Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gay priest leaves parish he loves

This isn't about celibacy but I liked the article for its sane treatment of how gay people can serve in the priesthood.

Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Catholic parish in Alameda and its priest fell in love with each other over the past six years, but today they'll say goodbye.

Worshipers at St. Joseph Basilica say Father Rich Danyluk knit them together as a community and gave inspired homilies that forced them to look deeper into their lives. Danyluk, known as Father Rich, says he's leaving to get a year of rest after 31 years in the priesthood.

But the 59-year-old cleric says St. Joseph is the place that accepted him wholly, the place where he was forced to grow. It is also where, in 2005, he told the congregation that he is gay.

The revelation did not rock the church. The parish and its leader, the only gay Catholic priest in the Bay Area who is out to his congregation, grew to love each other even more.

Pope Benedict XVI has called homosexuality "objectively disordered," the Vatican issued guidelines almost two years ago saying gay men should not enter the seminary, and Cardinal William Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco, has said that openly gay priests make it difficult for congregations to see clergy as embodying Jesus Christ.

Still, 1,800 families pack into St. Joseph at five Masses every weekend to hear Father Rich.

"He's the most deeply spiritual person I've ever met," said Sue Spiersch, 62, a lifelong Catholic and a member of St. Joseph since 1972. She said Danyluk made a congregation of strangers into friends.

Said parishioner Dana Haering, 40, a lifelong Catholic: "He finds a way to make you feel God's presence -- as my pastor, as my friend. Isn't that what (a) relationship should be?"

Danyluk says he is merely living out the Gospel.

"Being gay in the Catholic Church means, for me, that all my life I was brought up feeling that I was unworthy and didn't belong and very negative things were said from the church," he said in an interview this week. "Hearing that over and over again, you could almost believe it.

"There's a passage in Scripture that God said to Jesus, 'You're my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased.' I believe God says that to every male, and he says 'You're my beloved daughter' to every woman. Finally, that sunk into me, that I don't need a priest or a bishop or a pope to tell me who I am. I want everyone else to have that same right."

Gay priests illustrate the Catholic Church's paradoxes on homosexuality, said the Rev. Jim Schexnayder, resource director for the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries.

The church's teaching that homosexual acts are grave sins means that priestly vows of celibacy can be a comfort for gay Catholics seeking to keep the faith. But few gay priests are out, fearing repercussions from superiors or their congregations.

"Homosexuality is a third rail," Schexnayder said. "It tends to be so electric in its effect. It causes a lot of anxiety in some circles. ... It creates this reality that people don't want to face."

For most of his life, Danyluk avoided openly facing his homosexuality. He knew he was gay by about seventh grade. In seminary in the late 1960s, he went to the rooms of fellow seminarians, had his first sexual experiences and pretended that they never happened.

"That's sick. That's using somebody," he says now. "It was the acting out."

Within a few years, he began drinking heavily.

"It gave me a little more freedom to do things that I knew were wrong," he said. "It just numbed the senses."

In the early 1980s, he began seeing a counselor to come to terms with his sexual orientation but returned at times to drinking and illicit sex. He was stopped twice for drunken driving while leading a Southern California parish in the 1990s. After the second arrest, in November 1999, he was sent to a rehab center in Minnesota.

That was a turning point in his life. Before leaving for treatment, he told worshipers at his final service about his alcoholism, apologized and asked for forgiveness and prayers. They gave him a standing ovation.

He said he's abstained from alcohol and has been celibate ever since.

Parishioners say Father Rich's influence at the Alameda church since he arrived in 2001 has been powerful in many small ways.

He greets children on one knee so that little ones can meet him at eye level. He created a team of parishioners to give the homilies one weekend a month. He built relationships among parishioners by instituting a weekly snack and chat time after Mass.

But several church members said his words are the real gems. They are found in his midweek e-mail bulletin, his answering-machine message, unscripted moments and his homilies.

In September 2005, Danyluk was angered by the Vatican's proposed guidelines about gay seminarians. As eventually adopted, they prohibit the acceptance into seminary of "those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "

Danyluk thought it was time to speak up to his parish.

Church hierarchy had decided that the theme that week was about accepting, not rejecting. Father Rich told the story of his aunt.

As she lay dying, she cried and told him she was a lesbian. "I'm so afraid I'm going to hell," she said.

"That's not how God works," he recalled for the congregation. He grabbed the Gospel and held it aloft before the congregation. "This is either the good news for everybody or nobody," he said.

That included all gays and lesbians, he said, including those in attendance, to whom he added: "I'm one of you."

There was no backlash from the bishop of Oakland, the Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron, who Danyluk says supports gay priests. The diocese's top clergy were on a retreat this week and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.

While most parishioners were supportive, Danyluk said two people were upset, including a mother of two children attending the parish's schools who made an appointment to see him.

"I guess you'll be pushing the gay agenda in both schools," she said, but wouldn't tell him what she thought the "gay agenda" was.

"I told her the only agenda I've ever pushed in my life is the gospel of Christ," said Danyluk, who says he has mentioned gays and lesbians only a few times in his homilies. "I said your two children -- I love them, and they love me. I treat them very humanly and very respectfully, unlike what you're doing to me right now."

The woman stayed in the congregation but avoids him when possible, he says.

Other parishioners say Danyluk has transformed their lives.

Haering, 40, said Danyluk visited her and her once-athletic husband every week for many months as multiple sclerosis wasted his body. Before Dave Haering died at age 38 in November 2005, family, friends and Father Rich gathered around him for a blessing.

Danyluk asked them to share what they had learned from Dave.

