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Priest for 39 years writes to pope about celibacy.

This letter to the pope was written six years ago by a priest who, for understandable reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. He has now retired and feels free to share it. The letter has been slightly edited for space reasons.

Dear Holy Father,

Before I die I want to tell you something that has bothered me for the 39 years of my priesthood. All this time I have been a parish priest, including my years in the Air Force. I like being a parish priest and serving God and his people in this work.

However, the law of celibacy makes me angrier year by year. I am 64 years old, and before I die I want to tell you what I think. God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." I believe parish life should be for married priests if a priest wants to be married. I am a good priest but I would be a better priest if I had a wife. The older I become, the more I realize a need to have a companion. I would love her body also, because that is why God created men and women as he did. I do not feel that God did this by mistake or that it is degrading.

I do not believe that one man can tell other men that they cannot enter the married state. It is my opinion - and I am not a great theologian - that the authority of the church in spiritual things could not include this rule. At the very least it is hurting the church today. You did not start this, however only you are responsible today for this situation. I will always have a great regard for those who choose celibacy for the sake of God, but as St. Paul says, it is not for everyone.

I do not consider myself a celibate because I did not ever freely choose this state of life. I have heard retreat masters say that men choose celibacy and then the priesthood. This is just not true. The majority choose to become priests, and then someone tells them that if they want to do the work of God they have to be celibate, and so they put up with this imposition on their lives. The exceptions are the great St. Pauls who choose celibacy for the sake of God.

I cannot find one word in scripture that can justify mandatory celibacy and there is much that would argue for the opposite. Priests and bishops were married for more than 1,000 years in the church and then some pope had the nerve to make this law, which I think is an unjust law.

When I was in the Air Force, I usually lived in on-base housing. When I would go home at night, I would look at all the other houses and say to myself: "Everyone has someone except me." And I would go home to my empty house and cook my dinner and do my laundry and clean my house. I have a nice rectory here, but I look around at night after I finish my work and I feel bad.

I will continue to be a parish priest as long as God allows me to do so and will continue to follow the law of celibacy. But to tell you the truth, I think someone may have to answer to God for torturing me - and so many other priests - unnecessarily all these years. Priests cannot be laicized now because you, Holy Father, know how many would ask for laicization if they could. They really would not want to be laicized but their unnatural way of life has become too great a burden. I remember an old priest, a very fine priest, a friend of mine. He was more than 60 years old and had heart trouble. He told me, "I just can't stand being alone anymore." So he left the priesthood and got married and eventually was laicized.

I love you. I think you are the greatest pope I know of, at least in my lifetime. You have done so much good in so many ways. If you would change the rule, I think people would accept it because the Catholics in the world respect you and love you. If you wait until some other pope changes the rule, which unquestionably must be changed, it is not going to make much sense to the people.

If I were the pope tomorrow, which I do not think is a real probability, I would simply announce that the rule of celibacy is now ended. I know that there would be some scandals, like priests getting divorced, but it could not be worse than the scandals that are occurring now, of priests leaving the priesthood to get married or priests not being faithful to their vows. ...

I would like to make just one more comment. I don't know what I would do if you allowed married men to be ordained, but would not allow the priests who have borne the burden of this rule to be married if they wish. There are many, maybe the majority of priests who have, as much as I admit I have, suffered all their priestly lives because of this rule. I would think that they would feel, just as I would feel, that they have been ignored, betrayed, hurt and taken advantage of by someone who really does not care about them.

I have never discussed this with another priest. Only you now know how I feel, except that I have sent a copy of this letter to my archbishop.

I hope you do not take this letter as a personal attack, because I have a very great regard for you. But I think it is not fair to you not to know what I am sure so many think and feel and hurt so deeply over. How this state of affairs is going to "purify the priesthood" is beyond my comprehension. I could not die happy if I had not written this letter to you. T-feel a moral obligation to write it.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 29, 1994
Words:1025
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