Saturday, November 29, 2008

MOCEOP Statement of Solidarity with Fr. Roy Bourgeois

The Spanish married priests support organization, Movimiento por el Celibato Opcional (MOCEOP) has issued a statement of support for Fr. Roy Bourgeois. English translation by Rebel Girl.

We are convinced, as are many theologians, that prohibiting women's access to priestly ministry has no Biblical or theological basis. Moreover there is a lot of documentary and archaeological evidence that demonstrates the ministry of some women in the first Christian communities as priests and even as bishops, as in the case of "Teodora Episcopa".

This discrimination against women relative to the ordained ministry seems to us today to be unacceptable discrimination and it represents one more manifestation of the patriarchy that we should uproot from our Church and Christian communities. Today, we unite with all the voices in society and in the Church that are calling for equality between men and women on all levels and we believe that this is not the time to resolve differences between members of the Church through excommunication, but rather through communion, respect for diversity, and mutual dialog.

We think that the Church hierarchy should reconsider these intransigent and authoritarian positions, which belong to other eras than the times in which we live, and which we deem to be abusive and anti-Gospel.

At the same time we are asking for priestly ministry in the Church to be changed, so that it is no longer an autonomous class strata and a group of experts and specialists with personal power who usurp the community, the whole "priestly people." Jesus never wanted to organize a movement based on a priestly plan, much less a clerical one.

We also regret the condemnations of numerous theologians -- most recently the cases of Pagola and Ariel Álvarez, and we are also asking for a reconsideration of their records and an attitude of dialog with them since they are theologians who are doing a lot of good for thousands and thousands of Christians throughout the world through their efforts to bring the Bible and the figure of Jesus closer to humanity today. Those who wish to express their support for Father Roy Bourgeois can do it here: [Editor's Note: This excellent contemporary theological forum is in Spanish]. We believe that now is not the time for Inquisition and anathema, but for brotherhood, dialog and communion.

Juan Cejudo Caldelas.

Movimiento por el Celibato Opcional. Cádiz

Friday, November 28, 2008

Updates: Wolfgang Amadeus Wackerbauer

A re-indexed news site brought me an "alert" about Fr. Wolfgang Amadeus Wackerbauer, a story that I remembered but didn't blog about at the time. Wackerbauer, known to his parishioners as Fr. Amadeus, was a German missionary priest and sacred musician who was assigned to the Diocese of Trujillo, Peru. In 2004, he met and fell in love with a considerably younger Peruvian teacher named Susana Zambrano. She got pregnant and photos of the couple at a beach got into the Peruvian press, forcing Fr. Amadeus into a very abrupt and public resignation. He courageously stood and read his own letter of resignation to his congregation.

The couple then got married in a civil ceremony so that Fr. Amadeus could remain in Peru and Susana gave birth to their son, José Patrick. To support the couple, Fr. Amadeus raised money to set up a foundation to teach music to poor children and, as an accomplished violinist, he is one of the instructors.

Fr. Amadeus has also written a book about his journey. The Spanish edition is titled "Al final solo cuenta el amor. Mi camino como sacerdote, músico y peregrino" ("In the end, only love counts: my journey as priest, musician and pilgrim", Katequil Editores, 2007).

I dedicate this book to my brother priests. To those who live their celibacy with conviction and are completely at the service of others, for whom they are a real blessing; they irradiate much happiness and seem to be tireless.

To those who during their life lost their enthusiasm and don't transmit much happiness but continue to be faithful to their priestly obligations, even though they often feel drained and frustrated.

To those who cannot bear the solitude of the celibate life and live in a loving relationship that they cannot be open about because they do not want to lose their work in the Church, and who sometimes feel that they are inconsistent because of their double life.

And, finally, to those who like myself got married and started a family, and dared to begin a new life full of risks, sometimes suffering because they cannot work as priests. I hope that one day all priests, of whichever side, will be able to live out their priestly vocation, to live and be witnesses to God's love and help others commit themselves to this Great Love.

Photos: Fr. Amadeus, Susana and José Patrick

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Culture Notes: "The Strength of a Sparrow”

UPDATE 3/1/2012: Tim "Dr. Hope" Anders' book about his mother's relationship with a Catholic priest has now been reissued under the title Everybody Calls My Father, Father.

Review of Tim "Dr. Hope" Anders' book based on the lives of his parents -- his mother, a Broadway actress, and his father, a Catholic priest. Anders, who is better known as an award winning author of children's books and a world class poker player, vowed that he would one day tell the story that his mother had wanted to write but never did. -- RG

by Russ Long
November 5, 2008

In 1946, Father Hughie Hewitt of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Manhattan, N.Y., met a beautiful young woman in the bar of Vincent Rao’s Italian Restaurant. The owner introduced his steady customer and friend, who had a love for Dewar’s White Label scotch, to cherry-Coke-sipping auburn-haired stage director Bouvette Sherwood.

"The Strength of a Sparrow” (Alpine Publishing, $16.95) is based on a true story and told by Tim "Dr. Hope” Anders. He states, "Perhaps this story should not be told. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid. But I ache to tell this story of the strength and passion of a remarkable woman.”

The narrative tells of a priest falling in love and fathering two children. His affaire d’amoure is found out by Monsignor Smith, whose ambition to become a bishop causes him to hide the priest’s sin against the church by separating the family.

He allows Hewitt to remain a priest in a minor parish, only if he quits drinking and swears never to contact his family again. Complications arise when the monsignor fails to keep his promise to adequately support Sherwood and the two children, Roxane and Timmy. When she loses legal possession of the children, because she is drastically overworked, a private eye, Pete Dunn, who has been hired as a spy by the monsignor, and her appointed attorney, Harry MacMillan, come to her assistance as her mother arrives from California.

The author says this book is based on his parents, who did not write of it for fear of repercussions and embarrassment it would cause the innocent. Anders, an award-winning children’s book author, credits his mother’s optimistic attitude as inspiration for his "Life Lessons” series. This moving story is well worth reading.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It’s not just oil, priests are also a scarce resource

by Priscilla Cabral
Intermountain Catholic
November 21, 2008

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Catholics and the number of priestly and religious vocations in the world has increased thanks to the vitality of faith in Africa and Asia, said the last edition of the Yearly Statistics of the Church. However, there has not been an increase in the number of priests in America and the need for priests is evident in the United States. In this country, approximately 41,000 priests serve over 64 million Catholics; a number of parishes have had to receive foreign priests to compensate the scarceness.

