Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Victorino Pérez Prieto: "God isn't jealous when the priest has a family"

La Opinion Coruña

He was born in León, but almost all the publications of theologian Victorino Pérez, a member of the Movimiento pro Celibato Opcional ["Optional Celibacy Movement" in Spain], are in Castillian Spanish. He studied in Santiago -- although he got his doctorate in Theology in Salamanca, he was ordained a priest in Mondoñedo in 1981 and he was a pastor for 25 years in Galicia until he got married.

Is the priesthood compatible with being married?

I think it's perfectly compatible. God isn't jealous if you have a family and, moreover, things are going to have to change in the Church with respect to that. The problem is that the change that is already happening in practice is very slow at the level of the judicial structure of the Church, which has an atavistic rule that keeps it from seeing that this is not an impediment to being a priest. In fact, the priests in the Eastern rite Catholic Church can get married and married Anglican priests with their families have recently been admitted into the Catholic Church. So you can see how absolutely secondary this is. Moreover, in my case, I'm a theologian. I'm married and I work in Theology as much as the Church will allow me.

What does the fact that they can't get married mean?

The most serious problem for the priests who have a partner and can't get married is the tragedy of having to hide something beautiful that should be in the light. This makes them suffer unnecessarily. To those who claim we knew this before getting ordained as priests, I would say that we human beings evolve in life. Like what happened to me and to other priests -- you meet someone you love, and the love is reciprocal. And what love seeks is to be out in the light, not having to hide itself in any closet.

Many are in these hidden situations.

The lives of the those who live as a couple and who, legitimately, don't want to give up either their partner or the normal priesthood, are tragic. Sometimes it leads them to a shameful, sad, and hard situation, and even more so for the women than for the priests. Because they are the biggest victims. They live in an abnormal situation and in certain cases feelings of sin or abuse because of the lack of a normal emotional life can occur. It's true that there's a higher percentage of pedophiles among non-priests than among priests, but in most of these cases it happens because of not having normal healthy emotional lives. Loving and being loved by someone is the most beautiful thing that can happen to a person. Having to hide it creates a violent situation that's disastrous. Although celibacy isn't bad per se -- it has its good aspects and some live it out well -- it being mandatory for all has caused a lot of unnecessary suffering that is harmful to the Church.

The younger ones think about it more when the time comes to give up the priesthood for love. Is that due to the crisis or a different mentality?

There's a growing tendency for the younger cleric to be more conservative. But certainly in the current crisis situation, not having a normal working environment is a reason to live as a hidden couple. A somewhat important part is that the young cleric is more ritualistic than vocational -- he's simply a performer of rites and services through which he earns a living, but there's also a lot in the young cleric that's vocational and is healthy and well. But what's serious is that the Church isn't making a decision that it could have already made over 40 years ago at Vatican II. John Paul II said that he knew that in the future priests would be able to get married but he didn't want it to happen during his papacy, and now the same thing is happening [with Benedict XVI]. They keep passing the buck and not making a decision and by not making it, more suffering and tragic situations will continue to occur. Not to speak about when there are already children...

Parishes usually don't take it badly when their priests get married. What happened in your case?

I was a priest in Ferrol, in a large parish. When I announced it to the parish, one of the more conservative women told me I was worth as much to them married as single and she asked me if they could talk to the bishop, even though I explained to them that it didn't depend on him. And it's not about whether the people are more or less progressive, but common sense -- what the people want is for the priest to serve them. If there were a referendum, there would be all sorts [of responses] but those who agree with married priests would win.

Where's the future heading?

There's no going back on the fact that priests will marry. Thinking the opposite is going against history. But it doesn't seem like it's going to change immediately. It's something that should have changed through reflexion, not because the shameful situation of the Church, which has mortaged itself economically because it has had to pay for the abuses of its members, is going to make it change forcibly. Meanwhile, I won't allow my human and moral quality to be judged for having done it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Hi. My name is José Antonio Fernández and I'm a married priest"

by J.A. Aunión (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País

"Hi. My name is José Antonio Fernández and I'm a married priest." That's how the teacher of religion introduced himself to his students in each course. To their parents too, since he always sought work as a tutor. Then he explained to them that he had been a priest for over 20 years and that he had asked for dispensation to marry -- "I fell in love", he says -- even though he still had not been granted it in 1991 when he began to teach in the public institutes in Murcia. By then he already had five children.

