Priests in Love: Catholic Clergy’s Forced Celibacy Is Cruel and Theologically Unnecessary, Deterring New Recruits

The New York Times gives some lovin’ to priests who violate their sacred promise to keep it in their pants. The paper isn’t talking about child rape for a change, but about consenting adults. One anonymous couple is introduced thusly:

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.

Reporter Elisabetta Povoledo hit The Google and found that

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.

The issue has not been on the table for the Vatican since the Synod of 1971, where the celibacy requirement for priests was ultimately confirmed. Pope Francis, even before ascending to the Vatican’s highest position, occasionally made pretty noises about celibacy needing to become optional, but nothing has come of the idea.

The Church’s policy (the pope claims it’s not a dogma) is detrimental to all involved. It’s not just cruel to both persons involved in a budding romantic bond, and unnatural for the priest to abstain from physical intimacy; it also eliminates many candidates for the priesthood, young men who decide that they will not live their personal lives according to a bad idea from the Dark Ages.

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.

No kidding.

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. … 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.

Many more — probably — stay despite either being in a romantic relationship or wishing to start one. Why do they stick around? In many cases, it’s as prosaic as money, says Povoledo.

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.

What makes this all extra silly, and extra sad, is that there is no Biblical imperative for priests to stay celibate. In fact,

[C]lerics 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.”

This is a problem of the Catholic hierarchy’s own making. The Vatican, under this pope, can undo centuries of useless tradition… but given that useless tradition is what the Church traffics in, it could be a long wait.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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