"Rich has a way of asking just the right question to make you look deeper in yourself than where you knew you could go," Dana Haering said. "My husband was in a coma. He wasn't going to come out of it. And yet what he made us look at was, 'What have we learned?'

"There wasn't a person in the room who didn't realize how blessed we had been to have David in our lives and to have Rich in our lives."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Don't ask, don't tell: Spanish court upholds firing of married priest

This article is a summary (with commentary) in English of a Spanish article in El Pais, June 20, 2007, with additional materials from other news sources. Photo of Fr. Fernandez and his family courtesy of MOCEOP.

A constitutional tribunal in Spain has upheld the 1996 dismissal of a married priest from his position as religion and morals teacher in a Catholic institute in Murcia. The tribunal, which earlier this year also sided with the Church on the dismissal of another teacher for living with a man to whom she was not married, reiterated that it would not intervene in "intra-church" disputes.

This case has some curious aspects, however. First, it highlights the ridiculously long time it takes for the Church to rule on requests for dispensation. Fr. José Antonio Fernández, who was ordained in 1961, requested dispensation from his celibacy vows in 1984. The dispensation was not granted until 1997 -- 13 years later! In the meantime, Fr. Fernández married his wife in a civil ceremony and the couple went on to have five children.

The second REALLY interesting aspect of this case is that although Fr. Fernández had been married since 1985 and without having received a formal dispensation from Rome, his teaching contract was first granted in 1991-92 and renewed until 1996-97 even though his request for dispensation and his marital status were known to the diocese. It was only after a photo of Fr. Fernández and his family appeared in the local newspaper, La Verdad , on 11 November, 1996 in conjunction with an article about MOCEOP -- the optional celibacy movement in which Fr. Fernández is an activist, that the Cartagena Diocese fired Fr. Fernández for his participation in the optional celibacy movement, for making his situation "public and notorious" and "out of respect for the sensibilities of many parents who would be upset." The diocese added that "laicized priests are not permitted to teach classes in Catholic religion and morals except in very rare cases."

Oh, puhleeze... This case is not about whether a married priest is fit to teach Catholic high school students about morals. It's very much about the freedom of speech and association of people who work for Catholic institutions and the Church's desire not to be embarrassed by its employees publicly giving witness to its dysfunctional policies. And it has "HYPOCRISY" written all over it because Fr. Fernández would probably still be teaching today, had he not chosen to stand up for his family and his beliefs.

At Sisters' Reunion in Bowie, Memories of Lipstick and Love

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 18, 2007; Page B01

They spread their picnic in the cemetery behind the old church in Bowie, six devoted sisters gathered to celebrate the life of the mother who had raised them on her own.

There was Laurie, who as a dance instructor taught boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard to waltz. There was Theresa, known to her sisters as "Tess the Mess" as a child, who had been working in the Brentwood post office when anthrax mailed by a madman spilled out of an envelope there nearly six years ago. There was Jean, the former nun who fell in love with a priest and married him and who beat cancer twice; Carol, the former model and mother of six who took 25 years to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Alabama; Christy, the retired technical writer for an aircraft manufacturer; and Marti, who looks most like the woman they gathered to honor.

When she died of heart failure three years ago at 86, Margaret Voith Thomas's girls pledged that they would have a reunion in her honor each year. The focal event of that reunion is a picnic, and for the second annual celebration Friday, they gathered at her grave behind the old Sacred Heart Church in Bowie.

Sitting on quilts made by the grandmother of Marti Wallen's husband, Barry, they giggled as they told story after story about their mother and their upbringing.

With white wine in crystal glasses, they toasted their mother, once a commercial artist for the old Hecht's department store in downtown Washington, who brought them up alone after their father walked out before Laurie was old enough to eat table food.

Over tuna sandwiches -- Margaret's favorite -- deviled eggs and Marti's peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies, they reminisced about their childhood and how, despite growing up "dirt poor," they always felt special and loved.
"I have fixed in my visual memory when we lived in a little, two-bedroom apartment. There were six of us then, and I remember Mom washing diapers and putting them through the wringer, then hanging them up with clothespins," said Jean Scanlan of Aurora, Ill. "She never complained."

Theresa Woodruff of Bowie said, "I remember her advice to us: 'Don't forget your lipstick!' " That drew laughs from her sisters. "As a matter of fact, now we are still really particular about our lipstick because of what she taught us. I never remember Mom not looking beautiful, and she taught us that, too."

Scanlan's husband, Bob, calls them "The Bevy of Beauties" -- six women who, as little girls, usually got new dresses only once a year but always went out clean and well-coiffed because of their mother's loving care. Now ages 56 to 69, they have produced 17 children and 15 grandchildren, with three on the way, taking care to lavish their offspring with the same attention that their mother showered on them.

According to the sisters, there were signs all around last week that their mother was with them. As they prepared to begin a ceremony that included reminiscences, prayers and each presenting their mother a rose, the church bells chimed. As they sat together, a blue jay perched on a nearby gravestone and appeared to watch the sisters.
"Mom always loved birds," said Carol Comlish, who lives in Kensington and Chesapeake Beach. "She always wanted to be a bird."

As they recalled their mother, stories of their modest childhood streamed forth. They remembered dinners where the seven family members shared two cans of Campbell's vegetable beef soup, with extra potatoes added to stretch the meal, and fried bologna sandwiches.

"We were dirt poor," said Comlish, shaking her head at the memory. "There were times when we would come home from school and the only thing that would be in the refrigerator would be mustard."
"We had cardboard in our shoes," Burdette added.

"The springs were coming up from the mattress," Comlish chimed in.

