By Catherine Coroller (translation by Rebel Girl)
August 21, 2009
Father Jacques Nieuviarts, director of the national pilgrimage to Lourdes (the one on August 15) was not aware. Mgr. Jacques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, had vaguely heard about it on the radio. Father Marie José de Antonio, head of pastoral care for migrants in Hautes-Pyrenees too. Officially at least, the possible recognition by the Vatican of children of priests, revealed on August 2 by the Italian daily La Stampa - and denied the next day by the Pope's spokesperson - was a non-issue for the clergy present in Lourdes last weekend.
According to that newspaper, Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, has organized several meetings on the explosive issue of children of priests. Objective: to keep the existence of DNA testing from raising a multitude of lawsuits on paternity recognition before the courts, with the damage it would cause to the finances and image of the Church. The counter-attack devised by the Vatican, according to La Stampa, is a kind of civil contract guaranteeing the social rights of the mother and child. The child could inherit the personal property of his father, and the latter could give him his name, which is difficult for him to do today, except by leaving his ministry.
"Innocents". Fathers Nieuviarts and de Antonio are not against this development. "These children are innocent," says the first. The second agrees: "It's not their fault." Father de Antonio is an elderly man. However, the rule of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, which ordain married men, leaves him dreaming: "When I see Lebanese Maronite priests who are fathers, I sometimes think if I had done my studies in Lebanon, I could have married too."
Ideally, Jacques Perrier is not against the recognition of children of priests either. "There may be something to do." But for him, it's a microproblem. "There are certainly cases, but perhaps fewer than we imagine. We have not seen a group of 500 fellow-priests come forward. In the three diocese where I have been, I was aware of only one case. And the priest left the church to get married." "The bishops always repeat the same arguments," retorted Jean Combe, a former priest, a member of Plein Jour, the support group for companions of priests in the struggle for abolition of the rule of celibacy in the Catholic Church. Although there are no statistics available for France, there are 3,000 children of priests in Germany, according to the British Catholic weekly The Tablet.
As for the key stakeholders, the children, priests' companions and defrocked priests, reactions vascillate between hope and bitterness. Marc Bradfer, son of a priest is convinced that Rome is condemned to proceed: "The DNA tests are conclusive and the church will be forced to clarify its position so as not to be cornered by the judgments and scandals." "It is true that there are descendants of priests who could turn up, and that the Vatican is afraid of scandals of the kind that happened in the United States" with pedophilia, Bernard Corbineau, a member of the European Federation of Married Priests, also opines. However, he does not believe in a rapid evolution of the Vatican: "I am very skeptical."
Money. Would the recognition of priests' children radically change their situation? "First, it is not established; the Vatican is feeling its way," observes Dominique Venturini, president of Plein Jour. And then, the reason that Benedict XVI is considering this evolution is neither humane nor humanitarian, it is a question of money, so that the children do not claim an inheritance from their father. "Finally," she stresses, "What about women in this story? Nothing. They do not exist. What we want is recognition of the couple." For Marc Bradfer, however, recognition of the child includes that of the mother: "There is no child without a woman. To recognize the fruit is to recognize the trees that made them ripen and be born."
Also the son of a clergyman, Jean-François Jaudon wishes that the Church would go further. "It seems to me important that the Vatican allow priests to live their lives as men as they see fit, allowing them to marry and to start a family in the same way as in Islam or Judaism." For Bernard Corbineau, "the Church would have to finally recognize that a man can serve religiously in a marriage as well as in celibacy." For "it is not chastity or celibacy that makes the priest, it is his commitment."