Married Priests & Harsh facts around the world.
(Note: The article below which appeared the New York Times highlights various aspects of Married priests, their global spread -- about 150,000 worldwide – attitude of successive popes etc. in the context of the on-going debate on family and married life in the Church. James Kottoor)
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO NOV. 5, 2014
ROME — They had not planned on falling in love, but they did.
They did not want to become the objects of malicious gossip, but they are. They had not imagined living a life of furtive affections and secret rendezvous, but that is what has happened since the woman and the priest defied a Roman Catholic Church taboo and became romantically involved.
“Some people see me as a devil, something dirty,” said the woman, who, along with the priest she is involved with, agreed to discuss their situation, sitting for an interview at a hotel in a city far from his parish.
They asked to remain anonymous, fearing further disapproval from their parents, who know, and the disdain of friends and parishioners, who already suspect that their friendship is more than platonic.
“I risk losing everything if it were to come out into the open,” the priest said. Yet they agreed to speak, his partner said, “because suffering pushes you to do something, to try and change this injustice.”
An online search using “in love with a priest” produces blog after blog about church-crossed lovers, in any number of languages. There are support groups on social media, including Facebook groups for women. One group of 26 women even petitioned Pope Francis to change the church’s requirement of celibacy for priests, and relieve their suffering.
“It’s really hard to explain this relationship to someone who hasn’t gone through it,” said one of the women who signed the letter to the pope but did not want her name printed because she, too, is romantically involved with a priest. “We wanted to let the pope know that the suffering is widespread.”
She again wrote to the pope in September just before the Synod of Bishops, aVatican gathering of some 200 clerics convened to discuss issues faced by families in contemporary society.
It was the most closely watched synod in decades, and some Vatican experts drew parallels with the synod convened by Pope Paul VI in 1971, where the celibacy requirement for priests was the hot-button issue.
At that time, after heated discussion, the synod reaffirmed the obligation of celibacy, and there has been no official review of that position for 40 years. Those who were hoping the issue would be revisited during October’s synod were disappointed again.
Yet a growing number of priest organizations in the United States, Austria, Ireland and elsewhere continue to press for change.
Challengers to clerical celibacy point to the shortage of priests worldwide and to studies that show celibacy is a significant deterrent for young men wanting to enter the priesthood.
The statistics collected by the Congregation for the Clergy do not specify the reasons priests “defect,” but critics of clerical celibacy suggest it is partly to blame.
While no numbers are authoritative, Advent, a support group for priests who have left the ministry in Britain, estimates that about 10,000 men have left the priesthood to marry in the past 50 years in England and Wales alone.
The shortage has had significant impact in parishes around the world, said Alex Walker, the leader of Advent, who left the priesthood to marry.
“Bishops can keep praying for vocations, or look at what can be done about it,” he said. “If celibacy is causing a problem they’ll have to allow optional celibacy, and even recall those priests who have been dispensed.”
Another group, Married Priests Now, estimates that there are 25,000 men in the United States who have left the priesthood to marry, and about 150,000 worldwide.
That group was founded eight years ago by the charismatic former archbishop of Lusaka, Emmanuel Milingo, who grabbed headlines in 2001 when he was married in a group wedding presided over by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the leader of the Unification Church.
In a letter sent to the pope in September 2013, Married Priests Now praised the “new wind blowing in the Church,” after Francis’ election that year, and noted that: “It would be nice if the new spirit of reconciliation would include the married priest.”
Organizations of liberal Catholics have also been calling for a change to the celibacy rules, arguing that clerics routinely married in the early centuries of the church.
“We know that St. Peter was married,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst at The National Catholic Reporter. “All the apostles were married, so celibacy isn’t intrinsically connected to the priesthood.”
The debate took a turn when Pope Benedict XVI decided in 2009 to create a mechanism for welcoming priests from the Anglican Communion to the Roman Catholic church, opening the door to clergy with families.
“It proves that married priests can exist in the church, it doesn’t mean the world is going to end,” Mr. Walker said.
Those hoping for a change of heart by the church were encouraged last May when Pope Francis told reporters that clerical celibacy was an issue open to discussion.
“Celibacy is not a question of dogma, but rather a rule of life that I greatly appreciate, as I believe it is a gift for the Church,” the pope said during a return flight from the Middle East. “But, since it is not a dogma, the door is always open.”
He expressed similar sentiments in a 2010 book, “On Heaven and Earth,” written three years before becoming pope, even as he expressed his personal support for celibacy.
“Every time he endorses celibacy, he qualifies it with a ‘for now,’ or ‘for the moment,’ ” Father Reese said. “At one point he even writes of a hypothetical review of celibacy. These are all strong signals that he thinks that optional celibacy could happen.”
While seeming open to a change in policy, the pope has also exhorted priests to take their celibacy seriously, and to leave the church if they can’t, in particular if they have fathered a child.
But for many priests in serious relationships, leaving the priesthood is a tormented option. Some priests spoke of the demeaning procedures they must go through to “defect” from the ministry, made worse by unsupportive bishops who often try to get them to change their minds, and allow them to transfer to a different parish.
“The idea is to recover the priest, in part to avoid scandal, in part because the clergy is getting older and a bit thin in the ranks,” said Ernesto Miragoli, a priest who married in 1986 and provides support for other priests pondering leaving the church.
In conversations with church experts, priests and the women in relationships with them, many also pointed to financial uncertainties as a major deterrent to leaving the ministry.
Some noted that a theology degree doesn’t have much market value in Italy’s depressed economy. And others said that in many cases priests who defected found little financial support from their families, Italy’s de facto welfare system.
Francesco Brescia, a Naples-based former priest who provides support to defectors through Vocatio, an Italian association for married priests, said priests who want to leave for love frequently contacted him “because returning to civilian life isn’t easy.”
“And if it’s hard finding work, it’s twice as hard for a priest who doesn’t have a trade or usable skills,” he said.
The priest who agreed to discuss his relationship in the hotel interview conceded the same concern. “What would I do, unload fruit from a truck?” he asked. “There’s a crisis and then I am too used to being a priest. I like being a priest and I think I do it well.”
In fact, he said he believed his relationship improved his ministry. “Since I am with her, I am a better priest, because I am calm, relaxed,” he said. “The only problem is having to sneak around.”