Nevertheless, there is trust that “God has never abandoned, and will never abandon, his Church. God is still inciting vocations to his service,” said Father Javier Virgen, vicar for Hispanic Affairs.

Then, why is the number of priests increasing in Africa and Asia while the numbers in the U.S. remain stable?

A survey to seminarians in the U.S. and Canada – made by the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – pointed a materialistic culture as the biggest hurdle to an increase of vocations in North America.

“The materialistic environment makes young men and women focus on a lucrative profession,” said Fr. Virgen.

The values of service and generosity are shadowed by selfishness and individualism, he added. “They don’t make the decision to pour themselves for others.”

There is also the lack of appreciation for celibacy. According to Fr. Virgen, the message from fashion, music, magazines, and other media say: “Let yourself be driven by pleasure.”

“But celibacy is not reduced to sex,” said Fr. Virgen. “Celibacy is a commitment of love and generosity.”

It is also “a symbol and a sacrifice that is offered in order to be consecrated to the community,” said Father Langes Silva, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

“The commitment of the priest with his community would possibly not be as devoted as it would be without the vow of celibacy,” he said before adding that Saint Paul considered that if a man has to choose between marriage and devoting his life to God, then the obvious option is to choose a life dedicated to the Creator.

Still, there are some who think St. Paul’s recommendation is no longer adequate to the current situation of the Church.

“The promise to celibacy is a disciplinary norm, which means the Church can change. I think this will be debated thoroughly,” said Fr. Silva.

Among those who are opposed to a change on celibacy is Fr. Virgen. This vow is “the way to pour yourself in body and soul using your talents and gifts to serve others in the name of your love for God,” he said.

Materialism and depreciation for celibacy are not the only factors in the lack of priests. The number of men that would consider the priesthood significantly depends on how priests are perceived. “The priest has a relevant role in society… He is someone active in society, an extremely prepared person, not only on spirituality, but also in the professional life aspects such as education, finance, family, politics,” said Fr. Silva.

A priest is also a “happy, satisfied person who irradiates,” said Fr. Virgen.

A few priests have given the Church a negative light with financial, sexual, and substance abuse scandals, said Fr. Silva.

On the other hand, a committed priest is an effective tool in generating more priests. The Secretariat of Vocations revealed that more than 70 percent of the seminarians who were surveyed received a personal invitation to consider the priesthood from a priest.

Yet, those considering a priestly or religious life said their families were their main source of motivation.

Parents should “educate their children in the Christian faith and invite them to respond to the vocation for which they are called,” said Fr. Virgen. The community also has the obligation to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field,” he said.

Meanwhile, in anticipation to a crisis, bishops, religious brothers and sisters, academics, and different groups have started to debate the possibility of including women and married men as candidates to receive the sacrament of the priestly order, said Fr. Silva.

But the change that we will probably see is that “The commitment of the lay will increase and they will assume greater responsibilities in every kind of authority,” said Fr. Silva.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Word from County Mayo’s “High Priest of Love”

Father Michael Keane, dubbed “Mayo’s High Priest of Love” by the Irish News has weighed in again on the celibacy issue.

Fr. Keane is a strong believer in marriage and, in response to the falling marriage rates, set up the Knock Marriage Introduction Bureau ( in 1968. More extraordinary, Fr. Keane took on the role of matchmaker during a 23-year period when he was suspended a divinis and evicted from his parish, following a dispute with his pastor over how the Church should function. Keane has consistently supported married priests and women’s ordination, being active in the Irish married priests group Leaven. It is estimated that the Bureau has been responsible for over 860 weddings in its 40 years of existence.

And in a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Keane reiterates his support for optional celibacy:

Celibacy is a gift from God
Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham, believes priests should be allowed to marry.

The Roman Catholic Church is entitled to propose celibacy as an option for priests. However, it is not entitled to make it mandatory because celibacy is a charism, which of its nature cannot be demanded or obliged.

Celibacy is a gift from God, which he bestows on some, but not on all, priests. From a moral law point of view, compulsory celibacy is a moral solecism. A debate on the issue should be conducted in freedom, not muzzled within the Church.

Christ had no problem with married priests, seeing he chose St Peter, who was married.

Rev Michael Keane |Claremorris, Co Mayo

See also this interview about priestly celibacy that Fr. Keane gave to The Independent in 2006:

Celibacy leaving priests 'longing for relationships'

Friday March 10 2006
Tom Shiel

Celibacy is turning priests into "dried out prunes" emotionally who have nothing to look forward to except maybe getting a parish of their own.

The former head of the Knock Marriage Bureau, Fr Michael Keane, has said the rule was having a negative emotional impact on many priests in modern Ireland who are "totally lonely, longing for human relationships".

The 81-year-old clergyman, who earned the nickname 'Fr Cupid' after founding the Bureau nearly 40 years ago, claimed that some priests were involved in relationships with women anyway despite their commitment to celibacy.

This was unfair to the women involved as it was "taking up their time".

Fr Keane said he has a great deal of sympathy for priests who fall in love.

"They haven't done anything tremendously wrong except to fall in love. Some people regard them as traitors but I think that's unfair," Fr Keane said in an interview at his home in Claremorris, Co Mayo.

"Celibacy should not be compulsory. St Peter was married. It should be left to the priests themselves whether they want to get married or not.

"Deprived of relationships with females, some priests are becoming like dried out prunes emotionally as a result."

Fr Keane said many priests in Ireland nowadays are longing for relationships with members of the opposite sex.

"All they have to look forward to is maybe getting a parish sometime," said the priest. "That is no compensation for not having your own children and watching them growing up."

Imposed celibacy was unnatural and perhaps a factor in some child sex abuses in Ireland involving members of the clergy, Fr Keane suggested.

"I am not defending the priests who did this," he said, "but the Church's insistence that sex is a bad thing and is anti-Creator perhaps led some priests to believe that it is less grievous to have that kind of sex than having a full-blown relationship with a woman."

Fr Keane is no stranger to controversy, having been forbidden from saying Mass in the late 1970s while he was a curate in Templeogue, Dublin.

A disagreement with his superior over how the parish should be run led to Fr Keane being disciplined by the Archbishop of Dublin.

For 23 years, the Co Mayo-born priest was not permitted to say Mass in public, until a Jubilee Year reconciliation in 2000, when the Mayo-born priest was reinstated and had his Mass-saying faculties restored to him. Fr Keane has been a long standing and vocal member of BASIC, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, which campaigns and works for the ordination of women, and LEAVEN, a group that supports married priests.

