Australian priest admits being secretly married for a year

Details:

A Catholic priest in Australia has publicly admitted that he has been married for a year and claimed “there are more like me.”

“So I’ve fallen in love and I’ve got married and it’s outside of most people’s awareness, but I’m sure people within the church could have had a suspicion,” Father Kevin Lee told Australia’s 7News, a partner of NBC News.

Lee, a priest for 20 years, told his congregation that he had been living a secret double life with his wife Josephina, breaking the Church’s rule that priests should remain celibate.

He said there were others like him around the world.

“That’s one of the reasons that’s motivated me to make public my admission that I’m one of those people who’s been a pretender: To draw to the attention of the public that there are more like me, in fact most of them,” he said.

Lee said he had made little effort to hide his relationship and suspected people within the church hierarchy knew about his marriage.

He and Josephina met in the Philippines and married in secret.

As recently as this week, some of his parishioners in Glenmore Park, Sydney, said they knew nothing about his relationship, Lee said.

He said he pitied what he called “sacrificing” priests around the world who were denying themselves a relationship.

“I feel sorry for them, I really do, but I think they need to admit they are not being led properly,” he told the television news program.

“I think celibacy has to go as a prerequisite for being a minister in the Catholic religion,” he added.

In an update to its original report, 7News reported that Lee had been removed from his position as parish priest and then excommunicated by the church.

There’s more at this link, along with video.

Comments

  1. While I neither advocate for a married clergy – nor rail against it – I do read this story with some dismay. Far be it from me, a married woman, to comment on such things, but is it so facile, celibate or not? I’m not sure.

    Now I just read this post over at TJP, and it makes a curious juxtaposition, don’t you think? http://thejesuitpost.org/site/2012/05/sex-money-power-and-celibacy/

    I have it on my mind, but a deficit of time and quiet are preventing it, to write about the relationship between sex, power and money, myself. There is so much to this and I think it helps moves the conversation from simplistic dualism to actual depth and spirit. Of course, when we talk about money and power, we wade into dangerous territory. Sex is so much more simple… or so it would appear.

  2. vox borealis says:

    What a ridiculously written article. For instance:

    Lee said he had made little effort to hide his relationship and suspected people within the church hierarchy knew about his marriage.

    He and Josephina met in the Philippines and married in secret.

    Huh. I mean, did anyone—reporter, editor, whoever bother ask the follow-up questions to address the numerous obvious contradictions in the story?

  3. The ghost of Father Cutie! When will these priests realize that because some experience personal challenges with celibacy, sex, etc., the Catholic Church is not going to change its fundamental view that celibacy is an essential part of the ministerial priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church? Talk to the former Anglican, married priests who have been admitted to holy orders in the Catholic Church based on the pastoral exception. These priests are very grateful to be Catholic priests, but they and their families are generally strong supporters of the celibate priesthood. A global change to a married priesthood is not the answer to male libido or the priest shortage-it is not going to happen. Get over it. Father Ference has an interesting take on the “marriage” issue over on the Word on Fire Blog:
    http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/April-2012/Spirituality-The-Grass-Is-Brown-On-Both-Sides.aspx

  4. What exactly is he thinking? Does he think this is admirable? I can understand advocating a position contrary to the Church, but to “live a secret life” is a life of a lie. All I can think of is the word, disgrace. He says he did it “to draw to the attention…” Yeah, sure. He snuck around for a year and now he comes up with a justification, post hoc. Sounds like he sinned and now is rationalizing it.

  5. There is an organization of women who are married to priests, or who have had children by priests, called Glad Tidings. I think that it is headquartered in Pennsylvania. A close friend from my college days who is a prominent psychiatrist in the New York area, and who has counseled in about a dozen or more of these instances from various locations in the US, tells me that the typical priest in these situations feels both a strong calling to the priesthood, along with a feeling of being “trapped” by circumstances that they are a certain age and have training and education suitable only for priest work. It’s really sad on many levels, especially when you see the crop of married with children Episcopalian priests that are treated like celebrity heros for defecting to Rome. We have a bunch of these in the Archdiocese of Washington. Interestingly, the wives are uniformly hidden from view. No stories in the official newspaper, etc.

  6. Deacon V says:

    I think Peter has posited a good point. I have my own opinion of course but I have long wondered what the fallout of welcoming “home” married clergy and ordaining them as Roman Catholic Priests would have on those men who chose to deny themselves that life and now, here it is being welcomed in front of them.