"But, every Easter, somehow she would buy us all beautiful dresses and march us into church," Laurie Thomas recalled.

"We made a statement, even back then," Wallen said. "Though we were the poorest of the poor, we had our heads held high because our mother always made us feel so special."

The women recalled their mother's love for a good book and a cup of hot tea, the scarves that adorned her neck and how she would use her employee discount to buy a few pieces in the bargain-basement section of Hecht's, bring them home and design beautiful ensembles.

"She always looked beautiful," said Thomas, who, as the only sister who didn't marry, continues the family name with pride.

Their mother supported the family as an artist, drawing models in clothes in fashion ads until photography ended her career, the women said.

"She took the civil service exam in her 60s and got a 92," Wallen recalled. "She went to work for the Federal Communications Commission as a secretary. She didn't even get her driver's license until she was in her 50s, because in the city, we went everywhere on streetcars and then on the bus."

Thomas remembered being 6 and her sister Christy Burdette accidentally cracking her head with a glass piggy bank. Their mother took Thomas to the hospital on the bus. "Here I am with this bloody bandage on my head, and we're on the bus," she said.

"She treated everything . . . " Thomas said.

"With alcohol!" the sisters added together.

"And she took out all stitches because we didn't have medical insurance to pay to go the doctor for things like that," Comlish said.

Now, with comfortable lives, they recall the closeness that those difficult days engendered. At 13, Tess became pregnant and was sent to live with her father in St. Louis. Forty-one years later, the son she gave up for adoption found her and has become part of her life.

The sisters talk frequently and visit each other often. They refer to themselves as "the upper three" -- the older sisters -- and "the lower three."

"Everything is three and three with us," Wallen said. "Blood type, those who use ice and those who don't, those who choose paper bags over plastic in the grocery store and those who don't, who has a college education and who drinks with a straw and who doesn't."

The sisters planned today, the last day of their reunion, to revisit their old home near Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street NW and one in the 5400 block of Illinois Avenue NW. They also want to visit a Northwest Safeway store that they used to walk to with their mother before the family moved to Bowie in 1965.

Sitting on the deck of Wallen's home overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on Friday afternoon, the sisters discussed plans to give each other facials, play bocce ball, take dance lessons from Thomas and watch movies.

"When we all get together and talk about our mother, share our childhood again and our lives . . . there is a sort of wholeness that we get that takes us out of our separateness," Burdette said. "We feel that there is an entity that originated from where we came from, and our mother, and it takes on a life of its own."

They're talking about writing a book about it.

The tentative title, in honor of their mother: "Don't Forget Your Lipstick."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reverend Father

The Press-Enterprise
Saturday, June 16, 2007

Photo: Fr. Jerry Ochetti and his daughter Diane.

Some parishioners do a double take when they glance at the wall above the Rev. Gregory Elder's desk at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in Highland.

Next to his diplomas is a photograph of a smiling Elder with a middle-age woman and two young adults.

The woman is Elder's wife. And the young people are the couple's children.

The Rev. Gregory Elder, of St. Adelaide Catholic Church in Highland, is a priest of the Diocese of San Bernardino. He has three children, among them his son William, 18. Elder, who is married, was an Episcopalian who converted to Catholicism.

"They have a 'what's going on here' look," Elder, 49, said of perplexed parishioners. "I normally ask them, 'Do you know my background?' If they say no, I say, 'I need to explain this picture.' "

Of 263 priests in the San Bernardino diocese, Elder is among the four who have children.

He is a former Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism. The Rev. Jerry Ochetti is a divorcé who received an annulment. The Rev. Howard Lincoln, diocese spokesman, identified the third priest as the Rev. John Benjamin, who is no longer assigned to an individual parish but who fills in regularly for other priests. Benjamin's marriage also was annulled. Lincoln declined to provide details about the fourth.

According to its official teaching, the Catholic Church has mandated celibacy for priests since 1139, to ensure they have a single-minded devotion to serving God. Elder received a rare dispensation that allows Episcopal priests who are married to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is probably more common today for priests to have kids than in the past, even though their numbers remain small.

Recently ordained priests tend to be older than their predecessors, so they are more likely to have married and become fathers, Walsh said.

The Parenting Experience

Ochetti spent 25 years managing ice-cream parlors and doughnut shops, and working as a computer consultant before he felt a calling to the priesthood. Ochetti, 54, is now associate vocation director at Blessed Junipero Serra House in Grand Terrace, where he provides spiritual guidance to men on the path toward priesthood.

Ochetti's 1986 divorce and subsequent annulment spurred him to reflect on his life. About 10 years ago, Ochetti told his daughter that was planning to become a priest.

Diane Ochetti, now 29 and living in Redlands, was stunned -- and worried.

"I was afraid I wouldn't see him anymore," Diane Ochetti said as she sat with her father on a sofa at Serra House on a recent afternoon. "I didn't know if it would be a taboo issue to be seen with him, which turned out to be completely contrary to the way it is."

Far from tearing Jerry and Diane Ochetti apart, his immersion into religious life brought them closer together.

Before Jerry Ochetti became a priest, Diane Ochetti avoided asking him for advice on personal matters. She saw him as a disciplinarian, not a counselor.

"I can come to him for any problem I have," she said. "Before, I had a deep appreciation and respect for him. But I saw him as the authoritative figure."

Ochetti said he learned in the seminary to listen more carefully to people's problems and to allow them to work out their own solutions to difficulties, rather than just issuing top-down directives, as he did as a manager of businesses -- and as a father.

