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."