Category Archives: priestly celibacy

When a Priest Falls in Love

Mandated celibacy is a form of violence done to those called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy.  While these priests can have a profound sense of Call, celibacy never really finds a home within their hearts, regardless of the spiritual facade their bishops or spiritual directors attempt to wrap it in.  Celibacy is something they try to tolerate but deep down an intense loneliness prevails.  The thought of growing old as a celibate, and someday retiring in a home for priests, brings more pain than comfort.  Although their loneliness may diminish at times, it is often in the background of their lives, a kind of darkness that will not go away.
 
Priests who fall in love can feel imprisoned within the priesthood as they watch others freely celebrate their love and openly show affection for their significant other. They cannot deny that their love is a holy experience and find themselves perplexed as to why it has put them on a collision course with the priesthood, when, in fact, being in love has brought them new joy and enthusiasm for life. They experience a deep yearning within, not simply for sex, but for the union of two hearts and souls lived in the sacred mystery of love and companionship for the rest of their lives. Mandatory celibacy, however, forces them to face difficult choices. They can secretly embrace this love in the dark and shaming shadows of mandated celibacy, force this love out of their lives, or extract themselves from the priesthood and pursue the relationship. None of these choices seems appealing, but true freedom is found in the latter.

If a priest is in love, it’s hard for him to understand why this love is disqualifying him from the priesthood, especially in light of I John 4:8 where we read that “God is love”. So, why is love an impediment to ordained ministry? Yes, we all know the old party line “Celibacy frees you to love everyone”, but, we also know it’s not true. Married people can and do love others just as passionately as celibates.
 
The fact is, when celibate priests fall in love they find what has been true all along: they are owned by an ecclesiastical institution which has turned romantic love into a force of evil and has an odd obsession with controlling their sexuality, to the point of bordering on a kind of a master/slave relationship. Disguised in religious jargon and contrived theology, mandatory celibacy is really about radical patriarchy (male domination) and  misogyny (whether it be in ordained priestly ministry or as wives of priests, women are perceived as inferior and an evil influence).
 
On the other hand, Christ has no interest in mandated celibacy and even cured Saint Peter’s mother-in-law in respect for Peter’s marriage.  Understanding this, the transitioning priest is justified in separating the will of God from the practice of the ecclesiastical institution.
 
For a reflection about the decision to marry click here. To see the positive role women would have on the priesthood, click here.
 
What about the vows and promises taken on the day of ordination? Things change and change is healthy and inevitable in the maturation process. To live in a dynamic relationship with God is to live in the midst of change. We could not stay in the priesthood because it prohibited changes God was calling us to make. The papacy has made mandatory celibacy and other teachings into idols to which many of us could no longer bow.
 
How can one find visionary leadership in a church that’s reluctant to change? Most of its bishops, especially during the past forty years, were chosen precisely because of their aversion to change and their willingness to attempt to restore the church to some former golden era. Pope John XXIII, Vatican II and countless dedicated priests and bishops worked hard to pry open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air only to find them being closed by a new generation of priests who refer to Vatican II as “Vatican too much”. There seems to be little room in this new Church for reasonable, Spirit-guided change, so many priests find it necessary to leave. Their journeys, prayerfully embarked upon, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. One of the oldest teachings of the church is one’s obligation to live according to the dictates of their conscience.
 
In a healthy maturation process, one moves from the locus of authority from being external to internal.  Author and  Methodist minister, James Fowler, in his book “Stages of Faith” proposes a staged development of faith across a person’s lifespan. Fowler’s first stage is called “Undifferentiated Faith” where an infant’s experience of reality is not distinguished from fantasy.  As the child develops the capacity for concrete thinking, she then moves toward stage two called the “Literal Stage”, where she starts distinguishing reality from fantasy. In this stage, God may be perceived as an old man living in the sky, while heaven and hell are viewed as actual physical places. Here, one believes that if they follow the rules, God will give them a good life.  But they begin to grow out of this stage when encountering conflicts and contradictions to what they hold to be true. The perplexing question, “Why do good people suffer?” begins to challenge them at this stage.
 
