Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Priest loses custody dispute to woman who bore triplets with donor eggs

Normally I shy away from blogging the extremely wierd cases but this one is so sad...Fr. Cristancho came from the Diocese of Istmina-Tadó in Colombia and also served as the first full-time Hispanic priest at Good Shepherd parish in Alexandria, VA from 1995 to 1998.

by Caryn Tamber
Maryland Daily Record
October 27, 2008 6:54 PM

The state’s second-highest court has upheld a judge’s decision to give custody of 6-year-old triplets to the woman who gave birth to them using another woman’s eggs and the sperm of a Catholic priest.

Dalia Fernandez deserves custody because the priest, Fernando Cristancho, was found to have sexually abused two of the triplets, the Court of Special Appeals held.

Margaret Attanasio, the Harford County lawyer who argued the case for Fernandez on appeal, said she expected the court to decide the case in favor of her client.

“It’s not a surprise,” she said. “They had to affirm it.”

The county trial judge had found that Fernandez, a platonic friend of the priest who had lived with his mother, was the triplets’ de facto parent — that is, a non-parent who acts in a parental role.

However, while Cristancho’s appeal was pending, the state’s highest court struck down the de facto parent doctrine in another case. It held that third parties must show exceptional circumstances to overcome a parent’s right to determine custody or visitation.

But that did not mean the decision should be reversed, the intermediate appellate court said.

“[E]ven though it relied upon a subsequently overruled case, the trial court applied the correct test in making its decision,” Judge Deborah S. Eyler wrote for the three-judge panel. “Therefore, any error in finding that Dalia was a de facto parent of the triplets was harmless, as Fernando [Cristancho] himself concedes in his brief.”

Cristancho’s lawyer, Laura Bearsch, did not immediately return a call for comment Monday afternoon.

Two boys and a girl

According to Monday’s unreported opinion, Cristancho and Fernandez met through Cristancho’s sister, who worked with Fernandez.

Cristancho, as a priest, had taken a vow of celibacy, but he wanted children. He convinced Fernandez to bear his children, who would be conceived through in vitro fertilization of an anonymous donor’s eggs with Cristancho’s sperm.

Fernandez was 50 years old at the time; Cristancho was in his 40s. They were close friends but did not have a romantic or sexual relationship, according to the opinion.

They traveled to Colombia, Cristancho’s native country, in 2001 to undergo the in vitro process. Afterward, Fernandez moved in with Cristancho’s mother and, when he was not staying at the church, Cristancho himself. Various other relatives of Cristancho and Fernandez lived there too, at times.

Fernandez gave birth to the triplets, two boys and a girl, that November. Cristancho, at the time an assistant priest at St. Ignatius Church in Forest Hill, did not tell anyone at his church about the children. When church officials found out, they fired him, according to the appellate opinion.

Fernandez and Cristancho’s relationship started to deteriorate, with allegations of domestic violence and a fight over custody. In 2005, Fernandez found out from one of the boys that Cristancho was sexually abusing him, the opinion says.

She testified that she contacted the children’s doctor to find out what to do, but he told her “nothing could be done until the children were six years old,” according to the opinion.

In 2006, a friend of Fernandez who was babysitting the children heard a similar story from the boy. The friend told her pastor, who contacted the police and notified an official with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The Department of Social Services was notified and investigated. The agency determined that child sexual abuse of the two boys was “indicated,” its highest-level finding, but ruled out abuse of their sister.

In 2007, after a custody trial, Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. found that Cristancho had abused the boys, and did not find that Cristancho was unlikely to abuse them again. In addition to finding that Fernandez was a de facto parent, he found that she had proven Cristancho unfit and, therefore, that she only had to show that giving her custody would be in the children’s best interest.

On appeal, Cristancho argued that Plitt had erred in finding that he had abused the boys, but the Court of Special Appeals rejected his argument as “an attempt to reargue the facts of the case.”

J. Richard Moore III, who is now a domestic master in Harford County but represented Fernandez at trial, said he was not concerned about the fate of the case when he heard the Court of Appeals struck down de facto parenthood.

“I wasn’t, only because of the way that Judge Plitt fashioned his decision,” Moore said. “It hedges against that whole issue, the de facto parent.”

The unreported opinion is available as RecordFax 8-1027-06 (18 pages).

