Friday, December 31, 2010

Padre Alberto publishes new book

You can already place an advance order for Fr. Alberto Cutie's version of the scandal that rocked the Archdiocese of Miami and Hispanic Catholicism throughout the Western hemisphere.

In Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love (Celebra, January 2011): "Father Albert Cutié tells about the devastating struggle between upholding his sacred promises as a priest and falling in love. Already conflicted with growing ideological differences with the Church, Cutié was forced to abruptly change his life the day that he was photographed on the beach, embracing the woman he would later call his wife.

Once a poster boy of the Roman Catholic Church -- loved and admired by millions -- Cutié found that he was not happy and able to live as a celibate priest, especially having to defend the number of positions he was no longer in agreement with. For years he kept his relationship a secret, while he soul searched and prayed for answers. The love that he deemed a blessing was bringing him closer to God, but further from the Church. In Dilemma, Cutié tells about breaking that promise, reigniting the very heated debate over mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests, beginning a new way of life and discovering a new way of serving God."

Remarkably, Padre Alberto is not leaking many details about his new book on his Web site nor has it gotten much buzz online. We got the tip from a conservative Catholic newspaper, The National Catholic Register (not to be confused with National Catholic Reporter)...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Catholic > Lutheran > married Catholic priest

This pastoral provision priesthood candidate in Sacramento shows how a Catholic boy can become a married Catholic priest...

By Anita Creamer
Sacramento Bee

Jeff Henry's long journey of faith has brought him full circle, not only back to the church in which he was baptized as an infant but also back to serving God. When he's ordained at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on June 4, he will become the Sacramento Catholic Diocese's first converted, married priest.

"This will be new for us," said Bishop Jaime Soto. "I announced it to our priests on Monday, and they're very excited. They were curious but very welcoming of the idea. I think it will be an adventure not just for Jeff and his wife but for us."

With Peg, his wife of 26 years, at his side, Henry called their grown daughter when he learned two weeks ago that the Vatican has approved his application to become a Roman Catholic priest.

"I said, 'Guess what? I'm going to be a father again,' " said Henry, 51, a former Lutheran minister who lives in Vacaville.

Under pastoral provision, Catholic canon law since 1980 has allowed former clergy from other faiths – primarily Episcopal – to be ordained into the priesthood. About 100 currently serve in this country, including a handful of former Lutherans and one converted Baptist. Few of them, according to Mary Gautier of Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA, are assigned as parish priests.

Should their wives die before they do, the church doesn't allow these converted priests to remarry.

"Knowing Jeff, even if he could remarry, he probably wouldn't," said Peg Henry, 50, a teacher.

"I'd end up in a monastery," said her husband.

Despite its 30-year history, pastoral provision remains a source of controversy in a church whose laity increasingly sees its traditional celibacy requirement as the main cause for a rapidly dwindling number of priests.

Why, some church observers ask, should married former clergy from other denominations be allowed to enter the Catholic priesthood when an estimated 25,000 American priests have had to leave the priesthood to marry?

"I think it's a deep wound, a very deep hurt," said Christine Schenk, a nun who serves as executive director of FutureChurch, a Cleveland-based nonprofit that advocates opening the priesthood beyond celibacy.

205 priests serve 900,000

In a sense, the numbers are stacked against the church. While the nation's population of Catholics has grown by 20 million since 1965, says CARA, the number of priests has dropped by one-third, to fewer than 40,000. The personnel shortage has forced the closure of more than 3,000 parishes in the past four years.

There simply aren't enough priests to go around. In the Sacramento diocese, for example, 205 priests serve a 20-county region of 900,000 Catholics.

And a large percentage of U.S. priests are in their 60s, edging into retirement.

"I'm always happy to see another addition to our clergy," said Ed Donaghy, 74, a retired Lincoln insurance professional who left the priesthood to marry in 1970. "We need them badly, so I applaud (Jeff Henry) for doing this. It's a big step.

"But the church has locked itself in a death grip to the concept that Roman Catholic priests must live a celibate spiritual life. It's a tragedy. I think of it as a management problem, a disastrous management problem."

Celibacy has been a church tenet for 900 years, but more than 70 percent of priests think mandatory celibacy should be re-examined, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Catholic advocacy group Call to Action earlier this decade.

Occasional announcements from the Vatican, such as the 2009 decision welcoming Anglicans and married Anglican priests into the Catholic Church, bring glimmers of hope to those who would like the church to allow its former priests to return after marriage.

"Every time the church allows a person from outside our tradition to serve, it's a harsh and sad reminder to those born Catholic that they're still second-class citizens," said Nicole Sotelo, a Call to Action spokeswoman based in Chicago.

"I know many men and women feel very hurt. They feel called by their fellow Catholics and God to serve, yet the church hierarchy rejects their call."

The church itself shows little inclination to bring these priests back into the clerical fold.

"They knew the rules," said Sacramento diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery. "They went through the traditional path to the priesthood. They knew the rules going in, and they had the option to make the decision then."

Study led to Catholic faith

Jeff Henry, the soon-to-be priest, lives a quiet life with his wife in a small condominium on the south side of Vacaville. He commutes every day to Vallejo, where students of St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School plan to call him Father Dean. They know him as their dean of students, after all.

"I'll introduce him to people as 'Father Dean Dad,' " said daughter Teresa Henry, a 21-year-old biology major at CSU Monterey Bay.

For Jeff Henry, baptized Catholic but raised in a military family that didn't attend church, the spiritual path he embarked on in evangelical groups at Oregon State University in Corvallis led him to leave his early career as a science teacher to become a Lutheran pastor.

By 2002, he was minister at Fairfield's Trinity Lutheran Church, leading a study group on early church leaders. The more he and his wife studied, the more they decided they belonged in the Catholic Church.

"I had Catholic friends who called us 'Catholic lite,' " said Peg Henry.

Her husband is a modest person, hesitant to talk much about himself or his faith, more comfortable in the realm of the analytical than the emotional.

"It's not my nature to share," Henry said. "I was teaching this study group, and before I knew it, I was thinking there was a depth and richness in the Catholic Church.

"There's a resonance in the church and the expression of life, and that's something that resonates in my soul. This is what it's about."

By 2005, Henry had returned to teaching high school and, with his family, he had converted. A friend, a Catholic priest, introduced him to then-Sacramento Bishop William Weigand.

"He said I should become a priest," said Henry. "I thought, 'How? I'm married.' But I started praying about it and thinking about it."

He also began a course of study at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, and with the guidance of Weigand and, in turn, Soto, he began the long application process for pastoral provision.

"Jeff chose this response to God's grace," said Soto. "We're very honored he'd choose to join us."

Others in the Sacramento diocese have tried, said Eckery, but the Vatican has rejected previous local applicants.

In January, Henry will be ordained as a transitional deacon, the last step before his June ordination as a priest. He will continue in his role as a high school dean.

There is no specific path for the wife of a Catholic priest, however.

"This whole situation is very unusual," said Peg Henry. "I'll take it step by step. Some of the experiences I had as a Lutheran minister's wife will transfer over."

Relatives seem more rattled by their conversion to Catholicism than by Henry's acceptance into the priesthood, he said.

"Eventually we want to be in a parish," he said.

The journey has already taken him in unexpected directions, into a world of possibilities denied to many others.

"Who knows where we'll be?" said his wife.

"God knows," he replied.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Culture Notes: La Mujer del Papa

What is the next Pope came from Spain? What if he came to the Vatican with a woman by his side? This is the premise of a new novel by theologian and writer Rafael Paz Fernandez, "La Mujer del Papa" (Lobo Sapiens, 2010). The book combines fiction with real issues of church reform, liberation theology, the celibacy debate, etc...

Paz wrote the novel in part to protest the current treatment of women in the Church. In a recent interview, the author said: "The institutional Church is the biggest chauvinist club in the world. Women are still considered unequal and inferior to men, and their roles and functions are third place. The recent visit of the Pope to Barcelona was a case in point: four nuns cleaning the altar, while a thousand or so men in Roman vestments presided at the liturgy..." He added that the institutional Church is fearful of the true message of Christianity and only sees women as temptation, as sin, as those through whom evil entered the world.

And "Father" makes seven...

The pastoral provision strikes again in Billings, Montana.

Rev. Barton Stevens, a Catholic deacon and former Evangelical Christian turned Episcopalian priest, took the final step toward what he calls his call to ministry.

"We're home. We've found where we fit," said Stevens.

A tale of finding a compatible church for family worship is not unusual, but the circumstances surrounding how Stevens became a Catholic priest are far from normal.
Under a provision enacted by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980's, the Roman Catholic Church allows former Episcopalian priests to become Catholic priests under the Roman Rite- pending the pope's consent, of course.

Stevens, who is married with five children, his kids ranging in age from 9- years-old to 4- months-old, is one of about one hundred priests in the United States ordained under those provisions.

