Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Priests' wives break their silence
June 8, 2014
MEXICO CITY -- The protagonists of the following stories were asked if they wanted to remain anonymous. They all answered no, that falling in love with priests and starting families with them was no reason for shame or a sacrilege, even though it was thought so for many years.
Three Mexican women agreed not only to give their names but to share with Excélsior their positions on the statements of Pope Francis, who recently agreed that celibacy is not a dogma and that "the door is open" to discuss the possibility of it being an optional decision.
They are Susana, Silvana, and Judith, and like the 26 Italian women who wrote to the Pope to explain that priests would perform their ministry more passionately if they were supported by a woman who loved them, the three partners of Mexican priests think that a minister with a wife and children has more insight and sensitivity to understand the problems of the community, support youth, and help married couples.
Their own families called them "demonic". Neighbors shunned them because they thought them "impure." They were told their children would be born with Down syndrome because of being the product of a sacrilegious relationship. They were marginalized and for years lived their idylls secretly, tormented by the dilemma of remaining silent or suggesting that their partners leave the priesthood.
"For years I had to bow my head to the people who pointed at me. They called me 'the mistress', 'the sinner'. They said it was my fault that my husband left the priesthood," says Susana Magallanes from Guadalajara.
"We women are more repudiated. We are the ones who incited it. They think we premeditated the conquest, but it's not like that," adds the woman from Guadalajara who thinks that society is rarely aware of the suffering involved in falling in love with someone whom the world considers untouchable.
On May 19th, the Italian newspaper La Stampa published a letter in which a group of 26 lovers of Catholic priests appealed to Pope Francis to put an end to mandatory celibacy for clergy as well as telling him their feelings and the suffering that brings.
"We humbly place our suffering at your feet in the hope that something may change, not just for us, but for the good of the entire Church," the letter says.
And it adds, "We love these men, they love us, and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond... The only other alternatives are either for the priest to abandon the priesthood or for the relationship to carry on in secret.
Continuing to be celibate, despite having a woman quietly on the side, can seem like a hypocritical situation, but unfortunately they are forced into this painful choice," they conclude.
For the first time in Mexico, wives of Catholic priests are raising their voices about celibacy and supporting the Italian women's petition.
"Being celibate doesn't make men different. Every man is born complete with sexuality and emotions. The choice of having or not having a wife should be optional," says Silvana Tamayo from León, Guanajuato.
"Mexico is very traditional. We are taught under the principle of reward and punishment. They view God as a crazy man who watches you all the time to see if you make a mistake. I would rather see a God of love and forgiveness."
For her part, Judith Bojórquez admits that at the beginning it was hard to overcome the feeling of guilt and face the families and people around them. "The families reject you and the neighbors turn away from you, thinking you threw yourself at the priest."
At the beginning, their relationships were carried on in secrecy. Until the priests decided to end their double lives and ask for dispensation from their vows. But then another problem began as ecclesiastical authorities, instead of accepting the ministers' arguments, threatened them if they did not leave their wives, forget their children and change parishes so that they wouldn't abandon the priesthood.
The Church offers a change of parish
In Sobre el cielo y la Tierra ("On Heaven and Earth"), a book that then Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio published in 2012, co-authored with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, today's Pope Francis said that "if a priest comes to see me and says he has made a woman pregnant, I listen to him, I try to calm him down, and gradually I make him understand that natural law comes before his right as a priest. And therefore he must leave the ministry and take responsibility for the child."
But in the case of Father José González Torres, today the husband of Susana Magallanes, it didn't happen like that since the church authorities, upon becoming aware that he was going to have a daughter, offered to move him to another parish in exchange for forgetting the woman and the girl that was on the way.
The petition for dispensation from his vows -- a process done by Catholic diocese at the Vatican when a priest decides to leave the ministry -- was denied him from the beginning because bishops prefer to tolerate a priest leading a double life than lose a good resource.
José already had two children and continued to minister when he was presented with a trip to Peru for a mission that he could not escape. The journey lasted two years and on returning to Mexico, he again sought dispensation but his superiors offered him a change of diocese again.
It wasn't until 2007, ten years after his relationship with his current wife began, that José decided to get married civilly, whereupon his superiors would no longer have any argument to retain him. The letter of acceptance arrived in 2012 and the following year, the religious wedding took place. José and Susana now have four children, ages 14, 13 , 10, and 5.
"My daddy does all that, my daddy is a priest"
One morning, a group of Catholic seminarians from Guadalajara came to a primary school to talk to a group of students and tell them what a priest does. The goal was to promote priestly vocations and, to this end, they had chosen first grade students.
The missionaries were explaining the art of celebrating Mass, giving communion to parishioners, confessing sinners and helping needy communities, when one of the little tykes jumped up from his desk to exclaim, "My daddy does all that, my daddy is a priest!"
