Monday, August 20, 2007

There is no 'cure' for priest with child, archbishop says

"Impaired personality constructs"? "Cured"? "Rehabilitated"? I thought the desire to be with a woman and father a child was natural and normal...Am I missing something here? -- RG


MANILA, Philippines (UCAN) – The head of the Philippine church's marriage-appeals court disapproves of priests continuing in the ministry after fathering children and rejects efforts to "cure" these priests instead of "disciplining" them.

According to Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, head of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal, a priest who sired a child cannot be rehabilitated. "No matter how you assist this priest, that child remains and he has a natural obligation towards the child."

He stressed that parenting was "not only giving food, shelter or clothing, as people do with pets, but teaching, formation, education" as well. He believes "impaired personality constructs" cannot be "cured."

In Archbishop Cruz's view, bishops who "overlook" or "just forgive" misconduct by their clergy face problems. If one priest is "allowed to misbehave" and continue in the ministry, "there will be more," the prelate warned, expressing concern about tolerance sending a "wrong signal" to seminarians.

In the northern Philippine archdiocese he has led for 16 years, "about 17 priests have left because there's a woman, there's a child or there's a boyfriend," the prelate said Aug. 3 at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) headquarters in Manila.

The former secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) spoke with UCA News as Asian bishops prepared for an Aug. 27-Sept. 1 seminar in Thailand on "Caring for Priests - Especially Those in Difficult Situations," sponsored by the FABC Office of Clergy.

"Caring for priests, for me, is seeing to it that my priests live their priestly commitment," he said. Priests who are "fooling around" should "just leave."

His tribunal reviews all decisions of lower church tribunals on cases related to matrimony. In 2000, he opened a section to help dioceses process dispensation cases for priests with children or partners.

Archbishop Cruz, however, said he could "only guess" the total number of priests with children. In the Catholic Directory of the Philippines, the former CBCP president noted, most dioceses list inactive priests who have fathered children among priests "on leave," "with no assignment" and other categories.

The 2006-2007 directory lists six priests as having "left the ministry," five with "no assignment," and two "on renewal." Another 685 are listed as being on leave for studies, on "sabbatical," "abroad" or away with no specified reason. It has 5,834 diocesan priests listed in 85 geographical church jurisdictions and 122 in the military ordinariate.

One priest spoke with UCA News before leaving to serve in a parish in the United States. His bishop disallowed him from saying Mass and administering sacraments upon learning he had children. However, he did not file papers for dispensation.

When he was "reduced" to selling "all sorts of things door to door," he applied for incardination in another diocese. He said the bishop asked him to "break off" relations with his children's mother, set up a system of financial support for his offspring and "re-enter active ministry far" from his family.

He served as "guest priest" in Manila in 2000 and took part-time jobs to earn extra money for his children until his acceptance in the United States. He is not listed in the latest directory.

Archbishop Cruz stressed "most" Philippine priests are "good priests."

Meanwhile, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of Manila, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Clergy, has acknowledged most bishops are "not of the punitive school of thought."

At the Aug. 15 inauguration of John Mary Vianney-Galilee Development and Retreat Center southeast of Manila, he told UCA News: "Thank God the bishops of the Philippines did not advocate the 'one-strike-you're out' policy." Instead, the CBCP "accepted" the position that the church should give "fallen" priests "help" to "repair the man (and) help him repent."

The commission maintains a priest with one child can undergo "curative measures," the cardinal said. "Singular events" may spell a "weakness" that can be treated "pastorally," and which can be healed through "a program that encourages a person to be better rather than just punishing him," he elaborated.

However, he stressed, a priest with more than one child is helped to leave the ministry. Moreover, "the church is very strict about those who have abused, who repeatedly hurt or take advantage of people."

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