Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From Alsace, a call for married priests

A new interview by Hervé de Chalendar published in the Journal de L'Alsace (4/19/2009) introduced me to an author on the subject of optional celibacy with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Abbé Paul Winninger was born in 1920 in Thann. He was ordained in 1944 in Auvergne where had studied theology during the war. He taught philosophy at Strasbourg-Robertsau and Walbourg. After teaching for 37 years, he became a pastor in Gunstett for 27 years. He retired to the college in Zillisheim. He has written several books on the theme of celibacy and married priests including Pour une Eglise juste et durable célibat libre et appel à la prêtrise (‘L’Harmattan, 2009) and Des prêtres mariés pour l'Eglise? (Ed. de l'Atelier, 2003)

In response to the crisis in vocations, Abbé Winninger, 89 years old, has published a small book full of force in favor of "optional celibacy." That is, against the prohibition in Catholicism on ordaining married men.

Abbé Winninger, you state in your book that the obligation of celibacy for priests is an “arbitrary law”. When does it go back to?

At the Council of Elvira, in the 4th century, the first legislation recommended chastity and continence, but not celibacy yet. Its real institution dates from the 12th century, with the Second Lateran Council, and this was confirmed by the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Therefore it is a canon law, disciplinary, without any scriptural authority. We can argue about my proposal to waive this requirement but it is not heretical. Jesus does not say a word about it. The Church has been strongly influenced by Platonic philosophy, which despises the body ...

The main argument in favor of celibacy is that the priest must be fully available to the faithful, to devote all his energy to them. How do you respond to that?

I believe that changing the law would be a great benefit but I'm not saying that this would be a panacea. Let me be clear: I recognize the value of celibacy. If you want to be single, very well! If there are enough single people, let us give preference to the singles! But the problem is that there are not enough priests and that the ministry is no longer lively. However, without a priest, there is no Eucharist, and therefore no Church. Celibacy is not an order from the Lord, but providing pastoral care, that's a requirement!

The establishment of parish communities, with increased use of lay people, is not a sufficient response to the lack of priests?

I am very pleased with this mobilization of the laity, who are 90% women by the way, and I hope it remains and develops. I absolutely do not want the laity to decrease as more priests are ordained. But a priest must be present in every community, to do what only he can do because of ordination.

Is it courageous to take such a position?

You know, at my age ... When I spoke on this subject in 1977, it was a little bold, but today it is a truism! Around me, everyone is in agreement. The problem is the hierarchy ...

Are you afraid that this "hierarchy" may jeopardize the advances of Vatican II?

We will not retreat from Vatican II, it's impossible! The current Pope has an obsession with unity. He hopes to make the fundamentalists come back, but he will not succeed. He is wrong. This is probably an almost virtuous mistake, but it is an illusion.

Is he also wrong about priestly celibacy?

If the current situation with the lack of vocations continues another twenty or thirty years, their number will be so small that it will no longer be possible to have a real ministry and [change] will be necessary: the next pope will be obliged to do something. I say it in my book: this reform is necessary and urgent.

Monday, April 27, 2009

From "America": A Modest Proposal

What more can I say?: You go, Jesuits!!! Always ahead of the curve...

A Modest Proposal
The editors
May 4, 2009

Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States. As the church prepares to observe the Year of the Priest, which begins on June 19, open discussion about how to sustain the church as a eucharistic community of faith and fortify the pastoral life of Catholic congregations has become imperative. For making do within the limits set by present demographic trends presents a double threat to Catholic life: Catholic communities will become only infrequent eucharistic communities, or eucharistic communities will be severed from the pastoral care and public witness of priests.

In 2008 the sociologist Dean Hoge said: “We need at least a doubling of ordinations to maintain the American priesthood as we know it now. But this is impossible.” Of current diocesan priests, only 70 percent are available for parish ministry, with the rest sick, retired or absent for a variety of reasons, according to Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. An increasing number of Catholics are unable to participate in a Sunday or weekday Mass. All this prompts the question, Will the priest shortage impose a eucharistic famine on the Catholic people?

The de facto remedy already applied in many places— making the priest a circuit rider moving from parish to parish to dispense the sacraments—risks narrowing the ministry of the priest and impoverishing the Christian life of the communities he serves. A narrowly sacramental definition of priesthood satisfies the requirements of only one of the three canons that define the pastoral responsibilities of the priest, Canon 530. As a consequence the sacramental office is as a practical matter severed from its integral connection with comprehensive pastoral care. Canons 528 and 529 provide a broader understanding of the priestly ministry. The first sees the priest as one who instructs, catechizes, fosters works of justice, shows special care for the education of children and brings the Gospel to those who have ceased to practice the faith. The second requires that he should come to know the faithful entrusted to his care, visit families, share their concerns, worries and griefs, help the sick and seek out the poor, the afflicted and the lonely. Diminishing numbers make it difficult to carry out this holistic vision of the priest’s pastoral ministry.

We hope that the upcoming Year of the Priest will lead to a broader discussion of the priesthood in the contemporary world and, in particular, will open examination of the various ways the shortage of priests can be addressed honestly and with imagination. New vocations can be promoted through youth rallies, the Internet and, as always, with prayer. In addition, the pastoral needs of parishes may also be met in part by more effective pastoral assignment of permanent deacons and by increased leadership by lay men and women.

What about the recruitment and training of married men as priests? Married priests already minister in the Catholic Church, both East and West. Addressing the married clergy of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Second Vatican Council exhorted “all those who have received the priesthood in the married state to persevere in their holy vocation and continue to devote their lives fully and generously to the flock entrusted to their care” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” No. 16). That exhortation now applies to the more than 100 former Anglican priests and Lutheran ministers who have entered the Catholic Church, been ordained and now serve in the Latin rite. As we face the challenges of the priest shortage, some of the more than 16,000 permanent deacons in the United States, many of them married, who experience a call to priestly ministry might be called to ordination with a similarly adapted discipline. In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard.

Our plea is modest. The bishops of the United States should take greater leadership in openly discussing the priest shortage and its possible remedies. These should not be conversations in which we face a problem only to find every new avenue of solution closed. Rather, they should be exchanges fully open to the possibilities offered by the Spirit.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Letter: Married priests ready to serve

The following letter to the editor was published in the Baltimore Sun on April 22nd:

I have unqualified respect for the Rev. Jim Hannon and his tireless care of the Catholic community of Western Maryland ("A busy shepherd," April 10). However, one priest serving seven parishes is completely unnecessary. Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore refers to the "priest shortage" to explain Father Hannon's demanding situation. But the truth is that there is no true shortage except in the frozen thinking of the Vatican and its bishops.