Therefore, Fernández didn't understand the reasons the diocese gave him when they fired him from his teaching job in 1997 -- they took away his Ecclesial Declaration of Eligibility, which is essential for teaching a religion class, when his situation was made public through a photograph of a Movimiento Pro Celibato Opcional ("Optional Celibacy Movement") action published in a newspaper, arguing that some of the parents might be offended. "Which parents?...since they all knew me", and moreover they wrote publicly in support of him, he says indignantly. In fact, it seems so deceitful to him that he has been fighting for 14 years for recognition of the injustice that he states has been committed against him. He has come to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, that today will review his case in open court. The Spanish Constitutional Court rejected his arguments in 2007.

"I want to show that it was an unfair decision, that I had always performed responsibly as a teacher, with respect for the Catholic faith." A respect and love he maintains, because of which this process has been twice as difficult for him. "I love the Church. My children have never heard me speak against it," he states, but he can't say the same about the Catholic hierarchy because, in their case, "lies have been told," he says in the local Red Cross in his town, Cieza, in Murcia. At 74, he gives training courses to future volunteers. He says the "scandal" business is a lie and so is what the Spanish Bishops' Conference is now arguing in Strasbourg -- that José Antonio "has held a position contrary to the faith he committed himself to teach."

In any case, the defendant at the European Court is not the Bishops' Conference, but the Spanish government which is, ultimately, who hires teachers of religion, but only from among those who have the bishops' approval, according to 1979 agreements between Spain and the Holy See. A power that has already caused hundreds of lawsuits and millions of euros in compensation -- paid, for the most part, by the government -- in cases in which the bishops had decided on dismissal, for example, for marrying a divorced man or exercising the right to strike. "No accord can be above the Constitution and the law," Fernández complains.

Now his life is quieter. Nothing like that period when, in his fifties, he left the priesthood after more than 20 years, nine as a missionary in Ecuador. It was complicated then -- he worked in a jam factory while getting a degree in Classical Philology.

Once he had his degree, the then bishop of Cartagena called him and said: "Why don't you work as a religion teacher? We need people like you." It was 1991 and José Antonio had already been married six years and had five children, but he still hadn't been granted dispensation. "When I left, the bishop said to me: 'You're a poet, and all this will pass,' but it didn't pass. From the moment I asked for the dispensation [in 1984; he got married the following year] I acted as a layman; I took the silence to be a concession," he says. The dispensation came almost at the same time as the dismissal, in 1997.

One year earlier, he had been invited to a Movimiento Pro Celibato Opcional meeting which he attended. "It was a sort of field day, so I went with my whole family." When he, his wife and five children, got out of the car, a newspaper photographer took a picture to go with a news story on optional celibacy. "You're in the newspaper; you're important," one of his students said to him. But the photo deeply disturbed some people in the Catholic hierarchy and they fired him. "Can you believe that we have spent 15 years showing that going to a meeting of the optional celibacy movement isn't a crime? I am truly amazed."

Now, Strasbourg will decide if Fernández's rights to privacy and freedom of ideology and expression have been violated. The Church argues that it's its job to establish the moral criteria with which religion teachers must comply and that the Spanish government doesn't have the voice or the vote to select them or withdraw their approval.

US Melkite bishop urges study of ordaining married men as priests

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
November 16, 2011

To address a shortage of priests in his nationwide eparchy, the Melkite Catholic bishop of Newton, Mass., is exploring the possibility of ordaining married men as priests.

Bishop Nicholas J. Samra of Newton notes that of the 40 parishes in his diocese, eight have no resident priest. And, while the answer is more priests, the question is how to get them.

The strategy Bishop Samra prefers is to develop priests from within the diocese rather than ask Melkite Catholic bishops from the Middle East, where the rite has its roots, to supply priests.

Bishop Samra made his views clear during an address he gave Aug. 23, the date of his installation as bishop.

"God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood," he said in his remarks. "We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call."

He added, " The (diocesan) deacon formation program is a good program; however, (it) is not the back door to the priesthood. Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also."

In a Nov. 9 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Samra said his comments should not provoke any surprise at the Vatican.

"This is not new that I said this. I've said it before. They must have known this when they named me (bishop)," he said, adding he has even published his views in a book. "I know a copy went to Rome and I'm sure they saw that.

"I haven't hidden the fact that it's a necessity for our church," he said, noting that any such initiative would need to be "properly managed, and not just ordaining somebody who thinks they have a vocation."

The Vatican began placing limits on the ordination and assignment of Eastern Catholic married priests in the West in the 1880s. In 1929, the Vatican, at the request of the Latin-rite bishops of the United States, ruled that married priests could not serve the Eastern-rite churches in the United States. The ban was applied to Canada in the 1930s and to Australia in 1949.

But by the early 2000s, the Vatican had stopped suspending married men ordained to the priesthood for service in the Eastern Catholic churches of North America and Australia.

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told CNS in Rome that the Vatican reconfirmed the general ban in 2008, "but in individual cases, in consultation with the national bishops' conference, a dispensation can be given" allowing the ordination.