He now says the way he was treated by the Church over the Templeogue situation was "outrageous." Fr Keane is now engaged in the process of writing a book about his experiences in the Church.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Married priests want to return to the Church, without giving up the family.

This article appeared on (Brazil) in Portuguese under the title "Padres casados querem voltar à Igreja, sem abrir mão da família". English translation by Rebel Girl.

It is estimated that at least seven thousand priests have left the altar. Conflict with celibacy is one of the great challenges of the priesthood. 11/16/2008

The Catholic Church in Brazil has approximately 18 thousand priests, but the number has been larger. It is estimated that at least seven thousand priests have left the altar to get married.

In recent years, many decided to embrace the relationships that they had kept secret, get married and therefore were forced to leave the priesthood.

Having been expelled from the church, two thousand are now part of the national movement of married priests. Many of them now want to be accepted back into the Catholic Church, without giving up the family.

"I'm never going to be leave the priesthood. I will continue working humbly," said Father Osiel, 62 years old, married, with five daughters, whose main cause is optional celibacy. This week he was officially dismissed from religious activities by the Archbishop of Goiania.

"He cannot exercise his ministry. But he will be a priest forever," says the archbishop of Goiania, Dom Washington Cruz, about the incident.


The celibacy conflict in the Catholic Church is one of the great challenges of the priesthood. It has bothered priests for centuries and is a problem for the Vatican. But it was not always so. Celibacy only became mandatory in the 16th century.

"I think that the church does not intend to change it, since the Code of Canon Law that was promulgated in 1983 continues this requirement: celibacy for the priest," says D. Ancelmo Chagas de Paiva, Ph.D. in canonical law.

"Celibacy has nothing to do with dogma. It is a political and legal choice by the Church. The Pope can, whenever he wants, if he likes, say: Celibacy is finished," said the coordinator of the married priests’ movement, Father João Tavares.

With two daughters and a granddaughter, the Portuguese priest João Tavares, who arrived in Maranhão 40 years ago, left the priesthood in 1979 to get married. In recent years he has organized meetings with other married priests.

On the outskirts of Sao Luis, in Maranhão, Father Caetano, celibate for 18 years and married for four, joined the Old Catholic Church, a separate sect from the Roman Church, to continue celebrating religious rites. There, we found a group of married priests.

"I felt the need, the desire to build a family, so, in order not to cause a scandal, problems, shock, I said: I prefer to leave," says Father Ronaldo Farias.

"I have a case before the Roman Rota Tribunal; I could quietly go back to exercising my functions as a married priest," says Father José Caetano Souza.

"Celibacy is a disciplinary matter within the Church. And as such, the matter can be changed. I cannot say when it will be changed. I think it's unpredictable," says the Archbishop of São Luís do Maranhão, José Belisário.

To arrive at a ceremony of ordination, a seminary student need to focus a lot. When he finishes the equivalent of high school, he still needs to study philosophy and theology, and then, yes, he is ready to become a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is then that he takes the most crucial vows of his life: poverty, chastity and obedience.


The Catholic Church under the command of the Pope has two large divisions in their rituals: the Latin, adopted in Europe, Africa and the Americas, and the Eastern. The churches of the Eastern rite, although subordinate to the Vatican, accept married priests, provided that the marriage occurred before ordination.

"In our case, we who are of the Latin church have always thought there was a very good fit between celibacy and priestly ministry. But there may be a time when this will change too," says D. José Belisário, Archbishop of São Luís.


"Nobody is immune to love. Love can come into the life of a person after a final choice," says Minas Gerais native Fábio de Melo, 37 years old, who is priest, professor, singer and composer. He has already recorded 11 CDs and is considered a pop star. Despite the success and the temptation of harassment, he is in favor of mandatory celibacy.

"The celibacy is a gift for my priesthood, because it helps me be more free. It helps me have more time for my mission," he says.

"How do I deal with harassment? By treating the person with respect, asking for respect, while deleting what needs to be deleted," he explains.

Celibacy will continue to feed many controversies. The Vatican has not shown a willingness to review that issue any time soon.

Photos pro and con: Frs. João Tavares and Fábio de Melo

Friday, November 14, 2008

Roy Bourgeois threatened with excommunication over women's ordination

This is starting to seem like a bad movie plot, sort of like "The Crime of Father Amaro" where a priest gets his walking papers for advocating liberation theology while another priest who procures a back alley abortion for his lover (who dies from the procedure) is allowed to continue in the ministry. So now Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has never molested a child or fathered one out of wedlock, who has never abused his position of trust as a cleric, is being threatened with excommunication only because he supports women's ordination and the Vatican does not. And Fr. Bourgeois, true to form, is not backing down in front of the theological watchdogs of the CDF any more than he has shied away from arrest by the military police at Fort Benning where he regularly protests to call for the closing of the School of the Americas.

By NCR Staff
National Catholic Reporter
Published: November 11, 2008

Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for his support of women’s ordination, according to a letter made public today.

The letter was written by Bourgeois and addressed to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It was distributed via e-mail by Bill Quigley, a New Orleans lawyer who represents Bourgeois.

According to Bourgeois’ letter, which is dated Nov. 7, the congregation has given him 30 days to recant his “belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or (he) will be excommunicated.”

The letter indicates that Bourgeois received notification from the congregation Oct. 21.

Bourgeois, a priest for 36 years, attended the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska in Lexingon, Ky., Aug. 9 and preached a homily.

If Bourgeois is excommunicated at the end of 30 days, it would come just before the mass rally and protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., that Bourgeois has organized for 19 years. In recent years, more than 15,000 people, many of them Catholic university students, have joined the three daylong rally and demonstration.

Bourgeois was not immediately available for comment. The text of Bourgeois’ letter follows.


Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903
November 7, 2008


I was very saddened by your letter dated October 21, 2008, giving me 30 days to recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or I will be excommunicated.

I have been a Catholic priest for 36 years and have a deep love for my Church and ministry.

When I was a young man in the military, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972.

Over the years I have met a number of women in our Church who, like me, feel called by God to the priesthood. You, our Church leaders at the Vatican, tell us that women cannot be ordained.

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church’s teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny. A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, “Our call is valid, but yours is not.” Who are we to tamper with God’s call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.

Hundreds of Catholic churches in the U.S. are closing because of a shortage of priests. Yet there are hundreds of committed and prophetic women telling us that God is calling them to serve our Church as priests.

If we are to have a vibrant, healthy Church rooted in the teachings of our Savior, we need the faith, wisdom, experience, compassion and courage of women in the priesthood.