Ochetti counsels many people, including members of a Redlands parish where he used to serve. He said he advises non-family members the same way he counsels his daughter.
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Diane Ochetti said she doesn't mind sharing her father with so many others. She realizes that her relationship with him is special.

"He's not Father Jerry to me," she said. "He's my dad. I have experiences with him that no one else has, and no one else ever will have. And I will continue to have those experiences with him that others will never have, as my father, not as a priest."

Ochetti said having a daughter makes it easier for some parents to relate to him. He can use his own parenting experiences when counseling people.

Even so, both he and Elder said they support the church's rule requiring celibacy for the vast majority of priests.

Every priest gleans more insights about human nature and becomes a better counselor to all types of people as he gains greater experience helping others, Elder said.

Episcopal Exemption

Elder is one of only about 80 married former Episcopal priests in the United States who have received papal permission to serve as Catholic priests, said the Rev. William Stetson, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The special exemption exists for Episcopal priests -- and not most other denominations -- because of the similarities between rites in the Episcopal and Catholic churches, said Stetson, who helps review applications from Episcopal clergy who want to become Catholic priests.

Elder said that, although he felt a calling to become a Catholic priest, it would have been a more difficult decision if his children had been younger when he was ordained. Today, daughter Mary is 20 and son William is 18.

The primary reason for the celibacy rule is so priests can devote their lives to serving God and the church, he said. A good father, though, is actively involved in his young children's lives, Elder said.

"Having a father who's a priest and an absentee dad isn't going to do anyone any good," he said.

As an Episcopal priest, Elder had to balance the responsibilities of being a religious father and a biological one. Yet the time demands of an Episcopal priest typically are not as great as those on a Catholic priest, he said.

Catholic parishes are usually much bigger than Episcopal ones, said Elder, who went from overseeing an Episcopal parish of about 250 families to serving his Catholic parish of 2,400 families in Highland.

William Elder said there are advantages to having a priest as a father. In a high-school lesson on European history, William's teacher mentioned John Calvin's theory of double predestination, that some souls are destined to end up in heaven and others in hell.

That night, William asked his father about the Catholic perspective on the matter, which he discovered is that God wants everyone to be saved and that one's faith and actions determine salvation.

"It's convenient to have a theologian whose brain I can pick at the dinner table," he said.

In some matters, it is better to separate the duties of a father and a priest, Gregory Elder said. For example, if he found out one of his children was using drugs, he would react differently as a father than as a priest. That's why, even though he regularly offers his children advice, he sends them to another priest for confession.

"Confession is not the place for punishment," Elder said. "Confession is the place for forgiveness. A priest is there to forgive and say God loves you unconditionally. A father is there to do that as well, but also to be a disciplinarian."

Friday, June 15, 2007

McKinney’s Dean Pratt chronicles his journey

By Emily Spitz,
McKinney Courier-Gazette (TX)
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

At first glance, the Rev. Dean Pratt may appear non-conventional. As a married priest, he has sparked some debate among Catholics, but he says the majority of people are very accepting of him and his wife.

He describes his experiences and thoughts in his new book, “Gleanings from the Journey of a Married Priest and his Artist Wife.” Pratt began actively working on the book two years ago, but said it has been in the making for 40 years. The book goes back through his life as a religious and community leader, and is illustrated with his wife’s paintings.

“I thought I’d learned some things I wanted to share,” he said. “I tried to include things that were real learning experiences for me.”

Pratt attended seminary at age 35, after studying to become a lawyer.

“I found that I was more concerned with what’s fair and what’s right and wrong,” he said, explaining his decision to leave law school.

Originally a pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, he converted to Catholicism in 1980. Pratt married his wife, Barbara, before converting to the Catholic Church.

Pratt said the switch was hard, but that he believed the Catholic Church needed him more because there was a shortage of priests.

His goal was not to become a pastor, but to go where the church needed him. Pratt helps as a priest at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and is an on-call chaplain for Medical Center of McKinney. He worked as a police and hospital chaplain for 14 years.

Pratt described his experiences with life and death as a chaplain as a “sacred role,” adding, “You’re with people during the dearest times in life.”

Many stories in the book focus on lessons he learned as a hospital chaplain. One focuses on a young woman dying of cancer who blinks to communicate that she wants to be taken off a ventilator and allowed to die. Pratt tells about his moving experience with the woman and her family who didn’t want to let go.

“It is one of those stories a priest never forgets,” he says in Gleanings.

“You learn a lot about evil and the nature of human beings, but you also learn about love,” Pratt said. “I can’t put a price on these experiences.”

Gleanings is available at After some disagreements with the publisher, Pratt and his wife paid to publish about 50 advance copies of the book themselves.

“It’s been quite an experience,” he said. “I’ve worked my tail off.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One hundred new priests a year in France

PARIS (AFP) - 13/06/2007 09h16

Translation from French by Rebel Girl, with statistical updates from the CEF Web site.

The priesthood no longer tempts many people in France: only about a hundred young men a year choose "serving God and the Church" while at the same time about 500 priests leave their parishes due to old age or death.

Twelve new priests will be ordained at Notre Dame in Paris on June 23rd. Last year there were 8, and 94 in France as a whole. Since 1995, the number of ordinations has wavered between 142 (in 2000) and 90 (in 2004), and in 2006 there were none in 46 of the 99 French diocese.

If this phenomenon were transitory, we would speak of a "crisis in vocations" but we are more at the chronic illness stage. The situation can be exaplined by the physical difficulty of the role (a larger and larger mission territory and too many duties), fatigue and spiritual isolation, the priests themselves answered in a survey by the Association protection sociale et caisse des cultes (APSECC).

