Wednesday, March 24, 2010

22% of priests are married and some are still active

Long time readers of this blog may remember that we covered Fr. Gumersindo's marriage to María Benetti back in January 2007. We are thrilled to see that this clerical couple are together and happy three years later.

by Silvia R. Pontevedra
El País

Gumersindo Meiriño, born in Cea 44 years ago, entered the seminary at 10, was ordained at 25, then earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre, was pastor of Oseira and Cea, later in A Gudiña, and then went off to the missions. He was in Ecuador and Argentina, and there, in the Diocese of Santo Tomé (Corrientes), he fell in love with Maria Benetti, a lay missionary from Pergamino (Buenos Aires) devoted to the care of patients. At 40, Gumersindo decided to marry her, but he did not leave the priesthood.

He never asked for papal dispensation to return to lay status, so the couple married in the living room of a sports club, in a civil ceremony. And there were many participants (those from A Gudiña even got mad at him because he did not invite them), even though the bishop of Santo Tomé had a letter read in all parishes warning the faithful that whoever went to the wayward priest's wedding would be committing a mortal sin and could no longer take communion. Meanwhile in Ourense, the priest's native diocese, Bishop Quintero asked the faithful to pray that Meiriño, who had already gotten married, would return to the straight path. Now, in Santo Tomé, he does not walk the parishes of the diocese, but he still "feels like a priest" and is still counted in the statistics as a Catholic priest.

Moceop (Movement for optional celibacy), the largest religious group championing the cause in Spain, estimates that of the 27,000 priests in the Spanish diocese over 6,000 are married, though other estimates raise this latter figure to 7,000. It is difficult to be specific, precisely because the Church maintains silence on this issue, but according to these numbers at least 22% of diocesan priests have decided to formalize their relationship with a woman. And some continue to work discretely, with the tacit consent of their bishops. This happens here and in other diocese such as Madrid, also ruled by a Galician, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela.

Twenty-eight seminarians were ordained in Galicia this year. Three or four decades, ago, a single seminary class would have the same number of students. It is logical that diocese are reluctant to give up their soldiers. The lack of vocations and the aging of the clergy are not minor problems for the Church: for each seminarian who is ordained, three priests die. In Galicia, there are 3,863 parish churches (including the 219 belonging to the diocese of Astorga) and only 1,421 priests (28 in Astorga), many of them disabled by age.

When a scandal springs up, as in the recent case of Victorino Pérez, the non-laicized priest from the Diocese of Mondoñedo-Ferrol who continued to concelebrate Masses, the diocese take steps. With support from the Galician priest Manuel Espiña, who just died, Pérez Prieto recently officiated at the collegiate church of A Coruña, considered the second most important church of the Archdiocese of Santiago. Some very Orthodox parishioners had complained about the situation, but the archdiocese did not act until reporters asked about the matter in early March.

An official spokesman denied it at first, but just hours later, the archdiocese released a statement in which it forbade Victorino Pérez Prieto from celebrating or concelebrating Mass in any of the churches in the archdiocese. Three days later, the diocese of Mondoñedo-Ferrol took the same road and announced an investigation.

Victorino Pérez and his wife, Cristina Moreira, have agitated for years for the renewal of the Church, advocating optional celibacy and women priests. This week, Moceop published a statement supporting the couple: "It is sad that the Galician bishops are now jumping on this specific case, when they know that in Galicia, in Spain, in Latin America and in many other parts of the world there are thousands and thousands of priests who are living out a kind of Church in fraternal communities of equals."

In Galicia, there are even cases of priests married to nuns. Celibacy came into the Church three centuries after the death of Jesus of Nazareth with the Council of Elvira (Iliberis, Granada). "Sooner rather than later," according to Moceop, the bishops and the Pope "will have to realize" that mandatory celibacy is "outdated and obsolete." "Many bishops" (the lates -- the one of Vienna -- last week) have called for [a reconsideration of mandatory celibacy] publicly, and "even John Paul II came to acknowledge to a group of journalists that he knew it would be inevitable." In their public letter, the former priests and married priests warn that "the current pedophilia scandal" could put a change in church law on the fast track.

Until that happens, and more so now, given the favorable treatment towards Anglican pastors integrated into Catholicism, there will still be many leading double lives. "Celibacy is oppressive when it is not a charism," says Antonio Martínez Aneiros, a former worker priest, former mayor of Narón, former Galician parliamentarian and a deep believer. Aneiros, who started the process of laicization after spending two months in jail for having officiated at the burial of two workers from Bazán killed in the 1972 protests, recalls that there are studies that put the percentage of priests who violate the celibacy rule at 70%. Some do not even hide the fact, and their parishioners can come to see it as something normal. In a township east of Santiago everyone knows that there is a priest who has had a relationship with a lady for three decades and no one is shocked. The Church (not divine) celibacy law mainly victimizes women, who have to live in silence and who can't even be listed in a partnership registry.

