Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Priests' Women Speak Out

This is an open letter from a group of Italian women who are involved with priests to the Pope about celibacy. The letter was first published in Italian on Il Dialogo on March 28, 2010. It has recently been translated into Spanish and posted on Atrio. We now bring it to you in English.

This letter is signed by Antonella Carisio, Maria Grazia Filippucci, Stefania Salomone … together with others … and in the name of all who are suffering because of this unjust law.

The starting point is the news a few days ago, one of many statements following a real explosion of pedophilia scandals in the ranks of the clergy.

THE POPE: Celibacy is a Sacred Value

"The horizon of the ontological belonging to God also constitutes the proper framework for understanding and reaffirming, in our day too, the value of sacred celibacy which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Sacred Orders and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches," said the Pontiff to the Conference on "Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest".

"It is an authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, a sign of consecration with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord", the expression of their gift of self to God and to others. The priest's vocation is thus most exalted and remains a great mystery, even to us who have received it as a gift. Our limitations and weaknesses must prompt us to live out and preserve with deep faith this precious gift with which Christ has configured us to him, making us sharers in his saving Mission."

To Pope Benedict XVI:

This is written by a group of women from all parts of Italy, who have lived or are still living in a relationship with a priest or religious. We are used to living in anonymity those few moments the priest manages to give us and we live daily with the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men, supplementing their affective deficiency and suffering the consequences of obligatory celibacy.

Ours is a voice that can no longer continue to be ignored, from the moment we heard the reaffirmation of the sacredness of what is not sacred in the least, of a law that is being maintained without addressing the fundamental rights of people. The contempt with which they have attempted for centuries and in recent statements to silence the cry of men and women who have suffered in the already tattered shroud of mandatory celibacy hurts us.

We are trying to reaffirm -- although many Christians already know it -- that this discipline has nothing to do either with the Scriptures in general, or with the Gospels in particular, or with Jesus, who never spoke about it.

Quite the contrary. As far as we know, He liked to surround Himself with disciples, almost all married, and women. You would say to us that Jesus also lived as a bachelor and the priest is simply matching Him with his choice. A choice is good. But a rule can never be a choice, if not forcing its meaning. If, moreover, it is defined as a charism, it can not therefore be imposed or required, much less by the Lord, who wants us to be free, because love is freedom, always.

Is it therefore reasonable to assume that He would intend to deny certain expressions of love and freedom to some of His disciples?

The reasons that, over time, prompted the church hierarchy to introduce this discipline in the canonical legal system itself are commonly known: economic interest and expediency. Then, over the centuries, everything has been marinated in a certain amount of misogyny and hostility toward the body, psychological drives and its primary needs.

It is therefore a "human" law in the broadest sense of the term. And we must start from this evidence, to question whether, as with all human laws, in a certain historical moment, it might not be necessary to rethink and modify it or even, as we would like, to eliminate it altogether.

To do this, much humility, much courage is needed to disengage from the logic of power to come down with sincerity to the world of men to which, like it or not, the priest also belongs.

We quote from Eugen Drewermann (“Kleriker: Psychogramm eines Ideals”, 1989),:

"According to theological ideology the persona of the individual cleric looks like a bucket of water: it is necessary to fully empty its contents to fill it to the brim again with everything that seems desirable to ecclesiastical superiors. In this way the entire sphere of human feelings is neutralized in favor of the decisions of power. Of all the range of possible human relationships, only one type of relationship survives: the one of order and submission, the ritual of master and servant, the abstraction and reduction of life to the formalism of observance of certain instructions."

It is not a matter of having more time to devote to others, as the most repeated of the innumerable expressions they use that affirm that the cleric should not and cannot have a female companion states, rather a rejection of the idea that he can enjoy a more intimate and personal presence, even friendships themselves.

In fact, Drewermann continues:

"The identification required by the professional role does not allow him to live as a person, and therefore he has no choice but to feign human warmth, emotional closeness, pastoral understanding, empathy, simulating instead of living in authentic way."

According to this institutionalized view, the priest fulfills himself through his ministry, through the holy orders, only as a single person and for a lifetime. But the presumably free decision of a young man, enthusiastic about the proposal he thinks he has received does not imply that his deep attachment to the message of Jesus can not grow, mature, change and even better express itself, to a certain point, through a married priesthood. This is simply what happens, what cannot be foreseen or fully evaluated.

A choice of this type can not be immutable, and it is neither a betrayal, much less a failing or an infraction, because love is not against love. And the priest, like any human being, needs to live with his fellow beings, to have feelings, to love and be loved and to face the other deeply, something which he is hardly willing to do for fear of being exposed to danger.