Around puberty, a person moves into Fowler’s third stage, “Conventional”.  As in the previous two stages, authority is still located outside of one’s self.  Here, people are not fully conscious of having chosen to believe something, because they are not engaged in any analytical thought about their faith.  It’s called “conventional” because most people at this stage see themselves believing what everyone else believes. They are reluctant to change their beliefs because of their need to stay connected to their peer group. Many church leaders may consciously or unconsciously attempt to keep people in this stage by discouraging analytical thinking about their faith. They imply that questioning one’s faith in itself shows a lack of faith. They prefer people stay in a sort of perpetual childhood where authority is located in themselves and their religion in order to continue exerting control.
 
Many men who leave the priesthood find it is necessary in order to further mature and progress to the next stage. In stage four, “Individuated Reflective” faith, young adults become aware of their freedom and burden to begin to sort through their beliefs, accepting or rejecting them. Here one’s sense of authority moves from the external to the internal.  A person is better able to govern themselves and is less dependent upon rules. The literalism of religious stories begins to give way to deeper meanings. The strength of this stage is the capacity for critical reflection, but the weakness is that a person may “throw out the baby with the bath water”, claim to be atheist, and fail to enter into the next stage.
 
Stage five is the “Integrating Faith” of middle adulthood. Here a person is able to expand their worldview beyond the “either/or” position of the previous stage, toward a “both/and” point of view. People in this stage are willing to cross religious and cultural boundaries to learn from people they may have previously avoided.  Here one believes in God, but not as a literal being living in the sky, and Heaven and Hell are no longer seen as physical places.  They re-examine their beliefs, while at the same time accepting that it is beyond their ability to comprehend. They realize truth can also be found in other religious traditions besides their own and no longer need to accept their faith on a literal level only.  This stage of faith makes it difficult to follow one’s conscious when church leaders insist their way is the only way.
 
Many priests find it necessary to separate themselves from the controlling tendencies of the ecclesiastical institution in order to mature in faith.  The same process is necessary for anyone experiencing the desire to mature when their tradition attempts to hold them  back.  Conservative religion is built upon unhealthy psychology. See this link for more discussion about the maturing process and faith.
 
When leaving the priesthood, it is wonderful, but not always possible, to have the support of family and friends. I found it very difficult to talk with my brother priests about leaving, even after being in a support group with some of them for over 12 years. I heard how they referred to other priests who had left and knew confiding in them would bring more pain than support. Besides, I might have been whisked off to a counseling program if they had reported to the Bishop that one of his priests was about to jump the fence.
 
I’m still amazed that I didn’t feel free enough to discuss something as important as leaving the priesthood with guys I had been meeting with in my “support group” for so long. For me, it became apparent that whatever fraternity we had was a mile wide and an inch deep. But, I think something else was at work. Leaving the priesthood is so taboo that even discussing it with “faithful” priests is perceived as sinful. Deeper still, even the thought of leaving is avoided by those who are repressing it, giving credence to the saying “Sow a thought, reap an action”.
 
If a priest is serious about leaving, it will be helpful for him to associate with others with whom he  can honestly discuss his fears, hopes and dreams.  It is important that he confide in people who are not brainwashed with Catholic fundamentalism, which eliminates his Bishop / Superior and most if not all his priest friends and other conservative Catholics.  The most understanding people I found were from the Corpus organization.  If he can find a Corpus group meeting in his area, that would be a great help. Corpus is comprised of priests and women religious who have transitioned out of ministry as well as other Catholics who are interested in significant change within the church. He may also want to find a good counselor who is supportive of his journey.
 
On the day of my marriage, as I spoke my vows to my beloved, I felt nothing but joy and happiness in the freedom to live my personal life out from under the oppression of mandatory celibacy. These vows made much more sense than the previous ones I had made in front of my bishop seventeen years earlier. The purposes of those were obedience and control, while the purposes of these were for love and companionship. Making the two mutually exclusive is an abuse of ecclesiastical power, an injustice to priests, and contrary to the will of God as found in the scriptures and first thousand years of Catholic Church tradition. The sixteenth century reformers were correct when they taught marriage is a divine right that no ecclesiastical law can negate. When you read the arguments against the practice of mandated celibacy these reformers made, you will find little has changed during the past 500, or so, years. You can find their arguments by clicking here.
 
