting gay relationships.

Meanwhile, Bozek's stands have attracted hundreds of new St. Stanislaus parishioners who share the priest's reform-minded vision.

"Two weeks ago, we had our first African-American baptism," Bozek said. "This is the first time we're being attended by African-Americans living in our neighborhood."

Bozek said he had talked by phone with every St. Stanislaus board member after the meeting with Johnston and has their support to move forward as if nothing has happened. The Catholic Church, Bozek said, has used the last of its arsenal against him.

"They've killed me once. They can't kill me twice," Bozek said.

But the archdiocese is fighting in court over ownership of the St. Stanislaus property, and will continue to do so, Bishop Robert Hermann, acting leader of the archdiocese, said Monday.

"The situation of Marek Bozek is sad for the whole Church," Hermann said in a written statement. "Please join me in praying that Marek Bozek will be reconciled with the Church and that the great harm which has been caused to the Church, with the help of God's grace, will be healed."

George Von Stamwitz, an attorney representing the church in the property lawsuit, said the church's board of directors would not make a statement but that the board stood behind Bozek.

On Monday evening, about 60 parishioners gathered at St. Stanislaus to show their support for Bozek. They sang hymns including "Be Not Afraid" and "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Jeanne Desmond and Meghan West, a lesbian couple from Webster Groves, were among the crowd. They said Bozek welcomed people not traditionally welcomed by the Catholic Church, and they had been hooked on his message since they came to a Christmas Eve service three years ago.

"What he says resonates with us," Desmond said.

Bozek told those who gathered at the church that he will not back down.

"I hope to see you all at Mass this weekend," he said.

And they erupted in cheers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Father Friedl: The Love Story

Austrian priest Fr. Josef Friedl is back in the news again – for a different kind of love story. Two years ago, Fr. Friedl provided sanctuary to a teenage Albanian Muslim girl, Arigona Zogaj, who fled the Austrian government’s attempt to deport her and her family back to Kosovo. The family had come to Austria in 2002 and the girl said she would rather die than leave Austria. Fr. Friedl stated defiantly that he did not fear government prosecution, though his action earned him the epithet “Mullah Friedl” from some neighbors who were not as happy to embrace foreigners. Thanks to Fr. Friedl's help, Zogaj is still in Austria, fighting for the reunification of her family.

However, Friedl may not be as successful in eluding prosecution by his Church for the latest love story, which emerged after Friedl and 30 other pastors in the Diocese of Linz opposed Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment of Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxilliary bishop of Linz. The appointment was also resisted by most Austrian Catholics. Rev. Wagner is known for his ultra conservative views, including that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the sins of New Orleans and that homosexuality can be cured. Faced with a firestorm of protest, the Vatican eventually rescinded Wagner’s promotion.

Now has revealed that Friedl told a public forum that he opposes the discipline of priestly celibacy and lives with his girlfriend. Friedl added that his parishioners have no objections and the Catholic Church Conservation blog gets to the bottom of the story with this translation of an article that appeared on Österreich/

He is a man of frank words- Ungenach’s priest Josef Friedl. Since Monday the country has been discussing his love-confession and the meaningfulness of celibacy. Now Arigona’s helper Friedl tells about his relationship for the first time:

The silver wedding is already behind him - if a church wedding were allowed for Catholic priests. Despite the celibacy requirement, Josef Friedl has lived for more than 25 years together with his Rosi. The pastor sees no reason to deny the relationship. "Why should I lie? Then my people in the parish would no longer believe," said the priest.

The couple came together through a stroke of fate: When the husband of Rosi K had fatal accident, the widow sought solace in the parish priest. "Then more came of it. This was not a story of just from today to tomorrow," says Friedl. The everyday organisation for them is like many other couples. Friedl goes to work in the rectory early, and in the evening he comes home to eat.

Rosi K is already retired. After the death of her husband, she trained as a religious teacher and taught in the elementary school of Ungenach. "She was very good. We will not get someone like that quickly again. This everyone confirms”. Friedl is proud of his partner. For the grandchildren of Rosi K, the pastor at her side is normal: they simply call him "Grandpa." In the parish there is therefore no problem, says the pastor. "On Sunday, many have congratulated me, because I was so open." And, in fact, in Ungenach no one is upset about the love life of the priest. Rosi K is very popular in the village and also active in the liturgy committee of the parish council.

Friedl as a priest is certainly not an isolated case. An estimated 1,400 priests are in permanent or temporary relationships. Most conceal them. For good reason: Some 500 priests have lost their posts because they wanted to marry, says Herbert Bartl from the association "Priester ohne Amt" [the Austrian married priests' association].