Behind the curtain of what is said and unsaid, that is what we are experiencing. And it's as if the church system, with its rules, manages to imprison the healthiest part of us all.

What happens, in fact, if a priest falls in love? He can choose:

1. Sacrifice his own needs and feelings, as well as the woman's, for a "greater good" (what?) 2. Live out the relationship in hiding, with the help and complicity of the superiors themselves sometimes; it is sufficient that it does not come to be known and does not leave traces (ie, children) 3. Throw away the cassock, the usual expression that defines the choice of someone who can't take it any more, that is to say, a traitor. Each of these options causes great pain to the people involved who, things going as they do, have much to lose.

And what are the woman's options?

1. Sacrifice her own needs and feelings in favor of "a greater good" (in this case, the good of the priest) 2. Live out the relationship in secret, spending the rest of her life waiting for the priest to be able to spend a pinch of time with her, stolen moments, sacrificing the dream of a relationship with a "normal" man. 3. Bear the burden of being the one who forced the priest to "throw away the cassock", in addition to sharing the burden of his alleged "failure." A priest who leaves is considered to be "the one who failed to go ahead with the great renunciation required," and is therefore somewhat cast aside. And this is a difficult thing to bear, for one who believes he is "a chosen one, someone who received a special call," an Alter Christus, who with only a gesture of consecrated hands, transforms the nature of things ... who forgives, who saves!

Is it possible to give up all that? And for what?

For the normal life of a couple, that sounds like a trivial matter compared to the powers the "staff member of God" can wield through holy orders.

And yet, one of the most recurring statements of priests to their "companions", sums it up in a few words: "I need you in order to be who I am", that is, a priest.

Don't be shocked, Your Holiness! In order to become effective witnesses to the need for love, they need to embody it and experience it fully, in the way their nature demands it. Is it a sick nature? A transgressing one?

If understood, this expression shows the urgency of also being part of a world of two, of being able to exercise that fundamental natural right that the institutional church at least talks about in solemn Latin encyclicals, clearly reserved only for lay people and denied to the clergy, who become so supernatural, so separated from everyone else, that they are unable even to distinguish what's around them.

But is it possible that you are not able to see that the priest is a painfully lonely being? He has a lot of things to do, that fill his day and empty his heart. Sometimes he doesn't even realize it, caught up as he is with the liturgies and duties of his job. And it may happen that among his acquaintances there is a person, someone special who seems, at first sight, specifically made to warm his heart, completing and enriching the ministry too. And this is simply what happens frequently.

But the church discipline tells him: "No, you have been chosen for something much greater." And he feels guilty, because he is unable to imagine anything greater than what he is experiencing. But he trusts the obedience he promised, thinking that it represents the will of God, His plan for him and those like him. The celibate hero returns to the stage of an institution that designed it like this and has already prepared a promotion in exchange for the necessary separation.

And all this destruction in the name of what love?

The one that makes us hide, the one that makes us renounce, the one that hurts us. That is not the love of the Father. Let us finally quote a conclusion from Drewermann:

"The God that Jesus spoke about wants precisely what the Catholic Church today fears more than anything: free, happy and mature human life, which is not born of anguish, but of obedient trust and which is free from the limitations of the tyranny of a traditional theology that prefers to seek the truth of God in sacred scripture rather than in the sanctity of human life."


HrhbunnyGirl said...

I loved every word. To live in solitude will only drive one insane. We all need to be loved, to feel someones affection. All these feeling come erupting out and we see these poor children having to suffer for some of these men's outbursts.
It is only natural to love and to be loved. Not only priests but nuns should be allowed to have a partner. God never said that we must do it all alone, right?

Anonymous said...

Also when celibacy became the new order of the day the RC hierarchy wanted no heirs of a priestly parent to collect family inheritances due to the priest. It's always money... even among the holy... maybe especially the holy. Few people question how the RCs became so wealthy. joannaoregon

Anonymous said...

And once again the guys hide behind Eve's fig leaf. joannaoregon

Anonymous said...

The priest's celibacy is the priest's celibacy, no way to end it ! The married priests exist, they'r protestant pastors and ministers, but in the catholic religion, a priest must keep single. A married catholic priest isn't a catholic priest anymore. There are plenty other ways to live and feel the catholic religion and be married in the same time, but if you really wanna be a priest, YOU NEVER GET FUCKIN' MARRIED !

Anonymous said...