Abused children are not the only victims of the sex abuse crisis in the Church today. Every priest in active ministry is a victim. Prior to leaving, I remember walking through an airport wearing my collar, when a mother pulled her young child closer to her as I approached. That hurt, and it had everything to do with the stigma of mandated celibacy.
 
Mandatory celibacy defines a priest primarily by sex and places an inordinate amount of attention on his sex life. When the typical lay person meets a priest, they perceive him first and foremost as a “celibate” and have an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “Is he really celibate? I wonder what he does with his sex drive. Is he gay? He must masturbate a lot. God, I hope he’s not a pedophile.” If he’s attractive, they think, “Father what-a-waste”, and, if not attractive, they think, “No wonder he went into the priesthood”. Those who think this occurs because our society is preoccupied with sex are mistaken. It’s always been this way. People are now just more willing to talk about it. The fact remains that, because “celibate” primarily defines a priest by his sex life, he is viewed and understood primarily by sex and for this he suffers now, more than ever. Priests are not “celibates”; they are “human beings”.
 
Priests who leave to marry are not looking only for sex.  From some of the emails received, many Catholics seem to think their quest is all about sexual union.  They cannot seem to see beyond sexual intercourse to the quest that a priest has for love,  emotional intimacy and nurture.  For them, it is all about f**king, which reveals what their marital lives must be like and one can only feel sorry for their wives.  The primary quest for priests who leave to marry is mutual love and intimacy with their spouses of which intercourse is only one part.  I find it offensive when someone implies that a priest leaves because “he can’t keep it in his pants”.  No, the issue is “he can’t keep the rock wall around his heart”.
 
The term “mandatory celibacy” implies that a priest is to abstain from sexual activity.  It objectifies sexual intercourse and separates it from the union of heart and soul that a healthy marriage entails.  “Mandated celibacy” gives the impression that f**king is what marriage is all about and tends to turn women into sexual objects.  Yet, that is not what most priests are after.  They simply long to have another person to love and share their life with like any other normal human being.  Mandated celibacy shames priests for having this desire, and because celibacy is all about sexual abstinence, their sexuality is shamed too.  This is a dark cloud that hangs over the priesthood, which all priests are forced to enter upon ordination.  They are forced to publicly declare that they will forever deny this important part of their lives.  This isolates them and makes them into an oddity that people often pity more than respect.  The problem is forcing celibacy upon priests.  The dynamic would change if celibacy was optional.
 
People may object by saying, “But celibacy is optional. No one was forcing you to be ordained.”  But you are mistaken.  Our Call is from God and it was profound.  The Church has imposed celibacy upon God’s call.  Mandated celibacy was not part of the early Church (Jesus cured the mother of Saint Peter’s wife. Mark 1:30-31)  and never became a law until around 1000 AD.  Mandated celibacy is not the will of God and it has caused tremendous problems in the Church.
 
It’s ironic that church officials, obsessed with controlling priests’ sex lives by mandating celibacy, have themselves created this sex abuse crisis. For centuries, they have constructed a mystical facade around celibacy and their efforts brought welcomed protection and privilege. But, like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, this crisis has pulled back the curtain and no amount of incense can hide the little man pulling the levers.  Mandated celibacy is far more integral to this crisis than the Pope and bishops are willing, or perhaps able, to admit.
 
Click here for a reflection about how mandated celibacy hinders healthy sexual integration. Click here to see the statement extolling the superiority of priests by Lacordaire and how it has created an atmosphere of clericalism, which has allowed sexual misconduct to become more prevalent within the priesthood. Click here to see how celibacy is a necessary component to a  clerical culture that enables sexual abuse. Click here to find where the ultimate responsibility should be placed for this crisis.  Click here to find a history of sex, choice and Catholics.
 
The Vatican’s public response to this crisis was the promise to screen out gay candidates for ordination during their seminary preparation. With this statement, they made homosexual priests the scapegoats in this crisis, even though they know pedophilia is a separate issue. They have taken the easy way out by exploiting society’s homophobia and sacrificing these priests on the altar of self-preservation. This is a far cry from Jesus, who stood with the marginalized and was crucified because of his solidarity with them. It’s revealing that the Vatican intentionally tied pedophilia to homosexuality in order to exonerate mandated celibacy and avoid having to make the systemic changes necessary to find real solutions. For more about scapegoating homosexual priests, click here and here.
 