    Overall I’d say that Rome sends very little in the way of a mixed signal…but this one…this one needs to be answered once and for all.

  7. The deception that Fr. Kevin Lee practiced — marrying on the sly, ignoring (or setting aside) the vow of celibacy he took at ordination, is indeed disturbing. Lies generally do not result in good things. Having to live a life that is based so fundamentally on a lie is unhealthy, and it’s not a good witness to the faithful.

    However, the issue of whether a person could be a good priest and also be a good spouse, and even a loving and involved parent, seems to have been settled. Under both JP2 and B16, we have married men — former pastors in the Anglican church — being ordained as Roman Catholic priests. I’m sure neither pope would have permitted this (much less encouraged it, as both popes–particularly Benedict–have done) if they thought this would result in bad priests, or mediocre priests, or poor examples for the faithful. Fr. Dwight Longenecker (whose blog recently moved to Patheos) is a good example of someone who manages to be a husband, a father, and a Father — and while I’m not much in agreement with him on political or cultural issues, I don’t doubt that he fulfills both vocations effectively. I’m confident that he (and his peers in similar circumstances) would not have sought ordination if they didn’t think they could do justice to all of his roles. In fact, Fr. Dwight has more or less celebrated Benedict’s creation of a more defined process for married Anglican priests to “cross the Tiber” and then seek ordination as Catholic priests.

    Setting aside for the moment the particulars of this Australian priest’s deception and double life, we all know that the celibate priesthood is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It COULD be lifted. In some cases (e.g., Fr. Dwight), it HAS been set aside. Yet the faithful are left to believe that cradle Catholics should never be ordained if they are already married or think they might wish to marry after ordination. We are told by the Vatican that combining priesthood and marriage works out okay only if the prospective priest is a convert. Nothing against converts — but I find this line of reasoning rather odd. Even hollow.

    Why in heck could celibacy not be made optional for Catholic priests in the Latin rite? And why is the Vatican so resistant to that for cradle Catholics?

  8. Okay, so I got inspired to run with this on my own blog, The Mighty Ambivalent Catholic. With a hat tip to Deacon Greg…

    http://themightyambivalentcatholic.blogspot.com/2012/05/priests-cannot-marryexcept-for-those.html

  9. Notgiven says:

    Married or unmarried clergy–that is not the question here. Broken vows are the issue. God never breaks his vow. One does not follow in the footsteps of Christ when one breaks a solemn vow. Thankfully, God is rich in mercy. A humble, contrite heart God will not spurn.

  10. People today can justify anything. An act of deception. A secret life. Justification does not lead to Holy sanctification. More questions arise. For example, Who married them? If he lied, is the marriage valid by law? If you disregard one vow, why would you honor another other? As I see it the situation does not really settle on whether clergy should marry. But what is a convent with God? What is a vow? What does it mean to live up to a vow? I see his actions to be no different than people who justify theft, incest, and marital infidelity. We should never justify doing something we know is wrong. Because it gets us in the end.

  11. PaulJames says:

    I have to wonder why would a women marry a man that she knows can’t keep a commitment??

  12. “there are more like me, in fact most of them,” he said”
    What the heck does he mean by that?

    He also said, “he pitied what he called “sacrificing” priests around the world who were denying themselves a relationship.” Oh, boo hoo. He knew what he was getting into, didn’t he? I realize that he may not have fully understood what it was going to be like to remain celibate, but please!! Give me a break.

  13. He is a living scandal, as is his wife! I am not at all surprised.

  14. I read this as an unrepentant , disobedient , unhumble situation that uses the excuse.. ” everyone is doing it”.

  15. “Talk to the former Anglican, married priests who have been admitted to holy orders in the Catholic Church based on the pastoral exception. These priests are very grateful to be Catholic priests, but they and their families are generally strong supporters of the celibate priesthood.”

    Impartial judges?

  16. the issue of whether a person could be a good priest and also be a good spouse, and even a loving and involved parent, seems to have been settled.

    Well, it’s settled for me. I’m a married man (no children), VERY active in my parish, with multiple commitments amounting to something close to a second (unpaid) job. Yes, it makes sacrificial demands on my wife, who fortunately is supportive. But we pay a heavy price, and I cannot begin to imagine shouldering this load with children or even with a professional career requiring longer and less predictable hours. When invited to consider the diaconate, I had no trouble giving a swift and decisive response: No Way.