The fact is that by some estimates there are some 25,000 married Catholic priests in America alone, most of whom would happily serve the faithful if church authorities would simply get out of their own legalistic way. There are also countless women who qualify for priestly ordination and would generously and joyfully bring the Eucharist and a full sacramental life back to many starving Catholic people.

The Rev. Frederick C. Ruof

The writer is an ordained Catholic priest who later married and now serves as pastor of the Newborn Community of Faith in Sandtown. [He is also a member of CITI!]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sacred Story Contest

What do these three pictures have in common?

I am the author of The Apostles Wives Club Marcella Paliekara, I started a blog last August after lightning struck my house and left me with time to get serious with a nagging thought I had to start a blog for wives of priests. I wanted a place were we could share, learn, and heal by telling our stories. I wanted a place of hope and encouragement.

At first, I thought I would get a flood of e-mails from woman just like myself who were waiting to exchange stories and talk. Well, that really didn't happen. However, I was contacted by many woman asking for personal advise on their relationships with priests. Not being a counselor or spiritual adviser, I was quickly aware that I would not be doing anyone any service by trying to do what I was not qualified to do. So, I posted links to various web sites, books, and other resources that might help people sort through their problems.

Now, I have come to the realization that my blog may have started out with the intention of being for wives of priests, but really it is for anyone concerned about the church and how the celibacy rule has affected their lives. Actually, there isn't a Catholic out there who is not affected in one way or another by this issue. From the woman who gets involved, marries, or has a child by a priest, to the Catholic who has lost a parish priest because of this rule, we are all touched by this issue.

My main focus, of course, has been to wrestle with questions concerning the issue of celibacy, and encourage people to speak out and tell their stories. Sometime it is easier to concentrate on the negative, and what is going wrong. It is easier to point out the stories in the news that are obvious cries for reform in the church concerning celibacy. The sharing of personal stories in not so easy if they are difficult or unhappy.

Since my blog is about sharing, learning, and healing, I decided to invite people who to share a story of an experience of being touched by the sacred. Couldn't we all be helped by hearing about how God shares Himself with us in sacred moments?

I decided to initiate a contest encourage people to share these moments with each other. Here is how it will work. You can participate by emailing me a true story of time when you felt the special touch of God in your life, or what you call a sacred experience. I will collect stories between now and the 31st of May. The stories will be posted on the Sacred Story Page on The Apostles Wives' Club blog starting June 1st. People can then vote for their favorite story. Winners will be announced by June 15th.

The Winner will receive their choice of a 11 x 14.6 giclee fine art print on enhanced matt paper of either the Suffering Servant, my collage of Jesus, or Domus Aurea, my oil pastel of the blessed mother, or Eve Looking Back, a mixed media piece. Second and third place will receive their choice of a 7.6 x 10 giclee fine art print on enhanced matt paper of either image.

Again, write a non-fiction story 300-500 words in length describing a sacred experience, event or circumstance where you felt the love of God in your life. Place your name and e-mail address under the title of the story. Phone number and address are optional. If you would rather remain anonymous then chose a screen name and e-mail address for privacy. I will contact the winners via e-mail to arrange to send the prizes. Thank you for participating, and have a wonderful time recalling and writing your stories.


Banished priest now full-time ‘gay rights activist’

Fr. Geoffrey Farrow invited to speak at Dignity USA convention in San Francisco, along with other well-known dissenters from Church teachings

California Catholic Daily
April 20, 2009

Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, the suspended Fresno diocesan priest turned full-time gay rights advocate, has been invited to speak at this summer’s 19th biennial convention of the dissident pro-homosexual group Dignity USA in San Francisco.

On Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, Fr. Farrow stunned parishioners at St. Paul Newman Center in Fresno by recommending they vote no on Proposition 8 and telling a local television news program he is a homosexual. He removed his belongings from his office at the Newman Center and from his residence at the rectory before the Mass, the diocese said in a statement. Five days later, Fresno Bishop John Steinbock removed Fr. Farrow as Newman Center pastor, took away his diocesan salary and health benefits, and told him not to return to the Newman Center or any other parish in the diocese.

In an April 14 post to his personal blogsite, Fr. Farrow confirms the Dignity USA invitation, and notes: “Presently, I am active with Love Honor and Cherish. This organization is working hard to place an initiative on the November 2010 California ballot, to repeal Proposition 8. Beyond that, I am speaking at various organizations both about Prop 8 and other such hate legislation. I’ve also been asked by various people to write a book about the treatment of LGBT people in/by the Catholic Church. I’ve written two chapters so far and am currently shopping for a literary agent.”

According to Fr. Farrow, Bishop Steinbock has violated Canon Law by refusing to provide for the priest’s support, but the suspended priest says on his blog the bishop’s decision has a bright side: “As a hospital administrator once told me about not accepting federal funds, ‘If you take their money, you have to take their rules.’ By not providing me with any monetary assistance, he has in fact freed me completely to work as an LGBT activist.”

Fr. Farrow says he received an official commendation from the City of West Hollywood, where he apparently now resides, “for my public statements in support of basic human dignity/civil rights for LGBT people.”

Since his suspension from active ministry, Fr. Farrow says he has adopted the following view of the Church: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, if you think of the Catholic Church as the hierarchy then, there is very little reason to remain a Catholic. On the other hand, if you see the Church as the People of God, a living community of faith, then there are many reasons for hope. Catholics in the pews disagree sharply with their bishops on a host of social issues and tend to be far more progressive than their protestant counterparts. Eventually, the bishops will get it, or will die off and be replaced by bishops who do get it.”

Fr. Farrow will not be alone in his dissident sentiments when he attends the Dignity USA convention in San Francisco, scheduled for July 2-5. Also scheduled to speak is Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who in 1999 was prohibited by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from continuing any “pastoral work” with homosexuals because of her erroneous views on human sexuality.

Other scheduled speakers include Victoria Rue, described by Dignity USA as “a Roman Catholic Lesbian Priest.” Rue claims to have been ordained a deacon in 2004 on the River Danube and later as a priest on the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2005. Jesuit priest Fr. Donal Godfrey, currently executive director of university ministry at the University of San Francisco, will also offer a workshop. Fr. Godfrey is the author of Gays and Grays: the story of the Gay Community at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, a celebratory recounting of how the Catholic parish in San Francisco’s Castro District became perhaps the most notorious ‘gay friendly’ parish in the country. According to Fr. Godfrey, it was at Most Holy Redeemer that the rainbow flag, the emblem of the homosexual rights movement, was invented.