Friday, October 24, 2008

World Priest Day

This Sunday, October 26th, 2008 is World Priest Day and the irony is not lost on us that this event is sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter even as our priests are denied the joy of marriage and a family and those who do choose to marry may no longer function as priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

The organizers of WPD encourage us to use it as a time to thank and pray for our priests. Let's join in that and also use it as a day to pray for an end to mandatory celibacy so that our priests may be free to marry and married people who are called to the priesthood may be ordained.

For more information on World Priest Day, suggested activities and prayers, etc, go to the official World Priest Day Web site.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fight of our Fathers: Who's more Catholic?

By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News
October 21, 2008

The more the Rev. Jim St. George read the letter, the more steamed he got.

"Dear Reverend St. George," the brief note begins. "We, the Roman Catholic priests of the East Falls, Manayunk and Roxborough areas, respectfully request that your listing in The Review be placed under an appropriate heading. Some people might be mislead [sic] into thinking that St. Miriam is a Roman Catholic institution. You and we certainly don't wish to misrepresent ourselves to the public."

It listed the names of 10 priests, including Monsignor Joseph McGeown, who wrote the note and was the only one to pen his signature.

"It was so arrogant," says Rev. Jim, whose Manayunk church, St. Miriam Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch, opened eight months ago in space rented from Mishkan Shalom synagogue at Freeland Avenue and Shurs Lane. "Their churches aren't more Catholic than mine! They don't own the word 'Catholic.' "

The priests sent their letter not only to the Philly Archdiocese's regional bishop and vicar, but also to The Review, the Roxborough paper whose neighborhood directory lists houses of worship by denomination.

That list includes eight Catholic ones, among which St. Miriam is the only Antioch-rite church, the others being Roman-rite.

Since the priests went public with their letter, Rev. Jim decided to do so with his response.

He took out a full-page newspaper ad that includes the priests' note on one side of the page, and his long, heartfelt response on the other. (To read it, go to http://go.philly.com/churchletter).

If this thing were a prize fight, I'd call it "Fight of Our Fathers: The Catholic Priest Smackdown!"

And Rev. Jim's letter would be its knockout punch.

Not many people know that Roman Catholics aren't the world's only Catholics. It just seems that way, given that most of the world's billion-plus members belong to the Roman rite.

In many ways, the Antioch and Roman rites are identical: Same liturgy, sacraments, ecclesiastical calendar and apostolic succession of its priests.

The Antioch church, like the Eastern Orthodox, split from the Roman church in the first millennium, but traces its patriarchs back to St. Peter, the founder of the church at Antioch (in what is now Turkey).

Antioch priests, however, can be male or female, gay or straight. Celibacy is not required, and marriage is allowed.

Can you see why the Antiochs might irk the Romans?

The Antioch church also tends to butt out of personal matters. So birth control, sexual orientation and divorce are hands-off.


All of this makes the 60-member St. Miriam a pleasing home to estranged Roman Catholics.

Rev. Jim said as much in his response. He had hoped to run it in The Review, but says it was rejected as "too controversial" by the paper (Review publisher Wes Rowe didn't return my calls for comment).

So he ran it in The Star, another Roxborough weekly.

"You see," Rev. Jim wrote in the Oct. 9 ad, "Saint Miriam accepts all those whom you reject: the gay and lesbian, those of differing opinions or denominations, those in mixed-religious marriages, those who are divorced or did not receive or seek annulment, those who are otherwise and somehow 'just not right' - everyone."

The positive response from the public has been startling: Calls, e-mails and, this past Sunday, eight newcomers at Mass.

"People have been saying, 'I didn't know a Catholic church like this existed,'" says Rev. Jim. "It's been a great teaching moment for Catholics."

Monsignor McGeown told me last week that he hadn't seen Rev. Jim's ad, but he seemed aghast at the idea of it.

"It was private communication" between us, said the monsignor, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary. He didn't seem to get that, by sending a copy to The Review, he made his gripe public.

All he intended, he said, was to help Roman Catholics avoid confusion when they consulted The Review's directory (a free listing compiled by Review staff).

When I suggested that it seemed like he was trying to control use of the word "Catholic," he answered, "I have nothing else to say. I don't want to escalate the matter."

It all baffles Rev. Jim, 42, who by day is a chaplain at Lehigh Valley Medical Center and takes no salary from St. Miriam, whose start-up he financed himself.

After all, he notes, Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali himself sees him as a valid priest.

Last October, Rigali invited Rev. Jim to help celebrate the funeral Mass of slain Police Officer Chuck Cassidy.