The process of laicization is "hugely traumatic," says Luciano Pena who, while pastor of Portomouro (Val do Dubra), fell in love with a parishioner. "I was tricked from the beginning and it was humiliating for me," he acknowledges; in the interrogations conducted by the vicar, "they asked me to tell my intimacies and eventually, so that they would approve my laicization, I had to tell lies. My rector in the seminary had to make up that I had some kind of defect." With the Church and its "regression in the recent past," this official of the Brión City Council now feels "disheartened". He goes to Mass, but only "to maintain the link" with his neighbors.

Currently, the laicization process is less harsh and quicker (before, it could take "up to 10 years"), but even recently, according to Andrés Muñoz of Moceop, "almost all the questionnaire was of a sexual nature, and only if one declares onself to be obsessed or if one says one has lost faith, is it granted." Then, once returned to the secular state, "former priests become pariahs, and can not return to their parishes." But the low points, after the young priests come in contact with the world, are inevitable: "In the seminaries we learn that women are a danger, the word "pleasure" is forbidden, and the system of discipline, the cilice and the recitation of the breviary have come back," this married priest explains.

Sometimes the pressure is such that it is better to put some distance between. Ángel Álvarez, from Dena, moved to Argentina and conceived his children there. Most are still believers, but others have even left the faith along the way. Domingo Seivane, from Ferrol, was pastor and missionary in Angola, then traveled to France and read forbidden books: "I learned the story of the Church and became an agnostic," he says. Upon returning, he waited until he found employment (as an insurance inspector), and gave the keys to the parish back to the diocese. Under canon law he remains a priest: "I'm not deleting myself from anything," he jokes, "maybe when I die, I will be named pastor again in Heaven."

Photos: Fr. Gumersindo and Maria; Fr. Victorino

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Celibacy is destroying church from the inside, says film-maker

Irish Independent
Monday March 22 2010

The director of a film which questions celibacy in the Catholic Church has said that the rule is "destroying the church from the inside".

Film-maker John Deery spent 10 years interviewing priests and seminarians before writing the script for 'Conspiracy of Silence'.

"The release couldn't be more appropriate, given that celibacy is at the heart of the mess the Catholic Church is in now," he said.

Starring Oscar-winning actress Brenda Fricker and actor Sean McGinley, the film tells the story of a young trainee priest torn between the love for his girlfriend and his vocation.

"Celibacy needs to be dropped by the Catholic Church as a prerequisite for being a priest. It's the real problem at the heart of the church," said Mr Deery.

Priest: 'I cannot live this life of celibacy'

By Nancy Haught
The Oregonian
March 23, 2010

PORTLAND — The Rev. Tom Farley looked at packed pews Sunday morning and made a promise.

"There is an elephant in the room," Farley said as Mass began at St. Clare Catholic Church in southwest Portland. "But we'll talk about it later — after Communion. "

He was referring to the letter he'd sent to the congregation last week, which detailed why these Sunday Masses would be his last as a priest.

"I leave because of a private longing in my heart and soul that I have ignored or suppressed to my detriment," he wrote in the letter. "I love priestly ministry but I cannot live this life of celibacy."

Farley, ordained in 1979, is the latest priest to leave the Catholic Church in the United States, which is struggling with a severe clergy shortage and declining numbers. The number of American men joining the priesthood has dropped by 60 percent since the 1960s to about 40,000 in 2009. Celibacy, required since the 12th century by the Catholic Church in the West, is considered a major reason for that decline. Critics say many men reject the priesthood because they aren't willing to live without the intimacy of a life partner or that it leads to sexual frustration and breaking of priestly vows.

The Archdiocese of Portland has about 150 priests, including retired ones, who serve 124 parishes and 24 missions, and about 400,000 Catholics. In the last decade, perhaps half a dozen in the Portland archdiocese have left the priesthood, often quietly, and some have married, also quietly. National numbers of priests who marry aren't reported and tracked.

In a telephone interview Saturday, Farley, who is in his mid- to late-50s, wouldn't discuss leaving, except to say it was a "gut-wrenching" decision.

Parishioners packed Farley's last Masses — one Saturday evening and three on Sunday morning. As part of the services, the congregations knelt with him to confess their sins and listened as he preached a brief sermon. After Communion, Farley carried a sheet of paper to the lectern and read:

"I want to say how honored I have been to be a fellow disciple with you in the Catholic Church. I am leaving without anger or resentment, not wanting to hurt you or the Church. I do not want to be a poster child for married priests."