This survey suggested that priests should have vacations, live elsewhere than at their place of work, prepare for their retirement, work in teams, and be able to frankly discuss their emotional and sexual lives.

They did not go so far as to demand the right to marry -- priestly celibacy remaining an untouchable rule. In any case the current pope is not opening any doors to discussion -- on March 13th in his first apostolic exhortation he reaffirmed the mandatory nature of celibacy.

However the hypothetical notion of married priests no longer causes scandal in France where 81% of Catholics are either "very" or "somewhat" in favor of it. Last April, parishioners in Asson (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) staged a "Mass strike" in solidarity with their priest, who was dismissed for living with a woman. And Abbé Pierre, who confessed to some deviations from celibacy, wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to recommend opening the priesthood to "fervent and capable married men."

Therefore the twelve new priests will take the celibacy vow. They range from 28 to 39 years in age, says the Archdiocese. They come from very different families, have pursued studies, and some had even started professional careers before entering the seminary.

The CEF [French Bishops' Conference] made a detailed study of the first year seminary class in 2005. They were 28 years old on average, had been baptized before the age of two (90%), came from Catholic families (over 80%) and half of them had received the call to vocation at between 11 and 20 years of age. Their primary motivation is to "serve the Church, God and others" (21%), before "giving themselves over completely to God" (15%) and "evangelizing, making Christ known" (13%).

In 2005 (the latest statistics from the CEF), there were 15,957 diocesan priests (working in parishes), most of them over 60 years old, as opposed to 37,555 in 1970, thus a decrease of over 20,000 in 35 years. Consequently there are only 9,000 parishes for 36,000 communities and many missions have been forever entrusted to deacons who perform some religious functions such as baptism and preaching, whose numbers increased from 11 in 1970 to 1,958 in 2005.

As for the replacement of French priests by foreigners (Vietnamese, African, Polish) this has only been marginal, says CEF without giving exact numbers.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Jo'burg parish calls for married Catholic priests

Mail & Guardian
June 8, 2007

Parishioners of a Johannesburg Roman Catholic church, concerned at a growing shortage of priests, have challenged church authorities to allow priests to marry.

The proposal is made in a "discussion document" compiled by a working group of the pastoral council of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rosebank.

The document has been presented to the Catholic Bishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale, and was published across two pages of the latest edition of the SA Catholic newspaper, the Southern Cross.

The parishioners said in it that they were extremely concerned about the growing shortage of priests in their diocese and worldwide.

The document said that while celibate priesthood should be encouraged, the "current discipline" of celibacy was restrictive, and inconsistent within the church.

There were already many priests in the church who married before becoming Catholics, and were still married, while there were also many married priests in the Eastern, as opposed to Roman, rites of the church.

The document pointed out that since 1962, about 110 000 priests had abandoned their vocation, and many people probably wanted to become priests but did not possess "the gift of celibacy".

It said that of the 110 parishes in the Johannesburg diocese, 15 were now forced to share priests.

Of the 135 religious priests, as opposed to those attached to the diocese, just over half were over 75, or engaged in other ministries and not available for parish work.

"By 2015, which is less than ten years away, 71 of the 180 current priests in the diocese will be over 75," the document said.

"We, the members of the church, are concerned about this and want to know what those in charge intend doing about the situation."

The issue of celibacy in the Roman Catholic church has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, particularly following the controversy over the former archbishop of Zambia, Emmanuel Milingo, who married a much younger Korean bride.

In November last year, the Vatican issued a statement referring "the value of the choice of priestly celibacy".

It said it would examine requests by priests wishing to marry and requests for re-admission by clergy who had married in recent years.

However, it emphasised there was no change in "the current discipline" on celibacy.

Priests of the Roman rite promise to remain unmarried and chaste for life. -- Sapa

Thursday, June 07, 2007

CELAM and celibacy: The hierarchy still doesn't get it

Nowhere has the connection between mandatory celibacy, the lack of vocations, the priest shortage, and the loss of the faithful and their ministers to the evangelical churches been more obvious than in the Americas. Yet, as far as can be discerned from the document emerging from the 5th CELAM Conference in Aparecida, Brazil, -- a copy of which has been leaked and posted on the Estado da Sao Paulo newspaper Web site -- Pope Benedict XVI was successful in getting these bishops to ignore the evidence in their own backyard and continue to embrace an archaic, Euro-centered model of the priesthood which ultimately does not and cannot serve the Catholic Church of the future on our continent.

Among the conclusions pertaining to celibacy:

212. En particular el presbítero es invitado a valorar, como un don de Dios, el celibato que le posibilita una especial configuración con el estilo de vida del propio Cristo y lo hace signo de su caridad pastoral en la entrega a Dios y a los hombres con corazón pleno e indiviso. "En efecto, esta opción del sacerdote es una expresión peculiar de la entrega que lo configura con Cristo y de la entrega de sí mismo por el Reino de Dios"(87). El celibato pide asumir con madurez la propia afectividad y sexualidad, viviéndolas con serenidad y alegría en un camino comunitario(88).

212. In particular, the priest is invited to value, as a gift from God, celibacy which enables him to shape himself to the lifestyle of Christ himself and is a sign of pastoral caring in surrendering himself to God and to men with a full and undivided heart. "In effect, this choice by the priest is a special expression of the surrender that conforms him to Christ and the giving of himself for the Kingdom of God" (87). Celibacy demands taking responsibility maturely for one's own emotions and sexuality, living them with serenity and joy on a communal journey (88).

