In 1983, when I first began working with Good Tidings, a group formed to help women and priests who were in love come to a resolution of their situations, i.e. either a return to celibate life or marriage as we innocently though at that time, I never in my wildest nightmares thought I'd discover all that has been revealed to me by these women and priests over the past 26 years.
My husband and I worked entirely by telephone and letters back then in the age before e-mail and cells. We spent hours a day talking with the priests and women who contacted us. They found us from a small ad we placed in The National Catholic Reporter, and then through word of mouth (there is quite a network as it turns out), and on occasion some were actually referred to us by priests at chancery offices in some diocese. After all, we were not looking to harm the Church, but to help priests and women find spiritual direction and integrity while recognizing that love is a natural human need--for everyone. Priests are not any different when it comes to needing love. Where they ARE different, or are SUPPOSED TO BE different is that priests of the Latin Rite in the Roman Catholic Church are obliged to be chaste and celibate. In other words, they can't stay and play!
What we sadly and shockingly discovered was the large number of priests who wanted exactly that--to stay priests and play with women. They played with women who were having marriage problems and who turned to a parish priest for help as good Roman Catholics were always encouraged to do. They helped women get annulments with promises of "I love you" only to abandon them once the women were free to respond to them. They played with women who worked for the Church. They played with some religious sisters. They played with fellow students in college, or with students they taught. The point is they played entirely too much for Roman Catholic priests. The priests were under vows of obedience and promises or vows of celibacy. Some of the women were young single, some married and in troubled marriages. No woman who is active in the Church ever thinks she will be in this kind of situation. And, no woman who hears the comforting words "I love you" from a priest suspects him of lying. She may think he is out of line, but certainly not a liar, after all--he's a priest!
My husband and I began working with this population because several years earlier we'd come to love each other and realized we had to deal with that before God. This was a threesome and God was the Third Person in our trinity of love. Neither of us could ignore that. We could not live with ourselves if we did. My husband and I went separately to spiritual direction and counseling in order to try to discern our future. After several years of this, we decided to marry. We never forgot the feeling of imagining we were the only ones in the world in this situation. We were not, of course, but we did not know that at the time. Pope John Paul II had just come into the papacy and stopped all laicizations and ignored all further requests, including my husband's. He has yet to hear from Rome, even 28 years after his official request. Oh, yes, he was encouraged to reapply after our daughter was born. His former superior's exact words were "given your irreversible situation you might consider reapplying to Rome..." Our daughter was the irreversible situation, not our marriage, not our love, not me. All that, the latter was totally reversible because at any moment he could have repented of our invalid attempt at marriage (which is how RC Canon Law defines a priest's marriage with out first being laicized), walked out of our home and back into his religious house and priestly
ministry. Yes, he would have needed a recycling program, but that is in place for such priests. I must at least acknowledge his superior's moral integrity in recognizing that our beautiful daughter certainly was irreversible! For other superiors, a child of a priest is merely a problem to be solved by paying off the mother. Had I been offered such a payment I would have told them a few things about where it might be placed for saving. However, I was not in such a situation. My daughter's dad loved her even in his dreams, before she came to us from God. Hadn't he picked her name four years before her conception and birth? He was and is a loving father and husband. He remains a priest forever according to Roman Catholic theology, so laicization was simply not something he was going to ask for twice!
The year we married was 1980. We were soon to be educated in the facts of life regarding the Roman Catholic priesthood, and those facts included that far from our being alone in our situation over 18,000 priests had married at that time in the USA. The number was to grow to 25,000 and over 100,000 worldwide. Many joined CORPUS, which at that time meant the Corp of Resigned Priests United for Service. They were still willing to serve the Church as married priests, like the thousands of married priests in the Eastern rites united to Rome, never bound by celibacy. We had actually joined a very large community of married priests and their wives and families. A welcoming community it continues to be. This community has supported our efforts for the past 26 years to reach out to other priests and women who are in relationships, to help them understand they are not alone, and there is support as together they pray and discern their future.
The "shadow side of celibacy," as it was described in David Rice's book Shattered Vows: The Priests who Left. London: Penguin/Michael Joseph, 1990. New York: William Morrow, 1991. St Louis: Ligouri, 1997 (yet another nasty story of suppression of the truth there, just ask me about that one ) on this subject was and remains the secret lives of "priests of the lie," as I refer to them. These are priests who do not care one bit about the Church, the People of God, the pope, canon law, honesty or even God. These are career priests, who have the security of priesthood, a great education, and a future job security such as nobody in the country enjoys today! They also have their pick of women or men depending upon which way the wind blows, and the power to keep the relationships secret and silent.
That power diminishes for some, however, when a child is born of such a relationship. Years ago, when we first learned of this seedy side, the Church would buy the silence of the mothers with hush money, which was supposedly to help her care for her child. This was done when all attempts to have her put the child up for adoption were ignored by the mother who already loved the unborn child. Others were encouraged by the priest-dads to abort to protect their reputations. Some of these priests had several children by different women who had no idea of one another! At times we would hear from more than one woman whose story sounded too familiar. On more than one occasion I put these women in touch with one another for peer support--and they discovered their priests were one and the same gigolo. At times both women had children by these priests. You see, such priests don't just stop acting in such irresponsible ways. They have a pattern, and it continues for the life of their priesthood. We're not talking about holy priests here, folks. We are talking about evil acts by priests who do not care, and who are then protected and kept in the priesthood or religious life. Why? Well some of them bring in a great deal of donations. They are charismatic men. Their friends are great donors who feel very important when they hang with Father and give money not caring how Father ignores his own children. The good and holy members of the Church deserve better than this! The Church deserves holy priests, for God's sake!