Recently, the hierarchy paved the way for the ordination to the priesthood of numerous married Protestant clergy.  Most of these clergy left their denominations over the issue of homosexuality.  Their primary desire was to find hierarchical support for their homophobia, and sadly, they have found it within Catholicism.  History will soon prove the Catholic Church wrong on the issue of homosexuality as it has on so many other issues.  Even then, the hierarchy will continue to proclaim itself “Infallible” and those in the pew will again look the other way in order to maintain their illusion of faith.  Click here to see how the Bishops have lost credibility with the majority of Catholics when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.  Click here to read a story about the pain the Bishop’s homophobia has caused one man and how their teaching causes many gay people to commit suicide.
 
I have known I was gay from the time I was four years old, even though I could not articulate it to myself, let alone anyone else.  I thought everyone felt the same as I did, but gradually as I grew up and then went to school and observed others, I realized slowly over time that I was different.  And so did my classmates when I reached a certain age because I did not have, nor have any desire to have, a “girlfriend.”  Naturally, I became the butt of jokes from my male classmates from a very early age.  I became an altar boy at the tender age of seven and noticed immediately the profound respect I had from the older people in the parish that I never had before.  When I announced to my classmates at an early age that I thought I wanted to be a priest, it helped to stop the ribbing (at least from the Catholic ones), now; at least, they saw a reason why I stayed away from girls.  When I entered minor diocesan seminary with other students, we were surrounded by men who gave us an attention, respect, and honor that I had never experienced before.  Never once did they question my sexuality or make me feel uncomfortable.
 
Within the Roman Catholic priesthood, a high percentage of bishops and priests are bisexual or homosexual.  One should not be surprised at this.  As the priest cited above attests, the acceptance and respect shown to celibate priests is a strong drawing card for boys who feel alienated and demeaned because of a homosexual orientation that they themselves probably don’t understand.  The seminary environment is, itself, conducive to nurturing the emotional needs of homosexual men.  From the moment a man enters the seminary, he is surrounded by men and expected to associate primarily with men throughout his formation.
 
From the time a man enters the seminary and throughout his priesthood, special friendships with women are discouraged and often perceived as scandalous, while associations with males are, of course, acceptable.  Eyebrows are raised if a priest goes out to lunch with a woman, but he can live with other men and vacation with other priests, with no questions asked.  If he is gay, this is also a drawing card, as it would be for a heterosexual priest if the situation were reversed and he could freely, without raising any eyebrows or suspicion, associate with women.
 
In no way do we want to imply that an all male environment influences men to become homosexual, because sexual orientation is genetically predetermined.  However, within a male environment, it is understandably easier for a homosexual or bisexual man to have his intimacy needs met than it is for a heterosexual man.
 
Because homosexual relationships are frowned upon in most areas of society, welcomed in very few and completely rejected in others, the priesthood is, and has been throughout the history of mandated celibacy, a refuge for gay men. But, there is another reason why gay men are attracted to the priesthood, they are very good at it.
 
During our years in the priesthood, we found homosexual priests to be some of the most pastorally gifted and successful people in ministry and learned to respect them deeply.
 
Although it is easier for gay priests to have their intimacy needs met, they risk public ridicule if their sexual orientation becomes public knowledge.  Therefore they must keep their sexual orientation “in the closet,” and that is more easily done within a community of celibate males.
 
If the Church’s hierarchy were honest, it would acknowledge the high percentage of priests who are gay and affirm their ministry.  Instead, they appear to be ashamed of these priests and attempt to deny their existence.  In so doing, they are contributing to society’s homophobia and encouraging gay priests to view their God-given sexuality with shame.
 
Some cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests in ecclesiastical offices responsible for homophobic polices are themselves gay, which shows to what degree they will sacrifice their integrity in order to maintain their power.
 
The history of the Church indicates that even some popes have been homosexual.  The hierarchy is well aware of the high number of homosexuals that minister within their ranks.  Sadly, their policy has been to be dishonest and deny it. Gay priests are also expected to join in this falsehood and be dishonest about who they are.
 
Regardless of whether priests are homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, the real problem lies with the hierarchy’s seeming inability to deal with human sexuality in an emotionally healthy way.  Their outlook exemplifies an Augustinian view where sexual orgasm is perceived as a defiling act rendering the priest impure.  This sick, medieval view of sexuality is the heart of the problem and the foundation upon which mandatory celibacy rests.
 