Further down in the document, the bishops raise the topic again in the context of priestly formation:

335. Se deberá prestar especial atención al proceso de formación humana hacia la madurez, de tal manera que la vocación al sacerdocio ministerial de los candidatos llegue a ser en cada uno un proyecto de vida estable y definitivo, en medio de una cultura que exalta lo desechable y lo provisorio. Dígase lo mismo de la educación hacia la madurez de la afectividad y la sexualidad. Esta debe llevar a comprender mejor el significado evangélico del celibato consagrado, a acogerlo con firme decisión y a vivirlo con serenidad y con la debida ascesis en un camino personal y comunitario, como entrega a Dios y a los demás con corazón pleno e indiviso.

335. Special attention should be paid to the process of human formation towards maturity, such that the vocation to priestly ministry of the candidates becomes a stable and definite life goal in each one of them, amid a culture that upholds the disposable and the provisional. The same can be said for aducation towards sexual and emotional maturity. This should lead to a better understanding of the evangelical significance of consecrated celibacy, to welcoming it with a firm decision and living it with serenity and due asceticism in both the personal and the communal journey, as a surrender to God and to others with a full and undivided heart.

Readers should note that these are my personal unofficial translations of this document, which will presumably be released in English at some point after the Pope approves the official original Spanish version. However, there is no reason to believe that the Pope would change either of these sections since they accurately reflect his own opinions on the subject.

It's lovely and poetic and some people really do have the gift of celibacy and sacrificing a family life for service to God and others. God bless them. However most men don't and the results are:

1. A shortage of priests and vocations, closed and/or merged parishes, faithful who cannot find a priest and receive the sacraments and therefore leave the Catholic Church for other faiths;

2. Priests who are overworked and lonely; and that loneliness leads to unhealthy lifestyles and chronic health problems;

3. Priests who routinely violate their celibacy vows, father children, and force the women they love into leading clandestine lives.

Why can we not simply wake up, look at the data, and admit that mandatory celibacy doesn't work, has never worked, and is contributing to the decline of the Catholic Church? Y por que nuestros obispos no pueden mirar la evidencia y tener el valor de decir la verdad al Vaticano? Why can they still not stand up to the Vatican and tell the truth?

To marry or not: For Catholic priests, that is not the question

Redlands Daily Facts
Article Launched: 06/07/2007

Note: This article was interesting to me because the writer is a professor of history and religion at Riverside Community College and a married priest -- a former Episcopalian priest who was received into the Roman Catholic priesthood in the Inland diocese (Riverside and San Bernardino, CA) in 2005 under the Pastoral Provision. He is married to Sarah O'Brien and the couple have two children. Interestingly, one of Fr. Elder's reasons for converting to Catholicism was that his wife was Catholic.

In an earlier
article in The Press-Enterprise describing his own experience, Fr. Elder notes that there have been historical precedents to the Pastoral Provision. He said that "after the French Revolution, Catholic priests who had been forced to marry were allowed to rejoin the priesthood without leaving their families. And, after World War I, married German Lutheran priests were also allowed to convert and become Catholic priests without abandoning their spouses."

Q: I read somewhere that the early church fathers were all married men. Was that true? If so, what prompted the change to celibacy and when did it take place - and why? As one of the few married priests in the world, and with the paucity of men entering the priesthood, do you think you represent the future?

A: Today's question came to me by e-mail from a local radio station, and so let me give a quick reply before a more thoughtful discussion: no and no. But I am asked this set of questions rather a lot. It is a very controversial issue and there are whole Web sites, some better informed than others, which discuss the issue.

Celibacy in the clergy was common in the early church but it was not mandatory for a long while. It is an axiom among Protestants and evangelicals today that marriage must have been the rule for clergy and celibacy the exception, and it is equally axiomatic among Catholic writers that celibacy was the norm and marriage was the exception.

Certainly both existed but we do not have records to prove what was the more common. Paul the apostle tells us that he was single, but he also adds that Peter was married. (I Corinthians 9:5) But we certainly cannot say that they "all" were married or single. For the cultural reasons listed below, as a historian, I believe married priests were present, but not common in the early church.

It is certainly a fact that there were once married clergy, whatever their numbers, but they faded away. When we look at the age of the church fathers in the fourth century and beyond, men such as Athanasius, Basil, John Chrysostom, Augustine and Jerome were almost all single. There were exceptions, however. St Gregory of Nyssa, as late as the fourth century, was married at one time, but he is the exception.

The earliest known rule of mandatory celibacy of the clergy was issued at the Council of Elvira in A.D. 306, when clergy in what is now Spain were ordered to be single under pain of deposition. A similar proposal was made at the universal ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325, but this was rejected and not put into canon law. In 386 Pope Siricus ordered the Roman clergy to be celibate, but the fact that the decree had to be reissued by Pope Innocent I after A.D. 402 suggests that the earlier decree might not have been completely obeyed.

Leo the Great, after his election in A.D. 440, had to repeat the command yet again but went on to add the priests' wives were not to be put away, but thoughtfully added that they live as brother and sister. Soon after this, bishops in Gaul began to require married men and their wives to take vows of celibacy if the men were to be ordained, and many of the women were sent to convents. After this there were repeated attempts to stamp out clerical marriage in the West, and the Second Lateran Council in 1139 ended the debate by decreeing that any marriage of a priest was invalid.

It is worth noting that this rule of celibacy was imposed in Western Christianity and not the east. In the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and in the Orthodox Church even today, married men may become priests, although never bishops, and if a priest's wife dies, he must remain single. In the West, every couple of centuries or so, a few married men are given papal approval to be ordained, but they are very few in number, and the same rule of the Eastern Church applies to them about never being able to remarry. I make a point of seeing that my wife takes her daily vitamins.

