Pope Francis’ largely undeserved reputation for being an open-minded pope is catching up with him again: A group of 26 Italian women have written a joint letter to the pope, explaining that they are in love with priests and monks and begging Francis to overturn the 1,000-year-old requirement for priestly celibacy. Claiming to have “strong love that is rooted in the Lord,” the women wrote that “in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond.”
According to Vatican Insider, these 26 women want the pope to overturn celibacy mostly so they can marry their priest-lovers; live openly; and, of course, have children. The last item figures prominently, a bit of enticement dangled out in front of a church that is forever pushing the belief that sex is strictly meant to be a procreative act. “[W]hen the couple chooses to continue a relationship in secret,” the letter continues, it “involves living one’s life in a constant state of hiding, frustrated by an incomplete love, with no hope of childbearing; a love that cannot see the light of day.” Sounds quite a bit—minus the making babies part—like the complaints of gay people forced to live in the closet.
It’s easy to see some of the problems that might arise if Catholic priests got married, starting with how hard it would be for many of them to tell their congregants not to use contraception while conspicuously having a limited number of children themselves. But it’s not unheard of. There have been Episcopal priests who are married and have converted to Catholicism and received permission to bring along their wives, totaling about 80 married priests in the United States alone. One of the married priests, Father D. Paul Sullins, told Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times that he felt priests are better at their jobs with wives to help out. “The truth is that celibate priests often have ways of walling themselves off,” he said, but a priest with a wife will “get an elbow from his life partner” prompting him to do the hard work of serving his flock. An elbow in the ribs is definitely less torrid than the “continuous giving and then letting go” reported by women in secret love affairs with priests. Perhaps that is reason enough for the Catholic Church to consider it.