Farley, who graduated from high school in Corvallis, said he will live in Portland. He drew chuckles when he said he would be looking for a job, "like a real person." He said he will remain a practicing Catholic. He can still receive the sacraments, but if he chooses to marry in the church, he must go through a process to be released from his vows.

Meanwhile, he said, "I look forward to parish shopping — like you have been able to do."

The Rev. James Galluzzo will return as interim pastor at St. Clare. The archdiocese is expected to assign a new priest to St. Clare in July.

After Mass, parishioners said they were stunned by Farley's letter. It sparked speculation about marriage in Farley's future, but most were still focused on what the priest had brought to the parish, and the legacy he would leave.

"He was one of us," said Frank Elliott, who was baptized as an adult by Farley. Farley also married Elliott and his wife, Kathleen, and baptized their two daughters.

"He was part of our family," Kathleen Elliott said through her tears. "Always, in his sermons, he brought the message to life. He took his family stories and translated the Gospel in a meaningful way."

Other church members felt the same. "I can't imagine this parish without him," said Michael Spatz, a member of St. Clare's since 1989. "He's been a good match. This is a liberal parish with clear ideas about social justice. He didn't just put his stamp on us; he allowed us to put our stamp on him."

Linda Fanning, who remembers that her first day at St. Clare coincided with Farley's nine years ago. "Father Tom is man of huge integrity. He does what he says he's going to do." Neither Spatz nor Fanning would talk about the issue of celibacy at the core of Farley's letter or about his plans. "He's doing what's right, following the rules set out for him," Fanning said.

Mary Alice Judy said she drives 15 miles to attend Mass at St. Clare — because of Farley's homilies. "It always seemed like they spoke to me directly," she said. "They were short, obviously well-prepared." She said she'd heard some speculation about whether Farley would marry anytime soon.

"I certainly hope so," she said. "Loneliness is terrible."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Celibacy and Sex Abuse

The latest rounds of child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, and Brazil (caught on video and aired on a Brazilian TV station), among other places, have led several prominent Catholics to call for an end to the celibacy requirement.

Among the voices:

  • Theologian Hans Kung who, commenting on the latest rash of sex abuse cases, asks “Why is it so prevalent in the Catholic Church under celibate leadership?” and opines: “Compulsory celibacy is the principal reason for today’s catastrophic shortage of priests, for the fatal neglect of eucharistic celebration, and for the tragic breakdown of personal pastoral ministry in many places.”

  • Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, who called for celibacy to be reexamined and then was pressured by the Vatican to "clarify" his remarks and indicate that he still supported celibacy.

  • Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschk of Hamburg, Germany, spoke about the issue on German radio: "The celibate lifestyle can attract people who have an abnormal sexuality and cannot integrate sexuality into their lives. That's when a dangerous situation can arise."

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has continued to defend the celibacy rule calling it the sign of full devotion, the entire commitment to the Lord and to the 'Lord's business', an expression of giving oneself to God and to others". The official Church position is that celibacy has no relationship to sexual abuse of minors. I, Rebel Girl, actually agree with the Vatican on this point, although I believe that celibacy should be made optional for other reasons.

Finally, Univision posted a survey today asking viewers whether the Vatican should eliminate the celibacy requirement. If you can understand Spanish and want to vote, click here.

Priests with love lives speak out against celibacy

Associated Press

PARIS — Leon Laclau shared his life, and often, his bed, with Marga over 20 years — all while serving as a Catholic priest in a town in the French Pyrenees.

His clerical leadership eventually expelled him, prompting protests from his flock and inspiring other priests and their partners around France to speak out about long-hidden love lives, and to press the Church to abandon its insistence on celibacy.

They say the chastity rule has fed the persistent, profound decline in the numbers of European and American priests. More influential voices are joining them as scandals involving sexual abuse and pedophilia spread across parishes around Europe.

The Vatican rejects any link between celibacy and sex abuse and shows no sign it intends to loosen its rules. Instead, church leaders are likely to continue a don't ask-don't tell policy of ignoring priestly relationships, as long as they cause no harm.

"Love, my love for Marga, never held me back from having faith. On the contrary, it encouraged me," Laclau told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in Asson, in the mountains near the pilgrimage site at Lourdes. "I lived my love life with Marga, and I kept my passion for the church."

The two met when Laclau led the funeral service for Marga's first husband in 1985. When their relationship blossomed, he said, "at first, we tried to hide it."

Slowly their friends learned, and Laclau's church colleagues, who met them "with a silence, not of disapproval, but of non-interference," he said.