Why was this rule of celibacy common in antiquity and mandatory in medieval times? There are many reasons, of which the imitation of Christ is not the least. Another factor in antiquity was the profound influence of Platonic philosophy on early Christianity, which taught that the material and physical world were always inferior to the spiritual world. With the rise of Christianity in Roman times, this Platonic view was translated by the church into the dimension of human sexuality. In later centuries, the Protestant reformers would regard the influence of Greek philosophy as a danger which could corrupt the biblical faith and they rejected celibacy wholesale. Luther had some particularly crisp things to say about monasticism.

A significant and often unmentioned fact is that the medical knowledge of the Graeco-Roman world was rather eccentric by modern standards. It was a widespread belief among secular and pagan Roman doctors that regular sexual activity made men gradually more weak and stupid as time went on. Their colorful reasons for this medical opinion are not appropriate for a family newspaper, but in point of fact, Roman doctors advised gentlemen to sleep with their wives not more than once a month.

Even active-duty soldiers in the Roman army were forbidden to marry until the third century A.D., and this permission was granted by Septimus Severus only because he was short on legionaries and he wanted the troops to breed more. In most of the period of the late Republic and the Empire, Caesar wanted a lean, mean fighting machine on the Rhine frontier. This caution about sexuality was probably absorbed by the early church.

This historical background should not obscure the fact that celibacy has benefited the Catholic Church over the centuries, whatever its short-term challenges. A monastic clergy kept learning and literature alive for a thousand years in medieval times, and the Bible itself would have been lost were it not for the celibates of the church. Single missionaries have been dispatched to the far reaches of the globe in the past four centuries, which made Catholicism the largest church in the world and took the word of faith to many who might not have heard it.

Generations of poor Americans, often immigrants at the bottom of the social spectrum, were educated by armies of selfless religious sisters. Even today the role of celibate religious sisters should not be disrespected or underestimated. When one of my very secular friends complained to me that Catholicism had no role for women, I could make only one reply, which any priest would see the point of. I said, "Who do you think is running the machine today?"

I could never say that a single clergy was the only model of ministry. But, I would have to add, it has much good over time.

It is the task of theologians to advise us on how the church ought to be run in the future. It is the task of bishops to tell us how it will be run now.

And it is the vocation of historians to say how it has run in the past. I am the latter. So I called upon my friend, the Rev. Dr. Paul Granillo, pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Redlands and a doctor of canon law. I put the question to him, that, given the Pastoral Provision, will there be a change in the policies of the church in the future, i.e. married priests? He replied, "The Pastoral Provision is an exception to the rule of celibacy, and represents no change to mandatory celibacy for priests in the Roman Catholic Church."

Then why does Rome allow a tiny number of exceptions to the rule? Father Paul replied, "The Pastoral Provision exists because of the close historical and sacramental ties between the Latin Church and the Anglican Communion and the desire of the Latin Church to acknowledge those ties and provide a place for those Anglican men who feel called to the Roman Catholic Priesthood."

So to answer the original question with a negative, I do not think a change is coming. If a change were in the works, Father Paul would know of it.

As for me, I work for a kind Irish religious sister, and I have a wife, a daughter and two little cats. These five females manage to keep this priest well in line with the policies of the church.

Gregory Elder, a Redlands resident, is a professor of history and humanities at Riverside Community College. You can write to him at Professing Faith, P.O. Box 8102, Redlands, CA 92375, or send e-mail to

'Pope's pastor' is father of three-year-old child

National Catholic Reporter
New York
Posted on Jun 1, 2007

In the wake of revelations that he is the father of a three-year-old girl, the popular pastor of a parish in Valle d’Aosta in Northern Italy, where both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spent their summer vacations, will take a year-long sabbatical to reflect on his future as a Catholic priest.

Fr. Paolo Curtaz is a well-known figure in Italian Catholicism, the author of several books and a popular spiritual guide who maintains a web site with homilies and materials for retreats ( The Italian bishops’ conference recently used Curtaz in an advertising campaign designed to encourage Italians to designate a portion of their tax payments for the church.

When Benedict XVI arrived in Valle d’Aosta for his summer vacation in 2005, Curtaz jokingly welcomed him by saying, “Your Holiness, be careful, because while you’re here I’m your pastor.” Benedict responded by pledging to be “an obedient parishioner.” Curtaz exchanged similar words with John Paul II in 2004.

This week, however, news broke that Curtaz had stepped down as pastor of his parish, and will take a year-long sabbatical to reflect on his future. During this period, according to the agreement between Curtaz and his bishop, Giuseppe Anfossi of Aosta, the priest is not to exercise any public ministry.

The move follows disclosures that Curtaz, 41, is the father of a three-year-old female child. The identity of the mother has not been revealed, but Italian news reports suggest it’s a local woman in her 40s.

A statement released by the Aosta diocese on May 31 said that Curtaz has not been suspended and that he remains bound by all the obligations of the priestly office. Further, the statement indicated, his status as a father is not incompatible with his identity as a priest; living together with the woman involved, on the other hand, or further violations of his obligations of celibacy, would not be acceptable.

“We will help Fr. Paulo in his journey of thinking and deciding about his priestly ministry,” the statement said.

The Code of Canon Law does not contain any penalties for priests with children, but it does provide for sanctions against priests who marry contrary to their vows of celibacy.

In an e-mail sent on Thursday to around 45,000 subscribers to his web site, Curtaz wrote, “I am a priest, I remain a priest, and I want to be a priest.”

“For me, what’s under discussion is not celibacy, but how I can live, if possible, my profound call without abdicating my responsibilities [as a father] which, believe me, I’ve always undertaken with conviction and effort,” he wrote.