He says the small fraternity keeps in contact with each other.

"Once word gets out that there's another one, I've gotten a couple phone calls from guys saying, 'Hi, I'm in Santa Fe, and I'm praying for you and I've got six kids', and I can hear them in the background," said Stevens.

Having support helps when you're one of few, but Stevens says the parishioners from the churches he will serve (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Little Flower and Holy Rosary) were overwhelmingly welcoming to his family.

"The people have been very, very nice and welcoming," said Stevens. "They are rather fond of my children. They're fond of me too, but they really like the children when they come to church."

Bishop Michael Warfel says although the use of the provision is rare, the Roman rite of the Catholic Church is one of few that still require celibacy from priests.
"In the Syrian Church actually the norm is married priests," said the bishop. "It's somewhat of a misconception that celibacy is the norm for the Catholic Church as a whole."

Warfel says Stevens will function as every other parish priest in the diocese, but must try to maintain the balance between the time needed to maintain parishioners and his family.

"Catholics expect a lot of their parish priests, and so, it'll be a challenge, but the primary way to live out his baptism is as a father and a husband," said Warfel.
Stevens says he's very aware of the challenge he faces, but is looking forward to working through them with his family and the church he now belongs to-no matter the reason he is being called "father".

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Married man to be ordained as priest

Meanwhile, the Pastoral Provision goes merrily marching along. I particularly like the comment by the Archdiocese that these guys are the exception. Seems to me like we're getting to the point where they're more like the norm than the exception...

By Annysa Johnson
Journal Sentinel
Nov. 5, 2010

If all goes as planned, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will install its second married priest next spring with the ordination of Deacon Russell Arnett, a former Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism in 2007.

Arnett, who was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Jerome Listecki in October, would be the first priest in the diocese to enter through the so-called pastoral provision, a 1980 Vatican provision that made it easier for Anglican clergy and laity to convert to Catholicism.

"Russ is a great candidate," said Father Donald Hying, rector of the archdiocese's St. Francis Seminary, who worked with Arnett in spiritual direction and formation.

"He's already serving in two parishes, and that will be a natural segue for him."

Arnett, 52, was first ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1999 and has been married for nine years. He would be the archdiocese's second married priest, following Father Michael Scheip, a former Lutheran minister who spent a year at St. Mary Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls beginning in 2008.

Arnett, who grew up as a Southern Baptist, said he was drawn by the theology and what he sees as the historical authenticity of the Catholic Church."There is a quote by John Henry Cardinal Newman that says, 'To go deep into the history of the Catholic Church is to cease being a Protestant.' And that's what I found," Arnett said. "I was drawn to the historic councils and teachings of the Catholic Church."

The archdiocese made it clear in a Q&A published on its website and the Catholic Herald newspaper that it is not softening the church's position on celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood.

"The ordination of a married man remains an exception and one that is granted only in very specific cases involving men who had already been called to ministry in another church," it said.

According to the Archdiocese, there are about 100 married priests in the United States who have converted from other Christian denominations, primarily Lutherans and Episcopalians.

The 1980 provision by Pope John Paul II followed requests by some Anglicans to convert to Catholicism after the Episcopal Church sanctioned the ordination of women in 1976.

Arnett graduated from Nashotah House Theological Seminary and has served Episcopal congregations in West Bend and Texas. He is currently the administrator at two Kenosha County parishes, St. Francis Xavier in Brighton and St. John the Baptist in Paris.

While studying for the Catholic priesthood, he spent three years at St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc, where he taught religion classes for children and adults and worked with the youth ministry program.

St. Jerome pastor Father John Yockey said his church will host Arnett's ordination on March 19.
"With the life history, personal gifts and ministerial experience he brings, Russ will be a special blessing for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee," he said.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I'm... obsessive-compulsive. I have three dogs and four cats, and the bishop... doesn't approve. And my response is, well bishop, when you let me get married, I won't have to have so many pets around."

-- Fr. Steve Porter, pastor of St. Catherine of Sienna in Rialto, CA and soon to be star of a new reality TV show "Divine Intervention" when asked by the Contra Costa Times about celibacy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catholic Groups Celebrate Priesthood Sunday: Ask to Restore Tradition of Married and Celibate Priesthood

In late October, groups of faithful Catholics will join together to honor their parish priests and advocate for a return to the tradition of a celibate and married priesthood in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Over thirty celebrations are scheduled in cities all over the U.S. as well as in Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom on or around October 31, Priesthood Sunday or World Day for Priests. (see or contact for locations)

"We need to return to our early Church custom of having both a celibate and a married priesthood," said Bill Wisniewski, FutureChurch board member. "St. Peter was married. St. Paul was celibate and the early church flourished perhaps in part because it incorporated both ministerial charisms. Since celibacy is a gift from the Holy Spirit, it will not disappear, but is a distortion of the gift to demand it of priests who are not called to it."

"We are excited by the excellent response since it is the first time we have ever held this special celebration," said FutureChurch Special Projects Coordinator Emily Holtel-Hoag. "It tells me how much Catholics appreciate their parish priests, and how much they are concerned about the future of the priesthood if the Church doesn't change celibacy rules."

"Parishes in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom are closing while thousands of Catholics in the developing world have virtually no access to Mass and the sacraments because of too few celibate priests," said Sr. Christine Schenk, FutureChurch Executive Director.

"At least 30 Bishops around the world, have openly called for discussion of celibacy rules," said Schenk who named three bishops in Belgium and the head of the German Bishops conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch who recently spoke out in the wake of revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in Europe.

World Priest Day was started by Worldwide Marriage Encounter in 2000 as a way to honor and affirm those men who chose to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and faithfully serve the people of God through ministry and prayer. In 2007, the day was moved to the last Sunday in October to coincide with the Serra Club's celebration of Priesthood Sunday.

FutureChurch isn't stopping with prayer, it is also taking action. In the past year over 5,000 electronic and paper postcards have been sent to Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and to

local bishops asking them to "begin discussion at the highest levels of the Church about the need to return to our earliest tradition of permitting both a married and a celibate priesthood."

The FutureChurch website has been configured to send electronic and paper postcards in German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese as well as English. Scores of people have downloaded free organizing kits from begin educational programs, prayer and advocacy initiatives in their locales. An educational web video is also available on (

A 2004 anonymous survey of 14,000 priests in 53 US dioceses found that sixty seven percent of respondents believed the church should open discussion about mandatory celibacy. The survey was spearheaded by FutureChurch in partnership with Call To Action. Many priests spontaneously said it was time to discuss ordaining women too, beginning with women deacons.

FutureChurch believes the Church will not be whole or just until we recognize all of the priestly vocations, married and celibate, male and female that God is pouring upon the Catholic Church.

FutureChurch also advocates for the restoration of women to the diaconate in the So All Can Be at the Table campaign as an important next step for advancing women's roles in the Church. For more information on FutureChurch's programming regarding women's leadership in the Church, go to

To download a free copy of the Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be at the Table Priesthood Sunday prayer service, go to

For locations of celebrations go to .

FutureChurch, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is a U.S. coalition of 5,000 parish based Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch makes presentations throughout the country, distributes educational and informational packets and recruits activists who call on Catholic leadership to discuss opening ordination to all baptized persons who are called to priestly ministry by God and the people of God.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Priest resigns mid-homily, protests Church celibacy rule

While celebrating Mass in Rio Tercero, Cordoba, Argentina, Fr. Germán Daveiga (38, photo), announced that he was leaving the priesthood. While stating that he was not in love with anyone at the moment, Fr. Daveiga explained that he preferred to "avoid difficult issues with celibacy and thus [had] decided to step aside out of respect for the Church, the people, my family, and myself."

Later in a radio interview with Mitre 810, the priest clarified his position, saying that “celibacy lived honestly and faithfully sometimes leads us priests to a life of loneliness that is hard to bear." He mentioned that the Eastern rite churches allow for married priests and suggested it was time for the Latin rite ones to reconsider the question. “Celibacy has an added value, but that value is not achievable by everyone. Also, we are not living under the same conditions as in other eras," he added.

In a different radio interview, Fr. Daveiga, who also served for three years as a missionary priest in Camden, NJ, said that he will be leaving the rectory and will seek work outside the Church. He emphasized that he is not an activist and that he had mostly good memories of his time in seminary and his eight years of service as a priest. He said that he has received a lot of support in his decision from his family and his parishioners.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Married Men of the Cloth

Incidentally, while posting this article, I discovered a great new (to me) resource: Alternative Catholic Experience lists inclusive non-canonical Catholic communities nationwide.

By Rhys Alvarado
The Santa Barbara Independent

They met in jail in the early 1960s.

Keith Forster was a young Catholic priest who spoke to women inmates at a Stockton jail. Nancy Wagner was his assistant. After he lost his sight to meningitis, she found him Bible readings in Braille. When he left Stockton to preach elsewhere, Keith and Nancy would correspond by sending each other love cassette tapes. “He changed, I changed, but the church hadn’t,” Nancy said.

