Thursday, May 27, 2010

My father, my lover: Priests struggle with celibacy

Our translation of the open letter by a group of Italian women in love with priests to the Pope has now been picked up by other media...

By Alessandro Speciale
Special to GlobalPost
Published: May 26, 2010 13:44 ET

ROME, Italy — They are used to secrecy, to hiding their feelings, to waiting in the shadows for their men. But now a group of women who have had intimate relationships with Catholic priests has decided to speak up against celibacy.

As sex abuse scandals once again rock the Catholic Church, the 39 Italian women who are, or have been, in longtime sentimental and sexual relationships with Catholic priests have penned an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, denouncing compulsory celibacy as a “torn up shroud.” In the letter, the women describe the closeted lives they lead as companions to priests and ask the pope to consider that, perhaps, their men can only fulfill their priestly duties with their lives fulfilled by marriage.

“In order to become effective witnesses to the need for love, they need to embody it and experience it fully, in the way their nature demands it,” the letter said. “Is it a sick nature? A transgressing one?”

A Vatican spokesperson, as is usual in these cases, declined to comment on the letter or on the women's stories. But several women who signed and supported the letter agreed to speak with GlobalPost about their relationships with priests.

Antonella Carisio, 41, had always been engaged in parish life, so she didn’t think there was anything wrong with spending a lot of time with Edecir Calegari, the Brazilian priest with whom she ran the parish youth center. Then one evening in June 2006, when she was driving him back to the parish house, she says Calegari kissed her.

“I wrote him a letter that night, telling him I was sure it had been a mistake, that we should forget about it,” said Carisio. When they met again the next night, to “clarify” things, he kissed her again, “and that’s how our relationship started.”

It lasted for two and a half years. Calegari often slept at Carisio’s house. She says he even insisted on being introduced to Carisio’s son as his mother’s partner, not just as the local priest. “Everyone in my family knew, even my grandmother. They were all very nice to him,” she said.

Eventually, the couple was discovered: A fellow priest found one of Carisio’s letters in the parish house and reported Calegari to their superiors. He was moved to Rome and the two vowed to stay together: “When he left, he even gave me an engagement ring.”

But close to the Vatican and under constant scrutiny from superiors, Calegari quickly recovered confidence in his priestly identity, and agreed to do something he had promised Carisio he would never do: go back to Brazil as a missionary.

Calegari now says that he regrets “deeply” what happened, “also because I hurt her. It was a mistake.” He said he is happy in Brazil and thinks that putting an end to the relationship was the right choice: “I never thought of leaving the priesthood. Antonella and I were very close, she was a friend and a confidant, but I was never in love with her.”

“This is something that happens quite often,” said Stefania Salomone, a 42-year-old office manager from Rome. “Most of them are not ready to give up their life as priests for a woman. They want to have it both ways.”

Some of the relationships are not even sexual ones. Salomone's priest never went beyond hugging her, she said, and when he finally admitted that there was something “real” between the two of them, he said it was over.

After this and another similar experience, she started a website for women who are in relationships with priests and is now in contact with about 50 other women. “There is never a happy ending,” she said. Priests cannot stand to give up being “sacred ministers,” “God's intermediaries,” for the sake of the daily routine of married life.

Celibacy is compulsory for Catholic priests in the Western church, but its critics always point out that this rule is not spelled out by Jesus in the Gospel. Most of the Apostles, Salomone pointed out, were married, and so were the presbyteroi, the elders who exercised priestly authority in the first Christian communities, as described in the Act of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters.

Though it was a common rule in the first centuries of the Christian era, celibacy in the Catholic Church started to be more strongly enforced only in the 11th century, and then after the Council of Trent, in the aftermath of the Reformation. Priests continued to have clandestine relationships, of course, but it was not until the Second Vatican Council in 1962 that many of them came into the open and left their offices. According to the semi-official Vatican magazine La Civilta Cattolica, nearly 60,000 priests left the church to get married after the Second Vatican Council.

However many men still feel both callings — to the priesthood and to marriage — and struggle with the rules. “One of the most recurring statements of priests to their 'companions,'” wrote the women in their open letter, “sums it up in a few words: 'I need you in order to be who I am,' that is, a priest.”

The church’s reassignment of Calegari represents a typical response, according to the letter, which says that the church often rewards priests who give up their relationships with a promotion.

B., a 40-year-old lawyer from Tuscany who asked not to be named, said the priest she was involved with “was also critical of the church's backwardness and of compulsory celibacy.” But this changed after the first months, when a new bishop gave the priest new career opportunities, which he quickly seized. That didn't push him to end his relationship with B.: “I was closing his gaps, filling up his emotional holes,” she said. “He never had real doubts, no interior drama. Once he was sure that I was there for him, he was OK.”