Because of its opposition to Church teachings on human sexuality and the all-male priesthood, Dignity USA has been forbidden to use any Catholic Church properties or to advertise its events in any official publication of the Church.

Despite what has been widely reported as a dwindling membership since its founding in San Diego in 1969, Dignity USA has managed to stay well exposed in the media. For example, in October 1986, after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released its "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” and churches in the U.S. began evicting the group from parish premises, Dignity USA conducted a press conference outside the residence of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in Washington to protest the letter’s contents.

More recently, on March 18, Dignity USA joined Call to Action and New Ways Ministry – “three groups that support gay rights in the Catholic Church” – to condemn Pope Benedict XVI for remarks he made in Africa about the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS on the continent. Marianne Duddy-Burke, Dignity USA’s executive director, characterized the pope’s remarks as “amazingly insensitive,” adding, “Dignity USA has long called on the Vatican to acknowledge the importance of educating people on the proper use of condoms, and to support making them widely available as a way of saving lives of vulnerable people around the world.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Where are they now?: Charlie Liteky

One married former priest I got to know through the peace movement is Charlie Liteky. He is a dedicated activist and so it was a pleasant surprise to see this retrospective article about him on the occasion of his high school reunion.

'He was our quarterback, and quarterbacks save the world'
By Matt Soergel
Jacksonville News
Sunday, Apr. 19, 2009

It's 1948, third down and long at Robert E. Lee High School on the Westside. Charlie Liteky, a darkly handsome, 6-foot-1, 160-pound senior, trots on the field. The other team knows what he's going to do: Throw the ball. Because that's the only thing he does. And he's going to do it again.

It's 1967, an ambush in a Vietnam rice paddy, where machine gun fire and rockets sing their deadly song. Army chaplain Charlie Liteky gives last rites to the dead and dying, often walking upright amid the bullets. And more than 20 times, he carries the wounded from the battlefield to safety. There is so much blood, he'll smell it until the day he dies.

It's 1968, in the White House, and President Lyndon Johnson presents Charlie Liteky with the Medal of Honor. It is the country's highest award for valor, and he is the first chaplain to earn it.

It's 1986, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where Charlie Liteky becomes the first person in history to give up the Medal of Honor. Cameras click as he places the medal before the black wall that's covered with the names of the dead. It's something he has to do, he is so sickened by the policies of the country he served.

It's later in 1986, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and Charlie Liteky is gaunt, burning with hunger. For more than six weeks, he and three other veterans have starved themselves, protesting the Reagan administrations's policies toward Central America. After 46 days, one of the veterans is days, perhaps hours, from death. Only then do they eat.

It's 2001, inside a federal penitentiary in Lompoc, Calif., and Charlie Liteky is turning 70. It's his second time in prison following protests outside Fort Benning in Georgia, where the U.S. had trained Latin American military officers, some of who were later linked to atrocities in their home countries. He didn't want to mark that birthday in prison - but this is what he must do, he is so angry at his country.

It's 2003, in Baghdad, and Charlie Liteky is there with other peace protestors, bearing witness to what he calls an unjust and unwise war. He feels the ground shake during the bombardment, and he gives arriving U.S. soldiers copies of anti-war statements he wrote. He needed to be there. He says he now knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of American bombs.

Roy Bourgeois is a Maryknoll priest and founder of School of the Americas Watch, based outside Fort Benning, where he's protested and fasted with Liteky. He said his friend, even in his 70s, is driven by a zealous distaste for bullying and unfairness - and a need for action.

"Talk, Charlie discovered, is cheap," Bourgeois said. "He has to do more than writing a letter to Congress or a letter to the editor. He has to put his body on the line."

'He was our quarterback'

Liteky's classmates from Lee's class of 1949 will meet this Friday and Saturday for their 60th reunion. Liteky was planning to join them, but health issues will keep him home in San Francisco, where he's spent most of the past three decades. Liteky never thought he'd live to be an old man, but here he is, 78 years on in life.

Friends of his from Lee say they weren't surprised by Liteky's actions in Vietnam - or by his protests over the following decades.

"That's just who Charlie is, a man who is willing to risk speaking out when he feels injustice prevails," said Richard Petry, once a captain of the Lee football team, now a retired Methodist clergyman from Jacksonville.

"He has very strong feelings, which I don't agree with," said Carroll Gambrell, who now lives in South Carolina. "But that's beside the point. Subsequent events didn't diminish his act of valor to win the Medal of Honor in the first place."

Gambrell said Liteky was a charismatic student who broke a lot of girls' hearts when he went to seminary in his early 20s. Despite their differing views on the world, Gambrell still admires him- recently he even wrote an essay about his old friend. The title? "Faith and Valor."

"He was our quarterback," Gambrell wrote, "and quarterbacks save the world. And also being a priest - they save the world, don't they?"

Perhaps not the world. But Liteky did save the lives of American soldiers on some bloody ground in Vietnam.

His Medal of Honor citation, given to him under his ordination name of Father Angelo, says that at one point he went within 50 feet of an enemy machine gun to rescue men. He carried one wounded man to safety by hoisting him on his chest and crawling to the evacuation zone. He stood up under fire to free a solider trapped in dense brush. He faced fire while directing medevac helicopters in and out. All while wounded by shrapnel in the neck and foot.

Only doing his duty

Liteky says he wasn't trying to be a hero. Others needed help; he had a duty to them.

He was unarmed, by choice, but at one point he picked up an M-16 rifle belonging to a fallen American soldier. He'd been trained. He was no pacifist. He knew what to do with it.

Still, after a few seconds, he put the rifle down, thinking to himself: Holding a weapon - now wouldn't that be a hell of a way for a priest to die?

Charlie Liteky was a hometown hero in 1968, with his fresh Medal of Honor and his incredible story of heroism. The newspapers followed him as he was honored by the city, as he led Mass and as he spoke of the need for more aggressive U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

Editorials praised him. And a Jacksonville Journal reporter couldn't help but note: "The rugged and handsome Army chaplain has the appearance of a movie war hero."

Liteky would soon volunteer for another tour of duty in Vietnam. He was in his late 30s, but he'd seen what the Communists had done there, and he knew where his duty and his God required him to be.

"I had really developed a sympathy and an admiration for the young men there at the time. A lot of them were there against their will," he said.