It is very difficult for priests to integrate their sexuality in a healthy manner when it is perceived as an alien force within them.  My moral theology class in the seminary taught that masturbation (or even so much as thinking about it with delight) was serious sin.  My professor summed it up in these words: “If you are celibate, no orgasms!”  This came from a very conservative moral theologian whom the Church had elevated as an authority on human sexuality in one of the largest seminaries in the United States.  The message that came through to us seminarians was:  “Your sexual drive is evil and alien to who you really are and must be repressed, or you will be punished by God.”  This resulted in seminarians running off to confession every few days with sex as the major “sin” with which they were preoccupied.  Teaching such as this is psychologically damaging and harmful to healthy sexual integration.  This is why there will always be some sort of sexual crisis within the priesthood, and the responsibility for it needs to be placed at the very highest echelon within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
 
A priest who is gay and has transitioned created a blog intended to be a safe place where gay or bisexual priests (currently serving or have served) in the Church, can find support. He states, “It is my hope that, through the process of sharing the challenges that exist for being gay and priests, support and encouragement can be found regardless of dispirited rhetoric and dictums from the Church’s hierarchy, which oppresses gay and bisexual men into feeling lonely and shameful. This blog is intended to allow a healing process to exist, whereby priests can find understanding, hope and a sense of peace.” Click here to find the blog “Make It Known”.
 
For an excellent in depth discussion about homosexuality and the Catholic Church, see this article in Commonweal.
 
The experience of falling in love is overwhelming for anyone, but especially for a priest.  When love erupts in a priest’s heart, he realizes everything he has worked for is put at risk – his ministry, reputation, the esteem of parishioners, other priests, his bishop and possibly family and friends.  He risks losing his job, home, health insurance and, sadly in some dioceses, his retirement.  On top of all this is the fear of spiritual condemnation by the Church who claims to wield the power of God Himself.  So, rather than romantic love being a treasured gift from God, it becomes a threat to a priest’s very survival and puts him in crisis.
 
Even though they know this, most priests still yearn for a significant other with whom they can have a close, intimate relationship.  If gay, they long for a male, and if straight, a female companion who will see beyond the curtain of their professional lives into their hearts and embrace them with tenderness, nurture and unconditional love.  Their primary desire is not for sex, but for the warmth, tenderness and nurture that a healthy relationship of love offers.  Unfortunately, mandated celibacy makes all of this “sinful”, or at least, the near occasion of sin, which priests are trained to avoid.
 
It is true that there are priests who are primarily looking for sexual gratification and are willing to use others for this purpose.  But these priests are emotionally troubled and do not represent the majority.  Those who have been recipients of their abuse would call them criminals and possibly even attempt to sue them or their diocese or religious order for their behavior.  Mandated celibacy can and often does attract dysfunctional men who are emotionally and sexually confused.  Furthermore, it can arrest what would have otherwise been healthy psychosexual development because it prohibits the very intimate interaction necessary for this development.  This is particularly true for priests who are “lifers”, i.e. they entered the seminary during high school when the psychosexual factors of their lives were being formed.
 
Women who fall in love with priests—and the same is true for gay men who fall in love with priests—often find a sort of “schoolboy” mentality, which is indicative of men whose psychosexual development has been arrested.  But it is also a product of the environment in which priests live for all the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this section above.  A priest in love must keep it hidden and often the first person he tries to hide it from is himself.  What love he is able to show cannot be overt, and like a schoolboy he is awkward trying to express it, feels shame if anyone notices it, and if asked would strongly deny it exists.  What is going on in his heart is euphoric and at the same time frightening.
 
Rather than run from this love, priests may find it helpful to have a good trusted counselor with whom to discuss it.  They may find that attempting to run from love is actually running from God’s greatest gift and something they will someday regret.  On the other hand, careful discernment is necessary to see if he and his companion have the emotional maturity to make a marriage work.
 
Because mandated celibacy prohibits this relationship, proper discernment while in ministry is difficult.
 