Carisio said that like B. she never asked Calegari to renounce his vocation. He had entered seminary when he was just 12 and, she said, “he couldn’t deal with the idea of leaving the priesthood.” This would have meant giving up his whole life: “He couldn't forsake the status and the privilege of being a priest, he couldn't admit to being just a man.”

Leaving the priesthood would have meant “dealing with real life” for the first time, coping with issues such as finding a job or paying rent.

But it was not just practical concerns. Carisio said Calegari received idolizing letters from friends back home and was admired by his family. “He had always been told that he was dedicating his life to something superior, that trumps everything else.” Abandoning celibacy would have meant “stepping down from the pedestal he had been set upon.”

Along with Calegari's “egoism and cowardice,” Carisio also blames his superiors for their “hypocrisy.” Their only concern was to protect him from her: “We should take them as models of love and brotherhood, but they do the contrary. They were shocked that a priest could fall in love, and then betrayed him.”

Calegari disagreed, saying his dedication to celibacy is strong. “Changing the church's rule wouldn't be a solution,” he added. “I studied in Rome with priests from Eastern Catholic Churches, who are allowed to marry, and they have worse problems. I made a mistake and it just happened, but I didn't have strong feelings.”

Compulsory celibacy, write the women in their letter, is a “human law” that contrasts sharply with the everyday experience of priests' lives, even though the church presents it as “God's will.” The result is that most relationships eventually end in shame. “Why,” they ask the Pope, “all this destruction in the name of love?”


Italian priests' secret mistresses ask pope to scrap celibacy rule, The Guardian, 5/27/2010

Pope urged to change vow on celibacy by Italian women who have had affairs with priests, Daily Mail, 5/28/2010

'Wives' of Catholic priests speak out against celibacy, AFP, 6/1/2010

Photo: Stefania Salomone

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What happens when priests fall in love and abandon celibacy?

by Monika Dittrich

Sitting in his house in the Bergisches Land region of western Germany, Johannes Wendeler looks at photos of his ordination at Cologne Cathedral in 1989.

"I was sure that I would live the rest of my life as a priest," said Wendeler.

The idea of falling in love never occurred to Wendeler. When he was ordained as a priest at the age of 30, he had never had a relationship with a woman. Wendeler says, because of this, celibacy seemed to him to be an acceptable lifestyle.

But that changed when, after working as a priest for seven years, he met physiotherapist Lydia Piechotta, following a car accident which left him with a broken hand. The two enjoyed the conversations they had during therapy sessions and became close friends. Soon after, they fell in love.

"We weren't searching, but still we still found each other," says Piechotta.

Life of celibacy

Of course, this was a big problem for Wendeler and Piechotta. How should they deal with this love, which is forbidden in the eyes of the Catholic Church?

"There were always whispers whenever we went out for a walk together," recalls Piechotta. "And we couldn't tell anyone that we were in love!"

The two did not want to live like this forever, and so after about a year, Wendeler told the Archbishop of Cologne. That same day, he was suspended from the priesthood.

Since the vow of celibacy for clergy is an iron law in the Roman Catholic Church, it is an absolute requirement for young men wishing to become ordained as priests. However, a life of celibacy cannot be regarded as a commandment from God, since it is not specifically called for in the Bible.

It was probably economic considerations which lay behind the decision to make celibacy obligatory in the 12th century; priests were thus unable to pass on church property to their descendants.

In the eyes of the Catholic Church, celibacy is seen as a gift and a symbol of God's closeness and faithfulness. A celibate priest can give himself completely to God and concentrate on pastoral care without disruptions from married life.

A group made up of Catholic priests and their wives has been fighting against celibacy in Germany for over 25 years. Members estimate that not even 50 percent of priests in the country stay celibate.

Willing to remain

Abandoning the ministry does not come into question for many priests, and there is also a fear of social fallout. Priests are not insured against unemployment and only have minimal pension rights. They also lack experience with the working world outside the church.

"As a result, many priests have kept their relationships and children hidden," says Wendeler.

He and his wife did not have to be so secretive. Wendeler has now been married for twelve years and today works for an employment agency. However, if the church were ever to drop its celibacy requirement, he says he would gladly don the robes once again.

"I always loved preaching and I enjoyed the preparations for Mass."

Photo: Lydia Piechotta and Johannes Wendeler

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Priests' Women Speak Out

This is an open letter from a group of Italian women who are involved with priests to the Pope about celibacy. The letter was first published in Italian on Il Dialogo on March 28, 2010. It has recently been translated into Spanish and posted on Atrio. We now bring it to you in English.

This letter is signed by Antonella Carisio, Maria Grazia Filippucci, Stefania Salomone … together with others … and in the name of all who are suffering because of this unjust law.

The starting point is the news a few days ago, one of many statements following a real explosion of pedophilia scandals in the ranks of the clergy.