Turning point

He left the Army in 1971, the year he turned 40. It was a time of change, of questioning. He thought often of advice a professor had given him between his two Vietnam tours: "You need to rise above the assumptions of your subcultures."

Troubled by what he'd seen in the war, he took a yearlong leave of absence from the priesthood.

Struggling with celibacy - he had a couple of affairs and romantic relationships - he made the difficult decision to leave the priesthood permanently in 1975, feeling as if he'd let God down.

"They used to talk about celibacy being a gift. And after a while, I thought, 'Well, I didn't get the gift.' "

He moved to the West Coast, where no one knew him, and gravitated toward cosmopolitan San Francisco. While working for the Veterans Administration, he married a teacher and ex-nun, Judy Balch.

She encouraged him to work for social justice and urged him to go with other veterans to several Central American countries where the U.S. government had intervened militarily. He went, and saw a horror that took him back to Vietnam.

He was especially struck by a group of women called Mothers of the Disappeared, who searched through grisly photos of hundreds of massacred people, looking under the blood for missing family members.

So there he was, in his mid-50s, when his awakening came.

He began the public protests that would occupy him until the present day, the peace groups, the protests, fasts, vigils and imprisonment. Along the way, his religious faith, which had been so important for so long, was mutating.

"In seminary," he said, "our big code word was, 'Think with the church.' I thought, 'I need to think for myself.' " Liteky said he believed in a church that was pacifist and non-materialistic, even socialist. That wasn't the church in which he was raised. So his faith gradually slipped away.

"It cost me that relationship I had with God," he said. "Oh, I still pray, sort of like, 'If there's anybody there, I need some help.' Other than that, I don't know if there's anything there behind the final curtain."

'An ex-lot of things'

Charlie Liteky's life is defined by his heroism in 1967 - and by his decision to renounce the medal that honored that heroism. Giving it up, he says, was not hard. Indeed, he felt as if it was the only thing he could do, given his anger at his country.

His chief regret was not acting earlier, during the Vietnam War. "I accepted it, but I wish now that I hadn't," he said. "I wish I could have woken up when I was there, and protested the war."

The one other regret was giving up the a tax-free monthly award that comes with the Medal of Honor and is now worth about $1,100 a month. "I tell my wife, Judy: 'You know it seemed like a good idea at the time,' " he said, giving a big laugh.

Liteky is working on a book about his life, and his editor has suggested that he leave out some of the more damning details - about his love life, about what he calls his "disgust" with so much of what the United States has done.

Liteky, though, wants to leave it in. All of it.

"Heroes, so-called heroes, have clay feet just like everybody else. When you're getting all those accolades, and you know who you really are, the mistakes you've made - it doesn't feel that good," he said.

Several times during long conversations, he wonders how much time he has to live. That's what old men do, he says, as they weigh whether they've made a difference during their time on earth.

He'll tell you straight off that he knows he's far from perfect.

"But I have tried to live life to the truth as I see it at the time. That's a very costly thing; I've lost a lot. I'm an ex-lot of things. But what have you got? Your integrity."

Photos: Charlie Liteky as military chaplain and later with his wife, Judy

Friday, April 17, 2009

Catholic Priest Demands End To Celibacy

Webwire – Thursday, April 16, 2009

Father Hans Kung, a longtime critic of certain Catholic tenets, has renewed his fight with the Catholic Church by telling French newspaper Le Monde that Pope Benedict XVI is too isolated to deal with the issue of celibacy.

Kung’s critical stance is reflective of the way many priests feel and act, according to one Eastern Rite Catholic priest whose recent book exposes what he says is a serious flaw in Catholic doctrine.

Confessions of a Passionate Priest by Father Ameen (not his real name) graphically highlights the problems engendered by celibacy rules, including the breaking of sacred vows. In a no-holds-barred account, the author describes sexual liaisons and extramarital affairs in sizzling detail.

Father Ameen says he believes that celibacy is counter to a productive priesthood and points to fellow Eastern Rite priests in Lebanon, who are allowed to marry and still serve their parishes, as proof.

“The Church is failing to address a very basic human need,” says Father Ameen. “How can they say that consensual sex is a sin? If two people love each other and care about each other, they should be allowed to have sex.”

Father Ameen recounts his own battles with celibacy in his book, which details his affair with a married woman and the fallout that lost him his parish. His book also delves into the differences between how Church leadership is talking and how local leaders are acting, including:

  • How local leaders often ignore intimate relationships as long as they don’t go public

  • How common it is for priests to have these relationships

  • The realization by local leadership that punishing every priest who ignores celibacy would lead to an even more severe shortage of priests

  • How the threat of litigation was the only reason he was punished for his relationship

“I love the Church,” says Father Ameen, “but it does have some rules that serve no one. There is plenty of proof that priests can engage in intimate relationships and still serve God.”

Father Ameen remains dedicated to the priesthood despite his contradiction of specific Church rules. He currently lives in an undisclosed location in the United States, preferring to remain anonymous to avoid recrimination.

Confessions of a Passionate Priest by Father Ameen; ISBN: 0-9816892-0-5; $14.95; 224 pages; 5½” x 8½”; softcover; East Mountain Books

Paraguayan bishops lament Lugo’s betrayal of his vows

For more information about ex-bishop President Lugo and his paternity charges, see my blog -- Fernando Lugo: A Trust Betrayed and Fernando Lugo: The telenovela continues.

The latest news reports as well as the "word on the street" are suggesting that additional paternity claims may be being prepared against Lugo from his days as bishop in San Pedro so givng a new meaning to Lugo's claim to be el padre de los pobres (one report says maybe as many as 17 "pobres" but we think that's an exaggeration).

Asunción, Paraguay, Apr 15, 2009 / 03:14 pm (CNA).- Various Catholic bishops in Paraguay are lamenting the news that the current President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, fathered a child with a 16 year-old girl while he was still a Catholic bishop.

Bishop Mario Melanio Medina lamented that “Fernando Lugo lied to the Catholic Church in fathering a child as a religious.”

Lugo “is not the first nor will he be the last who lied or will lie to the Church. This should serve as a lesson to all priests,” the bishop said. Although he acknowledged that the decision by the president to admit his actions and acknowledge his son “is a courageous act,” he added that “it is sad that he had a relationship with a woman at a time when he was still a religious.”

Asked if he knew about the relationship, the bishop replied, “There were rumors, but it was never confirmed that there was a relationship between him and the young girl. Now everything has been clarified and it is a question of assuming responsibilities,” Bishop Medina said.