Back then, Rev. Jim was a chaplain at Albert Einstein Medical Center, where Cassidy died, and he had ministered to the officer's family there.

"If you say Mass with the cardinal," Rev. Jim said, "I think you're a real priest."

Knockout! *

Photo: Fr. Jim St. George, pastor of St. Miriam's

Monday, October 20, 2008

'French Mother Theresa' dies aged 99

Asking a moment of silence for Soeur Emmanuelle, a wonderful woman religious who devoted her life to the poorest of the world...and supported married priests!

By John Lichfield in Paris
The Independent
Monday, 20 October 2008

Soeur Emmanuelle, the "French Mother Theresa", who was once described as a "nun with attitude", died today aged 99.

In the last four decades of her life, after her official "retirement", Soeur Emmanuelle worked tirelessly for the poorest of the poor, starting with 20 years among the rag-scavengers of Cairo. Her humour and tough-talking – she once threatened to rob a bank – pushed Soeur Emmanuelle late in her life into the leading places of lists of the most popular people in France.

Soeur Emmanuelle was hailed by the Vatican yesterday as a "personification of Christian charity" whose actions, like those of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, erased national frontiers.

However, Soeur Emmanuelle was also a constant thorn in the side of the Vatican.

She often spoke out in favour of married priests. In the last of her many books, published in August, she revealed that she once wrote to Pope John Paul II to say that the best gift that he could bestow on the Cairo rag-collectors would be the contraceptive pill. (J'ai 100 ans et je voudrais vous dire... -- "I am 100 and I want to tell you...")

She also revealed that, as a young nun, she had fallen in love with a "charming, handsome" young man. She said nothing to him at the time. Twenty years later, she received a letter which she knew to be in his hand-writing. She was, she admitted, "a little disappointed" to find that it was an official letter on a routine, administrative matter.

Soeur Emmanuelle died 26 days short of her 100th birthday at the retirement home of her order in Callian, in south eastern France.

"I am scared of dying in agony," she said in her final book. "People talk of the horror of death. Horrors are horrid. I never liked suffering. I never thought that suffering was a useful thing."

At the age of 23 – abandoning a fun-loving young womanhood – Madeleine Cinquin took the vows of the sisters of Notre-Dame de Sion and became Sister Emmanuelle. She asked to be sent to work with the poor but was ordered by her mother superior to become a teacher of daughters of the Turkish aristocracy and bourgeoisie. By influencing the minds of the rich, her superior insisted, she would do more good for the poor than by teaching the poor.

Soeur Emmanuelle accepted this decision until she "retired" at the age of 62 in 1971. She set off to Cairo to work with lepers but ended up living with the poorest of the Cairo slum-dwellers, the rag-pickers, who were a mixture of Coptic Christians and Muslims.

In her books, Sister Emmanuelle wrote of the squalor and violence but also the humanity and humour of the Cairo slums. From nothing, she started an organisation which created slum schools, a children's garden and a drug dispensary.

Her assistance was open to all, muslims and copts, with no attempt at conversion. On the door of her rough hut, little better than those occupied by the rag-pickers, she placed a cross and a crescent and the words "God is Love."

In 1976, after enlisting the aid of an Egyptian nun, who was named Sister Sarah, to look after her Cairo work, she began to tour the world to gather funds for the Association Soeur Emmanuelle.

In one fund-raising meeting in Geneva, when little cash was offered, she told her audience: "I need $30,000 and if I can't get it here, I will have no choice but to rob a bank."

She raised the money (legally) and used it to fund a factory for re-cycling Cairo waste -- a more lucrative form of the rag-scavengers' profession.

When she "retired" a second time in 1993, at the age of 84, she continued to tour the world to raise money for the poor.

Among many tributes yesterday, President Nicolas Sarkozy said that Soeur Emmanuelle was "everyone's sister -- a woman of action, for whom charity meant concrete acts of solidarity spanned the world."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

'Immaculate Confession': priests, nuns in love

Edward Guthmann
San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, October 17, 2008

Simone Grudzen always knew her family was different. It wasn't every kid in San Jose who had a priest for a father and a nun for a mother.

"I never volunteered the information as a kid or later as a teenager," she says. "Because then I would have to explain. Also, I didn't quite understand the story myself." In 1966, Grudzen's father, Jerry, was ordained at Maryknoll Catholic Missionary Society in Ossining, N.Y. At Maryknoll, he met and fell in love with Grudzen's mother, Marita, a nun. At first the couple resisted a physical relationship, hoping to form a spiritual union. When that became impossible, they left the church and married.

