Twenty-six Italian women who claim to be having affairs with a priest have written to Pope Francis begging him to lift the Catholic clergy's vow of celibacy.Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has had a seemingly unique ability to inspire the imaginations of people who arguably do not in fact like him very much. Once in a while these erstwhile fans even realize this. I was going to chalk this up to yet another insane case of thinking that with a new face in the Vatican, everything is up for grabs. (To be clear, the discipline of priestly celibacy could in fact be changed in the West. In the Eastern churches, married men are ordained to the priesthood. However, what few people realize is that this does not mean that "priests can marry" but rather that married men can become priests. If a married priest's wife leaves him or his wife dies, he is required to remain celibate from there on out.)
In an extraordinary letter addressed to His Holiness, the unnamed women say they are just a 'small sample' of believers being forced to 'live in silence' because of their relationship.
The letter starts: 'Dear Pope Francis, we are a group of women from all over Italy (and further afield) and are writing to you to break down the wall of silence and indifference that we are faced with every day.
'Each of us is in, was or would like to start a relationship with a priest we are in love with.'
The 26 women signed with just their name and the initial letter of their surname, plus the name of their hometown, but they did write their surnames and telephone numbers on the envelope.
'As you are well aware,' the letter reads, 'a lot has been said by those who are in favour of optional celibacy but very little is known about the devastating suffering of a woman who is deeply in love with a priest.
'We humbly place our suffering at your feet in the hope that something may change, not just for us, but for the good of the entire Church.'
However, when I went to look up the article to post on it the first response which Google gave me was not what I expected, but rather this article from 2010:
Dozens of Italian women who have had relationships with Roman Catholic priests or lay monks have endorsed an open letter to the pope that calls for the abolition of the celibacy rule. The letter, thought by one signatory to be unprecedented, argues that a priest "needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved".Perhaps it's just that in May, mistresses thoughts turn to priests.
It also pleads for understanding of those who "live out in secrecy those few moments the priest manages to grant [us] and experience on a daily basis the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men".
The issue was put back on the Vatican's agenda in March when one of Pope Benedict's senior advisers, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said the abolition of the celibacy rule might curb sex abuse by priests, a suggestion he hastily withdrew after Benedict spoke up for "the principle of holy celibacy".
The authors of the letter said they decided to come into the open after hearing his retort, which they said was an affirmation of "the holiness of something that is not holy" but a man-made rule. There are many instances of married priests in the early centuries of Christianity. Today, priests who follow the eastern Catholic rites can be married, as can those who married before converting to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism.
One signatory, Stefania Salomone, 42, an office manager, said the message to the pope had been endorsed by nearly 40 women registered with an online forum linked to Il Dialogo website. But such was the sensitivity of the issue that only three had published their names.