The church's quiet tolerance melted when Marga came to live with Leon in 2001. Laclau's superior, Father Benat Oyhenart, asked him to "purify the relationship" — in essence to choose between his vocation and his love.

Laclau chose Marga. In 2007, he was forced out of the priesthood.

Oyhenart sent a statement to the congregation explaining what he had done. "What about the young groom who says, 'How can I commit to the sacrament of marriage, for the rest of my life, before a priest who himself does not respect the commitment he made for the rest of his life?'"

Oyhenart received angry, fearful letters from churchgoers. One he cited read: "If you replace him, I will keep my children at home, out of fear that his replacement is a pedophile."

Such fears have mounted as revelations about sexual abuse of children have convulsed Catholic leadership from the United States to Ireland to Australia and in recent weeks, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland.

Now, one of the pope's closest advisers, Austrian Cardinal Christophy Schoenborn, has called for an honest examination of issues like celibacy and education for priests to root out the origins of sex abuse.

His office quickly stressed that Schoenborn wasn't calling celibacy into question, just as Pope Benedict XVI was reaffirming its importance as an "expression of the gift of oneself to God and others."

Theologians and psychologists warn against equating celibacy with pedophilia, at least directly.

But Schoenborn and others have been receptive to arguments that a celibate priesthood is increasingly problematic for the church, primarily because it limits potential candidates for ordination.

Another problem: People who are pedophiles to begin with are drawn to the church because it is an easy way to find victims and be in a position of authority where few question their actions, priest and family counselor Stephane Joulain noted in an essay in Sunday's Le Monde. He also said priests who have never had sexual experiences are often drawn to adolescents because their own sexual growth halted at adolescence.

Laclau, after his experience, says that "an end to celibacy is not the only answer" to the church's woes. He blames "young, reactionary priests ... who show a growing traditionalism" for alienating ordinary believers who might otherwise have been drawn to the priesthood.

While the worldwide number of priests is slowly rising to 408,000 — with major growth in Africa and Asia — the number in Europe is continuing to decline, according to Vatican statistics.

The decline is particularly jarring in the United States, where they have dropped from 58,909 in 1975 to 40,666 in 2009, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University.

France is down to about 24,000 priests nationwide from 42,000 in 1975, and numbers of churchgoers have plummeted. A study by Lyon's auxiliary bishop found that more than half of the 161 priests who left their jobs between 1996 and 2005 did so to join romantic unions with women or other men, according to Catholic newspaper La Croix.

"The church is losing a lot of ground, it's turning in on itself," Laclau said. Ending celibacy, while not the only solution, could help make the church "more humane," he said.

Two days after leaving the church, he received a letter from a former parishioner describing being sexually abused as a child by another priest, a kind of cry for help.

"It repulsed me. It stains religious life, this kind of perversion," he said.

Evidence over the past decade has shown church leadership has covered up, ignored or simply underestimated the problem of pedophilia.

Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told Catholic News Service in December 2002, that "less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type." The most extensive study of the abuse crisis in the American church, commissioned by the U.S. bishops in 2004, found that about 4 percent of all American clerics who served during the time studied were accused of abuse.

The percentage in society at large is unknown because studies are inconclusive.

The report stressed that neither celibacy nor homosexuality causes abuse, but argued that an understanding of the problem of clerical sex abuse isn't possible without reference to both, since the vast majority of U.S. abuse cases were of a homosexual nature.

In Italy, papal biographer Marco Politi, in his book "La Confessione" — "The Confession" — presents the testimony of a priest struggling to balance his homosexuality with his commitment to a church that considers homosexual acts a sin.

The priest, who is never identified, discloses that a network of homosexual priests is active in the Italian church. It is described as an informal "self-help group" that lives in the "catacombs" of the church — the underground.

For Laclau, the solution is more sexual honesty among the clergy.

"I thought I was one of the very few (priests) to have a love life. I slowly discovered how numerous we are," he said.

Groups around Europe have sprung up to bring together people like him, from the Belgium-based Married Priests association to a group called Plein Jour, or Light of Day, which includes some 150 Frenchwomen who live with priests.

Many have borne the priests' children. Many maintain a low public profile, but seek solace in sharing their stories with other women who have lived the same "suffering, silence, sacrifice," said the group's director, Dominique Venturini.

Venturini, now 85, spent 45 years romantically and sexually involved with a priest based in Provence. "Only when he retired could he come and live with me. But unfortunately, by then, it was too late to have children, a dream I always had."

She speaks bluntly against celibacy. "When you bury human nature, it figures out how to express itself in another, perverted way."