In her film "Immaculate Confession," Grudzen explores the story that she knew only "in bits and pieces" as a child.

"It was hard to understand because it was such a mythic love story," Grudzen said in the Bernal Heights apartment she shares with her partner, Emily Drabant. "My sister and I didn't understand the gravity of it until our teens."

"Immaculate Confession," which Grudzen directed and also produced with her older sister, Corita, will premiere next Sunday in the United Nations Association Film Festival. Grudzen, 32, studied documentary filmmaking at New York University.

"I always saw myself working in documentary," she said. "And because this was a real story in my life and my parents' life, I felt that it was just a natural progression to do the film."

Instead of doing a social-issue documentary with a lot of statistics and a broad overview, Grudzen decided to tell three individual stories.

"I interviewed 100 priests before we shot, because we wanted to decide who we wanted to focus on," she said. "I think it's a really interesting subject - celibacy and the priesthood - but I felt like we would reach people better if we told a few intimate stories and got to know these characters a little better."

In addition to her parents, Grudzen chose John Dee, a Minneapolis ex-priest and musician who had recently been widowed, and Tom Durkin, a priest-turned-sex guru who moved to Hawaii and embraced Eastern spirituality and communal living.

"I didn't want to focus so much on the politics and history so much as I wanted to humanize these characters. You know, once you become a priest, you're sort of leaving your life behind - your family, your friends - so you really lose your identity in a way. And that's what the church wants. And I guess I wanted to film these people reclaiming their humanity and reclaiming their sexuality."

In her film, Grudzen refers briefly to the molestation scandals that unmoored the Catholic Church in recent years. She runs a title card at the beginning that says, "Priests who molested children many times are allowed to continue to administer the sacraments. Whereas, once a priest marries, he's immediately excommunicated."

"That's a really important point," Grudzen says, "that these priests who had integrity - who came out with their love - were immediately excommunicated upon marrying."

Apart from that, she doesn't address the molestation crisis.

"I felt that that's a whole other film," she said, "and I felt that would really overshadow these stories of integrity."

In one generation, the image of priests and the public's faith in them as spiritual guides has taken a devastating turn. In the '40s and '50s, Grudzen says, "to be a priest was really to be a rock star. If you were in the middle class or working class, that was the way to advance your education, the way to travel and the way to just sort of become exalted. You became someone everyone can look up to. And that's how my dad saw it as well."

Today, "American culture is definitely moving away from a young priesthood," Grudzen said. "There are more priests over 90 than under 30. One in four churches in the United States is without a parish priest." To offset the shortage, priests are imported to this country from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, the Philippines. Sri Lanka.

"Optional celibacy," Grudzen says, "is the direction the church should go."

At one time, the Catholic Church permitted marriages, but in 1139 established a mandatory celibacy doctrine to keep property within the church. In the mid-'60s, at the time of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II), many priests were optimistic that the marriage ban would be lifted.

"Priests and nuns who had not left (the church) yet thought that it was right around the corner," Grudzen says. "So a lot of these priests and nuns were sort of informally pairing off, thinking, 'OK, just another year.' "

Grudzen's parents were part of that generation. When they fell in love, she said, "they were in a state of crisis, and I don't think either of them really knew how it was going to turn out. They were taking a leap of faith."

When her father was assigned to Bolivia for one year, her parents sent covert love letters to each other on reel-to-reel tapes. Her mother's fellow nuns collaborated in smuggling the tapes to avoid the suspicion of the mother superior.

It was her parents' example of "following their hearts" and weathering the rejection of family and church, Grudzen says, that made it easier for her to come out as a lesbian.

"They really inspired me to live my life as I want to live it - with conviction and a sense of inner truth," she said. "I got that from their story."

Grudzen has been in a relationship for one year with Drabant, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University. She says her parents never had a problem with her sexuality. "They were and are awesome. They're really accepting, really progressive. I think I got really lucky."

Having grown up with a priest father, and having met so many priests in preparation for her film, Grudzen believes strongly in the value of religious service - particularly in the tradition of working with the undeserved and the poor.

"I think a lot of change has to happen," she said. "I don't feel included in the Catholic Church, given my sexuality. But I recognize that a lot of Catholics are really great people, and I have no issue with the community. My beef isn't with Catholics; it's with the Vatican hierarchy and the politics of the church."