Conscience is very sacred. Conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing. Conscience is what compelled Franz Jagerstatter, a humble Austrian farmer, husband and father of four young children, to refuse to join Hitler’s army, which led to his execution. Conscience is what compelled Rosa Parks to say she could no longer sit in the back of the bus. Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood. Conscience is what compelled my dear mother and father, now 95, to always strive to do the right things as faithful Catholics raising four children. And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.

Working and struggling for peace and justice are an integral part of our faith. For this reason, I speak out against the war in Iraq. And for the last eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the atrocities and suffering caused by the School of the Americas (SOA). Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my Church. I ended the interview by saying, “There will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained.” I remain committed to this belief today.

Having an all male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not.

According to USA TODAY (Feb. 28, 2008) in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children. Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to serve God’s people, and the priests and bishops who support them, are excommunicated.

Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated because of his defense of the oppressed. He said, “Let those who have a voice, speak out for the voiceless.”

Our loving God has given us a voice. Let us speak clearly and boldly and walk in solidarity as Jesus would, with the women in our Church who are being called by God to the priesthood.

In Peace and Justice,
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903

I also like Sidney Callahan's column about this from America magazine.

How do you “recant?"
Posted at: 2008-11-13 14:18:00.0
Author: Sidney Callahan

How do you “recant” and begin to believe something you don’t believe?The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is ordering Father Roy Bourgeois M.M. to recant his belief and support for women’s ordination. If not, he will be excommunicated in thirty days.

But does the CDF have some secret formula or operating instructions for going against one’s conscience when ordered to do so?

I understand how Vatican authorities might solve their problem of dissent by simply expecting people to lie, if you just say the right words all will be forgiven. Inconveniently of course, lying and bearing false witness (even against yourself) has been forbidden since Sinai, so that option is out.

Perhaps the Vatican is really simply aiming to impose silence, so the troubling issue can be ignored. Admittedly in certain situations choosing strategic silence can be a moral option if it staves off harmful consequences to self or others. St. Thomas More took refuge in silence until his conscience no longer allowed him to do so.

The CDF, however, seems to be demanding something more than external behavior, since they command Bourgeois to recant his belief and committed conviction. So how do they think he can manage to change his conscience and belief on demand?

It appears to require extreme conditions like those in the Gulag or a Chinese reeducation prison in order to brainwash or actually persuade people into believing and confessing things on command. Given enough prolonged torture, sleeplessness, isolation and psychological manipulation, persons can make up false memories and new beliefs that conform to their inquisitor’s plan for some show trial, or public submission. But then again, torture and physical coercion while incarcerated in monastery cells have also long been repudiated by the Church.

So the problem remains. A mentally stable and mature person’s Christian conscience cannot be coerced or evaded. In fact, a person cannot renounce a settled conscience since it is the sacred core of the person’s whole identity. A self cannot will to deny one’s own self or repudiate mind, heart and life experience.

I fear that Vatican concepts of conscience and human psychology are based on the old idea that an abstract isolated act of the will can mechanically change a person’s belief. With such an over-rationalized reductive psychology, abuses of authority can become frequent. Attempts at coercion give the lie to Vatican II’s great affirmations of the freedom and dignity of conscience.

Well, perhaps I am wrong on the matter of conscience. If so, I’d like to be enlightened forthwith. The next Synod should take up the questions of human psychology that underlie so many current Church disputes involving conscience, dissent, contraception, celibacy, women, homosexuality, divorce and abortion. In the meantime, perhaps the CDF can send along by express mail another letter, this one explaining how Christians are supposed to recant.

Sidney Callahan

Photo: Fr. Roy Bourgeois caught in flagrante at women's ordination ceremony.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Church removes priest who had been married for 20 years

From the Diário da Manhã (11/8/08) comes the story of a priest who exemplifies the rebellious type profiled in Federico Bollettin's article (see previous post). And the context is Brazil, a country which has one of the worst priest shortages in the world, where Catholics are flocking in droves to the evangelical churches, and where, according to a recent statement by Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, Brazil to the bishops' synod on the Bible, "approximately 70 percent of all church communities in Brazil are deprived of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.” That's the context; here's the main story and a follow-up reaction from Fr. Osiel (as translated into English by Rebel Girl):

Osiel Luiz dos Santos has been married since 1987 and is the father of five children. Nothing unusual, except for the fact that he is an ordained priest. This Friday, more than 20 years after the marriage, the Archdiocese of Goiânia announced Osiel's removal from the priesthood in a document that officially bans him from performing any ritual on behalf of the Catholic Church.

The decision by the Archdiocese happened after long proceedings before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, a sort of Federal Supreme Court of the Church. Before the decision, at least a dozen letters had been sent to Osiel's residence. Even so, he decided not to attend the hearings. "I don't believe that the Archdiocese decides. The priest and the people do," Osiel said to the Diário da Manhã.

In a note released yesterday, the Archdiocese announced that the official sentence of removal would be sent to all the churches, parishes and communities in Goiânia. The decision will be read in public for three consecutive Sundays and posted on the walls as a warning. Through an advisor, the Archdiocese announced that the sole intention of the act is to inform everyone that Osiel has no authority granted by the Church.

Optional Celibacy

In addition to "disregarding the decision of the Archdiocese", Osiel advocates radical ideas for the Catholic Church. The first is optional celibacy. The reason for this is simple: to know the situation of the faithful so as to advise them more wisely. "I believe that my daily work, my experience with my wife, make me more able than any priest who lives in celibacy, away from society."

The second is women's ordination. "The nuns maintain the Church today and they don't have the prominence they deserve." His wife, Maria de Castro Cledna Santos, is also an inspiration in proposing such a revolution. "If we had optional celibacy, she could help me in leading the community. She helps me so much today!"

Cledna herself told DM that she met Osiel when he was still a priest. But she says they only married when the priest asked to be removed from the Archdiocese. "He left that parish one day and we got married the next day." The priest noted that the time had come to talk with then bishop Dom Washington Cruz, who advised him to send a letter to Rome. "I said I was not going to disaffiliate myself; I said that it wasn't Rome that made me a priest, but God."

Although he continued to celebrate Mass, marriages and baptisms after his own wedding, he says he never did so within a church. "If someone invites me to go to their home, anywhere, I will do it with the utmost pleasure." For baptisms and weddings, the ex-priest recommends that the faithful get a "legitimate" representative from the Church itself. "I think they should talk to a priest. But there are so many people who tell me that they have been mistreated by the Church and they ask me to perform their wedding", he says.