THE POPE: Celibacy is a Sacred Value

"The horizon of the ontological belonging to God also constitutes the proper framework for understanding and reaffirming, in our day too, the value of sacred celibacy which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Sacred Orders and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches," said the Pontiff to the Conference on "Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest".

"It is an authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, a sign of consecration with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord", the expression of their gift of self to God and to others. The priest's vocation is thus most exalted and remains a great mystery, even to us who have received it as a gift. Our limitations and weaknesses must prompt us to live out and preserve with deep faith this precious gift with which Christ has configured us to him, making us sharers in his saving Mission."

To Pope Benedict XVI:

This is written by a group of women from all parts of Italy, who have lived or are still living in a relationship with a priest or religious. We are used to living in anonymity those few moments the priest manages to give us and we live daily with the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men, supplementing their affective deficiency and suffering the consequences of obligatory celibacy.

Ours is a voice that can no longer continue to be ignored, from the moment we heard the reaffirmation of the sacredness of what is not sacred in the least, of a law that is being maintained without addressing the fundamental rights of people. The contempt with which they have attempted for centuries and in recent statements to silence the cry of men and women who have suffered in the already tattered shroud of mandatory celibacy hurts us.

We are trying to reaffirm -- although many Christians already know it -- that this discipline has nothing to do either with the Scriptures in general, or with the Gospels in particular, or with Jesus, who never spoke about it.

Quite the contrary. As far as we know, He liked to surround Himself with disciples, almost all married, and women. You would say to us that Jesus also lived as a bachelor and the priest is simply matching Him with his choice. A choice is good. But a rule can never be a choice, if not forcing its meaning. If, moreover, it is defined as a charism, it can not therefore be imposed or required, much less by the Lord, who wants us to be free, because love is freedom, always.

Is it therefore reasonable to assume that He would intend to deny certain expressions of love and freedom to some of His disciples?

The reasons that, over time, prompted the church hierarchy to introduce this discipline in the canonical legal system itself are commonly known: economic interest and expediency. Then, over the centuries, everything has been marinated in a certain amount of misogyny and hostility toward the body, psychological drives and its primary needs.

It is therefore a "human" law in the broadest sense of the term. And we must start from this evidence, to question whether, as with all human laws, in a certain historical moment, it might not be necessary to rethink and modify it or even, as we would like, to eliminate it altogether.

To do this, much humility, much courage is needed to disengage from the logic of power to come down with sincerity to the world of men to which, like it or not, the priest also belongs.

We quote from Eugen Drewermann (“Kleriker: Psychogramm eines Ideals”, 1989),:

"According to theological ideology the persona of the individual cleric looks like a bucket of water: it is necessary to fully empty its contents to fill it to the brim again with everything that seems desirable to ecclesiastical superiors. In this way the entire sphere of human feelings is neutralized in favor of the decisions of power. Of all the range of possible human relationships, only one type of relationship survives: the one of order and submission, the ritual of master and servant, the abstraction and reduction of life to the formalism of observance of certain instructions."

It is not a matter of having more time to devote to others, as the most repeated of the innumerable expressions they use that affirm that the cleric should not and cannot have a female companion states, rather a rejection of the idea that he can enjoy a more intimate and personal presence, even friendships themselves.

In fact, Drewermann continues:

"The identification required by the professional role does not allow him to live as a person, and therefore he has no choice but to feign human warmth, emotional closeness, pastoral understanding, empathy, simulating instead of living in authentic way."

According to this institutionalized view, the priest fulfills himself through his ministry, through the holy orders, only as a single person and for a lifetime. But the presumably free decision of a young man, enthusiastic about the proposal he thinks he has received does not imply that his deep attachment to the message of Jesus can not grow, mature, change and even better express itself, to a certain point, through a married priesthood. This is simply what happens, what cannot be foreseen or fully evaluated.

A choice of this type can not be immutable, and it is neither a betrayal, much less a failing or an infraction, because love is not against love. And the priest, like any human being, needs to live with his fellow beings, to have feelings, to love and be loved and to face the other deeply, something which he is hardly willing to do for fear of being exposed to danger.

Behind the curtain of what is said and unsaid, that is what we are experiencing. And it's as if the church system, with its rules, manages to imprison the healthiest part of us all.

What happens, in fact, if a priest falls in love? He can choose:

1. Sacrifice his own needs and feelings, as well as the woman's, for a "greater good" (what?) 2. Live out the relationship in hiding, with the help and complicity of the superiors themselves sometimes; it is sufficient that it does not come to be known and does not leave traces (ie, children) 3. Throw away the cassock, the usual expression that defines the choice of someone who can't take it any more, that is to say, a traitor. Each of these options causes great pain to the people involved who, things going as they do, have much to lose.

And what are the woman's options?

