By Edison Veiga e José Maria Mayrink (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 22, 2013
São Paulo - One out of every four priests leaves the priesthood to get married. This fact comes from the Movimento Nacional das Famílias dos Padres Casados (National Movement of Families of Married Priests), which estimates that more than 7,000 priests in the country have sought dispensation from the sacrament of Holy Orders in exchange for marriage. The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops doesn't divulge numbers on this issue.
Priests have not been able to marry for about 900 years (since the Lateran Council in 1139). The subject is taboo. Over the last two weeks, a reporter got in contact with 12 former priests, all of them married. Most of them didn't want to talk. Others contributed information but preferred anonymity, "to protect my wife and children."
Their stories and opinions, however, are similar. Almost all of them stated that they didn't leave the Church to get married -- but that they diverged on many things and marriage came later. They advocate optional celibacy.
Many play pastoral roles in their parishes and follow Pope Francis with interest. "We're happy with his spirit, his Christian words and attitude. But we don't know how he's going to deal with the reality of the nearly 150,000 married priests in the world," says João Tavares, spokesman for the movement.
Professor Eduardo Hoornaert, who is 82 and lives in Lauro de Freitas (BA), was a priest for 28 years. He left the priesthood in 1982, the year he got married. A historian who specializes in the history of the Church in Brazil and in Latin America, he still writes articles and books. He states that, although he has abandoned the rites, he hasn't resigned from the ministry "since the ministry is the Gospel."
Hoornaert believes that an eventual readmission of married priests is not a priority for the pope, who has other problems to solve. "Forming missionaries with good evangelical training, without this burden of 2000 years of dogma and laws, is the priority," he observes. "It's important to reformulate the ministry, and Pope Bergoglio knows this very well."
For the historian, who now participates in the married priests' meetings, this segment doesn't seem to be a storehouse of resources for the alleged priest shortage in Brazil, because it's heterogeneous. "Some priests who got married are moved by nostalgia and would like to come back while others have adapted. The Church has laws and one of them is celibacy," says Hoornaert. It's good to remember, he adds, that most of the married priests in the association are over 50. The younger ones who left the priesthood and got married are of a different mind.
Otto Euphrásio de Santana was working in ministry in the Archdiocese of Natal when he left the ministry and got married after ten years of service. It was a hard decision, especially because of his family. His two brothers who are bishops -- Cardinal Eugenio de Araújo Sales, Archbishop of Rio, and Dom Heitor de Araújo Sales, Bishop of Caicó (RN) and later Archbishop of Natal -- did everything for him not to leave the priesthood. He chose marriage and never repented. He is attached to the Church and enthusiastic about Francis' papacy.
Social adapatation. A resident of Vila Leopoldina in the western part of São Paulo, originally from Resende Costa in Minas Gerais, Francisco de Assis Resende, 72, was a priest for two years. He served in a parish in Vila Pompeia and was chaplain at the Hospital das Clínicas. He left the priesthood and got married to a woman who was a student in Pedagogy then, had two daughters and four grandchildren. He was widowed in 2010.
He says that the hardest thing was adapting to social life. "I entered the seminary at 12. It was 12 more years before I was ordained." He studied Social Work and had a career at Volkswagen in São Bernardo do Campo, where he lived with then union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and retired. "In the beginning, I walked away totally from the Church. I became an agnostic. As the years passed, I acted in social ministry. Nowadays, I only go to Mass on Sundays."
Born in Videira (SC), Abel Abati is 73 and was a priest for four years. He also served at the Hospital das Clínicas. In 1970, he left the priesthood. That same year, he married a nurse from the hospital, Neide de Fátima, with whom he still lives today. "I wasn't going to be a bachelor," he says. The union produced four sons and four granddaughters.
He trained in Administration and worked in multinational pharmaceutical companies. In the 1980s, in a brief political career, he was regional administrator -- the equivalent of a sub-prefect -- of Campo Limpo, in the southern region of São Paulo. Since then, he has stopped going to church. "I don't want to be branded as pious."
Photo: Some of Brazil's married priests and their families.