And reporter Sebastian Montalvão secured this follow-up interview with Fr. Osiel for UOL News on November 10, 2008:

Married priest says a woman "leaves a man much more holy"

Celibacy, mandatory in the Catholic Church, became the subject of controversy in Goiânia. On one side is the priest, Osiel Luiz dos Santos, who has continued to celebrate routinely even though he's been married for 20 years. On the other is the Church Ecclesiastical Tribunal which has determined that the preaching is illegal. The Archdiocese also released a note to all churches stating the obligation to display the communiqué on the bulletin board of the church for three months and read it at every Mass for three consecutive Sundays.

"I understand that celibacy is more an economic than a religious requirement. A woman does not contaminate a man. Quite the contrary. She leaves the man much more holy, much stronger," the priest avers in a simple room of a house located in Parque Amazônia, a lower middle-class neighborhood in Goiânia.

In 20 years, he believes he has performed about 400 weddings and hundreds of baptisms. The ceremonies are held in cottages, homes, and other sites. According to the Church, all the ceremonies held during that period are not valid. According to the priest, they are. "The sacrament is not from the Church. It is from Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the one who hires me is not looking for a title. He is looking for a blessing."

The news of the exposure of his condition vis-a-vis the Church does not scare the priest who, in addition to performing weddings and baptisms, maintains some of the typical traditions of Catholic leaders. When he received this reporter from UOL, he was wearing a simple long sleeve shirt, but with a Roman collar. "I'm not afraid. Because I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. What I'm doing is honest. I don't trick anybody," the 62-year old priest emphasized.

At the end of the 1980s, he headed a parish in the capital. But he ended up falling in love with Cledna María de Castro, who was 19 years old at the time. "I didn't lie; I didn't deceive. I went to the archbishop, told him my situation, gave myself up to the Church. He told me he would support me and asked me to send a letter of renunciation to the Pope. I refused to do so because I believe that marriage does not invalidate the priesthood," he points out. Five children came out of the marriage.

Despite the situation, he defends celibacy but in a more democratic way. "I have fought over 20 years for optional celibacy. It would be a solution for many of the scandals that exist today in the Church. Because of this burden, many priests maintain hidden relationships, sometimes with children. When the Church knows, it makes things worse. Either they transfer to another city, or they are isolated elsewhere," he says.

Despite his new ideas about celibacy, Osiel has very traditional views when it comes to homosexuality. "I am not prepared today to celebrate a homosexual union, for example. Maybe some day I'll mature on that point, but in my mind that practice goes against the natural law of God."

About the existence of homosexual priests, he even admits that they can be ordained but emphasizes that in those cases celibacy would be an alternative. "I'm against a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. I think we can have a gay priest but in that case it is necessary for him to be celibate," he says and turns to criticizing priests who use force and the power of the Church in extreme cases, like pedophilia. "For me, this is a disease. You need treatment."

Calmly and measuring his words, he admits to having suffered a lot over the past decades but assures that what he sees as pressure from the Church will not change his way of working. He even has weddings scheduled for this month.

"I am not surprised. I could not celebrate my last Mass because they wanted to stone my wife. But what some do not understand is that the sacrament is not from the Church; it is from Jesus Christ." And he made a point of saying that it was not that the Church dismissed him. "What they are saying is shameful. I resigned from the Church. But I disconnected myself from the Church, not from Our Lord."

Footnote: For those who are concerned about the practical aspects and implications of this case, the Archdiocese of Goiânia estimates that Fr. Osiel has performed about 400 marriages and hundreds of baptisms since his own wedding and it states that all of these marriages will be annulled.

Why Priests Leave

Fr. Federico Bolletin, a young recently married (and suspended a divinis) Catholic priest, has published an article about the clerical situation in Padua, Italy, titled "Le ragioni dell' abbandono: A Padova un prete su quattro se toglie la veste" ("The reasons for leaving: In Padua one in every four priests takes off the cassock"). English translation by Rebel Girl.

The Facts

A year after the suspension a divinis signed by Bishop Antonio Mattiazzo (which was followed by excommunication and reduction to lay status), and after Don Sante Sguotti's notification, a calm and serious reflection about this hard phenomenon must take place. The fact is that in recent years, the resignations of Paduan priests continue to increase, mostly among the youngest ones. It has not been just the "Don Sante case", which was revealed in Il Mattino di Padova, that has aroused regret, shame, and scandal among faithful practicing Catholics, but also the precedent of Don Ugo Moretto, director of Vatican radio and television. On February 21, 2002, an article came out in L'Espresso, "Don Moretto, papá perfetto" ("Don Moretto, the perfect father"), that would cost the journalist [Pino Nicotri], who was condemned to a two-month suspension from the profession; he was acquitted three years later.

In between the two most famous scoops, the Corriere del Veneto reported on April 18, 2004 about the wedding of Don Fabiano Prevedello, presided by Don Giovanni Brusegan. The latter was immediately recalled by the Bishop of Padua and after a few years, ironically, was sent to the Monterosso parish to resolve the matter of the "priest in love" [Don Sante Sguotti].

If the Curia has preferred to remain silent, unless blunders reach unbearable levels, on the secular front, almost paradoxically, a sharp debate has been sparked that has filled the third page of newspapers and numerous Web site forums for days. Everyone has been able to express their view freely.

The data

By browsing the yearbooks that the Church in Padua issues periodically with the names and positions of all the priests in the diocese, you can make some calculations. Some history and memory are required, since the data of those who leave are erased, despite the fact that the sacrament of Holy Orders -- according to Catholic doctrine -- remains imprinted forever on the ordained.

If we look at the past 10 years, 76 diocesan priests were ordained. At least 19 have resigned from the ministry, while those who are currently pausing for reflection can be counted on one hand. This means that approximately one in every four priests in Padua has been defrocked, as they say.

Not to mention the cases in which the bishop himself has recommended to the priest involved in a problem of public order that he step down from his pastorship (see the case of Don Armando Rizzioli, former pastor of Due Carrare, charged on November 4, 2007 with obscene acts in public places and corruption of a minor, or that of Don Silvio Cauduro, the pastor of Pontecorvo, who asked to borrow money and didn't return it). Indeed, if a similar exodus had occurred in any business, management would be asking why.

It is also interesting to note how some priests are engaged in activities not approved by the bishop. Presidents of associations, TV personalities, and do-it-yourself psychologists persevere in their missions, without the approval or stamp of their higher-ups. Are they disobedient?

