Friday, December 05, 2008

The art of silk / When a priest falls in love ...

This article by Ariela Baco came out in Italian under the title “L'arte della seta/ Quando un prete si innamora...” in Affari Italiani, December 1, 2008. English translation – and occasional commentary -- by Rebel Girl. By the way, Fr. Miragoli has published a book [I could start a whole library of this genre: “Memoirs of Italian married priests”!] titled Non siamo lebbrosi. Un prete sposato si racconta: riflessioni, esperienze e proposte (“We are not lepers: A married priest tells his story – reflections, experiences and proposals”), Edizioni B&B, Mozzate (Co), 2001. A member of the Italian married priests’ association, Sacerdoti Lavoratori Sposati, Miragoli also has his own Web page on the subject.

“I had been a diocesan priest in Como since 1979 and then I got married in 1986,” says Ernesto Miragoli. “At first I thought that my story was a unique and personal one. Today I know that about eight thousand priests in Italy have left the priesthood. I am perhaps the only one of these who has told his story, who has come out and revealed the state of hardship and neglect that is common to almost all those who have shared my experience.” [RG: He isn’t, as readers of this blog well know] Miragoli has the strong and secure tone of voice of someone who is used to public speaking – the oratory learned while studying in seminary, but also necessary for the profession of sales representative that he has pursued for many years. “Leaving the priesthood is not complicated – you make a request, then a small tribunal is set up and then, especially in certain situations, it is granted…A priest almost always leaves his ministry because he falls in love with a woman, so therefore he comes to get a dispensation when he continues to live with her or the couple is expecting a baby soon.”

“The Church generally doesn’t put up great resistance – obtaining the dispensation is relatively easy. The difficulty comes immediately afterwards. Outside of the Church, without home or job, often being an older couple, life is tough. Not only is there great moral solitude, but there is also the practical side that looms with all its economic woes.” Ernesto Miragoli still lives in Como, the city where he also served in his former ministry. “My wife tells me that I am a strong man, who has always been somewhat anarchic and convinced of my ideas. Probably a stubborn passion. But I love this city – I was born in the historic central district, I continue to live here and even attend the church where I used to live in every sense [of the word]. I have not lost faith in Jesus; what I challenge is the Lateran law of celibacy instituted in 1938 by men and not by God.” [RG: I’m not sure where this date comes from; the First and Second Lateran Councils that combined to establish and entrench the clerical celibacy requirement were in 1123 and 1139]

Miragoli how has three grown children who attend the University. “They have no problem with my past; they have always known about it. My wife has lived with me throughout the whole difficult journey from the discovery of being in love to the decision to distance myself from her and our feelings for two years – going to celebrate [Mass] in a parish in Sondrio – before returning and understanding that something irreversible had happened.”

“For me, as for many others, meeting women had never been a problem. I had attended many events, the scouts, met many catechists – I did not feel a strong physical attraction, obeying the celibacy vow was almost natural. And Paola herself – that’s my wife’s name – she is different.” Paola is a housewife. “The condition of women who live with ex-priests is not well known, and what is even less known is the marginalization they have suffered from society and also from the family. They are excluded from a community that they have not directly chosen to leave. Although women are generally the first to reveal their feelings – meeting and falling in love often take place during the hours of catechism – unfortunately they are often also those who face the saddest consequences. Paradoxicaly, for example, they are neither convened nor heard from by the Church during the dispensation process.”

Miragoli finally explains that despite the progress of the times and customs, the situation has not improved. “The Church hierarchy is too old, and not just in age. Sex, the body, still cause fear…”

Then he goes back to talking about his direct experience: “At present I know of at least six cases in which the situation is ambiguous, secret – the position of the prelate is unclear and the woman ends up occupying a particular role in his life, a hidden one that she neither chose nor endorsed – she is confined in a condition I would almost define as exploitation.”

Then he emphasizes: “One often lingers in thinking and speaking about the fascination of the forbidden, imagining the first stolen kisses while still wearing the cassock, meeting places that smell of incense…but I would like a serious discussion to establish if and why celibacy is still necessary as a moral choice.”

Photo: Fr. Miragoli with his wife Paola and children, Emmanuele, Elena, and Elisabetta

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