1. Sacrifice her own needs and feelings in favor of "a greater good" (in this case, the good of the priest) 2. Live out the relationship in secret, spending the rest of her life waiting for the priest to be able to spend a pinch of time with her, stolen moments, sacrificing the dream of a relationship with a "normal" man. 3. Bear the burden of being the one who forced the priest to "throw away the cassock", in addition to sharing the burden of his alleged "failure." A priest who leaves is considered to be "the one who failed to go ahead with the great renunciation required," and is therefore somewhat cast aside. And this is a difficult thing to bear, for one who believes he is "a chosen one, someone who received a special call," an Alter Christus, who with only a gesture of consecrated hands, transforms the nature of things ... who forgives, who saves!

Is it possible to give up all that? And for what?

For the normal life of a couple, that sounds like a trivial matter compared to the powers the "staff member of God" can wield through holy orders.

And yet, one of the most recurring statements of priests to their "companions", sums it up in a few words: "I need you in order to be who I am", that is, a priest.

Don't be shocked, Your Holiness! In order to become effective witnesses to the need for love, they need to embody it and experience it fully, in the way their nature demands it. Is it a sick nature? A transgressing one?

If understood, this expression shows the urgency of also being part of a world of two, of being able to exercise that fundamental natural right that the institutional church at least talks about in solemn Latin encyclicals, clearly reserved only for lay people and denied to the clergy, who become so supernatural, so separated from everyone else, that they are unable even to distinguish what's around them.

But is it possible that you are not able to see that the priest is a painfully lonely being? He has a lot of things to do, that fill his day and empty his heart. Sometimes he doesn't even realize it, caught up as he is with the liturgies and duties of his job. And it may happen that among his acquaintances there is a person, someone special who seems, at first sight, specifically made to warm his heart, completing and enriching the ministry too. And this is simply what happens frequently.

But the church discipline tells him: "No, you have been chosen for something much greater." And he feels guilty, because he is unable to imagine anything greater than what he is experiencing. But he trusts the obedience he promised, thinking that it represents the will of God, His plan for him and those like him. The celibate hero returns to the stage of an institution that designed it like this and has already prepared a promotion in exchange for the necessary separation.

And all this destruction in the name of what love?

The one that makes us hide, the one that makes us renounce, the one that hurts us. That is not the love of the Father. Let us finally quote a conclusion from Drewermann:

"The God that Jesus spoke about wants precisely what the Catholic Church today fears more than anything: free, happy and mature human life, which is not born of anguish, but of obedient trust and which is free from the limitations of the tyranny of a traditional theology that prefers to seek the truth of God in sacred scripture rather than in the sanctity of human life."

Celibacy and the Catholic priest

By James Carroll
Boston Globe
May 16, 2010

Like all Catholics, I gratefully depend on the faithful ministry of the many good priests who serve the church. Yet I offer a broad critique of something central to their lives and identities — the rule of celibacy. I write from inside the question, having lived as a celibate seminarian and priest for more than a decade in my youth. Yet when I left the priesthood in 1974, I was more conscious of vowed obedience as the pressing issue than celibacy. I wanted to be a writer, which required a free play of the mind that seemed impossible in the life of “orders.’’ But now I see how imposed sexlessness and restrictive authority are mutually reinforcing. Power was the issue.

Ironically, in the Bing Crosby glory days, celibacy seemed to convey another kind of power. It was essential to the mystique that set priests apart from other clergy, the Roman collar an open sesame! to respect and status. From a secular perspective, the celibate man or, in the case of nuns, woman made an impression simply by sexual unavailability. But from a religious perspective, the impact came from celibacy’s character as an all-or-nothing bet on the existence of God. The Catholic clergy lived in absolutism, which carried a magnetic pull.

The magnet is dead. What I only intuited 35 years ago has become an open conviction shared by many: celibacy cuts to the heart of what is wrong in the Catholic Church today. Despite denials from Rome, there will be no halting, much less recovering from, the mass destruction of the priest sex abuse scandal without reforms centered on the abandonment of celibacy as a near-universal prerequisite for ordination to the Latin-rite priesthood. (“Near universal’’ because married Episcopal priests who convert are exempt from the requirement. “Latin rite’’ because Catholic priests of the Eastern rites are allowed to marry.)

No, celibacy does not “cause’’ the sex abuse of minors, and yes, abusers of children come from many walks of life. Indeed, most abuse occurs within families or circles of close acquaintance. But the Catholic scandal has laid bare an essential pathology that is unique to the culture of clericalism, and mandatory celibacy is essential to it. Immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality — such all-too-common characteristics of today’s Catholic clergy are directly tied to the inhuman asexuality that is put before them as an ideal.

A special problem arises when, on the one hand, homosexuality is demonized as a matter of doctrine, while, on the other, the banishment of women leaves the priest living in a homophilic world. In some men, both straight and gay, the stresses of such contradiction lead to irrepressible urges that can be indulged only by exploitation of the vulnerable and available, objects of desire who in many cases are boys, whether prepubescent or adolescent. Now we know.