To see a trailer for "Immaculate Confession," go to www.immaculateconfession.com.

Friday, October 17, 2008

His Wife's a Saint, So Is Her Husband

A little peripheral to our main topic but interesting reflection on how much the Church values celibacy over the far more common vocation of matrimony and family life...

By James Martin, S.J.
Wall Street Journal online
October 17, 2008

After their wedding in Alençon, France, on July 13, 1858, Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin refrained from sex for 10 months. The impetus for that arrangement, known as a "Josephite marriage" (after the celibate relationship between St. Joseph and his wife, Mary), came from Louis, who had earlier hoped to enter a monastery. Eventually, a frustrated Zélie escorted her husband to a local priest, who assured them that raising children was a sacred activity.

They took his advice: Before her death in 1877, Zélie bore nine children -- five of whom joined religious orders.

We would know little about Louis or Zélie were it not for their youngest daughter, Thérèse, who entered a Carmelite monastery in Lisieux and became one of the church's most popular saints. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," was canonized in 1925.

This Sunday in the basilica of Lisieux, Louis and Zélie will be beatified, the Catholic church's final step before canonization, positioning them to join the rarefied company of saints who were married. That brief list includes Saints Peter, Monica, Thomas More and the American-born Elizabeth Ann Seton. The roster of saints married to one another is even shorter: Isadore and Maria, 10th-century Spanish farmers, are among the few.

The Lisieux ceremony follows the Vatican's approval, in July, of the required miracle -- the healing of a man with a malformation of the lung. But the beatification raises questions about the models of life being presented to Catholics. What can a man and woman who planned to live celibately say to married couples today?

The two traditional roles of the saints are the patron (who intercedes on behalf of those on earth) and the companion (who provides believers with an example of Christian life). And the paucity of lay saints -- more specifically, married ones -- in the roster is somewhat embarrassing.

Two reasons underlie this anomaly: the outmoded belief, almost as old as the church, that the celibate life was "better" than married life, and the fact that the church's canonization process is an arduous one, requiring someone to gather paperwork, interview contemporaries if that is still possible and present the case to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Certainly there have been as many saintly wives and husbands as there have been holy priests and nuns. But religious orders and dioceses know how to navigate the canonization procedures on behalf of bishops, priests, brothers and sisters. By contrast, how many families have the resources to embark on the decades-long process on behalf of even the holiest mother or father? As a result, married Catholics have few exemplars other than Mary and Joseph, whose situation was hardly replicable.

Since the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized the "universal call to holiness," Rome has stepped up its efforts to canonize more lay and married people. The Vatican hopes to expand the "calendar of saints" beyond those who sport miters, collars and veils in order to provide Catholics with lives that they can emulate, not simply admire. But do Louis and Zélie fit the bill?

No one doubts that the Martins led the traditional life of "heroic sanctity" required for sainthood. Though obviously biased, St. Thérèse wrote: "The Good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth." They were devoted to one another, to their children and to their faith. During their first year of marriage, the couple took into their home a young boy whose mother had died. And whenever Louis and Zélie were apart, they exchanged the tenderest of letters. "Your husband and true friend who loves you forever," Louis wrote.

One lesson that believers might take from the new "blesseds" is that sanctity comes in many styles. If it were up to their youthful selves, neither would have married: Zélie wanted to be a nun as much as Louis hoped to be a monk. After setting aside their celibacy, they provided a warm home for their children, five of whom fulfilled their parents' thwarted hopes for life in a religious order. The wife died early; the grieving husband struggled with mental illness, including hallucinations in which he saw "frightful things," according to his daughter Céline.

Throughout their complicated lives Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin tried to love as best they could, something that is still relevant -- and not just to married couples. And whose life, and which saint's life, is "typical" anyway? Holiness, as the lives of the saints remind us, always makes its home in humanity.

Father Martin is the author of "My Life With the Saints."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Synod: Priest shortages highlight role of Bible

NCR Conversation Cafe

So far in the Synod of Bishops on the Bible, all sorts of arguments have been advanced as to why promotion of scripture is important: Because it’s the living Word of God, because it’s a touchstone of Christian identity, because it provides natural common ground within the divided Christian family.

Quietly, however, another argument of a far more practical order has arisen. In many parts of the world, there simply aren’t enough priests to make the Eucharist available on a regular basis, and therefore Liturgies of the Word, focused on the Bible, become the crucible in which day-to-day, week-to-week Catholic life is actually forged.