If a priest finds that he would like to pursue the relationship, he may be better off leaving the priesthood.  In this way, he can be honest and express his love in the light of day, rather than in the shaming shadows of celibacy, where now his lover is also required to live.  I fail to understand why a priest would expect the person he loves to also live in this oppressive environment that perceives their relationship to be sinful.  She is susceptible to verbal and other emotional abuse if word gets out that they are in love.
 
Such is the sad situation of the Roman Catholic priesthood.
 
In order to leave, the priest needs to look at everything he does as a stepping stone out of the priesthood.  This begins in his own heart with a clear intention to leave, i.e. “Sow a thought and reap an action.”  Finding emotional support is helpful, but if he is looking for priest friends or his bishop to validate his desire to leave, he will be disappointed.  He must believe, not only in God, but also in himself.
 
To someone outside of Catholicism, they may think, “What’s the big deal?  If you want to leave, just leave!”  But it’s not that easy.  Click here to see more reasons why it’s hard to leave.
 
He can leave with or without going through the laicization process.  If he and his beloved want to continue within Catholicism, get married and receive the sacraments, he will need to be laicized and this process can be lengthy, but it can occur after he leaves.  Further information about being laicized is available on this website’s blog, “The Laicization Process”.
 
The first step to transitioning out of the priesthood is for the priest to have a theology that allows him to leave.  He must also perceive that he has the internal resources necessary to create a new life elsewhere.  Even if he finds that this particular love relationship does not end in marriage, it has served to help him mature and begin a new phase of life.  Once a priest tastes the sweetness of intimate romantic love, it becomes the benchmark for other relationships.  He has been to the mountain top of romantic love, where, perhaps to his surprise, he has found the presence of God and a whole new dimension of life.  It changes everything and he begins to see forced celibacy for what it is – an oppressive ecclesiastical law that stands apart from the will of God.  Of course, the situation would be completely different if celibacy was optional.
 
It takes tremendous courage for a woman to confide to a priest that she is in love with him, or for a priest to confide to a woman that he is in love with her.  And of course, the same would apply to gay relationships.
 
When a priest is in love, his love is often expressed with innuendo and under the table, so to speak, which is indicative of the schoolboy dynamic.  If the woman has reached a point in the relationship where she wants to be honest and express her love to him, she will be hurt if it is not reciprocated.  The rejection may occur for several reasons:
 
  • The priest is not in love with her and she has read more into the relationship than was there. In this case, he must ask himself if he intentionally led her on.  If this was the case, he joins the ranks of other abusive priests.
  • The priest lacks the courage to admit his love for her, though he may come around to it in time.
  • The priest may truly love her, but not enough to face the possible ramifications of developing a deeper relationship.  At least, he should admit this.
  • The priest truly loves her, but is too steeped in Catholic theology to ever seriously consider leaving because he fears putting either of their souls in jeopardy.  He feels that by remaining a priest he is practicing “sacrificial love” and awaits their perfect union in Heaven.  In this situation, in the mind of the priest, the ecclesiastical institution has become divinized.
 
By discussing the nature of their relationship, the woman has been the mature one by admitting her love, no longer willing to play schoolboy games.  She has been honest and called him to honesty too.  Like so many women in the history of humanity, she is the hero but is often viewed as the villain.  To all the women who have been hurt by priests who love them but are afraid to come out from behind their collars: your honesty, integrity and courage are an inspiration.  He is a slave of the institution.  Hold your head high and move on to a man worthy of your love.  Healing will come in time.
 
A priest in love normally wants the relationship to continue under the table, because of the crisis it involves for him to be honest about it.  Often when in love, his denial is primarily to himself about the blossoming love relationship, but he cannot deny the joy he feels while in her presence.  It’s time for him to man-up and face the truth.  It may be costly but such is the price of true spiritual growth and maturity.
 
He needs to wake up and see how he has been brainwashed by the Church and embrace this love as a gift from God.  Regardless of what the Church says, this is the real conversion where he takes responsibility for his own life.  Just as he found Christ present in ministry and now in romantic love, he will find him also present and guiding him into the future.  Faith is confidence assurance about things hoped for and conviction about things unseen.(Hebrews 11:1)
 
Mandated celibacy forces a priest to live a sort of schizophrenic relationship with himself when it comes to romance and nurture.  Intimacy lurks beneath the surface of his life and he dreams of someday finding someone with whom he can share it.  If he does come across someone that causes the violins to sound off, he feels both attraction and fear of where it may lead.
 
