Thursday, August 14, 2008

A tribute to the late Fr. Umberto Lenzi

The following article is reprinted as a tribute to Father Umberto Lenzi (pictured at right hugging a groom at a 2002 wedding). Umberto, a dedicated husband, father, and married priest, passed away this week. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002


When Anne Olson became engaged, she envisioned a grand Roman Catholic ceremony, complete with Communion and the Filipino and Hispanic traditions of the veil, lasso and 13 coins.

But her goals began to wilt when she couldn't find a parish that could accommodate a Saturday wedding. Then she found "Rent a Priest," a national non-profit referral service for married priests, and last Saturday, she and her fiancé had their Catholic wedding in the University District.

The Rev. Umberto Lenzi, a married priest, gives Randy Calpe a hug at Calpe's wedding to Anne Olson Saturday. The wedding was recognized by the state, but not by the Catholic Church. Loren Callahan / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Click for larger photo
But it was in a Baptist church, and with a20priest who left his religious order 30 yea rs ago to get married. The wedding was recognized by the state, but not by the Catholic Church.
"At first, I was a little saddened. Even when I was little, I wanted a very traditional wedding in a Catholic church," Olson, a 28-year-old customer service worker, said last week. "Our families are very Catholic, and they're probably going to be talking. But we've come to the point where the focus is us and God."

For people who consider themselves Catholic but chafe at the institutional rules, the growing number of married priests is providing a much-needed service. Under canon law, married priests must resign from active ministry, but cannot be unordained.

Theologically, they can still offer the sacraments, such as Mass, baptisms and weddings, but the Catholic Church does not recognize their work or record them as sacramental experiences in20its historical registers.

Reform groups have traditionally promoted married priests as a way to ease the shortage of diocesan and religious order priests. But the sex-abuse scandals in the U.S. Catholic Church have renewed the debate about mandatory celibacy and added fuel to groups such20as "Rent a Priest," which advocates nationally for a married priesthood.

"If there were married or women bishops in the church, do you think they would have shuffled pedophiles around?" said John Shuster, vice president of Rent a Priest and a married priest in Port Orchard.

The group, which has more than 2,500 members, was started in Massachusetts by a woman who couldn't find a priest to say Mass for her homebound mother, so she turned to a married priest.
"I think by having a balanced priesthood of men and women, married and celibate, you're going to have more checks and balances to prevent that from happening," Shuster said.

The Rev. Umberto Lenzi left his order 30 years ago to get married. Saturday he married Randy Calpe and Anne Olson. Loren Callahan / Seattle Post -Intelligencer
Click for larger ph oto
Bill Gallant, spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese, said a married priesthood would not help prevent clergy sexual abuse, which he said occurs mostly within families and is often committed by men who are married.

The church does not recognize the work of married priests, he said, and people who think otherwise are succumbing to "a bit of false advertising."

"We're not antagonistic toward these guys. The archbishop has always believed that people have a right to believe what they want to believe," Gallant said. "But there are things that make us intrinsically Catholic. Otherwise, what's the point of being Catholic?"

Of the estimated 20,000 priests who've left the institution nationally in the last 30 years, most have left to marry. Advocates say about 140 married priests live in W estern Washington, where some do weddings full time, while others, such as Shuster, squeeze weddings in between secular jobs. Most charge a fee of $50 to $300 for a ceremony.

Now a pharmaceu tical salesman, Shuster was a 33-year-old priest of four years when he left his religious order in 1983. The oldest of six Catholic children, he had entered seminary when he was 13, simply because it was expected. By the time he was a young man, he said four priests had sexually propositioned him, and he became disillusioned. Plus, he wanted to get married.
"I felt like a 10-pound ham in a 5-pound can when I was in the celibate priesthood," said Shuster, 50, now the father of two sons.

For priests like Bob Riler, the decision to resign is emotionally wrenching. Riler, who left the Seattle Archdiocese after five years, had found ministering a joy, but celibacy painfully lonely.
Before he left, he spent a year and a half pondering his life's path. He talked with his spiritual director for hours. He went on solitary retreats. Finally, he resigned from his Puyallup parish in 1999.

"I really agonized over the decision," said Riler, 51. "Priesthood i s a very isolating experience. It's like dieting: The more you diet, the m ore you want Oreos. I realized there was that hole, deep down in the center of my life."