To be sure, no one has exalted priestless communities as an ideal. Instead, several speakers have pointed to them as a fact of life which makes the encounter with scripture all the more crucial.

Unsurprisingly, this point has surfaced from the developing world, where priest shortages tend to be especially acute. Globally speaking, the priest-to-person ratio of approximately 1-1,300 in the United States and Europe makes those regions relatively priest-rich. The ratio in sub-sahran Africa, based on statistics drawn from the Vatican’s Annuario, is roughly 1-4,800. In Latin America it’s 1-7,100, and in Southeast Asia it’s 1-5,300.

So far in the synod, the point has been raised by bishops from Africa and Latin America.

On Thursday, Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, Brazil, offered what several participants later described as a “shocking” statistic: Approximately 70 percent of all church communities in Brazil, Lyrio Rocha said, are “deprived of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.”

In that situation, Lyrio Rocha said, “the celebration of the Word of God becomes a privileged place for the encounter with Jesus Christ, the center and the fullness of all Scripture and every liturgical celebration.”

On Friday, Bishop Miguel Sebastián Martínez of Chad said his country faces a similar reality.

“Christians meet on Sundays,” he said, “but many of them only for the celebration of the Word, because we do not have enough priests.”

Sebastián Martínez said that in the context of a war that has been raging in Chad for over forty years, the Bible nourishes a strong commitment to peace, forged above all in ecclesical base communities – small groups of believers who come together to read the Bible and to apply it to their social situation.

“Our country is an impoverished country, despite our natural riches, and because of thois we commit [ourselves] to integral human development,” Sebastián Martínez said.

Bishop Joseph Zuza of Malawi put the reality of the priest shortage in stark terms.

“On behalf of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi,” he told the synod on Friday, “I would like to say that most of our small Christian communities depend and live on the Word of God since they have the Eucharist only once a month, and some may not have the Eucharist even once in three months or more.”

“They live on the Word of God,” Zuza repeated.

For a portion of the world’s Catholic population, in other words, the Word is not one among several streams feeding Catholic life on a regular basis. In a certain sense, it’s all they’ve got.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Priests who say "I do"

by François Chaussat (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Le Point
October 9, 2008

They said "I do". On Saturday, in front of the mayor of Vic-en-Bigorre, Léon, 57, married Marga, 58. Their friends gathered at a large reception. Only two years ago, Léon was celebrating weddings in Asson (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) -- he was the parish priest.

In 2005, he let Marga, his companion for twenty-two years, move into the rectory. And suddenly the diocese trembled. On April 23, 2007, Léon Laclau was relieved of his duties. "I made the mistake of transgressing on my commitment. At the beginning I felt tremendously guilty. Then as I looked at us -- me and the woman I love -- I asked myself: But how could the Lord find this wrong?"

In the village, a roar of revolt. The villagers held a Mass strike. Signs and banners cried out: "What has Father Léon done wrong?" "This support made me understand that I had not cheated the people." Since then, Father Léon has become Mr. Laclau. He has gotten to know the ANPE [employment agency] and job interviews, and has found a position in the archives of Vic-en-Bigorre.

"I felt empty, useless. The hypocrisy of the Church disgusted me."

Across the Alps, a replay of this story took place in Italy where Father Sante Sguotti, indubitably the father of a little boy, was dismissed in October 2007. There again, the parishioners took his side. On August 24, Don Sante transformed his last service into a tribute, stating that: "The fruit of fecundity should bring joy."

Joy is far from Father Jean-Marie. He is frightened. "Terrorized", said the person who arranged our contact with him. He refused to meet near his parish and demanded anonymity. She also came only on the condition that nothing would be written that would allow her to be identified. "Our situation is very difficult. To reveal myself even a little bit would be to be condemned." For eight years now, Father Jean-Marie has been living clandestinely with his mistress.

They met in a Christian environment. "I reeled when I realized he was flirting with me", she said. He smiled, one of the few smiles in this interview. "I was immediately under his spell." Who took the first step? "Both of us", they asserted together. "It happened of its own accord, very naturally. I had had two love relationships before my ordination. Nothing since." Since then, they have met in secret, knowing the sadness of hotel rooms, never leaving together. Each meeting is a conquest. The Church is a jealous spouse. A very jealous one. "Few people know. I don't know how my parishioners would take it. But I would not be able to stay in my position."