Those who take advantage of the wealthy and manipulatable faithful are not lacking. And it was known to his superiors that one pastor in the city was taking 800,000 euros a year from the parish coffers to support his lifestyle with his lover. He was simply transferred to another parish; one hopes that he won't drain the account of the new community. Moreover, because of canon law, we know well the faces and names of those who decided to retire, but not of those who tacitly abused their clerical role to satisfy their personal interests.

All of this is happening in one of the most important diocese of Italy, both in geographical size and in fame and prestige.

A recent study was made of the clergy in Padua and two terms best express the current condition of most of the diocesan priests -- "tired and always in a hurry." With all respect for those who perform their duty honestly and with continuous searching, with humility and evangelical radicalism.

But what are the main reasons that lead many priests to leave the ministry?

The reasons

It is difficult to penetrate the minds of those who decide or are forced to leave the ministry. Often insurmountable walls rise up that separate the past from the present, memories from future projects. Almost all have married, but the motive is not just suddenly falling in love. We will list below the main motives that lead the priest, voluntarily or involuntarily, to descend from the altar and sit in his pew with common mortals. The reasons?

1. The impact of a complex and dynamic reality that reveals itself as very different from the forecasts offered and expectations created during the years in seminary. Imagining how the future could be may not always match a reality often made of unexpected encounters, illuminating discoveries, and radical transformations. Finding himself a full-time functionary of sacred ritual was not included in the evangelical dreams of the ordained priest. People want a bureaucrat-priest, ever present for stamps, keys, and photocopies, a harmless preacher of spiritualism far removed from the real dimensions of life, whether economic or political. In the end, the priest who opens his eyes to the real world prefers to break a disciplinary regulation, contingent and imperfect, rather than abandon his fulfillment as a man and a believer. So, better to live in happy disobedience than survive in unhappy obedience!

2. The encounter with the woman awakens those mysterious feelings repressed by exalted rationalism and narcissistic activism. Once he has moved beyond the macho and misogynistic attitude that is present in a fundamentalist reading of the Bible and in a certain Christian tradition, the priest rediscovers himself as a lover and is attracted to someone who can complement him. The discomfort he first tried to manage alone and moralistically, he comes to share with a woman, "she who receives" par excellence. She dries the tears, listens and consoles him. Emotional stability, a relationship with his peers, and the family dimension are so strong that they make him forget the solemn promises he made before the bishop in the light of the selfishness and immaturity of one who has grown up in captivity.

3. The counter-testimony of superiors who preach good and practice evil disturbs the sensibilities of the simplest. What might a young priest think when he realizes that his pastor, a member of the esteemed Diocesan Council of Priests, is entertaining a married catechist late at night in his office in the rectory? Or when he discovers child pornography Web sites on the computer? Not finding the courage to correct his master, the assistant reaches this bitter thought alone: "Enough already! I would rather be true to myself and others than look like a saint and behave like a hypocrite." These situations often become really and truly traumatic ones that require an extensive course of psychotherapy.

4. An unwanted pregnancy or being caught in flagrante forces the priest to resign. Who knows? He probably would have continued to lie and conceal the relationship! But when the evidence is so clear, maybe coming from the hands of private investigators paid by the parishioners themselves, nothing is left for him but to weep and walk away with his tail between his legs. As happened last September 14 in Chioggia, when the professor of Sacred Scripture of the major seminary in Padua was caught in bed with the wife of a parishioner friend. The bishop has defended him, casting blame on the woman temptress, and now he will be thinking of a new appointment to which to assign him. Faced with the enticing proposition from the bishop, who promises economic support for the woman and child and obliges the priest concerned to take a period of recovery in a specialized center, some accept out of personal pride. As was the case of an ex-employee in a parish in the industrial area of Padua. After leaving a girl pregnant, he escaped and found benevolent welcome within the walls of the Vatican, continuing to function in priestly ministry. He is currently running an orphanage in Burundi, while his son in Padua doesn't receive even a phone call or a financial contribution.

The reactions

Although in the past a few priests got to the point of suicide or pretended to be mental patients in order to be locked up in a psychiatric institution, now anyone who leaves the ministry tries to rebuild his life -- hopefully a decent one, but at a steep price.

The reactions are as diverse as the personalities involved and the circumstances leading to such a painful choice.

Most admit or convince themselves that they were not up to such a demanding position and it leaves a feeling of guilt. This attitude leads them to negotiate with the bishop. After all, the Church can still remain a good source of support to find work and bring home the bacon. There is even a delegate under the bishop who tries to encourage the tired priest to ask for dispensation or annulment of the Holy Orders so as to remain in communion with the official Church.

During the course of this, which seems to be increasingly shorter, the "repentant traitor" is struck by a severe identity crisis, various forms of depression and permanent burn out. Psychological therapy, antidepressant drugs, isolation and withdrawal become the most common strategies for survival until dispensation comes, and marriage in the Church and the possibility of teaching Catholic religion in some school outside the city or even in the province.

Others react with anger because of not being listened to during the period of crisis. Treated as numbers not as persons, they slam the door and disappear from circulation.

Finally, there are those who do not surrender. While recognizing the absurdity of the disciplinary rule on mandatory celibacy, they continue to feel that they are priests. The problem is finding a place where they can continue to minister and a group of people who are willing to collaborate. This combative spirit will slowly fade because of the very real circumstances and social context in which the priest lives, but the inner defiance continues. When he enters another educational environment, he tries to bring forward the human and Christian values that he first transmitted in the clerical role.

The open questions

If for some months the debate which fortunately has taken place has been linked to a single person or situation -- Don Sante, yes or no? Milingo, yes or no? -- why not begin a serious and serene reflection on the issues underlying the phenomenon of priests abandoning the ministry?

What initiatives should be proposed?

Gathering signatures to force superiors to assess the situation, listening to the various voices concerned? Of course, some might think that if input isn't coming from the top of the Vatican, what can a single bishop or a local committee of priests and laity do? Yet in the history of the Church, reforms have always come from below, from prophetic individuals or groups of convinced and stubborn people. If the bishop of Padua allows a couple of priests to cultivate special friendships with their respective women, in a brother/sister relationship, why not extend this possibility to others? If some Italian diocese, where the Catholic Church is in close contact with the evangelical, Protestant and Methodist churches, and bishops allow some priests to marry (but don't advertise it), why not send our priests into those areas with their families? They certainly would not be asking for a salary increase! In short, the proposals would be there, but is there the will and the courage to implement them?

Why the need to look for solutions?