Bishop Claudio Gimenez of Caacupe told a local radio station that in the face of the revelation of the relationship, Lugo “had only one option and he had to choose to be truthful to the people.”

Bishop Gimenez rejected the idea that Lugo’s case is an argument against celibacy. “It is rather an obvious call to priests to be faithful.”

Bishop Ignacio Gogorza of Encarnacion said the news Lugo had a relationship with a girl to whom he administered the sacrament of Confirmation “caused much sorrow.”

“As a member of the Church, I accept that we can all sin, but with much sorrow,” Bishop Gogorza said. “What hurts the most is that Lugo had a relationship while he was still Bishop of the Diocese of San Pedro,” he added.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Karl Rahner’s secret 22-year romance

NCR Staff
New York

It is an image out of sync with the persona of a German academic: Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner on his knees before a woman, overwhelmed with gratitude for his love, for a passionate relationship with a 51-year-old widow and two-time divorcee that would produce some 4,000 letters between 1962 and Rahner’s death in 1984.

Rahner, considered by many to be the 20th century’s most creative Catholic theologian, was 58 when German novelist Luise Rinser played the image back to him in a letter dated Aug. 10, 1962. “My Fish, truly beloved, I cannot express how shaken I was as you knelt before me,” she wrote. “You were kneeling before the Love that you are experiencing and before which I also kneel in amazement, in reverence, with trembling and with an exultation that I hardly dare to allow myself to feel. We are both touched in the innermost part of our being by something that is much stronger than we anticipated.”

The passage is from letters that Rinser wrote to Rahner over the 22 years of their relationship. Published in German, the letters hold a particular fascination for Pamela Kirk, a theologian who teaches at St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y. While there has been virtually no public discussion of the letters in the United States, she has delivered two papers on the Rinser-Rahner relationship at the Catholic Theological Society of America.

As the relationship progressed, Rahner was petulant, reproachful, wanting greater loyalty from Rinser, who warned him that another man, a Benedictine abbot and her spiritual director, took priority over Rahner in her affections. All three parties to this apparently celibate love triangle -- Rinser, Rahner and “M.A.,” as she refers to the abbot, connected at Rinser’s second home near Rome during the Second Vatican Council. The abbot was a council participant, Rahner a theological adviser, Rinser correspondent for a German Catholic newspaper.

At times during their 22-year relationship, Rahner wrote Rinser three or four letters a day. The couple called each other by nicknames: hers “Wuhschel,” the German rendering for the Woozle character in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (a nickname first given to Rinser by her two sons); his “Fish” for its double meaning: symbol of Christianity and Pisces, the sign Rahner was born under on March 5, 1904.

Kirk said she regards the letters as a trove of spiritual history destined to become better known. In an interview in her Manhattan apartment, she said she hopes a scholar will come forth with time to translate the letters into English.

During the past few years, Kirk’s academic interests in the lives of two literary women have spanned continents and cultures. Even as she marveled at the treasure of Rinser’s letters (the Jesuits will not allow Rahner’s letters to Rinser to be published), most of her intellectual energy has been directed southward, to the work of a 17th-century Mexican nun and poet known as Sor Juana.

Kirk’s interest in Latin American liberation theology drew her to Sor Juana. Kirk is also concerned that history has buried the reputations of significant Catholic women. Her theological analysis of Sor Juana’s work is expected to be published in January by Continuum under the title Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Religion, Art and Feminism.


The Rinser-to-Rahner letters were published in German three years ago under the title Gratwanderung (roughly translated “Journey on the Edge,” Kirk said), provoking “savage criticism” from people who accused Rinser of exploiting her friendship with Rahner. “She became the focus of ridicule,” Kirk said, because people were scandalized by the relationship.

Kirk is a Rahner specialist. She wrote a dissertation on Rahner’s eschatology to complete requirements for her doctoral degree at the University of Munich. (Her bachelor’s, in languages and literature, is from Rosary College in River Forest, Ill.; her master’s, in comparative literature, from the University of Indiana.) Kirk went to Bavaria after a biking accident to teach English to German students, putting off doctoral studies and taking up a personal journey to learn more about her Catholic heritage.

She entered the University of Munich at 24, emerging with her doctorate 11 years later, in 1985 -- a period in which she was exposed to intellectual currents in the church and “grew tremendously” in her faith, she said. Since then, she’s taught at The Catholic University, Trinity College and St. Anselm College, Manchester, Vt. She was hired by St. John’s in 1990.

Kirk presented a paper on the Rinser-Rahner correspondence to the Karl Rahner Society, a subgroup of the Catholic Theological Society of America, in 1995. She anticipates publication of her paper in Philosophy and Theology, a journal published at Marquette University. She delivered a paper on the theology in Rinser’s early work at the theological society’s meeting last summer.

Despite huge disparities in cultures, periods and lifestyles between Rinser and Sor Juana, the two women have enough in common to link them comfortably in Kirk’s mind. Both are strong women who have emerged recently as figures to be reckoned with on the theological horizon.

Sor Juana was a 17th-century Mexican nun and poet who has been heralded as a major literary figure by Octavio Paz, himself a Nobel Prizewinning Mexican poet. In his 1982 literary biography of Sor Juana (published in English in 1988), he ranked her among the five top lyric poets of the Spanish language. She wrote comedies, love poems, devotional texts, a theological treatise and a long response to the bishop of Puebla, who had criticized her for her intellectual work. With the exception of her lifetime, when Sor Juana enjoyed considerable renown, the late 20th century is “the high point of her fame,” Kirk said. A critical edition of her work was completed about 40 years ago.

Mary as powerful

“She had a lot of the insights that feminists have today,” Kirk said. For example, in her writing on Mary, “She emphasizes Mary’s strength and her moral integrity,” rather than her virginity, Kirk said. “She describes Mary as very close in power to the majesty of her son.”

Kirk discovered Sor Juana during a visit to Mexico City in 1988, where her sister, Susan Abeyta, works as a foreign service officer. Kirk’s research proved her hunch that Sor Juana, though studied as a literary figure, had been ignored by theologians. Kirk hopes that her work on Sor Juana will help to bridge the gap between U.S. and Mexican Catholics.

As for Rinser, author of more than 75 books, she was also a woman of strong convictions who wrote about moral issues, Kirk said. Her first husband, composer Horst Guenter Schnell, father of her two sons, died in 1943 on the Russian front. Two years earlier, the Nazis had banned a second printing of her first novel, Die gläserne ringe (The Glass Ring), because they thought it had an antiwar tone.