At first the seminarians and teachers thought the boy was deluded and called the mother to clarify the situation, but the child wasn't lying. His mother is Susana Magallanes and last May was the one year anniversary of her marriage to José González Torres, a priest who for more than ten years fought to be given dispensation from his vows in order to unite in marriage and tend to the four children they procreated.
"It's very sad but in Mexico there are many women in love with priests who experience remorse and are demonized by society," Susana says. "My husband and I know many ministers who long to have a wife and children, and who swear they would do their work better if they had the motivation that a family gives," she adds.
Therefore she asserts that priestly celibacy should be optional. "I don't deny that there are holy people with a vocation to being celibate, but there are many others who could exercise their ministry with all the needed love if they were allowed to have a partner."
Susana and Jose's story began in 1997 when she was a catechist and he came to replace the priest in the parish where Susana worked in the capital of Jalisco. The working relationship during the youth sessions and communal labor changed into friendship and soon outings to the movies and to have coffee began.
For six months they dated secretly until Susana got pregnant. Unlike his family who approved of the relationship because of the loving bond, her mother disapproved so much that the girl had to leave her home. "This is a thing of the devil and this baby is a child of sin," she scolded.
In an effort to prevent her daughter's partnership, the woman even filed a lawsuit against the priest for kidnapping. However, Susana decided to face her family's rejection and the neighbors' condemnations and have the baby and start a family with the priest who had promised to leave the priesthood and be her husband.
"Life is a gift from God, not from the devil," Susana reflects 14 years after those episodes. Although she admits that it was hard to find peace and convince herself that she didn't rob the Church of a priest, but that society gained a loving, honest, and supportive father.
Susana says that once, a friend spoke to José in the middle of the night to tell him that a relative was very ill and needed the presence of a priest to give him unction. José gave him various phone numbers but no one was available. In face of the emergency, José proposed that he himself could attend the person who was dying.
"They went at one in the morning and returned at four thirty. José had to get up at 5 to go to work so he didn't sleep, but he was happy. He told me that day that he would go back to being a priest with pleasure, that it wouldn't matter to him if they didn't pay him, that he could support himself with his work, but that of a thousand loves, he would go back to being a priest."
"Everything ended when my husband was honest"
Silvana Tamayo thinks that family life would help reduce sex abuse.
"We love these men and they love us. It's very difficult to cut such a strong and beautiful bond that carries the pain of what hasn't been fully experienced. A tug of war that lacerates the soul -- if you choose a definitive separation, the consequences are no less devastating than the alternatives of leaving the priesthood or persisting forever in a secret relationship."
On reading the fragment of the letter the Italian women sent to Pope Francis on May 19th, Silvana doesn't hesitate to subscribe to it. She has also experienced it and thinks that celibacy is a measure that not only forces thousands of women and men to live in hiding, but deprives priests of knowledge, feelings, and experiences that would bring them closer to the Christian community.
A native of Leon, Guanajuato, Silvana says that while her husband was in ministry, he was an exceptional priest, since in various cities in the country he formed youth groups to take them away from drugs and he engaged in intense efforts to rescue street children. "However, all that ended when he decided to be honest and tell his superiors that he was in love and had a daughter. These men can do a lot of good, but the Church would rather cast them aside."
Silvana and her husband formed an aid group in Leon which is attended by couples in the same situation as them, where there are women in love with priests and active-duty priests who are maintaining a romantic relationship. She says that only one in five is not afraid. The rest live with remorse, keeping their relationships secret or preferring not to say that they've already married.
The mother of an adolescent girl, Silvana firmly believes in optional celibacy. She asserts that the measure would help to reduce sex abuse by priests, would increase vocations and give society more humane priests. "How can a priest give advice if he hasn't felt anguish about a child who doesn't come home, if he doesn't know that if you don't work, you don't eat?"
Silvana and Roberto met in 1996. She supported her parish in youth ministry and he was a priest, 15 years older than her. The daily work with the young people, similar ideas, constant conversations and admiration for the priest's work made Silvana realize one day that she didn't want to stop seeing Roberto.
They dated for three years and she got pregnant in June 1999. When Roberto told his superiors everything, they sent him to Hidalgo to a retreat center where they sent priests who were alcoholic, homosexual, or in love. Silvana asked to go with him but they didn't allow it, so she went through her pregnancy alone.
Silvana says that during this time Roberto's superiors ordered her to be monitored so that she wouldn't tell her story to the bishop of the diocese. A car was posted outside her house. Her university companions were prohibited from approaching her. When the baby was born, Roberto's parents went to the hospital to blame her because their son had lost his vocation.
In the spring of 2000, the baby was eight months old when the priest got out of the retreat center and returned to his family. Roberto asked for dispensation but the Church authorities told him that that license is only issued for "more serious" offenses so eight months later, without waiting for that process, they got married civilly.