Eastern Catholic bishops say the Second Vatican Council's call to respect the traditions and disciplines of the Eastern churches, and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches affirmation of that call, in effect nullifies the ban, or at the very least makes the ban a "disputed question" and therefore not binding.

But practical questions abound for the Melkites. "The Melkite Church never had a married clergy (tradition) in the USA," Bishop Samra told CNS.

"We have a bunch of people who want to be ordained, yeah, but we need to have men who have the credentials," he said, adding there are priests in the diocese who have complained, "If I had to go through all that training to get it (ordination), why shouldn't they?" To that end, Bishop Samra said he planned on meeting with representatives of the Byzantine Catholic seminary where Melkite seminarians are educated to work out those issues.

There are some married priests serving the diocese; four are assigned to small parishes that struggle to pay the expenses incurred by the priests' families. To address that, Bishop Samra said he would like to reinstate a dormant philanthropic arm of the diocese, and apply 30-40 percent of the funds raised as an escrow account to have the dioceses pay the costs of a priest's family, leaving the individual parish to pay the same costs whether the priest is celibate or married.

One solution Bishop Samra said he would no longer pursue is bringing in Melkite priests from the Middle East. "Everyone we brought over we had problems with, and they're all gone," he said, noting they did not adapt to U.S. culture.

He added that he has told his brother Melkite bishops, "I'm a little afraid now of requesting priests from the Middle East. I'm just afraid you're going to send us people who have problems and those problems are going to be multiplied."

Bishop Samra is the Melkite Catholic diocese's first U.S.-born bishop.

He said other approaches include having "working priests" who make a salary outside the diocese staff parishes during the weekend, and "asking a couple of our birituals to help out a little more." Biritual priests have permission to celebrate Mass in two rites, often the Latin rite and an Eastern rite.

Melkite parishes have been closed, not for a lack of priests but for a lack of parishioners, according to Bishop Samra. He said Melkite Catholics without a priest will typically worship at a Latin-rite church, but that the longer they attach themselves to a Latin-rite parish, the harder it is to bring them back to the Melkites once a priest becomes available.

"I haven't had people calling me up complaining they have no priest. They just don't understand modern-day assignment procedures," Bishop Samra said. "I'm a bishop, but that doesn't mean I can be a dictator. ... Although they sing 'despota' in the liturgy, I can't be a despot."

He added, "God provides, and that's my faith. We're working on it."

Monday, November 14, 2011

The need for new kinds of priests

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital

The data is chilling. It was unveiled yesterday during the presentation of the Diocesan Church Day in Zamora: The average age of its priests is over 68. Specifically, the Diocese of Zamora is composed of 111 active priests, to whom can be added another 50 retired ones, whose average age stands at 68.7, although most of the priests are aged between 70 and 80. And Zamora is not an exception among the Spanish diocese.

The average age of the Spanish clergy as a whole isn't clear. Various statistics circulate which place it at 64 and go up to 67. In any case, twice as many priests die as enter, while about two hundred leave the priesthood each year. There are clerics who have to care for twenty-five parishes and towns that see a priest only once a year.

The priests are coming to an end and increasingly fewer remain, but the institution still stands idly by, living nostalgically in the past and gambling on a single model of how to be a priest and on mandatory celibacy. If the Eucharist is the center of Christian life and we don't want to leave the faithful without it, it's essential to open the door to new priestly models.

Repealing the law of mandatory celibacy and establishing optional celibacy is no longer enough. It's urgent to take steps toward new models of priests, from married priests to women priests. From priests (viri probati) elected by the community and at its service to a kind of minister-priest, who is not even remotely official, to become truly the servant of the community.

If the Church will not make the transition gradually, reality will force her to make it suddenly. Or even rebellion itself by grassroots faithful which has already begun, as evidenced by the Catholics of Austria. And they'll have to put up with it. It's no longer worth looking elsewhere, not even patching with imported vocations. New ministries for a new era. So that the salt of the Gospel doesn't lose its flavor.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Choosing love in the Netherlands

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.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is this the beginning?

About one month after the last time a group of Catholics from a closed Roman Catholic parish contacted RentAPriest to ask for help, members of the small parish of St. Patrick in Dougherty, Iowa contacted us asking for help as they expect to receive a closure announcement at a meeting the parish council has with diocesan officials Tuesday November 15, 2011. First, please keep these catholics in your prayers. Second, RentAPriest is actively looking for married Catholic Priests from the area of North Iowa, or bordering states, that might be able to directly assist the people of St. Patrick's as they step out to take a new Journey of Faith. We will know more and keep everyone posted after the meeting November 15, 2011.