In 1944, she was sentenced to death by the Nazis after she spoke to friends about the futility of the war effort and was betrayed. During her prison years, she wrote a diary on bits of toilet paper, which she stuffed into a mattress and retrieved when the Naxi defeat saved her from execution. Her second marriage, to Klaus Hermann, a homosexual and a communist, and a target of the Nazis on both counts, was undertaken to save him from a concentration camp.

Although she was very well connected and an important figure in German literary circles, she was also something of an outsider, Kirk said, tainted for Catholics on the left as a conservative, because of her reputation as a Catholic novelist, yet troublesome for conservatives because of her outspoken opposition to nuclear arms. Except for her journals and diaries, her work has found little favor with critics. In one of her letters to Rahner, she complained that she had been asked to give readings all over the world, but never in her native Bavaria.

Relationships between women and priests figure prominently in some of Rinser’s early work, Kirk said. Among Rinser’s later work is Abelard’s Liebe (Abelard’s Love), a 1991 novel that retells the story of 12th century priest-theologian Peter Abelard and his paramour Heloise from the perspective of their illicit son.

Rahner wrote Rinser some 2,203 letters, both personal and theological, Kirk said: 110 in 1962, 123 in 1963, 276 in 1964, 249 in 1965, 222 in 1966, in addition to sending her the diary of his U.S. trip. In 1967, he wrote 252 letters, and from 1968 to 1970, he wrote more than a hundred each year. In 1971, the correspondence begins falling off: 75 that year, 50 the next, and in the ensuing years, a range of 3 to 15 per year.

Excerpts in English from Rinser’s letters, above and below, were translated by Kirk for NCR.

‘Glorious letters’

In July, 1962, Rinser told Rahner in a letter that she had been organizing his letters to her. “There are 53 of them (including the postcards), my Fish. ... And what glorious letters they are! A theology of love: from person to person, man to woman, human to God, God to humans.” Publishing excerpts of these letters, she told him could help many priests to “sanctify love.” Rinser refers in her letters to Rahner’s commitment to celibacy.

Although Rinser has Rahner’s letters in her possession, the Jesuits, as Rahner’s heirs, own them under German law. Rinser had hoped to publish both sides of the correspondence, but the Jesuits wouldn’t allow it. Some were strongly critical of Rinser for publishing her side of the correspondence, Kirk said.

A year and a half after Rahner knelt before Rinser to profess his love, his passion remained strong. On Feb. 12, 1964, Rinser wrote, “Your letter of yesterday was the most beautiful love letter I have received from you or from anyone else.” Rahner had apparently compared their relationship to eternal happiness, a notion that Rinser found “indescribably beautiful.”

Later that year, Rinser addressed Rahner’s jealousy toward M.A., the Benedictine abbot. “I have M.A. and you,” she wrote. “You shouldn’t say, write or think that you have to be afraid of the one person. ... You are part of the very fabric of my life.”

In the second volume of Rinser’s autobiography, published in German in 1994, the last chapter is devoted to her relationship with Rahner, Kirk said. There she writes of Rahner’s jealousy that “M.A.” had been the one to bless her house near Rome and had celebrated the first Mass at her chapel. Although Rahner also sometimes celebrated Mass at her home, he was troubled, Rinser said, that she attended the abbot’s daily Mass during the council years. To stake his own claim, Rahner would show up at her house unexpectedly, she said, sometimes very early in the morning. Increasingly, Rinser said in her autobiography, he wrote of his despairing love.

‘Only a friend’

“How can you be so despairing, when I’m so close to you,” she wrote him on Nov. 1, 1964. “But that is clearly the cross to which you are nailed, and when I want to pull the nails out, you say no, no, that hurts too.” A week later, she told him she had just torn up a long letter to him because she couldn’t find the right tone. “I have only more fear of hurting you,” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”

In February 1965, exclusivity was still an issue for Rahner. “But the truth is this,” Rinser told him. “I love M.A. with my whole being, for all eternity, him alone in this way. I can only be a friend for you. But what is that? Time must tell.” She added that she would not consider his proposal that they separate. “We also are forever united,” she wrote.

The final two Rinser letters were written in 1984, the year Rahner died. The correspondence was most active between 1962 and 1967. As the letters began to dwindle in number in the 1970s, they used the telephone more, Kirk said. She said the couple had spoken by phone just hours before Rahner’s death.

Rinser, now 87, was still in the relationship with “M.A.,” the Benedictine abbot, when the second volume of her autobiography was published in 1994, meaning that their love had endured for some 30 years, Kirk said.

Rinser was clearly distressed that the Jesuits had refused her editor’s request to publish Rahner’s side of their correspondence. In the foreward to Gratwanderung, she wrote, “The Jesuits should be proud to have among their spiritual leaders a great theologian who was also a great human being, a man who though vowed to celibacy, dared to love a woman and to suffer deeply in his love. Why,” she asked, “should this be kept a secret?” Rinser went on to say that their love was not “forbidden love” but an attempt to live what both she and Rahner thought of as “the divine experiment ... to be fully man and woman, flesh and blood, yet remain totally on a spiritual level.”

After the book appeared, Rinser was “savagely criticized” in the German press, Kirk said, accused by one writer of needing “the drug of publicity.”

Another critic attempted to discredit Rinser by insinuating “lax sexual mores,” referring to her “numerous involvements with men,” Kirk said. “It is also well known that the now 83-year-old Rinser ... in addition to three husbands has turned the heads of many,” pronounced Der Spiegel in 1994.

Kirk says such a sweeping dismissal is not only “inappropriate,” it “totally ignores the nature of Rinser’s marriages.” Rinser met Rahner two years after a third marriage, to composer Karl Orf, ended, freeing him to marry his secretary, with whom he was having an affair. Rinser had been married to Orf for five years.

As for the Jesuits’ criticism, Kirk said that one German journalist, Beate Kayser, writing in Tageszeitung, argued that it had been motivated less by embarrassment at Rahner’s falling in love than by concern that the letters would provide grist for Rahner’s conservative “theological adversaries.”

Kirk thinks that the correspondence, revealing as it does Rahner’s suffering for love, is an “added dimension” to his writings about the relationship of human love and love of God. “It’s symptomatic” of the problem of celibacy “that the personal life of the major European Catholic theological figure of our time is not considered particularly relevant,” she said.

National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 1997

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A priesthood returning to its roots?