Under the pressure of canon law, which forbids the marriage of priests, Forster had to choose between tradition and his feelings for Nancy. He chose his feelings, even if that meant excommunication. On a September afternoon in 1971, the two married in Nancy’s parent’s backyard.

And last Sunday, September 26, Keith Forster and John Hydar — who also left the church at one point to get married — were given the leadership of St. Anthony’s Community, formerly St. Anthony’s Franciscan Church, in a ceremony called “The Laying on of Hands.” “This ceremony is about the community affirming us and we are affirming our commitment to the community,” Hydar said. Dudley Conneely is also married and serves as a priest part-time within the church when he’s not abroad.

The idea of marriage wasn’t a new one among Catholic priests back in the ’60s, and Forster was part of a growing movement of priests attempting to break away from the unflinching traditions of Catholicism. The Vatican II reforms (1962-1965) were meant to address, in addition to other things, marriage among priests, but the discussion never went anywhere. “I had high hopes for the reforms,” Forster said, “even though they never really took hold.”

Hydar first met his wife, Roberta, at the Ventura Mission in 1966. He was an assistant priest and Roberta Egerer was a nun teaching at the parish school. In 1971, the two married. “It’s a church law; that’s it,” said Hydar. “I have never for a moment regretted marrying this wonderful lady.”

For years after he left the church, those who knew Hydar as a priest would ask him to perform baptisms, marriages, and funeral ceremonies. And for years, he denied their requests. Then in 1992, he finally said yes. “I’m a priest, always have been,” he said.

Father Leo Sprietsma, who left the St. Anthony’s community for health reasons after 12 years of service, believes that the Catholic Church needs to rethink its structure but had mixed feelings about leaving the church in the hands of the married priests. “But since I left, they seem to be doing a good job,” Sprietsma said.

Under Canon Law No. 290, once a Roman Catholic priest, always a priest. According to Canon Law No. 843, priests are obligated to serve if called by a community or by anyone in need. “That wasn’t in their agenda,” said Forster. “They wanted a canonical priest.” But Forster and Hydar were all the St. Anthony’s Community had.

Although the Vatican does not recognize St. Anthony’s Community, Forster and Hydar are sticking to their commitment the same way they stuck to the gut feeling that led them to marriage. They are members of Corpus, a reform group in the Catholic Church that works for a renewed priesthood of married and single men and women. “There’s no shortage of priests,” Nancy said, quoting one of her favorite writers, Joan Chittister. “There’s just a shortage of celibate priests.” According to CITI (Celibacy Is The Issue) Ministries, more than 25,000 Roman Catholic priests have been married in the United States since the 1970s and more than 110,000 worldwide.

The transition in leadership hasn’t come easily. In the process, the 40-or-so people who make up the St. Anthony’s Community lost about a dozen members who rejected the idea of worshipping under married priests. “We’re still friends, we just have a different way of seeing things,” Forster said.

Others wouldn’t have it any other way. “What’s better than having a priest that’s married?” asked St. Anthony’s Community member Jude Blau. “This is what society now likes … We want to be in the 21st century, not the 19th.”

Photo (Paul Wellman) from left: Fathers Keith Forster, John Hydar, and Dudley Conneely.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Culture Notes: Glass Halo

Another novel out this month on the subject of Catholic clerical romances. The author is Colleen Smith, founder of Friday Jones Publishing and an award-winning Catholic writer residing in Denver, where she is also a dedicated Vincentian volunteer with the poor and homeless. The title is Glass Halo (Friday Jones Publishing, September 2010, ISBN: 9780984428908). The novel is among the finalists in this year's Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards. The plot, from our perspective, is well-summarized in the opening paragraph of the review in ForeWord Reviews:

When a man becomes a Catholic priest he relinquishes the chance for marriage, family, or sexual intimacy. He gains a life of spiritual devotion and many find this a fair exchange. Sometimes, however, as in the case of Father Vin DiMarco, the handsome priest in Colleen Smith’s debut novel, Glass Halo, the temptations of earthly love prove too strong to resist... still my heart...For the record, Smith says that the priest in her novel, "is a composite of a number of progressive priests I've known from my years attending Catholic schools and my 20 years of working in communications for the church."

This novel even boasts its own YouTube trailer:

Friday, September 24, 2010

German Catholic bishops say church must discuss taboos, compensate abuse victims

From today's Deutsche-Welle:

The Catholic Church must be prepared to confront and discuss taboo topics such as sexual morality and the celibacy of priests, the head of the church in Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, said on Friday.

Speaking at the conclusion of the two-day autumn plenary assembly of the German Bishops' Conference in the central city of Fulda, Zollitsch said "the issue of the ... personal, spiritual and sacramental life of our clergy has long been pressing."

The Bishops' Conference was now "taking the initiative toward dialogue that involves itself as well as the diocese," he said.

"That includes ways to talk about awkward subjects in the area of sexuality, the vow of celibacy or the receiving of the sacrament by divorcees," he said...

Last week the Belgians, now the Germans. Hello, Your Holiness, are you listening to your own hierarchs?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bishop of Bruges questions celibacy

UPDATE 9/28/2010: Another Belgian prelate has added his voice to the call for optional celibacy. Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp joined his colleagues from Bruges and Hasselt this week and Josian Caproens, chairman of the Interdiocesan Pastoral Council, a group of lay people working in the church, joined in the chorus. “The time is now really ripe, certainly in Western Europe, for priests to be able to choose a celibate life or not,” Caproens said.

UPDATE 9/20/2010: A second Belgian bishop, Msgr. Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt has also gone on record as supporting optional celibacy. "I can imagine two sorts of priesthood. Those who live celibately and those who have a relationship — are married," Hoogmartens told VRT radio. A spokesman for Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard, the head of Belgium's Roman Catholic Church, said in reaction to the two bishops's comments that any discussion of structural issues surrounding the church should be held at a global level, and not be limited to Belgium.
Sat 18/09/2010 - 12:34

The new Bishop of Bruges Jozef De Kesel has questioned celibacy for priests and called for an open discussion on the position of women in the Church. Monsignor De Kesel made his comments on VRT Radio’s news and current affairs programme ‘De Ochtend’.

Jozef De Kesel took over the reigns of the Bruges Diocese after the former Bishop Roger Vangheluwe resigned when it was revealed that he had sexually abused his nephew during the 1980’s.

The new Bishop of Bruges believes that the Church shouldn’t be blind for the suffering of the victims of child sex abuse by members of the clergy.

Jozef De Kesel believes that celibacy should no longer be a prerequisite to becoming a priest.

“I think that the Church should ask itself if the mandatory character of the rules governing celibacy should be upheld.”

“You could argue that those for whom celibacy is impossible at a personal level should also be given the chance to join the priesthood."

The Bishop went even further.

When asked if women should be allowed to become priests he replied that “It certainly could be discussed and I hope it will be.”

“However, it’s an even more sensitive issue than the problem of celibacy."

“I think that the issue of celibacy will be acted on much sooner than that of women priests.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Majority in Ireland say priests should be allowed marry

The vast majority (87 per cent) of Catholics believe priests should be allowed to marry, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour Attitudes social poll. It is one of a series of findings that point to a wide gap between the views of Catholics and the teachings of the church on issues ranging from celibacy to women priests and sex before marriage. Some 79 per cent of Catholics say they are in favour of women being allowed to join the priesthood, while just 10 per cent are opposed to such a move...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Half of UK Catholics think celibacy rule should be relaxed

...The poll, conducted for BBC News by ComRes - a member of the British Polling Council - surveyed a random sample of 500 Roman Catholics across the UK between 6 and 9 September 2010...The poll results also suggest that a large number of Catholics think that the Pope should drop his insistence on clerical celibacy. Just under a half of those polled, 49%, said the celibacy rule should be relaxed, compared to 35%. A further 17% were uncommitted. And 62% of those questioned say women should have more authority and status in the Catholic Church...

Writing for The Guardian, John Hooper puts this figure in perspective: "For a start, you have a substantial number of British Catholics who are not progressive at all. Just look at the BBC's recent poll in which "Nearly half thought he should drop his insistence on clerical celibacy". Well, nearly half is a very low percentage when compared to other countries. Fourteen long years ago, an American poll found that in every developed country it surveyed (it left out Britain), a majority of the Catholic population favoured having married priests. The only country with a percentage lower than the 49 per cent of today's British Catholics was in the Philippines."

John Deery, director of "The Conspiracy of Silence", also scheduled a screening of his film and a public debate on optional celibacy earlier this week in anticipation of the Pope's visit to the UK.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Former Riverview priest pens book about life journey

by Aloma Jardine
Times & Transcript

A cruise ship seems an unlikely place for a spiritual epiphany, but as Jeff Doucette set sail from England for Europe and Russia he experienced a moment of truth.