The day before the wedding, her in-laws came to see Silvana one more time to tell her that she was the personification of the devil and that her children would be born with Down syndrome. The scandal spread and even the grocery stores denied her goods.
Even though they've removed you, to me you're a priest
Abandoning priestly ministry is something more than just leaving the habit, since Church "deserters" go into the street with no compensation at all and with skills little required in the labor market.
In the case of Roberto, his training as a theologian, philosopher and spiritual guide made it hard for him to find work when he left the priesthood to marry Silvana.
The owner of a bus line in Leon who knew him when he was a priest, hired him as chaplain. "It doesn't matter that they've thrown you out of the Church; to me you will always be a priest," he told him. And Roberto became a counselor for the operators.
There are a lot of family conflicts among the bus drivers. Given that they have to travel a lot for long periods of time, family breakdown is frequent. So Roberto is in charge of giving them spiritual help.
He was in ministry for 10 years. When he asked for dispensation, the diocese made a curriculum vitae to assess his career where his work with youth and street children was noted.
To date, the dispensation has not arrived because "more serious situations" than the fact of having a wife and children are required for the process to flow faster.
Good priests are being lost
On the night of June 15, 2003, Judith Bojórquez received the most shocking phone call of her life.
- "How are you, my love?"
- "Fine, Beto...What happened?"
- "I've just celebrated my last Mass...tomorrow I'm coming for you..."
- "I want to be with you the rest of my life. I love you; you're everything to me..."
The call was from Father Alberto de León, who had decided to leave the ministry that day. He had already been dating Judith, who he met in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, for three years and he couldn't wait to propose. Three months earlier, he had gone to Irapuato on orders from his bishop. Two days later, on June 17th of that year, they were both living together in Guanajuato.
Eleven years have passed since that event and Judith is convinced that the Church is losing good priests because of celibacy."In our circle of friends, there are many priests and we all agree that a minister would be better if he had a woman who loved him at his side. That would give them more experience for dealing with the faithful," she states.
"How are you going to give advice if you've never been a dad? How are you going to talk to couples about living together and understanding if you've never known the love of a spouse?"
Judith agrees with those who state that there are economic reasons behind the celibacy rule since a priest alone requires less support than one with a family. "Going forward, in case celibacy is optional, there should be very clear rules about economy and administration because it's obvious that a priest's wife and children involve expenses and it's not about taking money away from the churches."
The Sinaloan woman says that one motive that pushed her husband to leave the ministry was seeing that many priests die alone, without family to assist them when they're sick. "I like what I'm doing, I love God, but I don't want to die in those conditions," Beto told Judith.
Judith was 19 years old when she left her family and friends to follow the priest whom she had met two years earlier. They both worked organizing activities for Catholic youth groups. She admits that after the parish sessions, she would secretly see the then 34-year-old man.
After three years of service in Los Mochis, Father Beto received the news that he had to go back to Irapuato. Judith went into shock. He promised her he would leave the ministry and come back to take her to Bajío. The couple said goodbye. She thought it would be forever. Three months later came the call that brought joy back to Judith.
"You don't know. It was a whole show," Judith remembers. "His mom said, 'It can't be. How can my son -- the one I gave over to God -- come and tell me he now has a woman?' He told them, 'I'm in love; I want you to understand me!', but gradually I won her over.
"The one who was hard for me to reconcile with was my mom. She wanted me to stay in Los Mochis to finish university but Beto wasn't willing to leave me alone."
Judith and Alberto currently have three children -- ten, eight, and four. She is leader of a Boy Scout group in a Salesian congregation. He is director of a school at La Salle University in Salamanca and teaches psychology classes at a prep school in the afternoon.
"God hasn't put up any barriers, only blessings"
"Just tell me that you don't want to go and we'll take care of everything." That was what they told Father Alberto de León when he informed his superiors that he was in love, that his wife was pregnant, and that he wanted to resign from the ministry to start a family.
"But it's that I want to be with my wife," Alberto insisted.
"That's not a reason for you to leave us," his superior answered.
"She's going to have my child..."
"Don't worry about her. She'll have her child. We can send you on spiritual retreats."
Alberto has not received his dispensation to date, despite being civilly married to Judith.
Pope Francis, who has said he is in favor of discussing the viability of optional celibacy, wrote the book Sobre el cielo y la Tierra ("On Heaven and Earth") in which he reflects on priests who have gotten a woman pregnant. "They should leave the ministry and take responsibility for the child, even if they decide not to marry the woman, because just as that child has the right to have a mother, he also has the right to have a father with a face."
"Now, if a priest tells me he has let himself get carried away by passion, that he has made a mistake, I help him correct himself...A double life isn't good for us. I don't like it. It means giving substance to falsehood," the book says.
Judith thinks her husband has done things right. "I tell him he should always hold his head high since he is living love. If God hadn't wanted us to be together, He would have put up barriers but, on the contrary, He has only given us blessings."