Hey brothers and sisters,
Good article that deserves
comment of NY Times etc., if pos-sible. Let there be more openness in discussing these topics.
Congrats to Italian women.
Secrecy isn't the way for Chris- tians to live.
Most countries face a shor-tage of celibate priests and semi- narians. Half of priests in France are over 75. More parishes will close.
I suggest we let the people decide whether they will accept a married woman priest or a maried male priest. If not, a given parish will be closed. This will force discussion and experimenting with new models of priest.
Jesus lives! Don't give up.
Jim Cuddy,Syracuse,NY, USA.

Anonymous said...

jsuis avec mon gars la et on trouv ca assé badan le celiba des pretres

Anonymous said...

"What happens, in fact, if a priest falls in love? He can choose:

1. Sacrifice his own needs and feelings, as well as the woman's, for a "greater good" (what?) 2. Live out the relationship in hiding, with the help and complicity of the superiors themselves sometimes; it is sufficient that it does not come to be known and does not leave traces (ie, children) 3. Throw away the cassock, the usual expression that defines the choice of someone who can't take it any more, that is to say, a traitor. Each of these options causes great pain to the people involved who, things going as they do, have much to lose."

Seems to me that a married man (or woman) who falls in love with another woman is in the same situation, faced with the same choices. So basically we need to give up monogamy altogether.

Anonymous said...

if priests want to be with their partners or get married, they are welcome to resign from the priesthood. no one forced them to join and stay

Anonymous said...

Many say, the solution for the priest in love is 'resign from the priesthood'. The church cannot affort to lose more (probably good) priests. In fact it needs to attract more.

This reminds me of foot binding in China; will the old men at the top, who have forgone relationships or hidden relationships, let the younger generation 'come out'. Probably not. They would rather be selfish and let the church age away into its own oblivion.


Anonymous said...

Historical analysis clearly indicates celibacy to be based on operational strategy rather than theology or scripture.

Choice is always available but if a rule is no longer effective, then improvements need to be made. This does not sacrifice the credibility and efficiency of the Church, on the contrary, it improves it and recognizes that we learn and are open to improvement.

There is nothing anti-catholic in having this issue openly debated at length within the College of Cardinals, and without.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't understand how God could want them to be shut off from human affection. I don't understand how they can lead a parish and be understanding to the needs of a modern Catholic family when they don't experience them. In all of the meetings I've had with priests I feel uneasy. They do seem detached. I don't like being around them.

Anonymous said...

We now live in the 21st century but the RC hierachy don't and nor will they until the realisation that the number of priests they need will not be fulfilled until they do make changes. We used to joke that the RC would never die because of their "no-contraception" stance they would always have congegations. Celibacy should be a personal choice - whether it be a priest, pope, bishop, you or me. Karenoz

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Holy Mother Church is clear on what she teaches. If you aren't Catholic and have a problem with the celibate priesthood, get over it and mind your own business. If you are Catholic and you do have a problem with priestly celibacy, reevaluate your faith and come back to the fullness of the truth that Holy Mother Church offers. J. S. Mary Augustine

Eric said...

The following was written by John Calvin in 1549 in his commentary on Hebrews 13:4 (quoted from "Calvin's New Testament Commentaries", W.B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1994). It couldn't be more actual:

Heb.13:4: “let marriage be had in honour among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

By saying “among all”, I understand him to mean that there is no order of men prohibited from marriage. What God has allowed to the human race universally is fitting for all without exception. By this I understand all who are fit for marriage and have need of it. It was necessary to express this distinctly to meet the superstition, the seeds of which Satan was already secretly sowing, that marriage is a profane thing, or certainly far removed from Christian perfection. Those false spirits, of which Paul had prophesied, soon made their appearance and prohibited marriage. Therefore in case anyone foolishly imagines that marriage is allowed to the commonalty of men but that those who are prominent in the Church ought to abstain from it, the apostle removes every exception, and so far from teaching that it is allowed us by way of indulgence (as Jerome sophistically says) he asserts that it is worthy of honour. It is more than remarkable that those who introduced into the world the prohibition of marriage were not frightened by this express declaration except that it was necessary to give rein to Satan in order to punish the ingratitude of those who refused to hear God.

Today's Questions said...

In the Eastern Catholic Churches married men are allowed to become priests. These Churches are in full communion with the Church of Rome. Priestly celibacy is a tradition that is limited to the Latin/Western Catholic Churches since the 10th century.
I see a valid reason today to go back to the older tradition of allowing married men become priests. This is also the tradition of all Eastern Orthodox Churches which although dfo not possess the fullness of truth, they are nevertheless considered valid Churches according to the Catholic faith (See Vatican II declaration on Ecumenism).