“I want to confirm that I’m serene in my convictions and in my choices, and that the difficulty, in any case, is being created by this pernicious and insistent violation of privacy, my own and that of those I love. I’m unhappy that these events may have caused anyone to suffer, and for that I ask forgiveness.”

“As you’ve seen, I ended up on the front pages of national newspapers on a wave of gossip, this time clerical gossip,” Curtaz wrote. “The news of my resignation as pastor, which was confirmed by the statement of the curia, was something everyone already knew. What’s less known is the fact that, in harmony with the bishop and following a long and sincere discernment, I have arranged a sabbatical year of reflection.”

Curtaz added that the choice “belongs exclusively to my private sphere as a man and a priest, and all the attempts to dredge up details surrounding what happened should be named for what they are: gossip.”

Curtaz added that he wanted to “reassure the many persons who have been upset by the frenzy of news that has come out, and to thank people for their many expressions of esteem.”

“What’s under discussion for me,” Curtaz wrote, “is what I want to reflect on during this year – how I can exercise my ministry in this church that I have served, and that I love loyally, and if this church needs what I’m in a position to give.”

“Everything else,” Curtaz added, “belongs to the most intimate sphere of conscience that every human being should respect, and to the interior journey of every believer.”

“I’m going through a difficult moment,” Curtaz wrote. “Prayer for one another, which is born in the heart and leads to the truth, is a beautiful gift that believers give to one another.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fr. Ted Hesburg Speaks Out on a Married Priesthood

Approaching his 90th Birthday, Father Ted Hesburg, former president of Notre Dame University, spoke out on the state of the Church. Things are changing, Fr. Hesburg suggests - the Spirit is at work, and it's time for a married priesthood to again become normative in the church, as it was during the first thousand years of its existence. Fr. Hesburg says he shudders to think of millions of Catholics going without the Eucharist because there aren't enough priests...
And to this, Fr. H, we should add that it's time to welcome the ministry of women too! If fact, that time is long past due!

Fr. Hesburg's interview is attached as a link, it's well worth a viewing.

Click on the title of this article to watch!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Priests without borders

By Rochelle Hentges
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Michael Clarke, 32, and his fiance, Lynn Dixon, 34, were raised Roman Catholic. They want to raise their children the same way.

But they can't be married in the Roman Catholic Church. Dixon had been in a previous marriage, and the church forbids divorced couples to remarry in an official church ceremony. So the Allison Park couple began looking for priests who would conduct a traditional Catholic wedding ceremony outside the church.

"It wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be," Clarke said. But then Dixon stumbled upon, an online directory of more than 300 married priests across the country willing to perform services traditional priests can't or won't.

While the concept sounds kind of like a sacrilegious Rent-A-Center, it's actually a spiritual quest to aid couples or individuals in finding a priest to help them in their time of need, said Louise Haggett, who founded the nonprofit organization.

"They're like priests without borders," Haggett said.
Church canon law stipulates once a priest, always a priest, Haggett said, and they can perform valid sacraments in times of emergency. Haggett contends the priest shortage has left the Catholic Church in a constant state of emergency.

"That is a stretch and somewhat naive," said Fr. James Wehner, director of the St. Paul Seminary. An emergency would be if a car accident happened in front of a married priest and the priest was there to offer the "last rites" to a dying person, Wehner said.

Although Rent A Priest weddings are legal and binding, they are not recognized as being valid by the Catholic Church, he said.

Since 1996, Rent A Priest members have performed more than a quarter of a million baptisms, weddings, funerals and anointing of the sick, Haggett said.

On Friday, Clarke and Dixon were married in North Park by the only Western Pennsylvania member of Rent A Priest, William Podobinski, who was ordained in 1973 but then married a nun, Donna, in 1984.

"After we got married, half my family would have nothing to do with me," Podobinski said. "A lot of people that I was associated with in the church wouldn't have anything to do with us."

After marriage, the couple settled on the South Side and tried to resume their religious activities. "We were very open and honest about who we were," he said. "Every Catholic Church there on the South Side Flats told us we would be a scandal coming to church."

The Podobinskis, of Baldwin, now attend Christ Hope Ecumenical Catholic Church, which was founded by Catholics who felt some of the traditional Roman Catholic rules were arbitrary and man-made.

Haggett, who formed Rent A Priest in 1992, after her ill mother had trouble finding priests who could deliver communion and blessings to her in the senior care center.

"Had I known there were married priests around, I would have engaged one to come and visit my mom," she said. "But it never happened. She didn't see a priest until she was comatose in the hospital."

Clarke said the marital status of Podobinski wasn't a concern to him and Dixon.

"We want to raise our kids Catholic, but some of the things we just don't agree with. One of the things is I believe priest should be able to get married," Clarke said. "If they don't allow priests to marry, they're not going to have priests."

Facts and figures

  • The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has 214 parishes and 282 active priests. Officials project that within five years it will have fewer active priests than parishes.

  • In 1985, there were 57,317 priests and 1,051 parishes without a resident priest. By 2005, there were 42,839 priests and 3,251 parishes without a priest in residence.

  • 71 percent of priests polled by the Los Angeles Times said they would "definitely" choose to become a priest if they had to choose again. Seven percent said they would choose a different vocation.

  • Nine out of 10 priests who leave clerical priesthood do so to get married.

  • Married priests are the norm among Eastern Rite Catholics in their homelands in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

  • Because of the priest shortage, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has begun appointing "parish life collaborators" to oversee day-to-day pastoral care and administration of the building.

Sources: Tribune-Review research, Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Associated Press