By David Gibson
Beliefnet Blog

Today is Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, as it is popularly know, though that descriptor seems as odd as "Good Friday." Maundy actually comes from the Latin word mandatum, which refers to Jesus' words to the Apostles as he washes their feet: "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you") John 13:34.

That is a commandment we'd all do well (bloggers especially, I think) to remember. There is much else to commemorate this day as well: The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and by extension the institution of the sacramental priesthood (as well as the betryal by Judas in the garden.)

The day thus reinforces the inherent connection between the Mass and the priesthood, but of course there are far fewer priests these days, and so less access to the Eucharist, not to mention pastoral care. Priests and lay people lose out.

Optional celibacy continues to be a promising option without official approval--yet. But as Cardinal Egan noted recently, it's a matter of church law that can be discussed and changed, not dogma. And besides, most of those fellows at the Last Supper--and beyond--had spouses.

Things will change, I suspect. Interesting is this item from the latest edition of The Tablet of London:

New bishop calls for married priests

A priest who is in favour of ordaining married men and increasing the decision-making powers of women and bishops' conferences has been appointed a bishop to the bilingual diocese of Bozen-Brixen (Bolzano-Bressanone) on the Austrian/Italian border, writes Christa Pongratz-Lippitt.

Bishop Karl Golser told the weekly church paper of the Innsbruck Diocese, Tiroler Sonntag: "In future we will have a pastoral structure which is no longer as clerical and as concentrated on priests as it used to be. The question of ordaining proven married men - whose marriages have proved stable - and who are respected in their communities will therefore come up more and more often."

The bishop pointed out that the Eastern Churches in full communion with Rome ordain married men, but added that it was a question of consensus and regional bishops' conferences should be given more decisionmaking powers because the attitude to ordaining proven married men varied from continent to continent.

Bishop Golser said he also thought that women should be more involved in decision-making in the Church. "The Church will grow wherever women are given more such decision-making powers," he said.

Good for him for saying what most bishops only whisper. This isn't a matter of banishing or devaluing priestly celibacy. On the contrary. Rather, it is about elevating the Eucharist to its central place.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Palm Sunday Surprise in Argentina

"Hmmm...let's see. I'm going to leave the priesthood to get married. Do I tell my bishop, my family, or the faithful first?" An Argentinian priest went for option No.3 and his dramatic Palm Sunday resignation is all over the Spanish language media. Here is a translation of the version from Clarí (4/6/2009):

It was a difficult decision. One of those that doesn’t let one sleep at night and that finally making it relieves the soul. It was a sensation of relief, of liberation that the priest from Córdoba, Victor Hugo Casas (38) must have felt at the end of last week when he announced to the faithful in his church in Colonia Prosperidad that he would be leaving the priesthood. “I am in love and I want to start a family,” the priest then said, as if asking forgiveness for his feelings.

The story ended like in a novel. On Saturday, at the end of the Mass that he was celebrating in Colonia Prosperidad, Casas – who is also pastor of two other churches in eastern Córdoba, Saturnino María Laspiur and Las Varas – told the faithful that he had something important to tell them. Something that had happened to him and that he wanted to share with everyone.

He was in love, he wanted to start a family with his beloved woman and be a dad. Teary with emotion, he spoke about how difficult it had been to make this decision. And he said that he had thought it through well because he had been in love for a long time.

After this confession, the priest stated that this would be the last Mass he would celebrate. Then he removed his vestments, kissed them, and left them on the altar. Surprisingly, the first reaction of the faithful to the news was a smattering of applause. They all valued the courage and honesty of the pastor and they supported him.

Casas later repeated the announcement in the other two churches where he celebrates Mass. And the response of the faithful was, yet again, respect and compassion.

“There are questions of the heart that you cannot stop”, he explained to the journalists from Cadena 3 radio, even before telling the news to his family and his superiors in the Church. And he added that “when you fall in love with a person and start to project into the future, about starting a family and having children, it’s very strong.”

The pastor indicated that he did not believe his decision would generate problems in the Church because “God loves life.” And he was going to leave the priesthood precisely to start a family and give life. In any case, he timidly suggested, the Church needs to “grow up” and “it needs to be more open” to these types of issues.

“I don’t deny that there are people in religious life who can live celibately, but I think that the Church needs to grow and allow priests to choose between celibate and married life”, he said.

This time the man won out over the priest, the heart over the head. Because, as the song says, el amor es más fuerte (love is stronger).

PS: Casas later apologized to his bishop, Msgr. Carlos Tissera, for not having told him before announcing his decision on the radio. The bishop called Casas “sincere” but said that his decision to renounce the priesthood caused him “great surprise and sadness, and more so because it happened during Holy Week.” He also told Cadena 3 that he would be celebrating the Holy Thursday services in Casas’ three parishes.

Photo: Victor Hugo Casas celebrates his change of status with his former parishioners.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Excerpt from Sojourners July-August 2002, 1-800-714-7474.
By Richard Rohr OFM

The revelation of the last year seems to be the beginning of the end of what some call "the myth of celibacy." It's not that male celibacy was always false or deceitful, but it was in great part an artificial construct. Men, with the best of original intentions, found out that they were not the mystics that celibacy demanded. That is exactly the point.

Celibacy, at least in the male, is a most rare gift. To succeed, it demands conscious communion with God at a rather mature level, it demands many transitions and new justifications at each stage of life, and it demands a specific creative call besides. Many who have ostensibly "succeeded" at it have often, by the second half of life, actually not succeeded-in the sense of becoming a God lover, a human lover, and a happy man besides.
Practically, however, the demand for celibacy as a prerequisite for ministry is a setup for so many false takers. Not bad men, just men who are still on a journey: young men who need identity; insecure or ambitious men who need status; passionate men who need containment for their passions; men who are pleasing their pious mothers or earning their Catholic father's approval; men who think "the sacred" will prevent their feared homosexuality, their wild heterosexual hormones, or their pedophilia; men with arrested human development who seek to overcompensate by identification with a strong group; men who do not know how to relate to other people and to women in particular.

None of these are bad men; they are just on a many-staged journey, and we have provided them an attractive way-station that often seems to work for a while. But then they go on to the next stage and find themselves trapped, searching, conflicted, split, acting out, or repressing in, and often at variance with their now public and professed image,

The process lends itself to a Jekyll-andHyde syndrome, even among men who are very honest and humble in other areas.The price is far too high once you have committed your life publicly and sacredly, I know how hard it continues to be for me, my closest priest friends, and many that I have counseled and confessed. Many of us stay in not because we believe the official ideology of celibacy anymore, but because we believe in our work, we love the people, and we also know God's mercy.