How long will they be able to stand this life? Her eyes cloud over. "As it is, not very long. And what if we wanted to have a child?" He looks at her, torn, says nothing at first, and then timidly tosses out: "We will have to make choices." Which ones? Risk a scandal? Leave the Church? "I can't consider it yet." She says nothing.

"What a waste"

It's not just today that the "priests' housekeepers" have other functions than maintenance of the sacristy. What is new on the other hand is the favorable public reaction to these love transgressions. Pierre Molères, the bishop of Bayonne, received many letters from parishioners after the dismissal of Léon Laclau. He put an article on the front page of the diocesan bulletin about the impossibility of holding two positions. "We believe that human feelings are respectable. But we also believe that they should be purified and mastered. If sincerity is important in human relationships, equally so are the sworn word and fidelity." The Church hierarchy stands firm. "The real danger is the loss of meaning of the mission of the priest, who reflects Christ's complete giving of Himself to man", explains Father Jean Quris, the assistant secretary general of the French Bishops' Conference.

However, the price of this denial is heavy -- 31 of the 1168 priests ordained between 1996 and 2005 have left their ministry, over half for a woman. At the seminary of Issy-les-Moulineaux, this imposed celibacy is the obstacle the novices most talk about. "Some believe that ordination will solve everything. I tell them clearly: the next day, your testosterone level is going to be the same as it was the day before", says Eric Broult, 48, who knows perfectly well what he is giving up. "Society talks a whole lot about sex. We have to exclude ourselves from that. When female friends come to see me, they say: 'What a waste!'", Benoît Ricaux, 25, says.

At the end of the journey of the "failed", there is often a break. Philippe Brand chose marriage. Born in 1941, ordained a priest in 1966, married in 1972..."When I got out of seminary I discovered that what we had been taught was a far cry from real life. I asked to be a worker priest. They refused. I then felt that I was capable of being open to a relationship with a woman I already knew." He had to steel himself; the rejection of his confrères was total. "I ended up becoming indifferent to what my hierarchy thought." Thirty years later, he has come back to Haute-Savoie and lives 200 meters from his former church. There, he has gathered the testimony of other married priests for a book, "Des prêtres épousent leur humanité" ("Priests wed their humanity", L'Harmattan, 2007).

On their side, the wives and companions of priests gathered together for a while in an association, Claire Voie. "Claire Voie's merit was that it made visible and common a widespread situation," says Odette Desfonds, wife of a priest. But the tide that carried them forward, ebbed.*

In 1971, a cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger wrote: "Faced with the scarcity of priests, we will not be able to avoid calmly examining the question of ordaining married men." (which should not be confused with allowing priests to marry). Nothing in Benedict XVI's pontificate shows any sign of change in this regard. "However, among the Christian people, there would not be great opposition to ordaining married men", Jean Quris admits. But vox populi isn't always vox dei.

*Web Editor/Translator's Note: Claire Voie has been replaced by Plein Jour, about which we blogged last month.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thank you, Fr. Hesburgh!

...That's what I want to say to Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, who in response to a question from a Wall Street Journal reporter about the sex scandal and the priesthood, said the following:

"The answer is to find a different caliber of training and of selection and of inspiration of young men going into priesthood. And I think, more and more, women have to be involved in this, and I suspect that in the long run, married people are going to be a lot more involved in this whole problem than we have today.

It has to evolve over time. I have no problem with females or married people as priests, but I realize that the majority of the leadership in the Church would. But what's important is that people get the sacraments. You have to remember, there were married priests, even married popes, in the first 1,000 years of the church."
Amen, Amen, and AMEN!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Leon and Marga continued...

As we told you, Fr. Léon Laclau and Marga got married on Saturday in a civil ceremony and we have photos! In the first, Fr. Léon places the ring on his beloved's finger and in the second the couple are greeted by well-wishers after the wedding.

At the reception after the wedding, Fr. Laclau offered the following toast to his bride: "A Marga, mon amour, merci pour ton amour sans limite, pour ta confiance, ton courage, ta persévérance pour m'accompagner jusqu'au bout; merci de m'avoir ouvert ton grand cœur. Cette histoire d'amour est écrite en lettres indélébiles. L'amour ne s'éteindra jamais. Nous continuerons d'écrire d'autres pages. A toi pour toujours!" ("To Marga, my love, thank you for your endless love, for your trust, your courage, your perseverance in accompanying me to the end; thank you for having opened your big heart to me. This love story is written in indelible ink. The love will never be extinguished. We will continue to write more pages. To you, forever!")

