Thursday, May 27, 2010


In the same vein as some of my past posts, here's a fun little piece that came out today:

Dozens of Italian women who have had relationships with Roman Catholic priests or lay monks have endorsed an open letter to the pope that calls for the abolition of the celibacy rule. The letter, thought by one signatory to be unprecedented, argues that a priest "needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved".

It also pleads for understanding of those who "live out in secrecy those few moments the priest manages to grant [us] and experience on a daily basis the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men".

The issue was put back on the Vatican's agenda in March when one of Pope Benedict's senior advisers, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said the abolition of the celibacy rule might curb sex abuse by priests, a suggestion he hastily withdrew after Benedict spoke up for "the principle of holy celibacy".

The authors of the letter said they decided to come into the open after hearing his retort, which they said was an affirmation of "the holiness of something that is not holy" but a man-made rule. There are many instances of married priests in the early centuries of Christianity. Today, priests who follow the eastern Catholic rites can be married, as can those who married before converting to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism.

One signatory, Stefania Salomone, 42, an office manager, said the message to the pope had been endorsed by nearly 40 women registered with an online forum linked to Il Dialogo website. But such was the sensitivity of the issue that only three had published their names.

The letter was posted on the internet on 28 March. But it was only reported on Wednesday by the online international news agency, globalPost.

Salomone said that because Catholics were taught to look up to priests, women dropped by their priest-lovers "often lose their faith in men altogether". Her own five-year relationship had been platonic, but Antonella Carisio, one of the other signatories, had had an affair with a Brazilian priest who frequently slept at her house.

When their relationship was discovered by another priest, Carisio's lover was transferred to Rome. "When he left, he even gave me an engagement ring," she said.

But he subsequently returned to Brazil and this week told the globalPost news agency: "She was a friend and a confidante, but I was never in love with her."


Agostino Taumaturgo said...

I should probably start out by saying I'm not exactly a fan of a married priesthood, for a number of reasons I'll probably state in a future blog post, although I'm not entirely convinced optional celibacy is a bad thing. Yet I'm also not a fan of the double-handed way the issue is handled in regards to Anglican converts or even with Uniates. On this issue at least, one walks away with the impression that it's a severe handicap to be a cradle-Catholic of the Latin Rite.

That being said, my heart really does go out to these women.

Yet in all truth, I'm not exactly sure the situation of these women would be resolved by relaxing the rule of mandatory celibacy, either, because whether lay or clerical, a dog is still a dog. Any man can say "I love you" or "I want to marry you" when they're really only cruising for sex, and I doubt any of us would have to look very far to find examples in people we know.

The thing is, I'm not sure how many of these cases were a matter of priests cruising for sex, and how many were sincerely in love with their accomplices (the Canon Law term for a priest's lover; Latin compl-ex, -icis). Having a romantic relationship with a priest is not an easy thing, as on the one hand, the accomplice has no choice but to be the "dirty little secret" of the man with whom she's involved, and on the other, she's subjected to a constant deconstruction of everything she was raised to believe a priest should be. I leave it to the reader to determine whether this woman is subjected to abuse or simply a case of TMI, but there's no way the affair's not going to end badly. The only exception I can think of is if she's a married Protestant woman looking for a little "on the side" with a man who can guarantee being discreet.

Perhaps in the case of clerics who truly are in love with their accomplices, perhaps relaxing the rule of mandatory celibacy would help ameliorate the situation, and I sympathize with both these men and these women; to this effect, I have to wonder whether the priest who made the "friend/confidante" comment was ordered to do so by his superiors, to save face for the Church.

But for those clerics who are simply preying upon these women and subjecting them to the abuse/TMI just so they can get their jollies, may the mouth of hell open and swallow them before they can find their next victim(s)!

Sorry for the vitriol, but I hope you can understand where it's coming from.

Pater, O.S.B. said...

"Schadenfreude" and "fun little piece"? Perhaps better "sad" and "pathetic". I'm with Taumaturgo. The Brazilian guy, especially, sounds like a real pig.

A Sinner said...

Hmm...I never considered it from the angle of priests as potentially just users/abusers of these women (and men). It certainly is a selfish expectation to put their lovers in such an awkward position.

Then again, many of these men are just discovering feelings that most people discovered as adolescents, and don't really know how to deal with them properly.

I suppose the victimization situation is probably true in some cases. In others, though, I think the people genuinely find themselves trapped between a rock and hard place. Asking them to just "suck it up" and deny the "temptations" is inhuman and suggests that the people giving such advice are not, in fact, human.

Many priests get laicized, finally, because they can't live the lie anymore, but many feel very torn between the calling they love and woman they love (which don't need to be in contradiction!)

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

A Sinner said:
"Hmm...I never considered it from the angle of priests as potentially just users/abusers of these women (and men)."

Thank you. I am so glad you picked up on the "and men" part that I wasn't mentioning. In my experience, the laity are fine with knowing that "they are out there" somewhere, but they tend to do a major freak-out if you start going into any level of detail.

In the main, I agree with you. I'm probably a little more biased towards the "abuse" conclusion because I've witnessed it enough times, but I don't think that it's mutually exclusive to the new discovery of feelings hitherto unknown, either. As you've mentioned in other posts, one learns to be emotionally isolated (I forget your exact word, forgive me, but that is what you become after a few years on the job), and falling in love when you don't know how to handle it can have devastating results towards both sides. We could develop this theme further with pressures from one's superiors (and all the various unspoken rules that you find in any sort hierarchical structure), and we've got enough ingredients to cook up a recipe for disaster.

I'm stoppong here, for fear that I might start rambling. But as I said, I mostly agree with you, and think we might be seeing two sides of the same coin.

A Sinner said...

I think two sides of the same coin may be right, or two different emphases.

I tend to see things in terms of their structural causes. In this case, I'd be inclined to see both man and woman as victims of the faulty system.

Just as I'm inclined to see both black inner-city gang members and the ones they both victims of the system or structures of exploitation.

But, at the same time, I suppose we also do need to remember that the individual can still make their own choices, and that while being caught up in a bad system may reduce culpability, it doesn't excuse it entirely. It isn't right to victimize just because you yourself are a victim.

Sure, African dictators are an inevitable result of the exploitation of Africa by Western capitalism, but that doesn't excuse them, personally, for their specific atrocities.

Sure, the extremism of the Muslim terrorists is simply a product of US/Israel geopolitical policy and the oppressive socioeconomic conditions caused thereby. But that doesn't make it right to blow people up, and there are plenty of people from those countries who know that and so don't choose to become terrorists.

I guess the same goes here. Putting lovers in this situation (instead of doing the honest thing and just seeking laicization right away) is bad, even if it is understandably caused by the emotional isolation, institutional pressure, and unspoken rules of hierarchy that you describe.