CELIBACY BEGAN in the early church as an ascetic discipline — hermits and desert monks, “virgins’’ — that was born partly of authentic mysticism, partly of ancient ritual purity codes, and partly of a neo-platonic contempt for the physical world that had nothing to do with the Gospel. The renunciation of sexual expression by men fit nicely with a patriarchal denigration of women that, though contradicting the clear example of Jesus, defined the church of “the Fathers.’’ Non-virginal women, typified by Eve as the temptress of Adam, were seen as a source of sin.

But it was not until the Middle Ages, at the Second Lateran Council in 1139, that celibacy was made mandatory for all Roman Catholic clergy. Ironically, this was a reform designed to brace clerical laxity and remove inheritance issues from the administration of church property. But because the requirement of celibacy is so extreme, it had to be mystified as a sacrificial opening to special intimacy with God — “a more perfect way.’’

Monastic orders of both males and females had indeed discovered in such sexual sublimation a mode of holiness, but that presumed its being both freely chosen and lived out in a nurturing community. (Religious orders continue to this day with the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a proven structure of service and contemplation. The vows of such orders are a separate question.) But when the monastic discipline of “chastity’’ was imposed on all priests as “celibacy’’ (from the Latin for “unmarried’’), something went awry. Sexual abstinence was no longer freely chosen, since the vocation to ordained ministry and the call to the vowed life are not the same thing.

In the ordinary experience of parish priests, there was no intimate community within which to humanely live a sexually sublimated life. Mere repression would have to do, along with loneliness — and perhaps an unbroken attachment to mother. The system broke down early on, and in some eras it broke down big time. Renaissance Catholicism was marked by sexual libertinism. No surprise that Protestants made the jettisoning of the universal celibacy rule a key to the reform they sought, but that only made Counter-Reformation Rome more earnestly attached to the discipline than ever.

WHY HAD celibacy come to matter so much to those in charge of the church? The answer is familiar because celibacy, like other issues having to do with gender, reproduction, and sexual identity, is not really about sex — but power. The hierarchy found in the imposition of sexual abstinence a mode of control over the interior lives of clergy, since submission in radical abstinence required an extraordinary abandonment of the will. In theory, the abandonment was to God; in practice, it was to the “superior,’’ who always thought he was. The stakes were infinite, since sexual desire marked the threshold of hell. “Gravely sinful’’ defined every priestly deviance, including the minor and intensely personal matter of erotic fantasy. The normally human was, for priests, the occasion of bad faith.

Obsessive sexual moralism, along with that bad faith, spilled out of pulpits. Ancient neo-platonism became modern Puritanism or Irish Jansenism. The confessional booth became a cockpit of “mortal sins,’’ with birth control emerging as the key control mechanism — the church’s control over every Catholic adult’s affections and actions. The prohibition of “unnatural’’ contraception made church authorities party to the most intimate exchange between sexual partners, and if the laity were willing to abide by this intrusion and its burdens, it was only because the celibate priest could be seen to have made an even greater sacrifice.

What birth control was to Catholic lay people, in other words, celibacy was to priests — a set of hierarchy-imposed shackles on the conscience. Lay people have broken those shackles, but priests have not, unless the tens of thousands who have left orders are counted.

As is suggested by the hierarchy’s apparent equanimity about that exodus, and the slow-motion collapse of the priesthood it has caused, church authorities will pay any price to maintain a vestige of control over the inner lives of Catholics. That is why bishops have exchanged their once ample influence on matters of social justice for a screeching, single-issue obsession with abortion, a last-ditch effort to control the intimate sexual decisions of lay people. When it comes to their clergy, the single-issue obsession remains celibacy.

This nearly changed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65), a challenge to the power structure that has fueled a reactionary defense of that structure ever since. Recall that the Council, a gathering in Rome of the world’s Catholic bishops, initiated astonishing changes in church doctrine and practice (renouncing, for example, the anti-Jewish “Christ-killer’’ slander, though it is in the Gospels). The bishops took on a range of questions, and were preparing to reconsider both birth control and celibacy.

As dominant matters of sexual morality for the laity and the clergy, they were twinned. That those issues were even on the Council’s agenda alerted the Catholic world to the possibility of change — which was itself revolutionary.

Until then, an insufficiently historically minded church had regarded such contingent questions as God-given absolutes. What was the point of even discussing them, since change was out of the question? But change was suddenly in the air, and that made Catholics begin to ask questions on their own. What? St. Peter was married? Even before the Council acted, the myth that these disciplines were eternally willed by God was broken.

That was enough to generate waves of panic in the most conservative wing of the hierarchy, waves that broke over the insecure Pope Paul VI, who had replaced the far more open-minded John XXIII.