Who knows? Maybe it's a problem that only concerns a handful of people. One priest in four! But if the people of God should realize that some ecclesiastical rules are getting in the way of faith and should be reviewed, why not raise one's voice? Where are the roots of the scandals that we read about in the newspapers in which priests and religious are involved? An absence of democracy and participation in internal Church structures, mandatory celibacy, misogynistic and narcissistic formation in the seminaries, the political and economic power of the Vatican, an attitude of superiority towards other Christian denominations, religions, and philosophies of life...

Where to begin?

It is a pity that a person who is trained in theology, the Bible, and pastoral ministry is reduced to teaching religion in primary school just because he decided to get married and have a family! Could he not be more of an "expert" on family and relationship dynamics which, ultimately, are what's most crucial in the life of a human being? St. Paul also says in one of his letters: "...if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3:5) How could the value of the experience of the priests who have no assignment from the bishop because of ecclesiastical discipline be enhanced? Wouldn't those small Christian communities that have been deprived of their pastor because of the strong decline in the clergy, be willing to be guided in the study of the Bible, and in human and spiritual development, by a married priest?

About the author:

Federico Bollettin, born in Padua in 1975, was ordained a priest in 2001. After the first years of parish ministry, devoted mainly to the delicate issue of coexistence between people of different cultures, he married and continues his task with greater determination. He has traveled in Italy and abroad to learn the basic ecclesial reality that promotes the renewal of the Catholic Church, inspired by the Second Vatican Council and liberation theology. He attended the Intercultural Institute of Montreal (Canada) and currently works with several organizations that promote intercultural dialogue and encounters. He has just published an autobiographical novel, "Bianco e nera: Amanti per la pelle" ("White and black: lovers through the skin", Gabrielli Editori, 2008).

Photos: Federico 1. with his wife, Fidelia and 2. with his new novel.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Catholic Church has no reason to stop priests from marrying, says leading bishop

A leading candidate to become the next head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales believes priests should be allowed to marry.

By Jonathan Wynne-Jones,
Religious Affairs Correspondent
The Telegraph (UK)
Last Updated: 11:06PM GMT 08 Nov 2008

The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham, said there is no doctrinal reason preventing them from having wives.

Roman Catholic priests have been required to take a vow of celibacy for centuries, but he argued that this now seemed unfair following the influx of married Anglican clergy.

His comments are set to reignite the debate over whether the Church should end the tradition in a bid to deal with the shortage of priests.

Pope Benedict XVI blocked moves to allow Catholic clergy to wed when he reaffirmed the value of celibacy in 2006 and an archbishop has been excommunicated for ordaining four married men as priests.

While Bishop McMahon said changing the law would not solve the Church's problems in recruiting men for the priesthood, he said that there would be benefits to such a move.

He claimed that clergy with a family could offer different gifts and it would enable men who did not feel called to celibacy to enter the priesthood.

"There is no reason why priests shouldn't be allowed to marry," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"It has always been a matter of discipline rather than doctrine."

Priests have had to take a vow of celibacy after a decree from Pope Gregory VII in the eleventh century, which was then confirmed by subsequent Popes in the following century.

Bishop McMahon added: "It is a question of justice for those men who want to be priests and to have a wife. Marriage should not bar them from their vocation but they must be married before they are ordained. The justice issue also applies to communities which could be deprived of the Eucharist because there aren’t enough priests.”

Around 150,000 men are estimated to have left the priesthood to marry and many want to return to the active clergy.

Married Anglican clergy who were opposed to the introduction of women priests have been allowed to join the Roman Catholic Church. The bishop said this had caused problems with some Catholic priests who found this unfair.

"We were told to be generous to the Anglican priests who joined, but we were surprised when the special permission was extended and made available to some who joined the Church of England after 1994 [when women were ordained for the first time].

"This has undoubtedly caused some grievance," he said.

Bishop McMahon defended the Anglicans who had crossed to Rome: "They bring a great experience of family life into the parish. I find that they are excellent at ministering to women."

He warned, however, that such a radical step could present as many problems as solutions.

In particular, the bishop expressed concern that supporting families would cause financial difficulties for the Church, which is already being forced to close churches to raise money.

Bishop McMahon has emerged as one of the favourites to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who is due to stand down early next year.

It is understood that the cardinal has been personally pushing for the bishop as his successor and he is also popular with the traditionalists because of his support for the Latin Mass.

He addressed priests earlier this year at a training conference to learn the Tridentine Mass and backed the Pope's Motu Proprio, which removed restrictions on celebrating the rite.

Concerns had been raised that his chances had been damaged by an interview he gave in 2001 when he was reported to have personally supported women priests.

He was quoted as saying: "We believe the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church and I agree with that, so I look forward to the day when we will have women priests."

However, Bishop McMahon said that the following year he had met the Pope - then Cardinal Ratzinger - to explain that he had been misquoted.

"I look forward to the day when women play a greater role in ministry and take up more of a place in the Church, but not in sacred orders," he said.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

CHURCH and Church

Why the Vatican always gets it wrong about sex
by Stan Kutz
From the New Catholic Times

Stan Kutz argues for the need of "listening" Church

For Catholics, the question of same-sex marriage has been characterized, by the Vatican and others, as a conflict between Church and State. This, I believe, conveniently obscures a much deeper rift within the Catholic Church: the conflict between what the Church hierarchy teaches, and what the Catholic faithful believe, particularly with respect to sexual ethics. The recent Ipsos-Reid poll amply bears out the fact: 50% of Canadian Catholics interviewed approved of same sex marriage; this, despite several recent and well-publicized condemnations by the Vatican and several Canadian bishops.

How has the Church arrived at this state of affairs? It has come about, I believe, from a misunderstanding, and misapplication, of the notion of infallibility. In the early Church, there was a sense that the teaching Church and the believing Church together made up the Church of Christ, and that this Church was protected from substantial error by the Holy Spirit precisely because its two components listened to each other. But by the time this concept came to be codified in the first Vatican Council, the guidance Christ had promised his Church had come to be narrowly understood as a shield (infallibility) that protected the hierarchy (and especially the pope) from teaching error. The role of the body of Catholic believers in keeping the Church faithful to Christ was muted, or altogether ignored. Successive popes have gone on to expand their claims to infallibility, and consequently found it ever more difficult to correct the errors of their predecessors. This has become an intellectual blind alley, from which no pope or Council, to date, has had the courage to extricate the Church.

