Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Celibacy was part of the package..."

Régis Menet is married, but he is not exactly like any other husband. For 34 years, he was a priest in the Diocese of Lille. In France, about 10,000 men have left the priesthood. Their reasons are many and diverse. Their journeys as well. Here is his, which started in 1942 in Haubourdin.

By Benoit Deseure (translation by Rebel Girl)
La Voix du Nord

Priestly celibacy, a taboo subject? Régis Menet immediately warns us: "With the association I'm part of (Association pour une retraite convenable - APRC, "Association for a Decent Pension"), we are not making any demands for marriage for priests. We only want to get a decent pension."

That said, obviously, his journey draws attention.

The former pastor of Bondues (in fact, he was vicar at the time) lives today in Guéret, near Limoges, with Marie, his wife, a psychologist. "In 2002, I asked to meet with the bishop (Msgr. Defois at that time) and I explained to him that I had met a woman and wanted to bring this relationship to light. I did not want to live in clandestinity." Régis Menet was then... 60 years old. He had been a priest for 34 years.

What happened? To understand, the sexagenarian explains, you have to go back to the 60s. Originally from Haubourdin where he was born in 1942, fifth of a family of seven, Régis plunged into scouting. He was generous, liked being of service to others. He observed the lives of his two uncles who were priests. And at 18, having passed the baccalaureate, he decided: off to the seminary in Merville, then to the one in Lille. "The priesthood was an ideal in life." And the Second Vatican Council, a "breath of fresh air, very hopeful."

Ordained at 27, after the army, Régis was named to Villeneuve-d'Ascq, which didn't quite exist completely yet. "Ascq, Annapes, it was fascinating, I was the vicar." Yes, but celibacy, did it raise any questions for you? "No, the sexuality issue was a bit hidden, even by us. It should be said that at that time boy-girl relationships were not as open as they are today. I was just getting out of an all-boys high school and I entered seminary." So celibacy "was part of the package."

After ten years at Villeneuve-d'Ascq, Régis Menet came to Bondues, in 1978. There he was also vicar. "I was in charge of the young people."

The adventure lasted seven years, before a nomination to Lille, in the Vauban neighborhood: "It was the beginning of parish consolidation. Everything was going well." That's where he met Marie: "We had known each other for a long time. We were buddies, friends. I didn't want to leave..." Marie knew this. But their friendship changed into...

In 1992, the priest, now in his 50s, was named to Gruson. "At that point I was hesitant: leave the Church or not?" In the end, he stayed. For a noble mission: to bring alive 12 bell towers in the heart of Pévèle. "It was very interesting." Except, everything changed. "As it went on, it went less and less well. I would join Marie again sometimes at night, without anyone knowing." No one? "No, not even my family -- I didn't tell them anything. I only talked about it to a small group of priests with whom I met regularly to share." What to do then? The priest in love asked himself the question, and decided to stay until the end of the eight years he had agreed to serve there with the bishop. Then he asked for an audience with Msgr. Defois. "Climbing up to the chancery, that was the hardest."

So, what happened on Rue Royale in Lille? "He dropped his pencil when I announced that I had met someone. He suggested that I take one year sabbatical, step back a bit. Finally, after a few weeks, I confirmed to him that I wanted to leave." A move and a civil marriage later, Régis Menet has taken stock of his life: "I think I would have been an excellent deacon but at that time, they didn't exist." Any regrets at having been a priest? "No, I gave the best of myself."

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