in favour of the rule
Rome, May 19: A group of Italian woman who are in love with priests appealed to Pope Francis yesterday to abandon the Catholic church’s requirement of celibacy.
The 16 women, signing just their first names, sent a letter to the Pope saying it was hypocritical for priests to live a “hidden life”.
“We are a group of woman from all parts of Italy... Each one of us is having, has had or wishes to have a loving relationship with a priest with whom she has fallen in love,” the group wrote.
“Very little is known about the devastating suffering of a woman who lives the strong experience of falling in love with a priest.
“We want, with humility, to place before you the problem of our suffering so that something might change not just for us, but also for the good of the church,” they wrote. “We love these men, they love us, and the majority of the time even with all the will possible, you cannot break up such a solid and beautiful relationship.”
The church has struggled for centuries with the problem of priests who have sex and even father children.
The new Vatican secretary of state, the church’s equivalent of a Prime Minister, provoked speculation that the Pope might be ready to revisit the requirement of celibacy, describing it as a church practice rather than immutable doctrine.
However, Francis spoke in favour of the celibacy rule “with all its pros and cons” when he was a cardinal archbishop. “There are 10 centuries of positive experiences rather than of errors,” he said.
A survey in the 12 largest Catholic countries found a narrow majority of 50 per cent to 47 per cent who believed that priests should be allowed to marry.
The insistence on the celibacy of priests dates back to the first centuries of the church. The first law mandating celibacy was Canon 33 enacted at the Synod of Elvira, now the Spanish city of Grenada, in about 305-306 AD.
The discipline was reaffirmed at the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. The church accepts some married priests because celibacy is not practised in affiliated churches that follow the eastern rites. While in Argentina, the Pope stayed in touch with the widow of Jeronimo Podesta, a bishop who left the church to marry.
The Church teaches that a priest should dedicate himself totally to his vocation, essentially taking the Church as his spouse, in order to help fulfil its mission.
But the women told the pope that their men would be able to serve the Church “with greater passion” if they were supported by a woman who loves them and children.
This was far better for the priests and the Church, they argued in the letter sent to the Vatican, than “a life of continued clandestineness, with the frustration of a love that is not complete”.
The women asked to meet the pope to explain the plight “tearing apart our souls” because the couples were faced with the alternatives of either the men leaving the priesthood or carrying on the relationships in secret.
Proponents of optional celibacy in the Church have linked the sexual abuse of children by priests to its celibacy rule, saying that it could stem from sexual frustrations.
But the Church has rejected this argument, saying that paedophilia, whether in the Church or outside of it, is carried out by people with psychological problems.