Riler married a parishioner he had befriended, and has had a series of jobs, none long term. He was the spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board. He edited a community newspaper for seniors. He does a few weddings a year. He's now doing a temporary gig with a Pierce County project for caregivers, and isn't sure where what he'll do next.
Despite the anxiety of making the transition to a secular life, he said marriage has enriched his role as a priest.

"My life is much more whole and complete," Riler said. "It's much more spiritual. I feel I'm honest with the values I hold."

Married priests often appeal to Catholics who feel alienated from the church, or want to wed, but don't want to abide by all the rules. They don't want to undergo the sometimes draining process of annulling a first marriage, submit to the required four to six months of pre-marriage training, or marry only on church property.

But they still want a priest.

"Being Catholic is like being Jewish. There's a sense of identity, even though they're not actively involved. They tend to appreciate the background of a resigned priest like myself," said Pat Callahan, who left the Seattle Archdiocese nearly 20 years ago to get married.

Callahan, who has a full-time wedding ministry, became a priest in 1968, with the largest class of priests ever to be ordained in the archdiocese. Fifteen years later, he was restless and lonely in what he called a "classic, right-on-schedule, midlife crisis" at age 40. He left a year later in 1983.
"My therapist said, 'Welcome to the middle years,'" said Callahan, now 59. "It was very traumatic. Priests are so loved and highly regarded, so the idea of leaving that role and that status as a priest was just terrifically scary for me. For 27 of my 41 years, I had been training for and being 'Father Pat.'"

By the time he left, nearly half of his ordination class of 16 had resigned, most of them=2 0to get married.

He said married priests would help ease the shortage of priests. The national Catholic population has grown by 37 percent since 1965, while the number of priests has declined by 23 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
"It will open up a huge pool of men who have not been willing to consider priesthood, because they have not been willing to consider a celibate life," said Callahan, a former national board member of the reform group Corpus, which promotes a priesthood inclusive of women and married men.
"If you don't have enough priests, Catholics are being deprived of the sacraments."
Callahan said expanding the pool of candidates would also help weed out sexual abusers.

Gallant, the Seattle Archdiocese spokesman, noted that many mainline Protestant denominations, which allow married ministers, are struggling to fill clergy positions. He said Seattle doesn't have a priest shortage in the first place, but rather a Catholic population boom.

Celibate priests talk about having a "gift" -- or an aptitu de -- for celibacy that prevents them from becoming lonely.
"I've known an awful lot of priests who are engaged in their communities, who love the ir communities and are loved, and have a very full life," said John Topel, a Jesuit priest and a theology and religious studies professor at Seattle University.

Topel, an expert in Catholic tradition and thought, anticipated that a drop in mandatory celibacy will be a "strong possibility" with Pope John Paul II's successor.
He predicted the many American bishops, who are struggling with the shortage of celibate priests, would likely support a married priesthood. And he noted that the Catholic church already has a tradition of a married priesthood, which existed until the 12th century.

It wasn't until 1139 that the Second Lateran Council mandated celibacy, as a way to distinguish clerics from the laity and weaken the power and property rights of priests and their families, say those who advocate for a married priesthood.

And in 1980, the Vatican began allowing Episcopalian priests to convert and become Catholic cleri cs, regardless if they are married.

"I think the prospects are quite good, because bishops are scraping the barrel for lack of priest s," Topel said.

Until then, advocates can only dream.

In a few weeks, Callahan will officiate at a wedding at the chapel in Bastyr University in Kenmore, which was once the site of the archdiocese's major seminary. For six years, Callahan trained for priesthood in the stained-glass chapel, now a popular wedding spot.

"I'll tell you, it's kind of eerie for me when I go back," he said. He recalled how the chapel's walls used to list the seven sacraments, and how, as a seminarian, he used to sit opposite two of them: Holy orders and matrimony.

Remembering "I would often think, 'Gee, those are both such beautiful sacraments.'"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree that women priests and married priests would bring about a balance that reflects the make-up of the Church and would thus discourage pedophiles. While there will always be predators in the priesthood, perhaps a more balanced mix of women and married priests would make the hierarchy less of a haven for homosexuals who fear exposure or outing by pedophiles. The statistics now show that 1/2 to 2/3 of Catholic clergy are gay. If married men and women were allowed to become priests, more straight men would feel comfortable in becoming priests. As it stands now, when one asks a Catholic teenager if he wants to be a priest, the answer is likely to be, "heck no, I ain't no perv."