POPE PAUL astonished the Council fathers, and the Catholic world, by making two extraordinary interventions that violated both the spirit and the procedures that had defined the Council until then. In late 1964, just as the fathers were about to debate the question of “responsible parenthood,’’ the pope ordered the Council not to take up the question of “artificial contraception.’’ Snap! Birth control was “removed from the competence of the Council,’’ a harbinger of Paul VI’s own determination that the teaching would not change.

But there was every sign that the Council fathers, when they inevitably took up the subject of the priesthood, were still going to discuss celibacy, as if change were possible there.

Yet it was politically unthinkable that the church could maintain the prohibition of birth control, the burden belonging to the laity, while letting clergy off the sexual hook by lifting the celibacy rule. Therefore, in late 1965, Paul VI made his second extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of priestly celibacy. “It is not opportune to debate publicly this topic,’’ he declared, “which requires the greatest prudence and is so important.’’

A Council had initiated the clerical discipline of celibacy, but a Council was now not qualified even to discuss it. The power play was so blatant as to lay bare power itself as the issue. And just like that, Catholics had reason to suspect that celibacy was being maintained as a requirement of the priesthood because of internal church politics — not because of any spiritual or religious motive. God was not the issue; the pope was.

The abrupt elimination of the mystical dimension of vowed sexual abstinence left it an intolerable and inhuman way to live, which sent men streaming out of the priesthood, and stirred in many who remained a profound, and still unresolved, crisis of identity. The Council did not take up the question of priestly celibacy. Paul VI sought to settle it with his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, which proved to be a classic instance of the disease calling itself the cure.

The celibacy encyclical, maintaining the weight of “sacrifice’’ on clergy, prepared the way for the laity crushing Humanae Vitae in 1968, with its re-condemnation of birth control.

In response to the pope’s 1964 removal of birth control from the “competence’’ of the Council, one of its leading figures, Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens of Belgium, had risen immediately with a warning; “I beg you, my brother bishops, let us avoid a new ‘Galileo affair.’ One is enough for the Church.’’ Galileo was famously forced to renounce what he had seen through his telescope, an imposition of dishonesty. (“And yet it moves,’’ he was reported to have muttered under his breath.)

Paul VI’s twin reimpositions of the contraception and celibacy rules plunged the whole church into a culture of dishonesty. God is solemnly invoked on matters that have nothing to do with God, and that is widely known. For the sake of the mere appearance of the hierarchy’s authority, sexual proscriptions have been officially upheld, even while the hierarchy itself looks the other way when those proscriptions are massively repudiated.

CATHOLIC LAY people ignore the birth control mandate. Catholic priests find ways around the celibacy rule, some in meaningful relationships with secret lovers, some in exploitive relationships with the vulnerable, and some in criminal acts with minors.

If a majority of priests is able to observe the letter of their vow, how many do so at savage personal cost? How many Catholic women’s eyes have opened to the built-in gender insult of an all-male celibate priesthood? Well-adjusted priests may live happily as celibates, but how many regard the discipline as healthy? Insisting that celibacy is the church’s “brilliant jewel,’’ in Paul VI’s phrase, defines the deceit that has corrupted the Catholic soul.

But the most damaging consequence of mandatory celibacy for priests lies in its character as the pulse of clericalism. The repressively psychotic nature of this inbred culture of power has shown itself in the abuse scandal.

Lies, denial, arrogance, selfishness, and cowardice — such are the notes of the structure within which Catholic priests now live, however individually virtuous many of them nevertheless remain. Celibacy is that structure’s central pillar and must be removed. The Catholic people see this clearly. It is time for us to say so.

James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Globe. His new book, Practicing Catholic, just appeared in paperback.

Majority in poll in Italy support priests marrying
May 17, 2010

A majority of Italians surveyed in a poll released Monday said Roman Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. The poll by Demos came as bishops in Austria asked the Vatican to hold discussions on the issue of priestly celibacy, The Times of London reported. In the poll, 65.9 percent of Italians interviewed said they were "very much" in favor or "fairly" in favor of abolishing the church's celibacy rule and 22 percent said they were opposed to priests marrying...

And, in a related development, Vienna Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn said Monday he shared the concern of Eisenstadt Bishop Paul Iby’s concern about mandatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests. "The concern that Bishop Iby expressed is shared by all of us (Austrian bishops), and I am happy to be in a Church in which there is freedom of speech and opinion," he said. Austrian bishops had been expected to discuss celibacy at last week’s parish council conference in Mariazell, Styria, that they all attended but there has been no public confirmation that they did...

Married Father of 6 to be Ordained Priest in Rochester

The Pastoral Provision keeps rolling along...

Rochester, N.Y. - He's married -- with six children. And in the spring of 2011, Scott Caton will be ordained as a priest in the Rochester Diocese.