    I should add that an intimate friend of mine is a married-with-children Episcopal priest, so I’ve seen up close the shortchanging that takes place when two vocations compete for a man’s one and only life.

  17. lethargic says:

    The man took a vow at ordination then presumptively violated it. As Augustine taught, the lie is the worst sin, as all other sin originates in the lie. Ecclestiatical Austria seems to be a seething boil of a cesspit; I pity the normal people there.

  18. Having come to the Catholic Church by way of Eastern Orthodoxy (never confirmed there, but attended), I have no problem with married priests. But even in the Orthodox parish I attended, the priest had to work a second job to support his family. So, his time was even further divided. If it is feasible for the Church, married priests could happen. I think we need to look Eastward, however, and keep the celibate episcopate.

  19. IntoTheWest says:

    I’ve always felt this is a pretty weak argument. Ask any happy, successful professional man — and his family — whose career requires long hours, intense focus and often sacrificing family time whether or not it is impossible to be dedicated to both a career and a family. Yes. It’s possible, but it’s not for everyone.

    There are good and holy men who may be quite capable of fulfilling dual vocations, and there are good and holy men for whom this would be impossible. So why not allow both men to serve as God calls? As Steve says, celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. And, as others have hinted at, there’s a real credibility problem when the Church welcomes married ministers of other faith traditions into the Catholic priesthood. Either one _must_ be an unmarried celibate in order to fulfill the role of priest as Christ intended, or one doesn’t necessarily have to be an unmarried celibate. The Church is having it both ways right now and that sends a very confusing message.

  20. François-Robert Laliberté Fournier says:

    As Rusty says, what ar we doing whith the 16 Oriental Churches that are Catholics faithfull and in connection whith Rome and the Holy Father? Are they worts than us? In Canada, 15 Ukrenians Catholic Priests are married, and you can go and assit to the Holy Liturgy, and partake communion, which I did, and I am not dead! Here in my parish, we have one mass during the whole week. Sure a married clergy will have to go to work, like the deacons, and that it’s perfectly normal. Some of our priests are paid to be hospital chaplains, and well paid to, and the same as prisons chaplains. Unmaried bishops and the choose for priests, but for life. Is it so horrible to be married and celebrate the mass and hear confessions?

  21. That’s the classic Dear Abby response to the “Other Woman” who writes in hoping that her lover will divorce his wife and marry her: Well, dear, if he does that where will you be then? Married to a man who cheats on his wife!

  22. Australia, not Austria, lethargic. :) Although the Austrians do get enjoyment about being “the other Aussies” — in Vienna you will see amusing t-shirts starring perplexed kangaroos and koala bears.

  23. Is his wife catholic? Protestents have married clergy, so her marrying him would be less of a sin for her(but still a sin because she would still be HELPING him to break HIS solem vow to remain celebate. Two to tango.) In the same way that marrying a second time while your validly-married spouse is still alive means the marrige is invalid, his solem vow to remain celebate make entering into marriage technically impossible? Or would God join them in marriage dispite the fact they did it sinfully, just as he might give a child to someone who….. you get the point. What would it mean?

  24. Mentioning Austria, the Cardinal in Vienna as well as many of the clergy in Austria, have been urging to get the subject of voluntary celibacy/married Catholic clergy out in the open for discussion.

  25. The Catholic Church has very unfortunate views concerning sex and relationships. I am not simply talking about the contraception issue or acceptance of homosexuals. I am speaking about married deacons. Sure, a male may be ordained a deacon whether married or single, however, if a married man’s wife then dies, he is barred from re-marrying ! Sorry, but this is a denigration of sex, marriage, and relationships, and a very unhealthy attitude of the celibates who make these rules.

  26. lethargic says:

    Sorry for the international mistake … I guess it’s what Drake says about this being an issue in Austria that helped me read it wrong …

  27. PaulJames says:

    Sorry, Drake, but you are not 100% right on your statement, “if a married man’s wife then dies, he is barred from re-marrying.”
    A deacon can ask for a dispensation to remarry, and it is 99% of the time granted!

  28. pagansister says:

    IMO, the reasons the RCC has held onto the celibacy rule (whatever the reasons are—as originally there were married priests) are long since outdated. This man has broken a “vow” he made, yes, but folks—he obviously wasn’t totally fulfilled as a priest and needed a earthly companion—not just the Church. And I wouldn’t be surprised that there are more married priests. And in a way it seems unreasonable to continue the rule as now the Catholic church is admitting those men who have families from the Anglican and Episcopal churches.