These stories continue right to today. Older women who have raised the children of priests in silence and hiding (one such story is PERFECT by Judy Soucier), and younger women today who are moments pregnant... The mothers of the past were forced to sign hush agreements which bound them legally not to divulge the identity of the priest fathers, that is if they wanted ANY financial help--which time has proven has NEVER been sufficient to raise a child. However, in many cases I already knew the entire story, the fathers' names, and I got to know the children. I signed no such agreements, and the women often gave me the copies of the legal documents surrounding their cases. These are safely put away for future Church history files for some Roman Catholic university of our choice. This is Church history, but of course while history is being made, the Church does not want it known.
There is something very wrong with that though. The People of God are the ones paying the bills for the priests. They usually believe the priests are what they present themselves to be when they vest for Mass--celibate priests. The people are often being deceived. Priests are paid salaries, and even religious order priests do not live on the wind and prayer...they too live on the donations of the Faithful, and earnings from ministries. That a Franciscan earns a few hundred dollars a month does not mean he is poor. It only means his personal cash-flow is limited. However the perks of religious life are just as secure as secular priesthood with its salaried priests. And this all comes from and through the People of God who trust priests to be honest. Religious priests do not live in tents. They are not homeless. When they are sick not only are their medical bills paid, but they have the care they need without growing one grey hair over where medical insurance is coming from, or if it is there to cover expenses.
Yet, how many times a religious priest who fathers a child cries poverty. How the founders of these religious orders would cringe at the notion of abusing the ideal of vowed poverty! I can only imagine St. Francis, just as an example of one holy founder, telling one of his friars who fathered a child that he, the friar, was responsible for that infant! Who in his or her right mind would think Francis would excuse such behavior as ignoring one's own child while feigning chastity and poverty. He'd tell him to get a job after Mass, and feed his child! WWJD? is the question we hear around the Christian world today. What would Jesus do? Would Jesus say "Go forth and multiply, and be sure to keep it secret and get back into the monastery and make believe you are a friar.... Suffer the little children...verily, verily, suffer them..." or would Jesus demand that one obligation He placed on His followers to Love and in this case to love the children one co-creates?
Jesus left only ONE law. ONE. LOVE. It was not ignore your children, let them die without your love. Yet today, a young man lies in a hospital intensive care ward with a very rare form of brain cancer. His mother was one who signed a hush agreement years ago after he was born. She broke that agreement to go public and appear on a talk show with us to tell others how the Church treats the mothers of priests' children. She paid for that broken contract with the Church. However, long before she ever signed the agreement she and I were friends. I knew the entire story, had it written in her hand and locked away in our vaults. I signed no agreement regarding those letters from her, or our hours of phone conversations. Her son never signed any agreement either, and today, although he is ill from a rare brain cancer, he and I are in touch. Many of the children are grown now, and I have waited for this day when the children of these priests would discover their own voices, and would tell the stories of their mothers and "fathers" who ignored them in order to remain priests and "serve God and their parishes." If their parishes only knew who it was who served them...teaching about sexual morality and the obligations placed upon the Faithful by the clergy. If only the Church, the People of God knew. They will! The time has come for the children to speak.
The CHURCH, the People of God, need to know what has been done in their name, with the money they've generously donated. The People of God, who care for their own children need to know how the priests have ignored their children, while preaching about family values! Holy Innocents was an outgrowth of Good Tidings, because we'd heard from so many women pregnant with priests' babies. So we formed a network to put them in touch with one another--to support each other and learn from each other, both the mistakes in dealing with the Church and the success of turning to Uncle Sam's deadbeat dad laws, in addition to having their own attorneys. We put attorneys in touch with one another to learn how to face the most powerful corporation on Earth in court, the Roman Catholic Church.
We continue to do this, and will continue to do so. But now, tonight, my heart breaks for that young man. He lies there praying. His ONLY wish was to see Pope Benedict when he visited the USA last year. But sadly he was too sick then to travel. Tonight I received the following from his mother:
"[he] is now on a respirator after a bad day yesterday and today...they are stopping the stem cell transplant and fighting to get him through this....It is difficult to watch, his heart rate went to 40 today and was very frightening..he is so brave through it all...today the catholic minister stopped by and said a prayer with him...he is under sedation but fought to move his hands from under the blanket, made the sign of the cross and folded is hands together in prayer, for the entire prayer and did the sign of the cross again....without being able to open his eyes but had his heart open the whole time... "
I asked her if his father was aware of how very sick this young man is, and she wrote back to me:
"Yes he knows...he has not contacted [her son's name] or myself...I have sent him emails stating that I will answer any questions he has...no reply"
What planet do such priests live on? What Faith do they have? Do the Faithful care? How would they react if this were one of the priests in their own parish--because it is! These priests can be found all over the country. Does the pope know or care? This young man wants with all his heart to talk with the pope. He is not bitter. He wants to talk with the pope about all this.... Does the pope care when his own priests do not? I had great hope that Pope Benedict would be very different... that he would care, be pastoral. I still hope this will happen. I ask those who read this to pray for this young man, and that his desire to speak with Benedict will be granted by God, Pope Benedict's Boss.