Under church law, the pope can change the celibacy requirement by fiat, although some in the church have suggested that various reforms be discussed in a wider forum such as a new Vatican council.

However, the Rev. Thomas Reese, an American expert on the Vatican, said he doubts there would be a majority vote at such a forum to lift celibacy. "In addition, too many dioceses in the southern hemisphere have resolved the issue by simply ignoring ongoing relationships between priests and women," in said in an email exchange with The Associated Press.

The Catholic church's Eastern rite, which follows Orthodox Christian traditions but is loyal to the pope, allows married priests in contrast to the Roman church.

The Rev. Igor Yatsiv, spokesman for Ukraine's Greek Catholic church, said he knew of no cases of clergy sex abuse.

"I am not sure that's just because of no mandatory celibacy here. I'm married myself and have three children, but I don't think it's this that keeps me from sin. I just don't know another way" of living, he said.

Leon and Marga Laclau, after he left the church and after more than 20 years together, finally married. He continues to attend Mass, "not regularly, but I go. It is always a joy to participate."

"I still have faith," he says. "But you must maintain it. It's a bit like love."

Simpson reported from Rome. Associated Press writer Fanny Dassie in Paris contributed to this report.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Catholic Church Loses an Exorcist

According to today's Crítica de la Argentina, on of the Catholic Church's few certified exorcists, Fr. Gastón Dedyn, has left the priesthood to get married and, on Sunday, will be ordained as a Lutheran pastor.

"They used me, they mistreated me, and that's why I left," says Gastón Dedyn, one of the few priest-exorcists in the worldwide Catholic Church, who is now obliged to change his life. He has just decided to leave the priesthood to marry Laura, a woman he fell in love with three years ago. But he will not leave the ministry. This Sunday he will become a member of the Lutheran clergy in Argentina, after leaving the institution with its headquarters in Rome because of its strict celibacy.

At 61, this priest, who has spent more than half his life consecrated to God, states that his priestly vocation "is intact", but that the humiliation to which he has been subjected by the church leadership made him feel "like Uriah, the Hittite." The biblical comparison refers to the story of the soldier husband of Bathsheba whom King David ordered killed on the battle front after having impregnated his wife.

Dedyn -- who fulfilled innumerable roles of high responsibility during his priestly life -- reached a breaking point when he fell in love and formed a couple with a woman. That situation caused his separation from the Catholic Church.

Father Gastón was professor of Spirituality at the seminary in Paraná, rector of the “Santa María Madre Dios” seminary in the Diocese of San Rafael, Mendoza, vicar general and diocesan administrator and a well-known exorcist authorized by the Vatican.

– When did you begin to perform exorcisms?, Crítica de la Argentina asked.

– I've been doing exorcisms since 1998, when I had to face a woman possessed by a demon for the first time. I have taken evil out of the bodies of many people, over one hundred, through what we call diagnostic exorcism.

- And what is it like to deal with a possessed person?

- Very intense, their eyes turn white, their voices change, they vomit, they develop an uncommon strength.

- Like in the movie "The Exorcist"?

- More or less. They don't turn their heads 180 degrees, but everything else is basically the same. It's terrifying to carry on a conversation with the demon to convince it to stop bothering a person, but with the power of Christ everything is possible.

LOVE. Laura is 47 and she is the woman who changed Dedyn's life. "I met her in Baradero three years ago and we fell in love, I was already fairly upset by everything that was happening to me with the church authorities, I had even had an argument with my bishop where I raised the fact that I could not continue to bear the injustices to which I was being subjected, but it was this love that led me to decide to separate myself," the priest says. And he adds: "I always dreamed of having a huge family. Imagine, I come from one with 11 brothers and sisters and 42 nieces and nephews, and I would love to have children, but we will have to adopt."

According to a survey Dedyn himself took of his parishioners, a substantial majority agree with his decision. Given his friendship with Bishop Manuel Acuña, head of the Independent Lutheran Church of Argentina, he decided to join this new institution, in the Good Shepherd parish, in the Santos Lugares area of Buenos Aires.

"Father Gastón is a Catholic priest who has asked to serve as a minister in our Church, channeling his vocation, after having discovered the affection given by a woman who is now his wife. Father Gastón, being a priest forever and understanding that human love enriches his service to his neighbor, did not find room in the Roman Catholic Church to continue, given the celibacy requirement," Acuña explains.

A special service naming Father Gastón as an official member of the Lutheran Church will take place on Sunday March 14th at 10 am in calle Sudamérica 1712, in Santos Lugares. Perhaps some of the people he exorcised will be present.

Photo: Fr. Gastón Dedyn, Bishop Manuel Acuña, and their spouses.