"(The ship) pushed away from the white cliffs of Dover and that in itself was spectacular, but it was also the turning point for me. When we pushed away from shore, it was a moment I realized there was no going back," he says.

It was the beginning of the end of his life as a priest.

Jeff, whose last congregation was Immaculate Heart of Mary in Riverview, has just finished the first draft of a book about his experience called Ring Around the Collar: My Journey from Priesthood to Married Life.

"It's not a book about revenge or a tell-all tale," he says. "It is what makes someone choose this lifestyle and what happens along the way that makes them want to leave that."

Jeff decided to become a priest when he was about 25.

"People are always asking for this major call story, 'Did you hear voices in the night? Was there some kind of major revelation?'... But it was part of who I was, it was the next progression for me," he says.

"I went to church when I was young and I was probably one of the few that enjoyed it. I was a church rat. I was an altar server, I was in the youth group, I directed our church choir. I was always involved."

When he asked himself what he really wanted to do, the priesthood seemed a logical choice.

Entering the priesthood is not something one does lightly.

Besides the vows, it is a major commitment of time. It takes five or six years of study including a year-long internship before you become ordained.

Jeff was ordained in 1994 and began his career in the Diocese of Edmundston. He moved on to the Moncton Archdiocese in 1998, serving a number of parishes.

He loved the work, but he struggled with it too.

"I think the biggest thing was I hated at the end of the day coming home to a dark, empty rectory," he says.

"I know my buddy (Father) Phil (Mulligan) used to say there is nothing as lonely as eating in a restaurant by yourself. I would say, 'For me, it is coming home at night to an empty rectory, coming from a meeting that has not gone too well and you have nobody to talk to about it.' That feeling of loneliness is a killer.

"There are always ups and downs in ministry, in any type of work that you do, but ministry should be different. It is a people ministry... You could go and visit with families, but at the end of it you kind of left and ended up going back to that rectory and it was dark and quiet. It was something I struggled with and wrote articles about and tried to get people in the diocese in dialogue about. There is something not right about this ...

"At the very end of it I found myself saying, 'There has got to be more than this.'"

It was 2006 when Jeff found himself on the deck of the cruise ship, staring at the cliffs of Dover as the ship slipped from shore.

"I could see my entire priesthood. I was moving away from the shore and was seeing the cliffs and the mountains and it was such a metaphor for what I was living. There was beauty there but also great struggle," he recalls. "I just knew I was at a crossroads and I was almost sure at that point that I didn't want to continue."'

When Jeff returned to Canada he had a heart-to-heart with Moncton Archbishop André Richard and told him he needed a sabbatical.

"André was shell-shocked, he didn't see this coming," he says. "He said, 'Maybe we can get you counselling.' I said, 'What do you mean, counselling? I don't need counselling, I need a year away.

"I need to go somewhere where I can sit down, listen to my heart and know if I am willing to continue.'"

The archbishop agreed to his request and Jeff headed to Ontario to the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill.

L'Arche was founded in 1964 by Canadian humanitarian Jean Vanier as a place where people with developmental disabilities could live together in a family-like setting with the help of assistants who live with them in the home.

"I think that was such a pivotal and incredible time for me," Jeff says. "It was scary though because you are leaving everything behind.

"You are leaving security. I had no expenses. My house was paid for, my food, my lights, my cable, everything.

"I wasn't in any type of relationship with anybody. I was faithful to my vows of celibacy even though I thought it was stupid, I couldn't live with myself if I had broken them, but I just knew that I couldn't live alone."

At L'Arche Jeff found a group of people who accepted and loved him unconditionally for who he was.

"It was a place where I was able to say, 'I don't want to be a priest anymore,' and when I was able to say that and work through that, it was the most incredible feeling of liberation," he says.

"I was able to become more Jeff, more true to who I was called to be."

But while Jeff was ready to let go of the church, the church wasn't quite ready to let go of him.

"It was one of the most horrible experiences. It's not like you go to your boss and give your two weeks' notice," he says. "In the Catholic Church there is a process and only the Pope can sign off at the very end."

Jeff had to speak with a psychologist and have them submit a report.

He had to get people to write on his behalf explaining why they felt he should be allowed to leave.

He had to answer a huge list of questions explaining why he wanted to go.

"Some of the questions I laughed at. Some were just insulting," he says.

One by one the letters of support were returned as inadequate.

"There has to be something wrong with the priest in order for Rome to let you go," he says. "Rome finally wrote back and said, 'We don't see why you want to leave so we are going to wait five years and check back in with you.'

"The church could not find any grave fault to let me go. Nothing had happened."

Except by the time the lengthy process finally got to this point something had happened - Jeff had fallen in love.

Jeff and Sandy Lovisck met at L'Arche.

"At the time when Rome said no, she said, 'Why would that matter to you, Jeff? I love you, what does it matter what the church says, if they decide to let you go or not let you go? What is most important is that I love you.'" Jeff says.

The couple decided to go ahead and get married, dispensation or no dispensation, and were wed in a July 2008 ceremony surrounded by members of the L'Arche community.

"That wedding day was a piece of heaven," Jeff says. "The music was done by people from L'Arche, four of the guys with disabilities were my groomsmen.

"It was not a grand style wedding, but people went away saying, 'I've never been to a wedding like that.' It was so full of joy and so full of life."

Jeff forwarded his marriage licence to Rome, again seeking a dispensation.

"Right away, there you go, Rome had its reason. All of a sudden I was a horrible person," he says.

The dispensation came, but with it came conditions.

Jeff could no longer preach, he couldn't teach in any capacity, he couldn't serve communion or work as a parish administrator or even read in church.

Essentially, he was reduced to a lower status than any ordinary parishioner.

"It's like that Dixie Chicks (documentary) Shut Up and Sing. All I could do was sing, but that is just not me," Jeff says.

If he was going to attend church, he needed to be able to contribute to it in some way.

Jeff's hunt for a new congregation brought him to Westminster United in Whitby, Ont., which has welcomed him with open arms. The church is thrilled to have someone with his experience and Jeff has been able to preach when the minister is away and lead Sunday worship.

He officially became a member of the church in October.

As much as the Roman Catholic Church doesn't want to deal with it, Jeff says it is going to have to take a look at the requirement that priests remain celibate.

"When I left (Moncton), I had four parishes and was helping out in two other parishes because Father Peter (McKee) was dying of cancer," he says. "I thought there is this small community in Riverside-Albert that will have to close because they don't have enough priests.

"Why is that? Let's seriously ask that question. The white elephant is killing us all, running us down in the living room."

Jeff says the Canadian bishops brought up the matter with Pope John Paul II and some of the Latin American bishops spoke openly about the issue at a recent summit of bishops, but such discussion has usually been quickly shut down.

Jeff says living out the life described in the gospel - forgiving your enemies, giving away your possessions to those in need - is already so difficult in a world focused on riches, success, and fame, that "to expect people to go in without all of the resources available, I don't think is fair," he says. "And I think one of those resources is the option to be able to marry.

"I'm not saying that everybody should be able to get married, but people need to have that option.

"Some will choose not to get married, some will choose, yes, that is something very vital to who I am as a person, I think that would help me in ministry."

Sandy and Jeff recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary. Jeff says his marriage has given him the companionship he missed coming home to that dark rectory night after night.

"You have that support, that other person to bounce things off," he says.

It was a friend back in Moncton who suggested he turn his story into a book.

"I'm 46 years old; you don't usually write biographies that early, and I was a priest, I'm not Tiger Woods," he says. "But when I sat down, it just poured out of me."

The first draft done, Jeff is in the process of looking for a publisher.

"I'm excited about it," he says. "It is a story to be heard - not because it is me - I think in today's society we need books like this to help us dialogue.

"It is something the church doesn't do well. It is scared of dialogue. They are so used to saying, 'This is what you believe, now go believe it,' that when someone says, 'Why?', they panic...

"It is kind of my hope that this book will be a journey of all of us being open to where God is calling all of us."

Jeff has no illusions that the book will change anything in the church.

"It would be naive of me to think I am on a crusade to change Rome's mind," he says. "This is my story and Rome is part of it. I am not angry at Rome, I don't have a vendetta against them, but they are part of my story and I think people should know what it takes for priests to leave."

Jeff now works at a youth homeless shelter for 16-to-24-year-olds in Ajax, Ont.

In a way, it is a continuation of his work.

"We say, 'Are you hungry? Come on in, we'll give you something to eat. If you need a bed, don't worry, we have one for you,'" he says. "It is a continuation of the training I did, it is gospel stuff.

"That will always, always be a part of me. I work also still a bit with the developmentally disabled and there is that sense that I am just ministering in a different way...

"It is part of the fibre of who you are, you don't just turn it off. I know some (priests) who, when they left, left church, but it is part of who I am. I need that connectedness, I need to stay rooted to this God I can't see."