The church has ignored the situation, because the priest shortage is huge. Also, the bishops remain silent. No wonder: They are pleased that the recent church crisis is over. Furthermore, Bishop Ludwig Schwarz long ago knew about the relationship. "Friedl knows the rules. He must act in conformity with his conscience, " he said according to sources in Linz. The conservative website is responsible for the Friedl case now boiling over. They were the first to report the "affair". Observers see this as "an act of revenge" for the resistance of Friedl to the Almost Bishop Gerhard Wagner.
Thanks to the media attention, the diocese can no longer ignore the case. Father Friedl has been summoned to have a talk with Bishop Schwarz. He says he is not afraid of dismissal and will take the matter one step at a time. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A place for celibacy, but it's not for all priests

Married priest and CITI member Fr. Gregory Zimmerman has a letter in today's Morning Sentinel. You can find out more about Fr. Gregory and the services he provides on his Web site.

Thank you for bringing the issue of celibacy among priests into publication.

We need more exposure and debate on this topic of celibacy.

Having served in the Church, five years in the Guatemalan missions and five years in parish ministry, I am a firm believer in optional celibacy.

Yes, there is a place for celibacy for the few who feel called to this life.

The vast majority of priests are not!

Witness that one in three priests in the Roman Catholic Church are married priests!

In Chicago, one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the United States, the ratio of married to unmarried is almost one to one, with 800 married priests and 850 clerics (celibates).

My ministry has been so much more real and vibrant since my marriage and four children 34 years ago.

It's time the Vatican recognizes this.

(Fr.) Gregory Zimmerman
Downers Grove, Ill.

Photo: Fr. Greg celebrating a wedding.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Celibate priests: boon or bane?

By Amy Calder
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

Leo Caron is a devout Catholic. He believes in the teachings of the church and the rules it sets forth.

So when people insist that priests ought to be able to marry, he says any such change would have to come from the Vatican and not be the result of public opinion.

"The principle must change from up above," he said.

Caron, 59, of Benton, is aware of the celibacy-rule debate. He knows some believe that requiring priests to be celibate contributes to a priest shortage, that it is unreasonable and leads to aberrant behavior.

For Caron, however, supporting the church's rule, instituted long ago, makes sense. If a priest has a family, he said, how can he dedicate himself wholly to God and his ministry?

"I think it's so important to be able to give to the church; and if you are a priest, I think you need to devote all of that time," he said.

Catholicism is a way of life for Caron. He says he was born in the church and it has been good to him.

"My strength comes from God," he said.

The Rev. Robert Vaillancourt, diocesan director of vocations for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, agrees that celibacy allows priests to give their all to the ministry.

"By living lives totally for Christ," he said, "we bring about the life that awaits us in eternity, where all is for God and with God."

'A great model for ministry'

Others believe celibacy for priests should be a choice, not a mandate.

Tim Higgins is an ordained Roman Catholic priest who practiced in the church but ultimately left, married, and had children. He now is an Episcopal priest at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Windham.

"Celibacy needs to be an option," said Higgins, 49, of Gorham. "The better option for me was to be married and be a priest, and the Catholic Church doesn't give you that option."

The celibacy rule contributes to the priest shortage and heavy workloads, Higgins believes, and does not allow priests to counsel parishioners adequately in real-life situations.

"It's a lifestyle that is removed from the people in the congregation they serve," he said. "Children keep you humble. If you're up in the middle of the night and your 6-year-old is sick and you are rubbing his back -- that's pretty grounding, and no Catholic priest will ever have that experience."

Higgins said he has never been happier. He loves his work and puts in long, hard days; but at the end of the day, he is able to bounce things off his best friend -- his wife.

"You go home to your sanctuary. You go home to the love of a wonderful family life, so I'm blessed for that. It's a great model for ministry."

Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church was made mandatory in Spain in the fourth century and then made universal in 1139, according to the CITI (Celibacy is the Issue) Web site. CITI is an organization of married Roman Catholic priests available to do baptisms, weddings, funerals and other services. CITI priests are not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the main reasons celibacy became mandatory was that the church wanted the homes that were being left to wives and families of priests that died, the site says.

The celibacy rule is based on Christ's celibate way of life. Before 1139, popes, bishops and priests married. The Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church is the only one that requires priest celibacy. The Polish National Church allows them to marry, as do Celtic and Eastern Rite traditions.

Edward Minderlein of Old Orchard Beach was ordained in the Catholic Church in 1969 and served as a priest for 17 years.

"I recognized that I needed companionship," he said. "I needed to be in a relationship. The clincher was especially at Christmastime. I was in Puerto Rico. I'd be the only one who didn't have a family, and they invited me to their celebrations, but I felt alone."

He left the church 18 years ago and married a former nun he met later in life. Now they both are 65 and work for the Social Security Administration in Boston. They travel there daily by train from their Old Orchard Beach home.

A member of CITI, Minderlein believes the church would not be stretched so thin if it removed the celibacy rule.