Nowhere does this problem become more hurtful that in matters of sexual ethics. (Why the celibate hierarchy is so singularly exercised about this area of morality, while it is often silent about more egregious forms of immorality and inhumanity, is a question whose analysis could fill volumes!) The still unresolved debate around artificial birth control is perhaps the clearest example, both of the split within the Church, and the harm that continues to be done by it. Throughout the 1960's, and ever since, Catholics have been trying to urge upon the hierarchy the necessity of coming to terms with the devastating human, social, and ecological consequences of the official Church position, to no avail. Pope Paul VI went so far as to create a Commission that included lay people to study this question, but when the Commissioners presented a report favoring a relaxation of the ban on birth control, they were disbanded and the report buried, all on the grounds that a change in teaching would call in question the "infallibility" of Paul's predecessors. As a result, the official Church continues to proscribe birth control to this day, while the vast majority of married Catholics, having taken a conscientious look at their own life situation (and the intellectual poverty of the official teaching) are limiting their family size, by whatever methods seem effective to them, in good conscience.

A need for a listening Church

There is only one way out of this dead end. The teaching Church (bishops and pope) has to once again become a listening Church. It needs to listen to what the faithful actually think and believe, as opposed to what the hierarchy has decided they ought to believe. Because the consensus of the faithful is really the only valid guidance that the hierarchy has as it strives to articulate the meaning of the good news of Christ for the world of the 21st century. No pope or bishop has ever imagined (or at least claimed) that he has received direct personal inspiration from on high. In a very real sense, the Church can only teach what the Church already believes. It comes down to a question of conscientiously trying to "read the signs of the times", as Vatican II so felicitously recommended. But reading the signs of the times is not the prerogative of any bishop or pope; it is a process available to all, and indeed necessary for all to exercise, because any claim to moral action depends on it. It is simply another way of describing conscience.

Nowhere is the necessity for Church leaders to become listeners more critical than in matters of sexual ethics. To the rest of the world, and to most Catholics, it has become self-evident that if the celibate hierarchy is going to have anything meaningful to say to the world about sexual ethics, they must first listen with great care to the life experience of the sexually active laity. Until they do so, they will continue to see their credibility as teachers and leaders erode, and the faithful will continue to be embarrassed by the kind of factually inaccurate and emotionally distorted condemnations that have so far characterized the hierarchy's input into the debate about same-sex marriage.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Culture notes: "La Passion Selon Didier"

From "real life" back to the small screen -- a "heads up" for readers in France:

Look for the TV channel France 3 to be launching a new comedy series on Thursday nights. The series, "La Passion Selon Didier" ("The Passion According to Didier") features veteran actress
Clémentine Célarié (photo) as a woman who falls in love again with an old childhood friend who has become a priest. Anne Holmes, a program director for France 3, says that the series will explore the issue of celibacy in a light-hearted manner...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Vatican issues screening guidelines for priests -- and not soon enough!

This week the Vatican released its long-awaited Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood. Published by the Congregation for Catholic Education, these guidelines are a response to the sex scandals that have plagued the Church. Under the new guidelines, candidates for the priesthood will undergo rigorous psychological testing aimed at eliminating those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies". Other traits that might make a candidate unsuitable for the priesthood include "uncertain sexual identity," "excessive rigidity of character" and "strong affective dependencies".

The document also recommends that seminarians be barred if testing makes it "evident the candidate has difficulty living in celibacy: That is, if celibacy for him is lived as a burden so heavy that it compromises his affective and relational equilibrium".

But maybe in addition to screening for psychosexual fitness, the Church should also be screening for moral fitness for service. During the last week we have also seen a string of stories that illustrate why the Church needs to do a much better job if it really wants to clean up the image of the priesthood:

  • In a recent post we discussed the situation of Fernando Cristancho who was suspended from the priesthood in 2004 in Maryland after it was discovered that he had fathered triplets via IVF and anonymous donor eggs with a surrogate mother. Before his last assignment at St. Ignatius parish, Cristancho was at Good Shepherd in Alexandria, VA and was removed from that post after being involved in improper sexual behavior with a woman. Now SNAP is demanding that the Archdiocese of Baltimore investigate Cristancho for sexual abuse.

  • Today also brings the news of the conviction of former Catholic priest Rodney L. Rodis on 10 counts of embezzlement in Louisa, VA. Rodis stole more than $1 million from Immaculate Conception and St. Jude Catholic churches. Among the uses he found for the embezzled funds: maintaining his family. Rodis had married in 1987 and lived a double life with his wife and 3 children in a nice house near Fredericksburg. None of his neighbors knew that he was a priest.

  • And out of India, a truly bizarre story of a bishop suspended for adopting a 26-year old woman. Bishop John Thattumkal of the Kochi diocese adopted 26-year-old Sonia at the office of the sub-registrar in Mattancherry on September 15, saying that the relationship had given him a "spiritual renewal.". He had become close to Sonia during a foreign tour. Thattumkal, who holds a doctorate in canon law, first spoke about the adoption at a monthly recollection of priests under the Kochi diocese. He reportedly said he enjoyed a special relationship with the woman who had extraordinary spiritual powers. He is believed to have told the meeting he was convinced of Sonia’s powers to cure.

  • Last, but not least, the New York City tabloid press has been having a field day with Fr. Elvis Elano (seen above in photos that were filed with the lawsuit), a Filipino priest formerly working at Our Lady of Snows Church in Floral Park and Benedictine Hospital. Elano is being sued for $25 million by Judith Rodrigues-Lytwyn who claims Elano seduced her after she confessed to him in March of this year that she was divorcing her husband for abuse. Rodrigues-Lytwyn charges that Elano began "courting" her, "encouraging her to engage in a sexual liaison with him to assist her in overcoming her pain associated with her husband and because it was 'ordained by God.'" According to the lawsuit, Elano even bought some Viagra (the receipt is with the court filing), in case "divine" inspiration wasn't enough. The relationship soured when Elano sent Rodrigues-Lytwyn an e-mail because he was worried that he had contracted a sexually-transmitted disease. Elano has been suspended from his priestly functions.

The one thing these guys have in common is that they're all in their fifties, which makes us think that maybe the Catholic Church should also consider periodically re-testing their priests for psychological and moral fitness. But then what would they do if someone failed the test? Send him back to seminary?

And why do we air this stuff? It's not because we want to tear down the Catholic Church, but to emphasize that the code of silence and shuffling priests who are not able to comply with their vows to other positions is not working. What would have happened if each of these guys had been free to marry? Would they have abused their positions and the trust of the faithful? I don't know the answer to that question but I do know that these cases are symptomatic of a system that is working less and less well.