Jeff doesn't rule out one day entering the ministry again in a different denomination.

"Never say never to anything," he says. "I'm not God. I try to live my life open to the Spirit. I think when you do that, anything can happen.

"When I get up there and preach, I love that with a passion. Sandy says I just love the attention," he adds, laughing.

"Who knows what's going to happen? But I am open to all the potential possibilities... I'm not a priest anymore, but I still continue to function as I did before. I'm still Jeff, I just live differently now. I don't live with a collar around my neck."


Friday, August 27, 2010

Colombian priest with two girlfriends resigns

Remember how we said that if you're a priest who is involved with a woman and you don't want to get caught, don't neglect to pay child support? We can add: Don't two-time her! And now, the latest clerical soap opera from Cali...

El Pais

Father Rodrigo Carvajal Vargas, 73, chaplain of La Merced, resigned yesterday, after being accused of cohabiting for 20 years with a separated woman.

The public complaint was made by professor Nohelia Quintero, who stated that she had also had a romantic relationship with the priest for the last three years.

"I am making this situation public because I thought that a man who is consecrated to God would be faithful to me. He promised me that he would separate from his first woman, with whom he has lived for 20 years," Nohelia declared.

The teacher added that she met the priest three years ago in the chapel of La Merced.

"We started to flirt until I got it going and asked him to go out with me; that's where we gave each other our first kiss. Just as some women are attracted to uniforms, I'm attracted to cassocks," the woman added, stating that the apartment where she lives in the El Cabey neighborhood was bought with the cleric.

For his part, the coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cali, Darío de Jesús Monsalve, said that Rodrigo Carvajal Vargas, the priest in question, resigned on Wednesday morning in a message he sent to his office.

Carvajal was pastor of the Church of La Merced, located near the Archdiocesan Curia, both in the historic district of Cali, which is the capital of the Valle del Cauca department.

"His resignation was accepted," Monsalve said, calling the case of Carvajal, who had allegedly been cohabiting for twenty years with a separated woman without anyone noticing it, sad.

Moreover, it appears that he had been carrying on a parallel relationship for the last three years with another woman, also separated, who publicized the priest's marital life [sic] through Mario Fernando Prado's 'Sirirí' column in El País last Tuesday.

[Translator's Note: If you read Spanish, you'll also want to read this column, which adds considerable background to this telenovela...]

The coadjutor archbishop said that a disciplinary process would be opened against Carvajal to hear him and the people who want to make complaints or clarify this case, to identify what type of fault is involved, and make a determination."

"It's the normal procedure that is followed when complaints such as these become known," Monsalve noted, indicating that the rights of both the priest and those who have been affected by his behavior will be respected.

Monsalve also stated that Fr. Carvajal has been suspended and will face diciplinary action, in accordance with canon law.

The trial would be conducted by the church tribunal of Cali, the coadjutor archbishop continued, adding that "if the accusation of cohabiting or living in a common-law relationship holds up, there is a law in Canon Code that is very clear, and a canonical punishment."

It is, he added, "suspension of his power of governance, i.e. his priestly faculties are suspended."

The Catholic hierarch also observed that Carvajal could possibly ask Church authorities for forgiveness.

"It's a possibility, but I can't anticipate it," the coadjutor archbishop of Cali said.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Catholic priest reveals active sex life

The current issue of DNA Magazine, a gay men's magazine out of Australia, features an interview with a homosexual Catholic priest who spills the beans about himself and his colleagues. While the article is restricted to authorized users, a summary "teaser" has been posted on Seeking Media:

A gay Catholic priest has revealed that up to half of priests, both gay and straight, are sexually active.

"I have not been able to keep my vow of celibacy," the priest says, speaking exclusively to DNA Magazine's Nick Cook in the current issue.

"Sometimes I need to be held and cared for - and I enjoy the sex.

"I know that for a large part of the world it means I'm not a good priest, but without it I'd be a worse one."

To protect the priest's identity he is known in the story as ‘James'.

James says he strongly opposes the Church's stance towards homosexuality.

"I'm speaking out because far too many people have suffered under the Church's teaching on homosexuality. I just can't accept it and I haven't for years," he says.

When asked if he thinks he's the only sexually active priest James says, "I know I'm not.

"I suspect that anywhere up to, if not more than, 50 percent of Catholic priests are not, or have not always been, celibate.

"I know of priests who have had long-term relationships with women.

"Celibacy is for some people but it's not everybody. That's why I think celibacy imposed is wrong whether you're gay or heterosexual."

James is out to a number of other priests and his bishop knows that he is both gay and sexually active.

"My bishop is a good man. He himself would have issues with the Church teaching on this."

As part of the story DNA went to a Mass for gays at St Joseph's Church in the Sydney suburb of Newtown and spoke to Father Peter Maher, who happily hands out communion to gay men despite the Church ruling that those who are sexually active are living in mortal sin and should not receive it.

When told about James' circumstance Father Peter simply shrugs. "Whether a priest is gay or not makes no difference to me," he says, stating that he knows a number of gay priests.

He adds: "There are plenty of priests who have failed to live celibate... That would not change my opinion of the priest at all."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Should the Catholic church scrap its celibacy rule?

Owen Bowcott
The Guardian

Stephen was eight years old when he first heard his father disown him. The two were out for the day together when Stephen fell into a game of cricket with some local children, and another parent asked whose child he was. Stephen's father swiftly denied he was his. The child was "the son of one of my parishioners", said the dog-collared priest – a description that was truthful as far as it went, but omitted a vital detail. To Stephen, it felt like an outright dismissal. More than 30 years later, being the half-acknowledged son of a Roman Catholic priest has cast an enduring shadow over his life.

Stephen (not his real name) is now in his 40s and has never approached his paternal family, has never reached out to cousins and other relatives, for fear of shaming his parents. "I didn't have a [close friendship] with my father," he says, "and I have not found personal relationships that easy since then. None of his family in Ireland knew I existed, so you could argue I have been denied another family."

His experience is far from unique. It's been estimated that there are at least 1,000 people in Britain and Ireland whose fathers were priests at the time of their conception. And in May this year, dozens of Italian women who have had relationships with Roman Catholic priests or lay monks sent an open letter to the Pope calling for the abolition of the celibacy rule. The letter argued that a priest "needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved". It also pleaded for sympathy for those who "live out in secrecy those few moments the priest manages to grant [us], and experience on a daily basis the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men".

This group of women aren't the only ones questioning enforced priestly celibacy. The issue has been central to recent debate in the Catholic church, after a wave of clerical abuse scandals that have sometimes seen critics link sexual frustration to paedophilia. There has also been debate about the origins of celibacy in the early Christian church. In the face of these questions, Pope Benedict XVI, who is due to tour the UK in September, has defended the status quo. Celibacy "is made possible by the grace of God . . . who asks us to transcend ourselves," he has said; he has also argued that forgoing matrimony helps demonstrate a commitment to the priesthood.

For the reclusive partners and offspring of Catholic priests, lack of financial support and recognition is a longstanding complaint. The few support groups that have sprung up have made little headway in their efforts to alter church attitudes. And although Stephen has never felt inspired to confront church authorities or seek financial recompense, he says that his past has left him with an "undertow of regret and sadness" at his parents' renounced love.

"I don't know of any picture of my mother and father together," he says, showing me a black-and white photograph of the man he knew as "Dad". A handsome young priest stares out of the frame. The photo was taken in the 1950s, when his father was about to depart from his home in Ireland to minister to a large parish in Yorkshire. He brings out a letter on presbytery notepaper, addressed to him and signed "Love, Dad", and another addressed to his mother, which begins "My Darling". This accompanied a bottle of perfume sent to celebrate her 25th birthday. These candid letters suggest that, even if only subconsciously, his father might have been somewhat relieved to have been discovered and defrocked.

Stephen's parents met through the parish, where his mother's family were regular churchgoers. "He would have been a junior priest," says Stephen. "It was very risky. My mother was very guarded about it." Their long relationship culminated in Stephen being born in 1967. "By then, she was already 28," he says, "so she wasn't a gymslip mum. It looks like they had had a relationship for some time, and I suspect from the intensity of the [affair] that I was a wanted child rather than a mistake. But it appears that once my mother became pregnant she backed away from my father.

"I have it on reliable sources that he indicated his willingness to leave the priesthood, but she asked him not to. In some of his letters he talks about [the fact that] if she's pregnant it would be a good thing. Then afterwards he was very bitter that she kept him from his child. So it seems she ensured he stayed in the church."

Stephen's grandmother and maternal aunt knew the truth about his paternity, but the men in the family were never told. From the age of three or four, Stephen would be taken over to see his father most Saturdays, and initially, he says, "I didn't realise he was a priest, but one day, when I was eight or nine years old, I picked up his post in the hallway and it said 'Reverend . . .' My mother saw I was looking at the address and she broke down as she told me."

