Men who give up the priesthood for the love of a woman
46 thousand priests left their ministry between 1970 and 1995 and not just for marriage. The letter sent by 26 women who claim to be in relationships with priests is reigniting debate
giacomo galeazzi Taken from Vatican insider
The letter sent to Pope Francis by 26 women who claim to be in relationships with priests (and recently published by Vatican Insider) has turned the spotlight back onto the issue of priests leaving the priesthood. “It’s not easy to give exact numbers, the Vatican has published official figures but these are just guestimates given the difficulty of obtaining data,” said Davide Romano, a scholar who has carried out a study on the subject.
The Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae which the Holy See compiles every year provides all figures relating to defections by members of the clergy: this includes members who have left for reasons other than marriage too. In 1998 there there were a total of 618 defections, of which 31 were recorded in Italy. In 1997, Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, calculated that around 46 thousand priests had abandoned the priesthood in just a quarter of a century, that is between 1970 and 1995.
According to Canonist Vincenzo Mosca, more than a thousand priests around the world leave their (diocesan and religious) ministries every year. Today, for every eight new cardinals gained, at least one leaves the ministry. According to Mosca there are more than 50 thousand priests in the world who return to the lay state.
Mauro Del Nevo, President of Vocatio, an association of presbyters with families, disagrees. He believes the figure is actually double that. “In Italy alone, there are between 8 and 10 thousand married priests and 120 thousand all over the world,” he said. The number of priests asking to be dispensed from the priesthood peaked between 1976 and 1977, with figures leaping from 2500 to 3 thousand. Today, between 500 and 700 dispensations are granted each year.
In the Italian province of Caserta, the bishop of Sessa Aurunca, Antonio Napoletano, nominated a previously married priest, Giovanni Monteasi, as director of the diocesan office for the social and employment pastoral care programme. Loving God whilst being in an earthly love relationship with someone is condemned by the Catholic Church but priests in relationships do exist and there are more and more of them. They were ordained to serve God and took vows of chastity and obedience, but at some point or other, loneliness got the better of them. Thousands of Catholic priests conserve their faith and want to continue to bear witness to it but are also in a relationship and tormented by a sense of guilt, frustration and a sense that they are not part of the Church, suffering because of what is seen as an injustice. How can a Church that preaches love prevent its ministers from loving? How can it force them to live a clandestine and hypocritical sexual life? Many of these men are caught between human passion and the intensity of the vocation. Their cries of pain, remorse but also faith, joy and hope call for careful reflection.
“For centuries the Church considered the woman to be a demon of temptation, but only when I married was I able to fully understand the meaning of the Christian revelation,” says Giovanni Franzoni, a world-class theologian and writer and a living testimony against ecclesiastical celibacy. “Better a married priest than Catholic missionaries in the Third World who enter into common law marriages with their partners,” says the former Benedictine abbot of St. Paul Outside the Walls , one of the last living major figures of the Second Vatican Council who has acted as a countermelody to the official positions adopted by the Holy See: from the referendum on divorce to the petition presented by the Vicariate of Rome to stop Karon Wojtyla’s beatifications process.
Carlo Vaj, a former priest and behavioural psychologist and author, considers the totem as the root of all suffering and the Church, by forgetting that Christ’s only commandment is love, is totemic to the max.” He defined the procedure used by the Church to exonerate priests from their obligations “a Kafkian process in which the most basic of human rights are violated – for example the right to defence or to freely choose where one lives – and where psychiatry is used as an instrument of torture.”
In 1971, the then theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, foresaw that the day would come when the Church would ordain “mature Christians” who were already married. The question remains an open one.