But that loss of belief in the very ideology is at the heart of the whole problem now. We cannot prop up with law and social pressure what the Spirit does not appear to be sustaining.The substructure has collapsed. "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." (Psalm 127: 1)

Add to that a rather large superstructure of ascribed status and security, and we have a system that is set up for collapse. Studies of male initiation say it is dangerous to give ascribed status to a man who has not journeyed into powerlessness. He will likely not know how to handle power, and may even abuse it, as we have now seen.

In general, I think healthy male celibacy is rare, and it probably is most healthy as an "'initiation" stage to attain boundaries, discipline, integrity, depth, and surrender to God. In the long run, most men, as the Buddha statues illustrate, need to have one hand touching the earth, the concrete, the physical, the material, and the sexual. If they do not, the other hand usually points nowhere.

We should move ahead reaffirming our approach to grace, healing mercy, solidarity with sinners, patience and transformation-while also cooperating with the social system whenever there are true victims' rights to be redressed.We should do this generously, magnanimously, and repentantly. We Catholics should also see celibacy as primarily an intense initiation course of limited (one to 10) years, much like the monks in many Asian countries.

Celibacy has much to teach the young male about himself, about real passion, prayer, loving others and his True Self in God.We dare not lose this wonderful discipline and container. (Who knows, maybe both Jesus and Paul were still in that early period of life?!) It could be a part of most Catholic seminarians' training, and during that time much personal growth could take place. Some would likely choose it as a permanent state. Most would not.

How differently the entire process of priestly formation would be configured. What a gift to the religious orders (where celibacy is essential). Our precise charism would become clear, although we would surely become much smaller.

What an opening to the many fine men who are attracted to a marriage partner. And what a focused intensity this could give to spiritual formation during that celibacy period, instead of all of the hoop games, telling the directors what they want to hear, mental reservations, non self-knowledge, acting out, and "submarine" behavior that make many seminaries a haven for unhealth.

Seminaries would not drive away sincere spiritual seekers, but would attract them. Not men looking for roles, titles, and uniforms to disguise identity, but men looking for holiness and God through which to express identity.

Male sexuality does not go away. It is not easily sublimated or integrated. It is either expressed healthily or it goes underground in a thousand different ways.

Sex is and probably always will be a central issue for most males, and it can never develop honestly inside a "hothouse" of prearranged final conclusions.

We should not be looking for a system where mistakes can never happen, but just a system that can distinguish health from unhealthy and holiness from hiding. Like no other institution, the church should be the most prepared to deal with mistakes.That is our business. The steps to maturity are necessarily immature.

Let's start by mentoring the good and the true, and also surrendering to that mystery of grace, forgiveness, and transformation that is our birthright as Christians. Many priests and seminarians have always done this, and I hope this gives them the courage to know why and how they are both "sons and heirs" of a true wisdom tradition. Such disciplined sons, and only such sons, have earned the authority of "fathers."

Closure of last Roman Catholic seminary in Scotland "inevitable"

Comment by Martin Hannan, a former trainee priest
The Herald

The closure of Scotus College is sad, but was inevitable. It belonged to a bygone time, when young Catholic boys went to the national junior seminaries in Langbank and Blairs by the dozen, then on to either of the Scots Colleges in Rome or Valladolid in Spain, or to St Andrew's, Drygrange, and St Peter's College, Cardross.

I know we went by the dozen because I was one of 65 boys who started in St Vincent's College, Langbank, in 1970. Just five of us made it through Blairs College and senior seminary to the priesthood.

I never deny my education at Langbank, Blairs and Rome. At the last two, I had a ball - we played football three times a week on full-size grass pitches.

Of the Scottish seminaries, only Rome remains, with the students placed at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University.

They are few in number because an increasingly secular society abhors the virtues of priestly holiness and celibacy, while the reputation of the Catholic clergy in Scotland has never really recovered from a series of abuse scandals.

The vast majority of priests in this country are good and holy men who have been let down by a small minority. Their number is falling by the year, but then so is the number of practising Catholic families with youngsters prepared to adhere to out-of-date theology - the fundamental reason why so few Catholic boys and men now want to become priests.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Getting rid of celibacy---can’t hurt!

Author: Lisa Fullam, D.V.M., Th.D.
New Catholic Times
March 30, 2009

When I was younger, I was a believer in priestly celibacy as a powerful witness to the sustaining love of God. While I still believe in the sustaining love of God (and that priests-like all the faithful-should strive to live lives that witness to it,) I can no longer say anything positive about mandatory celibacy for priests. Partly it's the question of the shortage of priests, a pastoral emergency that requires immediate and focused attention. Getting rid of mandatory celibacy won't solve that problem, but it can't hurt. Partly it's the dynamic by which celibate men are often subsumed into a clerical culture about which more negative things have been said than I have space to repeat here. But I've seen it in action.

And partly, and importantly, we should pay attention to ways in which mandatory celibacy can damage men who struggle to find human integration apart from the usual means of devoted intimacy and responsibility to which spouse and family. Donald Cozzens notes that psychologists note higher rates of obsessive-compulsive trait, unrecognized anger, and of course the stunning narcissism that can result when people are personally involved only with themselves. (Of course the rest of us are liable to these-my point here is ONLY that these seem more common among celibates than the male population as a whole.)

And then there are those who fend off all intimacy in order to sustain celibacy. One priest I know once was describing ALL his relationships-and he held up his arms as though to fend off an attacker. Everybody must be kept away. Imagine living a whole life in which being personally known and cherished is a dreaded risk. I suspect this guy was broken long before ordination-but nothing about the culture of mandatory celibacy, and nothing in his diocesan formation years ago, has lead him to find this problematic.

I realize I'm generalizing here, and of course many celibates live lives of peaceful integration and profound dedication. But we have tended in the past to romanticize celibacy and not to recognize the toll it takes on many who are forced into it apart from a genuine vocation to that life. I also realize that astute vocation directors are trying to sort out those who have a real vocation to celibacy from those who have a real vocation to priesthood/ministry but not celibacy. But that's hard to do when the Church is desperate for priests.

And-is it too much to hope that once we realize that priests can be married and still serve with holiness and dedication, that maybe women too will be seen as candidates to fully respond to Jesus' command to "Feed my sheep"?

Lisa Fullam, D.V.M., Th.D. is Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at the Jesuit school of theology in Berkeley