  29. pagansister says:

    correction: “—-admitting priests, who have families, from the Anglican and Episcopal churches. “

  30. Doesn’t a dispensation mean that there is a rule against it?

  31. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    My understanding is that Rome has become a lot less generous in allowing widowed deacons to remarry. It’s only done in rare circumstances — usually when the deacon has the responsibility for young children or aging parents.

    DGK

  32. Deacon Norb says:

    PaulJames:

    You are way out of date. In the current schema of things, 90+% of those requests for indults filed in the past ten years or so have been denied.

  33. RomCath says:

    I will forward your message to Pope Benedict. I am sure he will be in total agreement with your opinion.

  34. Deacon Steve says:

    Those coming from the Aglican and Episcopal churches are allowed to petition Rome to be ordained as a Catholic Priest, once they are part of the RC Church, then they must follow the rules for priestly celebacy. Married members of those communities that are not serving as priests before they make the move will not be permitted to enter the seminary and be ordained to the priesthood. They would be eligible for the Permanent Diaconate however. This blip of a number of married priests coming all at once is not going to change the normal rules, nor is it intended to change them.

  35. IntoTheWest says:

    I’m confused (more confused!) – are you saying that married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism and petition to become Catholic priests are not allowed to have relations with their wives? And that a married (or unmarried, I suppose) Anglican priest doesn’t necessarily continue his priesthood after converting? I’m sure I’m just misunderstanding what you wrote, but could you clarify?

    For me, it’s not so much that allowing married Anglican priests to become Catholic priests changes the rules, it’s that the practice undermines the credibility of the rules in the first place.

  36. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    There is a lot in this article I take exception to. But one line in particular is way off base. The former priest said: “I think celibacy has to go as a prerequisit for being a minister in the Catholic Church. Well, there are ordained married ministers in the Catholic Church. We are called deacons. Yes, we are not authorized to say Mass or give absolution, but there is a very long list of ministries deacons can provide. In fact, deacons can do so much that one priest sociologist gave a report recently stating that, properly used, a priest and two or three deacons in a parish can provide the same level of ministry as two priests.
    And it is not outdated for the Church to want priests–especially pastors– to be men who are willing to give everything for God–to be eunuchs for the Kingdom as Christ said.
    And as far as deacons re-marrying–my wife tells me she loves the idea that she will not be replaced by another woman in my affections if she should die.

  37. Moonshadow says:

    Keep in mind that Orthodox and Protestant congregations tend to be smaller than Roman Catholic ones, resulting in fewer demands on the married clergy in the former cases.

  38. That was my understanding, too. In fact what I’ve been hearing indicates that you about have to have multiple factors; such as responsibility for young children AND elderly parents, AND the demands of your ministry keep you so busy that you can’t attend to their needs yourself. Would take a pretty gutsy woman to sign on for all of that.
    I have known of an unfortunate case or two in which someone’s wife died while he was in deacon formation. Knowing that after ordination he would be unable to remarry, he rushed courtship a bit and remarried rather soon. The new marriage didn’t work out, and he also ended up dropping out of formation. Not a happy outcome.
    If it’s okay for a deacon to be married in the first place, it is hard to understand why it would be so terrible for them to remarry as a widower.

  39. It wasn’t my understanding that the ones who were previously clergy and already married had to be celibate; rather that they followed the same rule as deacons, that is, no remarriage if their wife died.

  40. PaulJames says:

    The numbers speak for themselves, over 90% asking for a dispensation have received one, but those who believe in “Rumor has it” never get to the meat and potatoes because they believe the rumor stories

  41. IntoTheWest says:

    Aha. Thanks!

    I’m not sure what the Church’s message is in these cases, regardless of how few of them there are.

    Either only unmarried celibate men may become priests because they’re presiding in persona Christi, or some men are able to preside in persona Christi as well as serve as husbands and fathers.

    Or, married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism and become Catholic priests aren’t really fully priests in the sense that unmarried, celibate men who enter the priesthood are.

    Or married, Anglican convert priests aren’t able to do as good a job as unmarried, celibate priests.

    And so on.

    Because none of the reasons we’ve been given for not allowing priests to marry hold up once you bend the rule for some men.

    What a mess.

  42. Its hilariously sad that the modern opinion that celibacy is out-dated…..comes
    from a society which is coming apart because of all its lusts. Without altering
    the course of this decay, this will not play out well. Forces WILL move in to
    take control of the increasing anarchy. These WILL not have responsible liberty
    as a guiding principle.