Pat Buckley, an excommunicated gay priest, has run what he calls an "independent ministry to disaffected and alienated Catholics and Christians" in Larne, Northern Ireland, since the mid-1980s. He runs a support group, Bethany, for women who are in relationships with priests.

"These problems have been hidden for centuries," he says, "but there's been so much in the news that people are getting a bit more courage to come forward." In 1992, for instance, there was uproar at the case of Eamon Casey, the then-Bishop of Galway, when it emerged that he had used diocesan funds to pay maintenance to the American mother of his love child; in the years since then, the church has been racked with controversy. "There are three common Irish names," Buckley continues, "McEntaggart, McAnespie and McNab, that translate as 'son of the priest', 'son of the Bishop' and 'son of the Abbot', so it's been around for some time."

Buckley believes that the Vatican wants to "hang on to celibacy for reasons of power and control. St Paul said in one of his letters that a bishop should be the husband of one woman. If a man does not have the experience of running a human family how can he run a church? Celibacy was unusual during the first 12 centuries of the Catholic Church. It was introduced [in the Middle Ages]. It's often very sad for the women and children in these relationships. A lot of them want some form of resolution, to sort out the baggage. Anybody who is abandoned by a parent suffers a very large injustice."

There are, of course, many who defend celibacy, including Father Stephen Wang, dean of studies at Allen Hall seminary in London. In a blog post earlier this year, he wrote that "there are practical aspects to celibacy. You've got more time for other people, and more time for prayer. You can get up at three in the morning to visit someone in hospital without worrying about how this will affect your marriage . . . But celibacy is something much deeper as well. There is a place in your heart, in your very being, that you have given to Christ and to the people you meet as a priest."

For Stephen, his relationship with his father never really blossomed. He was provided with occasional financial support, small gifts of money, while his father carried on being a priest. He died in his 60s. "I saw him shortly before his death," says Stephen, "and spoke to him. He was in a pretty bad way . . . My mother went to visit him in hospital regularly and insisted she should be the one looking after him. I don't think she ever stopped loving him. When he died she was devastated.

"I was denied a father, my mother was denied a partner and my father was denied a son . . . My father and mother loved each other intensely, and she never recovered from it. My mother dedicated her life to me and her work. She never fell in love with anyone else. She started to drink and . . . that was another measure of the burden." She died four years ago.

Stephen is not a practising Catholic, but says there is no residual bitterness towards his father. "Some people might say he deceived the church, but I don't think he was a bad man." He can still recall an afternoon playing in the presbytery's garden, around the same time that his father denied his paternity.

"It was large and overgrown, and I would go down this path that led to the church and there was a statue of an angel. That day I bumped into a nun who was coming in at the gate. 'What are you up to?' she asked. 'What are you doing in a priest's garden?' I said I was visiting my father. She assumed I was going to visit the church and had meant to say 'Holy Father'. It's amazing what you can get away with."

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Campaign for Married Priests in Switzerland

I encourage all readers of this blog to support these young men's petition by clicking on the link in the first paragraph of the article. Then scroll to the bottom of that page and click on "Exprimer mon soutien" to get to the electronic petition. For those who don't speak French, here is a glossary for the required fields on the form:
Civilité = Title (a dropdown menu in order "Mr., Mrs., Miss")
Prénom = First Name
Nom = Last Name
Code postal / localité = Zip or postal code / Location (city)
Pays = Country (Americans should pick "Etats-Unis", British should pick "Royaume-Uni"; the rest of you are on your own)
Catholique-romain = Roman Catholic (check "oui" if you are, "non" if you aren't)
Then it asks for your e-mail address and comments which are not required fields. There is a verification code which you must type into the box underneath it ("Veuillez recopier le code").
This is an "opt-in" form so you must check "Je confirme soutenir la déclaration de Mgr Brunner" to say that you agree with Msgr. Brunner's statement that it should be possible to ordain married men ('viri probati').
Click on "envoyer mon soutien" to add your name to the petition and married Catholic men all over the world who would like to be ordained (but can't) will thank you. To my sisters: I know a lot of people are disappointed that this petition doesn't include women but let's not be stingy. We have to start somewhere and if we move this along, at least we are moving the Church forward.

by Laure-Anne Pessina (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Le Matin

Campaigning via an Internet petition for married men to be allowed to become priests (, that is the goal of Jura citizens Jean-Paul Miserez and Jean-Pierre Bendit who worry about the lack of priests in their region. Both practising Catholics who are active in their parish, they believe that a married man can have a family life and be available to the faithful. "It's worrisome for our Catholic communities to see that there are fewer and fewer priests to celebrate Mass. Moreover we have a large number of pastoral assistants and deacons who are proven and who have received the same training as priests," [Translator's Note: We disagree slightly with this assertion since there are some differences in training, obviously] Jean-Paul Miserez, an engineer surveyor who lives in Delémont, explains. The only problem is that the latter are not celibate and, in fact, cannot be ordained priests. "Ten years ago there were eight Masses a month in Courgenay. Today there are only two," Jean-Pierre Bendit, a microtechnology engineer, says ruefully.

Therefore the two petitioners are demanding a change, but -- careful -- they don't want to cause trouble. The petition doesn't address the marriage of priests or women's ordination, it's just about allowing married men to become priests. "An evolution without revolution is required," Jean-Pierre Bendit says. Their petition indicates clearly that it's not about fighting against celibacy for priests, "which has undeniable and uncontested merits", but to launch a debate, following the statements of Msgr. Norbert Brunner, president of the Swiss Bishops Conference. He has stated in an interview that it should be possible to ordain married men.

According to Jean-Paul Miserez, being married would also allow the priest to better understand the vagaries of marriage. And Jean-Pierre Bendit adds: «One could even envision father and son priests. It would create vocations among the young." A concept that Nicolas Betticher, Vicar General of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, doesn't share. "You don't necessarily have to be married to understand marriage, just as you don't necessarily have to be celibate to understand celibacy. That argument is simplistic. There are childless people who are very good child psychologists, for example."

It's a petition that leaves Nicolas Betticher all the more skeptical given that a demand was already made in 2000 through the Swiss Bishops Conference, without any response from the Vatican. "What bothers me a bit about this approach, is that we're spending a lot of energy when we know that the Holy See doesn't seem to want to deal with this issue at the moment. Moreover it's a question that can divide the communities," he explains. Meanwhile, the petition, which recalls that up until 1139 priests could be married within the Catholic Church, has not stopped gathering supporters. "If we get to 1,000, that would be good," Jean-Pierre Bendit comments, "then, in October, we'll send everything to Msgr. Brunner and the Swiss Bishops Conference." It should be noted that in the Eastern rite churches, like in Lebanon, one finds married priests and so there are exceptions within the same institution.

Claude Ducarroz, Provost of the Fribourg Cathedral
Since 1975, Catholics in Switzerland have called for this issue to be studied. I share this concern and this demand. It stems from a reflex of faith and love for the Church. It would lead to a complementary way of being a priest.

Nicolas Betticher, Vicar General of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg
The Church is a worldwide family, we should follow the beat of the universal Church. It can be dangerous to think that in Switzerland we have the monopoly on faith, wanting to solve problems in light of our local situation.

Philippe Charmillot, head of the Noirmont and Bois Pastoral Unit
I welcome this initiative because it comes from the "grassroots". I experience the daily search for harmony between family life and service to the community. And I can reconcile the two, even being married and the father of four daughters.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Priest calls for end to mandatory celibacy

In a new self-published book titled I Want to be a Husband and Father For Life and a Catholic Priest Forever (XLibris, 2010), Fr. Eugene Weitzel, CSV argues that "the law of celibacy is a serious violation a priest’s basic rights. Most men and women, not only need to love God, but also to love a person of the opposite sex at the conjugal level. It is natural, it is healthy, it is most rewarding, and it is right. The Church did not enact and require the vow of celibacy to help priests grow spiritually, but for all of the wrong reasons. Elliminate it NOW."

Fr. Weitzel, a semi-retired Viatoran priest who is based in Illinois, has an S.T.D. in Moral Theology from Catholic University, has taught school and worked as both a hospital chaplain and a regular parish pastor since being ordained in 1959 says that he has never been unhappy as a priest but, he argues, “most priests...will be at their best when they encounter all of the joys and sadness, hurts and disappointments of married life. Marriage for them will be an enriching challenge. It is the best way for them to grow as a person, to achieve, to self-actualize, to become, to deepen their faith, and to draw closer to God.”

