By: The Vatican Insider News, May 17, 2014
The Pope has received a letter signed by 26 Italian women who admit to having feelings for a priest or a monk and are asking for a review of the celibacy law.
“Dear Pope Francis, we are a group of women from all over Italy (and further afield) and are writing to you to break down the wall of silence and indifference that we are faced with every day. Each of us is in, was or would like to start a relationship with a priest we are in love with.” This is the letter’s opening statement.
The 26 women signed with just their name and the initial letter of their surname, plus the name of their hometown, but they did write their surnames and telephone numbers on the envelope. All of them claim to be in a relationship with a priest. The women say they are just “a small sample” but add that they are writing on behalf of many other women who are “living in silence.”
“As you are well aware,” the letter reads, “a lot has been said by those who are in favor of optional celibacy but very little is known about the devastating suffering of a woman who is deeply in love with a priest. 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.”
“We love these men, they love us,” the 26 women write in their letter, “and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond. Unfortunately, this brings with it all the pain of not being able “to live it fully”. This continuous giving and then letting go is soul destroying. When this enormous pain leads to a definitive separation, the consequences are no less devastating and both parties are often scarred for life. The only other alternatives are either for the priest to abandon the priesthood or for the relationship to carry on in secret.”
“In the first scenario, the dramatic situation the couple is faced causes enormous suffering to both parties: we would also like the men we love to live their priestly vocation fully, serving the community and continue the mission they have been passionately and devotedly engaged in for a great many years. We wish to stand by their side and support them in their calling which is strengthened by the vital force of love they discovered with us.”
“The second scenario, that is, when the couple chooses to continue a relationship in secret, involves living one’s life in a constant state of hiding, frustrated by an incomplete love, with no hope of childbearing; a love that cannot see the light of day. It may sound like a hypocritical situation, remaining celibate but keeping one’s companion secret. Unfortunately, however, this is often the only and painful choice that has to be made because of the impossibility of giving up such a strong love that is rooted in the Lord.”
According to the letter’s signatories, a priest’s complete service to Jesus and the community would be carried out with greater passion if he did not have to give up his vocation for conjugal love together with the priestly vocation and in addition, he would have the support of his wife and children.” The 26 women ask the Pope to meet them so that we may humbly bring our stories and experiences before you in the hope of being able to actively help the Church we love so much, towards a potential path to be followed with prudence and good judgment.” “Thank you, Pope Francis!” The letter concludes by saying. “We hope with all our hearts that you will bless our Loves, giving us the greatest joy that a father could want for his children: seeing them happy!!!”
As cardinal and in the early months of his pontificate, Francis kept in touch with Clelia Luro (until she passed away last November), the widow of former bishop Jerónimo Podestá. In 2000, Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio visited Podestà at his deathbed. The forty-five-year-old bishop of the diocese of Avellaneda met Clelia, who was 39 at the time, divorced and a mother of six, in 1966. They began a relationship which led the bishop to abandon his ministry the following year. In 1972 he was removed from the clerical state and he married the woman.
But Bergoglio has never expressed himself in favor of the cancellation of the Latin tradition of clerical celibacy. In his conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, published in the book “On Heaven and Earth”, Francis said: “It is a subject that is discussed in Western Catholicism when some organizations request it. For now, the discipline of celibacy remains as it is. There are those who say with some pragmatism that we are losing manpower. If, for the sake of argument, western Catholicism reviewed the celibacy question I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.”
“For now, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all the pros and cons that come with it, because in ten centuries there have been more positive experiences than errors… Tradition plays an important role. Catholic ministers gradually chose celibacy. Until 1100 some opted for it and some didn’t … it is a question of discipline, not faith. It can be changed. Personally, I never considered marrying.”
What the future Pope could not tolerate was priests living double lives. “If someone comes to me and tells me he has got a woman pregnant, I listen to him, try to calm him and slowly I begin to explain to him that natural right to life comes before his rights as a priest. He, therefore, has a duty to leave the ministry and take care of his child, even if he decides not to marry the woman. Because that child has as much right to a father who is physically present as it does to a mother. I will take care of all the paperwork in Rome, but you must leave everything. Now, if a priest tells me he was overcome by passion, that he made a mistake, then I help him to correct this mistake. Some priests change their ways, others don’t. Some sadly don’t even tell the bishop.” Changing one’s ways involves “penance and respect for celibacy. Living a double life is not good for us, I don’t like it, it means being false. Sometimes I tell them: “If you are not able to take it, make a decision.”
With regards to celibacy, it is important to note that although Benedict XVI did not alter the traditional position espoused by his predecessors and the Synods of Bishops, in November 2009 opened a small window of opportunity which was nevertheless restricted to Anglican communities intent on entering into communion with the Catholic Church. That year, Benedict XVI promulgated the Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus”, establishing the Anglo-Catholic Ordinariates. In the second paragraph of Article 6 of the Constitution, having previously emphasized the celibacy rule for the future, the German Pope mentioned the possibility of “admi[tting] married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.”
As is the case in the Orthodox and Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, ordained priests have never been allowed marry. Men can be admitted to the priesthood if already married (though never the Episcopate).