  43. Deacon Steve says:

    Sorry I meant the community, not the priests coming with the community must follow the rules for priestly celebacy.

  44. Deacon Steve says:

    Part of the issue is that the new wife would not have been part of the formation process at all, and as such it puts a strain on the marriage. In talking with our director of formation, and his talking with other directors, they have seen in the protestant churches how going through their seminary and then taking on the role of minister/pastor puts a strain on the marriage. It has been shown that it is better to have both go through the formation process (at least partially in the case of the wives) so they grow together, so that at ordination the gap between the deacon and his wife is minimized.

  45. PaulJames says:

    Well said Karl

  46. pagansister says:

    Thanks, RomCath. Appreciate it! :o)

  47. pagansister says:

    Would that be “lusting in your heart” , Jimmy Carter style, or “real lust”, Karl?

  48. Regina Faighes says:

    Exactly right!

  49. When is the Catholic Church going to realize that they are losing their congregation in huge numbers as they stick to rigidity in almost every aspect of life? How sacred are the petty rules when they constantly change them: burial, Friday meals, etc. while ignoring the really important issues that demonstrate ancient prejudices that intelligent people have long ceased to hold.

  50. midwestlady says:

    No, I expect not. Why would they? It’s merely a “churn piece,” put in on a slow day to retain readership. Remember that selling papers is what the news business is all about.

  51. midwestlady says:

    Well, the cat is out of the bag now. They’d better oust this guy before he has kids and the kids start trying to sue the Church for damages.

  52. midwestlady says:

    This man is ordained so according to the teaching of the church, the sacraments he confects are not tinged by his own behavior. BUT….he is a singularly inappropriate person to listen to on morals past that. He obviously doesn’t regard his own promises as very important.

  53. midwestlady says:

    People do all kinds of unwise and pointless things, Paul. If it’s allowed someone will do it. And at least somebody will try it if it’s not allowed. Just like this priest who’s obviously out in lala-land somplace from a personal standpoint.

  54. midwestlady says:

    This is also not only about marriage in the normal sense. There are also the cases where this is another kind of predatory behavior. There are ordained men who would rather not leave the priesthood because there are obvious advantages to staying, but want relationships with women which they never have to formalize with marriage. This does happen and it’s one of the contributors to this issue.

    This man apparently did actually want to marry and found a woman who didn’t mind hiding herself for 20 years, denying the relationship in public. This can happen too. Perhaps he thought he’d get away with it? He didn’t.

  55. Dcn Luis says:

    It didn’t work in my diocese for one widowed deacon. The bishop traveled to Rome in an attempt to get this man a dispensation to no avail.

  56. Donal Mahoney says:

    Fran,

    I certainly agree that there is a strong relationship forged on sex, power and money. But I don’t see what that relationship might have to do with a priest “marrying” a woman and then deciding to “out” himself. Like you, I take neither side of the married clergy issue. But as long as celibacy is still the rule, I am glad the Church removed him as a pastor and excommunicated him. If he had abused a child, I wonder if that would have happened. Probably in 2012, yes, he would have been tossed. But in the past, he probably would have been transferred. And so it goes.

  57. naturgesetz says:

    “Lusting in one’s heart” is “real lust.” When it goes beyond the heart and into action, then it’s something else, like seduction, fornication, adultery, or rape.

  58. Any quest for anything whether the object or the intention or both are disordered, is what I meant. I was not referring only to sexual lust. I am sure my use of the term, rather indescriminately, was disconcerting. I am sorry for that if it was misleading.

  59. Oregon Catholic says:

    I agree. But in the meantime there are a couple of parables to meditate on that may help to ease the envy and unfairness some priests may feel: the Prodigal Son (how the faithful son felt) and the Laborer’s in the Vineyard (how the first hired felt)

    Fr Lee, it sounds, had a long history of deception and willingness to break his vows. I also suspect he enjoyed the sneaking around and having his secrets or the stress/guilt would have undone him long ago. I think his ‘wife’ has much to be worried about.

  60. Oregon Catholic says:

    Or here’s another one – that Anglican/Epsicopalian (and eventually Lutheran I suspect) priests are priests in the real and true sense and therefore cannot be denied the formality of ordination in the RCC, married or not. If so, what does that say about the Eucharist confected by priests in those Churches? Are we admitting they have the Real Presence too?

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