...OK. Now I need to get me some Kleenex...

It's also important to note that Fr. Laclau has published a book about their relationship titled Pour l'amour d'une femme... Privé d'Eglise ("For love of a woman...Deprived of a church"), Michel Lafon (France), 2008.

"I have written this book to testify about 22 years of being torn between the love of God and that of a woman. I have lived those years with double guilt: that of being unfaithful to the Church I served, and that of depriving my companion of the joy of living openly. Many priests have known this suffering, even though all have not been sanctioned as I have been, finding myself “deprived of the Church.” In spite of this I have always been deeply happy to be a priest. But why this painful celibacy requirement? The marriage of priests can only benefit their ministry. Solitude doesn’t lead to fraternity. It’s true that I have strayed from the path I chose when I pronounced my vows…I only wish that this path could grow larger and that married men could be ordained to spread the word of Christ and good around them. There would be more vocations, fewer people abandoning the priesthood, and those seeking Hope would be better served."

Vocatio at 30

The Italian married priests’ organization Vocatio is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and in honor of the event, has published a new book in conjunction with Noi Siamo Chiesa, the Italian chapter of the international “We Are Church” movement. The book is titled Preti sposati nella Chiesa cattolica (“Married Priests in the Catholic Church”), Edizione La Meridiana (Italy), 2008. A table of contents in Italian can be found on the Noi Siamo Chiesa Web site.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The former pastor of Asson marries Marga

Remember Fr. Léon Laclau whom we blogged about in May 2007, when he was stripped of his priestly functions after the Church "discovered" his long-term relationship with a village nurse? Well, we are pleased to bring you a happy ending to this story. Today Léon and Marga will tie the knot in a civil ceremony, openly confirming the love they have nourished for so many years. We wish them all the best as they continue their journey together. -- RG

by Guillaume Atchouel
La Depeche

This Saturday, in Vic-en-Bigorre, Léon Laclau, the former pastor of Asson (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), is going to marry Marga, the widowed nurse with whom he has been living for more than 20 years. This is the relationship that led the Church to dismiss him after 28 years on April 23, 2007. It was a love story that was much talked about when Léon Laclau made it public. For many of the parishioners, it wasn't really news. "We knew he was living with her. We didn't need to judge him. He is a good priest and that's what matters," one of them stated during the big march that was organized by his support committee on Ascension Thursday, 2007.

That day, no fewer than 200 faithful had rallied from Asson to Coarraze to let the Bishop of Bayonne know of their wish to see him remain in the ministry. The latter, in a letter addressed to Léon Laclau on April 21, 2007 had said: "Your lifestyle scandalizes, disorients and is hurtful to many Christians." These words still resonate painfully in his mind. "For 23 years I have loved her with a deep, human, Christian love and I don't see how she can harm my priestly ministry." Today he says he is still "wounded" but without hatred and that he feels at peace.

For him, this marriage is the continuation of the love story he is living with Marga. Nonetheless, he regrets not being able to get married in the Church. "A priest who has been fired or who leaves does not have the right to this sacrament. But I know that God is greater than this discipline. The regulations are cruel in this Church, in this family that claims to love. God values all that is good and blesses love. I am certain that He will bless our union."

Léon Laclau wants it to be known that he has received "testimony from plenty of priests who are also living hidden loves". According to him, "many of them are more in accord with the Gospel than others who, while they are beyond reproach with respect to the rules of the Church, are very far from Christ."

On Saturday, Léon et Marga will have lunch with around 30 people near to them, including Marga's three children. After the ceremony, a large reception open to all will take place at Le Tivoli restaurant.

The spouses will soon leave their home in Vic to live in a house they are fixing up in Asson. "It will be more convenient for us to live in my old parish since Marga is a nurse at Pontacq, and since I now have a job in the Pau departmental archives."

A little humor from Venezuela...

The following joke recently appeared in the Venezuelan newspaper "El Universal":

Se estaba haciendo una encuesta en el país, sobre el celibato de los sacerdotes. En un lugar de Venezuela, el entrevistador le pregunta a una señora humilde: ¿Señora, usted cree que los curas deben casarse?Sin inmutarse, la señora respondió de inmediato: Bueno, si se quieren.

Research was being conducted in the country about priestly celibacy. In one area of Venezuela, the interviewer asked a poor woman: "Ma'am, do you believe priests should get married?" Unperturbed, the woman immediately replied: "Sure, if they love each other!"