I found a summary of this recent open letter to Pope Benedict XVI on the blog of Libération, a French left-wing newspaper, and decided to look for the complete original text and translate it. The title is the one that appeared on the blog. The author, Dominique Venturini, is president of Plein Jour, a support organization for women who are involved with priests and that advocates for optional celibacy. Venturini is a former Dominican nun who became involved in a relationship with a priest. She is the author of two books: L’impossible voyage. Pour l'amour d'un prêtre (“The Impossible Journey: For love of a priest”, Cardère Editeur) and Sous le signe du Bélier. Un prêtre a-t-il le droit d'aimer? (“Under the Sign of the Ram: Does a priest have the right to love?”, Cardère Editeur). The first is her life story; the second, the story of her priest-friend, Jean-Marie.
Opinions expressed in this letter are those of Ms. Venturini. I personally disagree with her about the correlation between celibacy and pedophilia but recognize that her view is common among those in the movement to make celibacy optional. -- Rebel Girl
August 20, 2008
To our brother Benedict XVI:
Even though all our previous messages have gone unanswered, we trust in your willingness to reform.
“If you have faith, you can lift mountains of prejudice”
On the occasion of your stay in France, please allow us to tell you about our current unease in the face of an institution that stubbornly denies sexuality and renders women inferior.
If the WYD [World Youth Day] in Sydney was able to give the Church a dynamic image, its hidden face is no less shadowy. You apologized to the victims of pedophile priests, and that’s only fair. It is high time that the scandal of dissimulation by the Church on the subject of priestly celibacy cease. Already in 1962, the document “Crimen sollicitationis” ordered the bishops to keep secret, hidden away, all cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy. The victims were required to remain silent. This cynical reflexion from one bishop: “Only silence can quench your thirst for justice.” Camouflage is not constructive. You can change things.
One is forced to observe that the sexual misconduct is endemic, as the whole world has been contaminated by it. In the United States, in 2004, 4,400 out of 42,000 priests were accused. The best known case was that of Fr. O’Grady who, for 20 years, was able to carry out his sexual abuses against young people, in complete tranquility. The victims ran into a wall of denial from the hierarchy, which was more concerned about preserving its reputation than aiding the children. Welcome the criticism! You can change things.
Keeping secrets ends up protecting the guilty, who are simply moved from one place to another.
In England, G. Wilmer, a former student under the Salesians, testifies about his broken life (Golias, No.120). The Salesians offered him £20,000 to buy his silence. The bishops and religious superiors think they are above civil law which they infringe without blinking. Out of respect for the law, you can change things.
How do you explain that Catholic priests are so inclined to pedophilia? Clerical celibacy imposed uniformly on everyone is most probably the cause. Doesn’t repressed sexuality engender a lack of balance? Hence the search for compensatory and sometimes criminal forms of satisfaction. Why not let candidates for priestly ministry have free choice? Not every man is meant to live alone. Can a depressed “old boy” communicate anything to his flock except his ill-being?
This discipline marginalizes priests. Without having experienced it, can they really understand a professional job with its forms of servitude? Their status and their function shelter them from the risks and hazards of life. They are unaware of the tasks, steps and struggles that common mortals must take on for their survival and to meet the needs of their families. How can they proclaim the Good News without having experienced the depth of human relationships for themselves? In the face of this over-protection, you can change things.
And when, in their forties, affection and sexuality are awakened in the priests, what is your attitude towards the woman? Is she condemned for instigating this surge of love? And here is our man tangled up in a double commitment: the Church or his partner? Either he resolutely eliminates the latter. Or he gives her crumbs of his time and leads a double life. It’s similar to a married man who, for years, promises his mistress that he is going to get a divorce. Faced with this tearing apart, you can change things.
But who talks about the suffering of the woman? So much media attention has been focused on the victims of pedophilia but they have remained silent about what the companions of priests must endure. And with good reason! Because their existence is denied and clandestine. Because of the prohibition, they must renounce life as a couple, and very often motherhood. Suffering also exists for the priest but it is tempered. He keeps his social status, his relationships, the job he loves. Whereas she, totally dependent, has lost everything. And with a strong sense of guilt as well. What a mess! Faced with the suffering of these women, you can change things.
You tolerate exceptions to the mandatory celibacy rule. Eastern rite priests, Anglicans or Protestant pastors who have returned to the Roman Church, can function fully as priests.
What can be said about the inhumane way in which priests who have renounced their ministry in order to get married have been rejected? No support for that one who, suddenly, is deprived of money, of shelter, of work and has to secure his and his companion’s livelihood anyhow. He is forbidden from taking on any religious responsibility. What a shame for the communities who you deprive of these dynamic and generous people! How can you justify exclusion, whether of married priests, remarried divorced people, or homosexuals, when Jesus did not hesitate to share a meal with people deemed to be disrespectable?
We expect of you that you will listen to the people of God, to their frustration, to mentalities that have changed and can no longer bear the intransigence of obsolete rules. We are calling on you to reestablish the dialogue between the hierarchy and the laity, in an atmosphere of trust. To accept that men and women in this day and age are responsible and free to lead their lives according to their conscience, without the interference of an authoritarian religious power. To recognize that Christians who are moved by the spirit of God are as empowered as the clergy to, with their collaboration, testify to the light of the Gospel through their life in the midst of the world.
President of Plein Jour