George Farahat

Anonymous said...

I trusted a Priest. I truly believed he was holy. He was my confessor and spiritual director. He knew everything about my life. He also knew how much I love our Lord. I was molested by him , but the sad thing is he made me very much part of his life. I was so open to being hurt and he did not care or else he would never had brought me into his lies. I have forgiven him,but the pain and hurt I still deal with.

Anonymous said...

Can't you understand the difference between a married man who wants to be ordained and a ordained man who wants to be married? The first is possible. The second is not. Any man ordained a priest has made a public and sacred promise to remain celibate. If he is unfaithful to that, then what is the worth of a subsequent public promise to a woman???
Perhaps you think men should be polygamists? Are you so knaive to think no married man finds other women attractive and perhaps more attractive than his wife?
Think for once and not just with your genitals!!!

And one person here suggests nuns should be able to marry. Do you have any understanding what religious life is all about???
The same person seems to think that the clerical young boy abusers would have made good husbands!!! Is she joking?

We all make different choices in life. Fine. But, we must encourage each other to be faithful to our public commitments. Otherwise we are led by our lusts and whims.

Joemarie Comeros Amparo said...

Every word of the letter tells the entire pain these girls are feeling while in relationship with these priests. Each word uttered detailed a tear falling from the eyes full of sorrow and misery. A genuinely honest written letter from the heart.

True enough, each word convince me to believe to it whole sense.

Kyumani said...

First and foremost I am sorry for these abandoned women.In deed the devil is out to tore the church from every corner. I personally don't agree with this women or any Bishop or priest in support of them. As a seminarian today, I know what is entitled to be a priest - One who wishes to be a priest in the latin catholic church do willingly and knowingly and freely chooses this life. I hope since is a vocation he is at liberty to leave the service if he cannot manange. unfortunetly many who cannot manage this life are the ones causing what we hear today. I don't agree with these ladies when they say that celibecy is not according to the scripture and Jesus did not talk about it! then what is the following verses of the scripture read Mt.6:24 on 'Two Masters', Mt. 19:10-12 on the 'Eunuchs', 1Corintian 7:3-16 'on Marriage. Let us not use our weakness to justify ourselves after all we cannot all become priest but a few should for the service of all. Many of us especially these women have failed their duty they should have supported those priest with prayers and not their bodies.I read one of them saying that she is thinking of leaving the church. the question is why? she should realize that they allowed the devil to destroyed the God's priest and so she should repent and pray for God mercy and continue with life. Human is to erre.

Steve Mutuku - Kenya -Africa

Anonymous said...

Ephesians 2:8-9,"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast". Marriage is the first institution designed by God when He united and instructed Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the Earth. Marriage is not a sin! Married people are not inferior! Forced celibacy in the priesthood is not from God! Marriage and celibacy are both equal gifts from God and those who have received either should be allowed to honor our God, Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Father with what He has given to us!

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to expect the catholic church to abolish the celibacy. But it is not impossible. It takes time. We also need more voices of women who are having relationship with priests and religious. Priests, nuns and male religious who are in favor for abolishing the celibacy should make their voices heard. They should not hide their intentions and continue abusing good christian women. Women need to bring their lovers (priests/religious) to court if they refuse to take responsibilities. Women should not risk themselves by living together with priests/religious secretly.

Anonymous said...

It will take ages for the catholic church to change its law on celibacy for its priests and religious (nuns and brothers)despite of complains about hidden romantic relationships in the real life (but i should acknowledge that there many priests and religious who are true to their vow of celibacy). So, we can we do? I advise women to get away from priests or religious males. Do not get involve in intimacy relationship with them unless they want to leave the religious life/priesthood. If you are already having children from such relationship and he refuses to be husband and father, bring him to court.

Anonymous said...

God gave Adam a wife, and said "it is not good if man is alone". Noah was married, so was Moses, and all patriarchs were married, the levites and priests were married men, the prophets were married men, the new testament rulers of the synagogues and priests were married men, the disciples of Jesus were married men, the apostles were married men, the early church fathers were married men,the church leaders, priests and popes were married men for the following 10 centuries. Of course not every man in every category below chose to be married, but these churchmen all had the freedom to be married and have families while serving in the church. There are two possibilities: either God was wrong in saying that it is not good that man is alone and needs a female companion, or the current popes are wrong in restricting God given human nature and love. Human sexuality is a God given gift to all men. Like the gulf oil gusher, it is almost unstoppable. Celibacy is an un-biblical aberration causing harm to both priests and laity. There is nothing wrong with celibacy for those who wish it voluntarily. Church history, the bible and the earlier popes all permitted marriage for every male and female, as does the Eastern Orthodox church and the Anglican church.