Fr. Weitzel is also the author of Pastoral Ministry in a Time of Change (Bruce Publishing Co., 1966), Contemporary Pastoral Counseling (Bruce Publishing Co., 1969). According to his author biography on XLibris, he has published two sacramentaries for visually handicapped priests and edited and contributed to three books on liturgy and moral theology.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Culture Notes: "Léon Morin, prêtre"

I often think of the Internet as a sort of landfill that periodically coughs up interesting items long buried and forgotten. This week it came in the form of a Seattle Post Globe piece about the screening of a new 35 mm print of a 1961 French movie "Léon Morin, prêtre" ("Leon Morin, Priest", alternate English title "The Forgiven Sinner") starring the sexy Jean-Paul Belmondo as the priest and Emmanuelle Riva as his verbal sparring partner/love interest, Barny. Here is the plot summary from Films de France:

In this film, which won the Grand Prix de Venice in 1961, Jean-Pierre Melville paints a fascinating study of a woman who is disturbed, both sexually and morally. As the film progresses we see her subjected to a spiritual awakening that arises from her physical and intellectual attraction for a Catholic priest. Emmanuelle Riva manages to convey the turmoil and guilt of the young woman’s situation in a very creditable performance.

Barny is a young widow living with her daughter in a small French town during the Nazi Occupation. She is a communist militant with an atheistic view of religion. One day, she enters a church with the intention of criticising religion with a priest. However, the priest she chooses is young, handsome, and intelligent. Far from rebuffing her, he listens carefully to Barny’s arguments and offers a persuasive counter-argument, in the first of what proves to be many sessions together. Impressed by his moral strength or by a physical attraction, Barny begins to grow closer to her new friend, and she begins to fantasise about having a relationship with him.

The themes that the film broaches are complex and not without controversy. That the great moral goodness in a Catholic priest should inspire sexual desire in his interlocutor is a daring move for a film of this era. But more intriguing is the deliberate merging of sexual and spiritual awakening. The young woman Barny is so captivated by Morin’s goodness that she cannot tell whether she is in love with him or the religion he has brought to her.

Melville’s focus is on the interplay between the two central characters, Morin and Barny. The sets are Spartan and often dimly lit, so as not to distract from the fascinating dialogue. The photography is likewise simplistic and moody, albeit with some very memorable sequences, such as the haunting dream scene.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Memoriam: Patrick Rice, married priest and human rights advocate

Back in April, we wrote a post about Patrick Rice, a former priest from Ireland who became a human rights advocate in Argentina and married one of his catechists with whom he was imprisoned. Patrick Rice passed away last week of a heart attack he suffered in Miami as he was traveling back from a workshop he gave for the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.

According to his family, Rice was working for the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. In a beautiful tribute in Página 12, his wife and children say: "Patrick was our father and our comrade. Former worker priest, former disappeared detainee. A fighter and actvist for life and human rights. He had the most beautiful smile, the most transparent gaze, the kindest heart. He lived all his days joyfully, convinced that a just world, one with solidarity and without discrimination, was possible. He taught that to change it [the world] we had to start with our own hands. He knew how to join all the struggles and acts of resistance in the world..."

The family's statement also includes a list of the commemorative activities that will take place around Buenos Aires for Rice. He will be buried in the British Cemetery in that city.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Kenya: Custody bid priest kicked out of parish

Back in May, we ran a piece about Fr. Anastasio Kaburi's bid to gain custody of the boy he fathered following the death of the child's mother. Now, in a stunning example of our Church's "commitment to family values", Fr. Anastasio finds himself suspended after trying to do the responsible thing....

Daily Nation (Kenya)

A Catholic priest, who took the unusual step of claiming the custody of an eight-year-old boy he said was his son, has been relieved of his pastoral duties.

Father Anastasio Kaburi has been sent on indefinite forced leave to allow him time for introspection. The forced leave is, according to the church, supposed to give Bishop James Maria Wainaina of the Catholic diocese of Murang’a time to think about the issue.

Investigations will also be carried out by the church, and Fr Kaburi is expected to re-examine himself and come to terms with what is happening in his life.

Priests take an oath of celibacy. They are neither allowed to have sex nor father children. According to the church’s rules, priests should emulate the life of Jesus Christ and not have families.

Recent cases show that the rule is increasingly disobeyed. Fr Kaburi is unusual in that he went public with an issue none in the church, or the communities it serves, acknowledges.

Spiritual duties

In an interview with the Nation, the diocesan vicar-general, Father Alex Njigua, said: “It is true that the priest is not with us, and can’t perform spiritual duties until he is fully investigated to ascertain his claims.”

According to Father Njigua, priests are sent on forced leave only in extraordinary situations. While on leave, Fr Kaburi is required to keep in touch with his bishop to inform him of his whereabouts and what he is doing.

Asked whether, Fr Kaburi would be excommunicated if is established that he has broken the vow of celibacy, the vicar-general said: “This kind of disciplinary action comes as the last resort.”

The church tries to get priests to correct their ways and are defrocked only if they defy efforts to reform them. Recently, Nairobi Archbishop John Cardinal Njue announced new rules amid complaints of misconduct among priests. He warned that priests found to be involved in sex will be punished in line with church law.

Fr Kaburi was the parish priest at Gatura in Murang’a, where he was well-liked and respected by the faithful. He had earlier served at Gaichanjiru, Saba Saba and Kerugoya parishes, where worshippers described him as a compassionate man.

“We did not believe what we heard about our priest,” said a worshipper, Mr John Macharia Kamau, 40. Fr Kaburi stunned the community in May when he went to the authorities to claim the custody of a boy he said was his son. He said the boy was born eight years ago but his mother later died, leaving him with his grandfather.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Pastoral Provision hits Regensburg

The Local

A married man was ordained as a Catholic priest in the southern German city of Regensburg this week in a rare exception to the church’s rules of celibacy for men of the cloth, the diocese reported.

Peter Kemmether, a 62-year-old father of four children, took part in the ceremony led by Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller on Tuesday evening in the Bavarian city.

He had been a protestant pastor, but converted to Catholicism.

In similar cases the Vatican has been known to make exceptions to its insistence on clerical celibacy, and the Congregation for the Clergy there approved the decision after Kemmether completed various courses in Catholic theology, the diocese said.

According to the German Conference of Bishops, Protestant pastors have become Catholic priests on several occasions in the past, but a spokesperson said the organisation could not provide specific numbers.

The Church in Bavaria in particular has ordained several former Protestants into the priesthood in the last decade.

These men have papal permission to carry on with their family lives as usual, and are not required become celibate.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Judge finds Colombian Bishops Conference liable for priest's actions

A judge in Belén de Umbria in the department of Risaralda, Colombia, has found the Colombian Catholic Bishops Conference, the diocese of Pereira, and the parish of Mistrató liable for paying damages to the family of Fr. José Francey Díaz Toro's woman companion of eleven years and their 5-year old daughter whom the priest killed back in 2007. Judge Otto Garnert Galvis set damages at 100 million pesos for the mother of the woman and the grandmother of the girl, and 500 million pesos for the woman's father and her ten brothers and uncles. Díaz Toro (photo) was found guilty in a separate criminal trial and sentenced to 23 years in prison for the double murder.

This is the first time that a Colombian court has found the Catholic Church liable at an institutional level for the activities of its priests. Judge Garnert justified his ruling, saying that the church was guilty of failing to adequately supervise Díaz Toro and that it should be as strict in its internal discipline as what it requires of its parishioners and that, in spite of being a private entity, it is governed by Colombian law, any other agreement with the Holy See notwithstanding. "The Church has rights and obligations. This crime took place because of carelessness and lack of management," the judge emphasized.

Nicolás Martínez, attorney for the victims, said the Church was liable because the institution's celibacy requirement was a factor in the murder. Police have hypothesized that Díaz Toro killed the woman and her child because she threatened to expose their relationship.

Mons. Juan Vicente Córdoba, secretary general of the Bishops Conference, repudiated the sentence, calling it "unjust". "The priest should pay for the problems he caused, not the diocese or the Bishops Conference," he said. He said the ruling would be appealed.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Priest/musician quits church to get married

Echo (UK)

A Catholic priest has chosen romance over religion and renounced a 36 years in the church to marry the love of his life, an Essex police detective.

Father John Glynn, 61, formerly of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, has left the priesthood to be with Christine Thomas, of Billericay CID.

Mr Glynn announced he was leaving in front of a stunned congregation by reading a letter from the Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Rev Thomas McMahon, who accepted his resignation.

Mr Glynn’s decision came soon after he spent ten weeks at Hawkstone Hall, Shropshire, a retreat where Catholics “can find refreshment for their tired spirit”, according to its website.

During Mr Glynn’s announcement, before a Sunday sermon, he made no mention of why he was going, but later revealed the reason on his website.

Mr Glynn, who was ordained as a priest aged 26 in 1974, wrote: “Part of the reason for going there (Hawkstone Hall) was to take a break after a particularly stressful year, but also I wanted to reflect on my own calling and discern the next stage of the journey.

“The course confirmed my initial feelings that my life should take a new direction.