This can be a challenge for married couples as well, who find their hearts being touched by someone other than their spouse.  It is less an issue if their need for love and nurture are being met with their spouse, and this involves much more than sex.  But, for a priest, there is no one filling this void in his life.  While it is true that some find their needs for intimacy met in their spirituality, many do not.  Christ longs to bring these priests love, nurture and intimacy through another human being and they have a right for this.  Ecclesiastical law can never nullify the divine law to marry and experience the union of two people coming together as one.
 
There are women and priests in love who have made a mutual commitment to somehow live this love within the context of the priesthood.  Some of these relationships are celibate and some are not.  I don’t know how, over the long haul, they do it.  They live in fear of their love becoming public and must sometimes have to lie to keep it hidden.  I don’t think living  this way is emotionally, spiritually or physically healthy.  Yet, some have managed to make it work.  Love will have its way, even if it must be lived within the shaming shadows of celibacy.  However, priests who ask their beloved to live in this way must examine themselves to see if it is truly mutual or the result of a lack of empathy.  In some countries, a priest having a concubine is tolerated, perhaps even expected, but that is not the case in the United States.
 
Only in the Roman Catholic Church is God’s gift of love perceived as evil.
 
Some priests find their needs for love and intimacy met within their life and ministry but many do not.  An obvious solution to this would be to make celibacy optional.  Unfortunately, the Church is entrenched and blind to this, and it’s time for priests in love to move on with their lives.
 
Ecclesiastical leaders eager to pass judgment on priests who seek companionship need to understand that they have turned God’s gift of love into a force of evil.  This is one of the greatest perversions of religion today and they would do well to remember that turning God’s gift of love into a force of evil is the real sin.  By so adamantly maintaining the current law of mandated celibacy, they are mainly responsible for the pain suffered by priests and women in love and for whatever scandal might ensue from these  relationships.
 
A question women who fall in love with priests must ask themselves is, “Am I part of a fantasy world he is creating?” Most priests have no intention of leaving the priesthood, but welcome a romantic relationship, whatever the degree, because it provides relief from the loneliness of the priesthood. Women involved with these relationships can find their lives on hold sometimes for years only to find the relationship to be going nowhere.
 
If a priest is really in love, he would leave. Period. No, “Well, if only…” Or,  “I would leave if ….”  Many women who enter into the world of mandated celibacy and romance end up deeply hurt.  Romance and the priesthood are indeed an oxymoron.  If a priest is unwilling to be honest and discuss the relationship with the one he loves, it is an indication that the relationship is going nowhere.
 
Father, if you are in a romantic relationship, whether gay or straight, you are fortunate.  Giving and receiving romantic love is a huge part of what it means to be a human being.  It is an experience where the presence of God cannot be denied if one is honest about it.  If you are still active in the Catholic Church, no one needs to tell you how complicated the relationship is given the fact that you have to live it within the shaming shadows of mandated celibacy.  It is unfortunate that now the one you love must also try to express their affection within this oppressive system.  Your options are to force this love out of your life, or strive to secretively nurture it within the confines of the priesthood, or leave and live the relationship openly in the light of day.  True freedom is found in the latter.  Romantic love opens up a whole other world.  Your superiors will demonize this relationship, but how can love be evil?  Realize they and their predecessors have turned romantic love into a force of evil, which is the ultimate corruption of religion.  How can their corruption of romantic love be the will of God who identified himself with love?  Because mandated  celibacy is not the will of God, you are free to leave.   (source)
 

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

The Trouble with Celibacy

The Trouble with Celibacy

In Africa, Catholicism’s best growth market, many priests have little use for Rome’s chastity mandate.

By Lisa Miller | Newsweek Web Exclusive |  07 April 2010

LisaMillerIn 1998 a Roman Catholic nun named Marie McDonald wrote a brief and painful summary of her concerns to her colleagues and superiors. It was labeled “strictly confidential.” She was worried, she said, about the sexual abuse of nuns by Roman Catholic priests in Africa

The memo—titled “The Problem of the Sexual Abuse of African Religious in Africa and in Rome” was concise. “Sexual harassment and even rape of sisters by priests and bishops is allegedly common,” it said.  Sisters, financially dependent on priests, occasionally have to perform sexual favors in exchange for money. McDonald analyzed the causes of this widespread violation of chastity vows and then made this plea: “The time has come for some concerted action.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, which made McDonald’s memo public in 2001, Vatican officials did take steps to rectify the problem, but publicly, their stance was chillingly familiar. “The problem is known and is restricted to a limited geographical area,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman at the time. This is an isolated incident, in other words; we’ve got it under control.