"There is not a lack of priests -- of vocations," he said. "There is a lack of vision or the lack of leadership."

He believes having relationships with God and others is a natural part of being human, and sexuality is part and parcel of who we are; when it is prohibited, problems occur.

"That need is going to surface its head in all kinds of bizarre ways, as we saw in the sexual abuse of children," he said. "This whole church-abuse thing ... the hierarchy really never got to the root of it. The root is mandated celibacy. Because if they ever got rid of it, they'd lose a lot of their power and a lot of their control."

People who seek CITI priest services often have Catholic roots but do not actively practice in the church, he said. They want to get married outdoors, at lighthouses or on the beach, which the church does not allow.

Minderlein believes women and gay people also should be allowed to be priests. Homosexuality, he said, is not something people choose.

"It's the way they're born," he said. "God made them that way."

'It's so sad'

Judy Soucier of Fairfield is intimately aware of the debate about the celibacy rule, which she wishes would be removed from church law.

Soucier, 65, had a relationship with a Roman Catholic priest, Marcel Dumoulin, in the 1970s. Dumoulin fathered her child, Christian, now 36.

Soucier wrote and self-published a book about the relationship, titled "Perfect: A Love Story." The book details the couple's attempts to keep their relationship secret, Dumoulin's efforts to convince her to have an abortion, and church officials' efforts to convince her to go out of state, have the baby and give it up for adoption.

The Portland diocese acknowledges Dumoulin fathered the child, but says the church does not condone abortion and would not try to convince anyone to give up a child if she did not want to.

Soucier had the child and raised him on her own. Dumoulin never left the priesthood. He now has Alzheimer's disease and lives in a nursing care facility in Lewiston. Since her book was released a few months ago, Soucier has been asked to speak to small groups about her experience.

She believes if celibacy had not been an issue in the church, she and Dumoulin ultimately would have married and raised their child together, but he struggled with loyalty to the priesthood and his relationship with her.

"Priests cannot give their full potential if they're torn between having to make a decision like this," Soucier said. "How can they give their all to either? It's so sad."

She said people must urge the church to change the celibacy rule.

"We can't stop pushing. We just can't stop trying to make the powers that be aware of what an injustice this is."

'Stretched pretty thin'

William Schulz, director of pastoral, educational and parish planning and evangelization for the Portland Diocese, said the church is addressing the priest shortage and, as part of that effort, has consolidated parishes.

"You could say that the restructuring we've been going through has come about because of a priest shortage," Schulz said. "And certainly, in this time of transition, we are asking our priests to do a lot of work. They are stretched pretty thin, but easing that situation is what this transition is all about."

Catholic communities have been asked to look at resources, including priests, property, finances, programs and ministries with an eye toward making the most effective use of the same. Efforts have been made to ensure that parishes have qualified, well-educated staff, both on the business/administrative and pastoral side, Schulz said.

Business coordinators and pastoral life coordinators have been hired to free priests from time-consuming administrative duties. Also, a uniform diocesewide administrative system, as well as procedures and policies, are being used, Schulz said.

"Certainly we'd like to have more priests, and that is something that Bishop (Richard) Malone and his staff are focused on. To that end, we now have a remarkable vocations director who is meeting with great success in the short time that he's been on the job -- Father Bob Vaillancourt."

'The Holy Spirit leads the church'

Vaillancourt said he believes that if God wants the celibacy rule to be removed, it will happen -- in God's own time.

"We need to trust that the Holy Spirit leads the church, and sometimes humanity gets in his way; but if it is in God's cards, it will happen ... in his time," Vaillancourt said.

Celibacy is not the only reason for the priest shortage, he said.

"I truly believe there are many factors for why men choose not to go into the ordained ministry, including more interest in high-paying professions and also a failure by churches to recruit effectively, and a growing secular mindset in society," he said.

He said he doesn't know how celibacy is unreasonable and unnatural and leads to aberrant behavior such as pedophilia.

"Yes, relationships are indeed natural and God made humans to have relationships, but relationships are more than sexual," he said. "The church allows celibacy to be part of the priest, not only because it frees these men to work full-time ministry, but it is an opportunity to begin to live the life promised in eternal life where there will be no marriage but the marriage between God and humanity."

Vaillancourt also responds to those who say that allowing priests to marry better equips them to counsel married couples and having families helps make them more in touch with the real world.

"I have not had the gift of living a married life, and yes, I have not had the privilege of having children; but I have had the honor of listening to many, many couples struggling in their marriage and family life and attempting to bring healing and peace in their lives," he said.

He has worked with many wounded couples and families, and they have taught him what it takes to be married and helped him understand the important needs of married couples, and of family life, he said.

"They are the ones who have taught me how to counsel couples and their families. I may not be qualified to counsel in some eyes, but I humbly admit that many couples whom I have counseled have grown in healing and holiness. And for that, I am grateful."