“After a great deal of prayer I have decided to resign from active ministry as a priest, not because I did not want to remain a priest, but because the constraints parish life put on my ministry prevented me from developing the gifts God has given me.

“And further, I wanted to marry the woman I love, and that is not possible for a Catholic priest at this moment in history.”

Mrs Thomas sings and plays guitar in Mr Flynn’s band John Flynn and Aquilla.

In May, the Echo reported St Luke’s Hospice had helped her come to terms with the death of her husband of 28 years, Clive, 59, who died there of terminal cancer last August.

Mr Glynn, on his website, further reflected: “It is possible, and quite usual in some parts of the church, for a married man to be ordained a priest.

“But an unmarried man, once ordained, is not permitted to marry.

“Some will say it’s unfair.

“Others will point out that a vow of celibacy is for life just as marriage is. I understand both arguments, but accept the reality of the situation.”

Diocese of Brentwood spokeswoman Mary Huntingdon said the decision to leave the priesthood was a very personal one.

She added: “If a priest decides he can no longer carry out his vocation, for whatever reason, he will talk to the bishop and ask for time away to consider his future.

“Since there is no time limit on this, it is usual for a priest to resign his parish at this point.”

Bishop McMahon added: “We are deeply grateful to him for all the wonderful pastoral care he has given during his seven years at Wickford.”

Mr Glynn and Mrs Thomas were unavailable for comment.

Father Dan Mason has taken over at Our Lady of Good Counsel.

It is the second resignation of a Catholic priest in the Basildon district due to the celibacy vow in recent months.

Last March, Father Julian Weiner, formerly of St Basil the Great Catholic Church, in Luncies Road, Basildon, also left the priesthood to be with a woman.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eight in 10 priests in Austria want celibacy to end

Austrian Independent

A vast majority of Austrian Roman Catholic priests want an end to mandatory celibacy, a new survey has shown.

Pollsters GfK Austria said today (Tues) 80 per cent of the 500 interviewed parish priests supported calls for an abandonment of the ruling.

Fifty-one per cent said women should be allowed to become Roman Catholic priests.

More than six in ten (64 per cent) of priests the agency spoke to said the Austrian Church should get up to date with the modern world.

GfK Austria revealed the new study showed that younger priests had more conservative mindsets than their elder colleagues.

A vast majority of 92 per cent complained of inadequate education in becoming a priest, while 48 per cent accused the institution’s leaders of "acting helpless and lacking vision".

The number of Austrian men deciding to become Catholic priests is meanwhile in decline.

Church officials said earlier this month that 24 men will be consecrated priests in 2010 by the end of June. They said 33 consecrations took place in the first six months of last year.

The reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in Austria suffered dramatically as hundreds of people came forward to report violent and sexual abuse at its institutions over the past few months.

The Church reacted by setting up a special commission to deal with the cases and provide victims with financial compensation and therapy.

The question of the amount of compensation is currently an issue of heated public discussion. Viennese Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schönborn refused to comment on reports claiming that the Church tried to keep the overall sum lower than 100,000 Euros.

More than 30,000 Austrians left the Church in the first three months of this year, up by 42 per cent compared to the same time span of 2009 when more people than ever cancelled their membership.

Fears are increasing that up to 80,000 Austrians will leave throughout this year. Last year’s 53,216 people quitting their membership meant an all-time record high.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Austrian Catholics ramp up quest for church reform

By Veronika Oleksyn
Associated Press
June 23, 2010

VIENNA — Historically a potent symbol of Catholicism in Europe, Austria has in recent years been known more as the center of a taboo-busting movement to liberalize the church.

Now, reformers here are ramping up their campaign for change amid worldwide outrage over the priest sex abuse scandal.

And while much of the push comes from the grassroots, the country's powerful cardinal recently caused a stir with strong gestures in support of reform, raising the stakes in the confrontation between the Vatican and dissidents pushing to allow priests to marry and women to be ordained.

What is particularly troubling for Rome is that Austria — which in past centuries was famous for being a bulwark against the Protestant Reformation — is losing worshippers in record numbers as calls for reform grow stronger.

Tens of thousands of Austrian Catholics — many of whom still consider themselves devout believers — are leaving the church each year, disgusted by the priestly sex abuse scandal and frustrated by what they see as the Catholic hierarchy's outdated ways.

For 76-year-old Erwin Bundschuh, who left the church about six weeks ago, the main problem today is an ivory tower mentality that rejects dialogue and cuts itself off from the realities of the modern day.

"You can't redesign a religious community every day but you also can't pretend as if nothing has happened in 2,000 years," said Bundschuh as he strolled past Vienna's famous St. Stephen's Cathedral. "There should be an open dialogue about certain things but it's always choked off."

Earlier this week, the head of the Vienna archdiocese's church tax office estimated that up to 80,000 of Austria's roughly 5.5 million Catholics could leave the church this year — a new record. Last year alone, 53,216 people formally had their names removed from church registries, a 31 percent increase compared to 40,654 in 2008.

Many have dropped out to also avoid paying a highly unpopular government-imposed church tax, questioning whether they should help finance an organization with which they have increasingly divergent views.

As the sex abuse scandal has heated up, critical Austrian Catholics have stepped up their reform campaign — holding news conferences and pressuring church officials.

In May, the Priest Initiative — a group of critical clerics — adopted a strongly worded resolution that criticized the "absolutist" church structure and urged both bishops and ordinary believers to take a stand. The Vatican has had no comment on the turmoil in the Austrian Church.

Amid increasing calls for change, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn — the country's top churchman and a papal confidant seen as a possible successor to Benedict XVI — has stepped into the fray more forcefully in the past few months.

"The wall of silence has to be broken," he told reporters on Wednesday as he presented measures to prevent clerical abuse and help victims. "This is not allowed to happen and cannot be allowed to repeat itself."

Set to take effect July 1 and approved by all of the country's bishops, the measures foresee a unified approach by church abuse complaint centers to probe and deal with allegations against priests, employees and volunteers of church-run institutions. It also mandates the creation of a foundation for abuse victims to cover their therapy costs and possible compensation demands.

At a March service for sex abuse victims in St. Stephen's Cathedral organized with a reform group, he was among the first high-ranking Catholics to openly acknowledge church guilt in the scandal.

More recently, he accused Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the retired Vatican secretary of state, of blocking an investigation into sex abuse allegations against his disgraced predecessor, Hans Hermann Groer, 15 years ago.

He also spoke of the positive aspects of gay relationships and suggested the church needed a new perspective on the remarriage of divorcees.

In addition, Schoenborn recently declined to publicly criticize Eisenstadt Bishop Paul Iby, who made headlines when he said it should be up to priests to decide whether they want to live a celibate life and that he would welcome it if married men could be ordained. The 75-year-old bishop also said the ordination of women should also eventually be considered.

When asked by The Associated Press what he thought of Iby's comments, Schoenborn replied: "I think that the worries Bishop Paul, Bishop Iby, has expressed here are the worries of all of us — there's no question about that."

To reformers like Richard Picker of the group Priests without Office, Schoenborn understands the plight of clerics who choose not to live in celibacy. "The cardinal has understanding for us," Picker said.

But others cautioned against overrating the softspoken Schoenborn, saying he has shown understanding for those who don't fall in line in the past but has failed to come up with concrete actions to support them.

Described as someone who tries to please everyone and dislikes confrontation, Schoenborn initially stayed quiet when he replaced Groer in 1995 amid abuse allegations. Only three years later did he personally apologize "for everything that my predecessors and other holders of church office committed against people in their trust."

"Rome gets on his nerves and he sends signals but he'll never contradict the pope," said Herbert Kohlmaier, a former politician and national ombudsman who heads a reform group called the Lay Initiative. "He won't cross that line."

Kohlmaier was also among the first to welcome the new measures to prevent abuse, saying Schoenborn's efforts reflected courage and openness and set an example for the entire church.

Experts say Austria's unusually rebellious streak these days stems from a series of conservative Vatican appointments — including Groer's — following the retirement of the liberal and outspoken Cardinal Franz Koenig, a much beloved figure, in 1985.

"The church took a new turn after Koenig and that, coupled with the Groer pedophilia story, sparked dissatisfaction," said theologian Paul Zulehner. "Austria is a special case caused by Rome."

The Groer scandal erupted in 1995 when a former student of his alleged that he abused him in the 1970s. Other accusations followed. Groer stepped down shortly after the first allegations surfaced and was later forced by Pope John Paul II to relinquish all church functions. He died in 2003 but never directly admitted any guilt.

The disgust surrounding Groer resurfaced recently when the Alpine country — like several others — was hit by a new wave of abuse claims against clergy and employees of church-affiliated institutions such as schools.

"The abuse scandal has shown that apparently the church's leadership is no longer primarily focused on Jesus' message but rather on its own interests," said Hans Peter Hurka, who heads We are Church, an influential Vienna-based lay organization active across Europe.