Caton was granted special permission from the Vatican to become a priest. He is a former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism 12 years ago. Caton is a Spencerport native who has been married for almost 28 years. He and his wife Bonnie have six children, ranging in age from seven to 26. Caton is currently a Professor of History at Roberts Wesleyan College, and a Professor of History and Culture at Northeastern Seminary, a ecumenical seminary on campus.

A provision of canon law does allow former protestant ministers to become Catholic priests without taking a vow of celibacy. According to Caton, the calling to serve and perform Sacraments became too strong to ignore.

Caton will spend the next year serving as a transitional deacon at Blessed Sacrament Church in Rochester.

"It's an internship of sorts," said Father Robert Kennedy, a pastor at Blessed Sacrament. "Caton will preach, lead baptism and marriage ceremonies, and learn more about parish life."

For Kennedy and his staff, it's a chance to be part of something rare and different in the Catholic church. Caton's ordination as a priest is a change in church law that came about only a decade ago.

"I'm very pleased to be a part of this," Kennedy said. "I've met Scott several times and I'm delighted he's going to come and bring his talent and insight to our team here."

Local Catholics gathered for a confirmation ceremony at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Monday. Katy Martin had just heard about Scott Caton, and was surprised.

"It's not very common, and you don't hear about it a lot," Martin said. "It will be interesting to see how people react."

Martin believes it could be a potentially positive change.

"In my parish, our deacons and their families are very active, and I think that's a great blessing," she said.

Caton will be ordained a transitional deacon on June 5, 2010, at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Photo: Scott Caton

Bolivian President Evo Morales Calls on Pope to Abolish Celibacy and Allow Women Priests

Below is the original text and my English translation of the letter which Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, gave to Pope Benedict XVI with respect to taking steps to solve the current crisis in the Church.

Carta del Presidente Evo Morales, entregada al Papa Benedicto XVI

CIUDAD DEL VATICANO, 17 de mayo de 2010

"Su Santidad: Fue mi madre quien, cuando yo era muy niño, me decía que yo rezara cerrando los ojos y agachando la cabeza, pensando en las enseñanzas de vida del Padre Nuestro y del Dios te Salve María. Recordando estas experiencias, como miembro de nuestra Iglesia Católica, reflexiono permanentemente acerca de las lecciones de amor, justicia, igualdad y entrega al prójimo de nuestro Señor Jesucristo".

"Esas reflexiones me llevan a proponer, muy respetuosamente, la necesidad de superar la crisis de la Iglesia, que, como usted dijo, está herida por el pecado, para ello es imprescindible democratizar y humanizar su estructura clerical".

"Democratizarla para que todas las hijas e hijos de Dios, que son iguales ante sus ojos, se les reconozca los mismos derechos religiosos, y que las mujeres puedan tener las mismas oportunidades que los hombres para ejercer plenamente el sacerdocio".

"Asimismo, como Jesús, que se hizo hombre, se humanizó para estar entre nosotros y entendernos mejor, la Iglesia no tiene que negar una parte fundamental de nuestra naturaleza como seres humanos, se debe abolir el celibato, así habrá menos hijas e hijos no reconocidos por sus padres, así podremos sincerarnos ante la realidad".

"Del mismo modo y con mucha decisión debemos proteger a nuestros hijos e hijas de quienes valiéndose de la confianza que debe inspirar un sacerdote, abusan de ellos. Quienes cometen esas atrocidades pecan y también dañan".

"Estoy seguro que Su Santidad valorará estas propuestas que quieren humildemente aportar a cerrar las heridas de nuestra Iglesia. De este modo me despido, haciéndole llegar la seguridad de las atenciones más distinguidas".

Evo Morales Ayma, Presidente del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia


Letter from President Evo Morales, given to Pope Benedict XVI

VATICAN CITY, May 17, 2010

"Your Holiness: It was my mother, who, when I was a child, told me to pray while closing my eyes and bowing my head, thinking about the lessons of life of the Our Father and Hail Mary. Recalling these experiences, as a member of our Catholic Church, I constantly reflect on the lessons of love, justice, equality and giving of self to others of our Lord Jesus Christ."

"These reflections lead me to propose, very respectfully, the need to overcome the crisis of the Church which, as you said, is wounded by sin, for which it is essential to democratize and humanize its clerical structure."

"Democratize it so that all the daughters and sons of God, who are equal in His sight, are afforded the same religious rights, and so that women can have the same opportunity as men to minister fully as priests."

"Also, like Jesus, who became man, became human to be among us and understand us better, the Church does not have to deny a fundamental part of our nature as human beings, celibacy should be abolished so that there would be fewer sons and daughters who are not recognized by their parents, so that we can be honest about the real situation."

"In the same way and decisively, we must protect our sons and daughters from those who would use the confidence that a priest should inspire to abuse them. Those who commit these atrocities sin and also cause harm."