Much harm has been done by this restriction. Just read your newspaper.

It is time for the pope to repent.

Peter said...

Jesus was completely human.
Jesus was also celibate.

also said:
"Not all men can receive the precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Mt 19:11-12)

Claudia said...

The celibacy was not among the rules that the Early church included as requirements to be a priest. However, and in order to protect the church property from inheritance and to avoid concubinate scandals (in this order), ammendments were done by popes Gregory, Pelagius, Benedict VIII and Innoncent II (one of the most powerful and visionary popes of the history), who forbade initially priest sons to inherit, and later on, priest marriages. Priests already married had to divorce their wives.

There were some proposals in the XIV to reintroduce the clerical mariage. There proposals were not accepted and in fact, some ultra-ortodox groups started to "sell" the idea, giving the impression that it had apostolic origin. So we are now.

It must be remembered that one of the main reasons of the separation between the lutheran and catholic churches, is that as Martin Luther started his Bible traduction from the greek and latin texts, he discovered that there were many meaningful differences, including text that never existed in the original documents, or modifications in the interpretation that modified the understanding of the Word.

Anonymous said...

I am in the United States and am also deeply in love with a man who wears a collar. It's a pervasive problem that you don't hear about because we are forced not to speak about it. The hierarchy of the Church is bent on keeping the rules as they are because to change it would mean a loss of all the control they mandate over their priests, and of all the power and money they retain by keeping the faithful believing that their "CHURCH" is the only one that is HOLY and ANNOINTED. Why this ridiculous rule still stands in this day and age is a BLATANT testimony to the fact that the powers that be DO NOT CARE about the emotional health of the wonderful men who carry on God's work each day in the parishes. Furthermore, these men are brainwashed to believe that they are being given special graces and favor for living a life untrue to their nature. God help us all.

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Doris said...

There are MANY objections to having married priests. Just to mention a few of the issues:

1. Economics: How much would it cost to support a priest, his wife and 6 or 8 children? $800 per month won't be enough. Are you willing to put more in the basket to feed ten mouths? Everybody, tithe eight times as much. The dilemma is, would that still be called tithing? The solution of this dilemma would create job security for all our canon lawyers!

2. What would our seminaries teach their students when they are no longer considered "special" - set apart from "laity" by their abstinence from sex—with women? Nota bene: sex with men or boys, or manustuprare for that matter, has been looked upon more as an outlet than a sin for quite a few centuries. SICKENING!

3. The Infallibility issue: If priests are allowed to marry, then sooner or later we will have married cardinals, or even, God forbid, A Married Pope. What about the ramifications this would have on the infallibility issue? If our Pontifex Maximus were then just another man with children, or maybe with a mistress like Berlusconi, and if his marriage should end up in a divorce? Can anyone imagine the digits on that alimony check? Not to mention the endless questions (How could he have made such a mistake! He should have known

4. Issue of Radicalism: we Catholics are simply not meant to be radicals, laity and clerics alike. We are the sheep that follow. Leave radicalism to others who recognize the personality of God, of freedom, of character strength, and of individual courage. We are a church for the masses, not for the individual. The CEO/Pope is the soul rule maker of the Catholic church and despite what a majority wishes, he will decide so(u)lely on his own and, according to (men-created) church law, as a spokesperson, infallible, for GOD . . OF COURSE!

5. The Eunuch Issue: We Catholic lay people are so brain washed to feel sorry for our beloved priests (we were brought up to show them respect regardless of our personal feelings about them being exactly what or who) that we simply would be lost if we were faced with normal, healthy, married men as priests. Catholic males and females alike would downright be threatened by such a notion of normalcy!

6. The Love Issue: O yes, the problem is not married priests, but, we hear, pure and simple love, lets just all love one another. Question is, what kind? Eros, agape, philia? Well, in the first and last cases, and optimally all three, you'd be stuck with . . . marriage, in the best of all possible worlds.

Anonymous said...

The time has indeed come for concerted action. I write as one of them belonging to an order in India-Bombay, priests are secretly cultivating intimate sexual relationships with women for years. A known fact to most priests and bishops who close their eyes or choose to ignore such happenings. A new change must be brought about by abolishing the mandatory celibacy law and making a new open church that provides freedom to love, acceptance of women, and more involvement of laity. Celibacy doesnt work for all is a clear fact. It should be present without compulsion. Those joining priesthood should have a choice. Its time we wake up and smell the smoke!