Even as new cases of child sexual abuse by clergy emerge each day in Europe and the United States, abuse in the regions where Catholicism is growing fastest—Latin America, Asia, and, especially, Africa—are still largely ignored. In the West, the focus has been on the violation of minors, and on the role of celibacy in engendering this problem. In Africa, the problem is somewhat more complex. Though many good priests do adhere to their chastity vows, says the Rev. Peter Schineller, a Jesuit priest who has spent 20 years in Africa, sex between consenting or semi-consenting adults is commonplace. Transgression against chastity vows by priests run the gamut from harassment all the way to fathering children; it’s not criminal necessarily, but it’s certainly against doctrine. “The violations are huge,” says Schineller. As the Roman Catholic hierarchy continues to crow over its success and vitality in the global south—the growth rate in Africa and Asia has been about 3 percent a year, twice the rate worldwide—the African church may put mandatory clerical celibacy to its harshest test yet.

Sexual coercion is just part of the story. The 2001 investigation by the National Catholic Reporter uncovered three separate reports of sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests. The story described priests raping religious sisters and then paying for their abortions; sisters fearing to travel in cars with priests for fear of rape; sisters appealing to bishops for help only to be told to go away. “Even when they are listened to sympathetically,” wrote McDonald, “nothing seems to be done.”

Much less well documented is a broader problem: priests with unofficial “wives.” In Africa, “there’s a tremendous problem with the vow of chastity in regard to women,” says Schineller. “Statistics are hard to get, but it’s a reality. Bishops are sometimes involved with it, but mostly they simply have not faced it. It’s kind of a hidden thing. Laypeople want priests, so they put up with the priest having a friend.” About four years ago, Schineller worked with the bishops of Nigeria to produce a pamphlet warning parish priests about the dangers of violating their chastity vows. “There are consequences for all of this,” he said.

Schineller believes that priests all over the world fail to maintain their celibacy—more, he says, than anyone wants to admit—but that Africa presents priests with a unique set of problems. In Africa, parents have a higher social status than childless adults. “To be a man in Africa—it varies from culture to culture—but it is expected that you will have children and a family. To be a celibate male is not a high value.” Also, he adds, priests are often very isolated: they get lonely. “Priests are separated, living out in the bush. Family expectations are high, temptations are strong.” And women, as Marie McDonald put it in her top-secret document, hold an “inferior position.” “It seems,” she wrote, “that a sister finds it impossible to refuse a priest who asks for sexual favors.” (It’s easy to imagine that holds true as well for women who are not nuns.)

Nuns hold a unique place in this sexual landscape. In a universe where AIDS is widespread, sex with nuns is thought to be safe; some imagine it might even have positive, healing powers. Priests who might have visited prostitutes see religious sisters as a healthy alternative. “One of the most dangerous myths in history,” adds Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, “was this: if you were suffering from a serious sexual disease, sex with a virgin would cure it. That had awful consequences.”

The Vatican has known about these sins and crimes for some time. When Benedict XVI traveled to Africa in 2005, for example, he addressed the question of celibacy explicitly. He urged the bishops there to “open themselves fully to serving others as Christ did by embracing the gift of celibacy.”

Indeed, Benedict holds celibacy so high that last year he excommunicated a Zambian priest, the Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, for being married. Mbewe now heads a breakaway sect of married Catholic priests in Uganda called the Catholic Apostolic National Church, according to The New York Times. “The creation of the splinter church underscored the increasingly vexing problem of enforcing celibacy for Roman Catholic priests in Africa, which has the world’s fastest-growing Catholic population but where there have been several cases of priests living openly with women and fathering children,” the Times wrote. One wonders at the priorities of a man who failed to defrock a priest in Wisconsin who molested hundreds of children but acted so decisively in the case of one who married a consenting adult.

Lisa Miller is NEWSWEEK’s religion editor and the author of  Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife .  (source)

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love