An 81-year old Dutch priest, Fr. Jan Peijnenburg, and his 85-year old woman friend, Threes van Dijck, have been ordered to separate after having lived together for 46 years. The Eindhoven couple have been given until December 1 by the Diocese of Den Bosch to end their relationship or Fr. Peijnenburg will have to leave the priesthood.
The diocese acknowledged that it was quite common for priests to be living with partners, implying that it usually turns a blind eye to such matters. According to the couple, the Church knew about their relationship for dozens of years. Peijnenburg and van Dijck were targeted because they were open about their relationship and had written several pamphlets critical of the Church's celibacy requirement. Michiel Savelsbergh, a spokesperson for the diocese, told Agence France Press that the brochures "confirmed what we already knew....We gave him a choice: either he leaves his companion or he leaves the priesthood. We can't allow this priest to do what is forbidden to others." He called celibacy a "tough choice" but said it was one the priest accepted when he was ordained.
Fr. Peijnenburg plans to stay with his partner. "Naturally, I'm choosing Threes. We're staying together." A family friend, Harrie van Tuijl, has told the press that the priest is looking into legal avenues, specifically whether the Church's mandatory celibacy policy can be challenged under the country's human rights laws. According to van Tuijl, who described the diocese's stance on the matter as "pretty traditional", church members feel like the priest is being left out in the cold.