"I am sure that Your Holiness will evaluate these proposals that are humbly offered to close the wounds of our Church. So I sign off, while assuring you of my most distinguished attentions."

Evo Morales Ayma, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Austrian bishop questions celibacy

By Veronika Oleksyn
Associated Press

VIENNA — An Austrian bishop who has disagreed with the Vatican in the past about needed reforms said in an interview published Wednesday that the Catholic church should drop its celibacy requirement for priests.

Eisenstadt Bishop Paul Iby told the Die Presse daily that it should be up to priests to decide whether they want to live a celibate life and that he would welcome it if married men could be ordained.

"It should be at the discretion of every priest whether to live in voluntary celibacy or in a family," Die Presse quoted Iby as saying.

Iby, who offered to retire when he turned 75 in January, also said that eventually the ordination of women should be considered.

"The ordination of women is not an issue in our church," Iby was quoted as saying. "But in the medium term it must be thought about."

Iby added that discrimination against homosexuals should be avoided and suggested that divorcees be allowed to have a new relationship blessed after a period of penitence.

"Rome is too timid with such things," Iby said.

Iby, who has been outspoken about the need for Roman Catholic reforms, told Die Presse that the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — now Pope Benedict XVI — once told him to toe Rome's line during a one-hour meeting. It was unclear from the interview when that meeting took place.

When asked to comment on recent sex abuse allegations against Austrian clergy, Iby said such claims need to be dealt with by state authorities and added that he could never have imagined the current magnitude of the matter.

Iby acknowledged earlier this year that he had failed to take proper action more than a decade ago when he found out that a priest in his diocese had abused children elsewhere in the Alpine republic years earlier.

In his comments to Die Presse, Iby blamed his inaction on his "inexperience."

The Vatican has accepted Iby's letter of resignation, but it won't take effect until an undetermined future date, the Austria Press Agency has reported.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Kenya: Catholic Priest's Fight to Keep His Son

by George Munene
Daily Nation (Kenya)

Nairobi — A Catholic priest is fighting to have the custody of a boy he claims to be his legitimate son. Father Anastasio Kaburi appeared at Kirinyaga Central district children's office in Kerugoya Town on Thursday, determined to secure custody of the eight-year-old boy, who has been living with his grandfather after the death of his mother.

Accompanied by relatives, Fr Kaburi wanted the district children's office to hand over the boy to him. The priest vividly remembers the boy was born eight years ago by his woman friend who later died. After the child was born, he parted ways with the woman who then got married to another man.

Several years later, the mother of the priest's child died after a short illness, leaving the boy in the care of his grandfather. On learning of the death of the woman, the priest says he was touched and felt he should claim the boy, whom he says is his biological son. He started on a search and found the boy living with his grandfather in Kerugoya. He was moved to tears on seeing him, he says.

"I was excited when I saw my child and deeply within my heart, I felt that I should have him forever," he told the district children's officer, Mr Danstan Omari. The priest promised to look after the boy and educate him. He urged the officer to let him take away the boy.

Asked whether keeping the child would jeopardise his job as a priest in the Catholic Church, which advocates celibacy, the priest asked: "What does my right to have custody of my child got to do with my profession?" The priest said he could even have the child live with his brother or a female friend who resided in the area if the children's office was finding it hard to let him take the boy.

Earlier, the priest who appeared confident and unshaken kept chatting with the boy who called him 'father', as Mr Omari attended to other children's cases. The child's grandfather, Mr Raymond Karinga, said he would hand over the boy as long as there was a proper legal agreement.

However, the priest said there was no need of complicating the matter. "Let me just take him away," he said. The father said he had lived with the boy at his place of work for a week, after he was temporarily released to him by relatives. The priest told the officer he was capable of taking care of his own child.

In his ruling, however Mr Omari said that there was no way the boy could be given to the priest without following the legal process. Mr Omari advised the priest to file an application in a court of law for the custody of the boy. The priest, he added, could not be allowed to take full responsibility for the boy although he had been in contact with the youngster for a few days without going through the legal process.

"I do not object that you have your child, but the rule of the law should be followed," he said. The priest protested at the presence of the Press, saying his right to privacy must be respected. For a long time, priests have been accused of paedophilia, secret affairs and marriages and having children.

According to former Zambian Catholic archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, paedophilia is so serious in the US that cases committed 40 years ago have cost the church billions of dollars in compensation. Archbishop Milingo spoke specifically of priests having lovers last June at Sasamotor Centre in Karen, Nairobi, where he quietly ordained the first married Catholic priest in Kenya.

There are about 150,000 married priests worldwide, 25,000 of them in America and 18,000 in Brazil, according to the archbishop. He added: "We have a community here in Kenya. Some are doing full pastoral work. In America, they are asking if I can find a priest to go there." Milingo was excommunicated from the Catholic Church after he got married to a Korean woman.