This is another true story by one of our readers. It clearly shows the manipulation which goes on the priest’s life as he is carefully kept away from the so called ‘normal’ experience of life for many years during his seminary (place of initial training) formation. At one moment, the priest grows up and the lid on his true feelings disappears! This is something not understood by those who claim that he knew what he promised to God (celibacy). In fact it’s not surprising that most priests have never received a kiss from a woman. It all boomerangs unto the priest when he grows up and starts to meet the normal world. Was his vow of celibacy valid when he was kept in the dark for such a long time?
The oldest of seven children, three brothers and three sisters, 10-year old John’s widowed mother sent him to a seminary in the hopes of giving him a good education. He grew up isolated from the rest of the world, following strict rules and regulations within the typical regimented spirit of a seminary or monastery. He was allowed to go home for brief annual holidays in his earlier years. He loved the contact with nature, the clean bubbly creeks, the snow-packed mountain peaks and the surrounding green pastures and hills.
It happened during one of those outings that he encountered a pretty 22-year old girl who, after several encounters and long conversations took matters in her own hand and planted a kiss on John’s lips. Startled by that demonstration of affection, he blushed and ran down the hill, towards home. Days later he returned to the seminary to continue his theological studies but never forgot the incident with Concetta, to the point that he felt compelled to approach his spiritual director who invariably avoided the subject claiming that “everything will get settled with time.” John did not know what to make of his very first kiss with a young woman. He had never before experienced that form of contact with a person of the opposite sex, so different and so pleasant.
Somehow he felt that something important and immensely beautiful had been left out of his life. Up until then there had been only prayers, time in church, more prayers and more time in church, day in and day out. Because of that kiss his mind and body were going through a series of questions never asked before; very challenging questions. Was he supposed to go through an entire life without those pleasant sensations experienced during that kiss? He was confused and dismissed all that reasoning as the wrong thoughts for a seminarian heading to the priesthood and a life devoted to helping in the Christian way of life, heading to a life of chastity, poverty and obedience. And he chased those thoughts as evil ones. The following four years of theology flew by quickly with a relative calm, mainly dedicated to the study and preparation for the apostolic and missionary life that had been chosen for him.
Having won a scholarship, John’s congregation sent him to the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to obtain a master’s degree in Social Psychology and to prepare him for a life of teaching in Kenya. He dove into a life of studies between classes and libraries and endless hours poring over books and writing his thesis. Evenings were spent in the recital of the rosary and evening prayers, the reading of a spiritual book, the supper, some ping-pong until 9:00 p.m. when everyone retired to their single rooms to study some more, read or sleep. The routine continued for about two years.
As a priest John was sent to various parishes that needed help on Saturdays and Sundays with a Mass celebration or other activities. John noticed that there were great differences at the way they looked at things in Europe and how Americans looked and dealt with those same things. The seminarians lead a fairly liberal life and were able to travel independently back and forth to the university and other destination where they were needed.
Through his activities at the parish level, John got to meet new people and was often invited to spend time at a birthday party, a wedding or other celebrations. It was during that time period that he noticed to be the centre of attention, mainly from the female population that considered him to be cute and sexy. John naturally enjoyed the attention and the fuss most women bestowed upon him and at various times, he thought to be in love. He was young, inexperienced and fell like a sucker to the various seduction schemes. It was the beginning of a much deeper interest in the female gender and their presence in his life. Then one day it happened, and John wondered why was he having a love affair with a woman 15 years his senior? Where this need for physical contact with a woman came from? Was it merely boyish inexperience or was it the pressing urge to experience sex at 25?
During John’s second year of university he was assigned to help out with more parish duties and so the man-priest continued to be exposed to the possibility of interacting with the female population of the area. Those years could be defined as the awakening of his inner self, to that great physical love forbidden to a priest. Only God could be witness to the various experiences and dilemmas he went through. Probably his greatest sin was to love without being loved. That for him was a terrible experience that left him sour and mad. In a very short period of time, his duties as priest were reduced to the bare essentials, like celebrating Mass and saying the rosary at night with his fellow priests. He frequently dropped the reading of the breviary. On the other hand, his social life outside of the convent intensified to the point of foregoing the community duties. Picnics with his university friends, both boys and girls, with returns to the community house late at night became more frequent.
John tried to analyze and stigmatize his first contacts and subsequent pains and traumas arising from the discovery of the woman in his adult life. Four were the women that stood out in a special way in his memory, and it was due to these four experiences that made him wonder why the Catholic Church made celibacy a very important aspect of a man entering the priesthood. It namely took the priest further away from the actual life of his flock and turned him into an absurd figure in the society he lived in and worked for. Needless to say that since its inception, priesthood was never a life of chastity, except for a few of them. Through the history of the church, priests having one or more women in their lives were a common fact.
Once finished his studies, John was designated to start his missionary work in Kenya. No more easy life or daydreaming, but getting on with real life, facing his future with courage and especially with an open mind. If Kenya was to be his future, he had to dive into it wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm.
To John, Kenya was then an unknown bit of landscape in this huge earth, and he could even guess that he would fall in love with that exotic piece of earth and for the rest of his life, he would want to go back to it. At that time, he only knew he would be a teacher to secondary or high school students who had passed their Cambridge exams and wanted to become teachers. Needless to say that John’s life had always been and would be a roller coaster of sentimental journeys. The man-priest supposed to observe chastity was often taken over by the urgent need of an affective human link, characterized by a feminine presence.
Several years later, John was assigned a new position in Brazil. He fought this assignment initially as he could never get rid of the nostalgia of a great river, which had just run dry. Its waters would never again turn the big, noisy wheels of the mills which grounded so much work and happiness in the land of wilderness. John wanted to be an apostle as he once was. Would this new land be again a land of activity, of true loving activity? John longed for love and understanding. The love and understanding that would make his work possible and render his dedication absolute. He was in search of a challenge. He was hired as sociologist by a large, international welfare agency.
From behind a mountain of paperwork covering his desk, he discovered Annie, a spitfire, unquenchable, violent, and maddeningly sweet being. The young woman was about 24, although appearances made her out to be a little older. Perhaps it was due to her official look, the formal attire, the way of walking or the experience which lined every pore of her translucent skin. Flowers seemed to dance around her legs as she floated around the office, visiting each desk, leaving a task of love and dedication to each employee with a smile of invitation to accept the task lovingly.
John was fascinated and attracted to Annie and began wishing her good morning, a greeting that drew from her a grave, bashful answering smile. But her eyes never faltered. Those mirroring brown eyes never twitched nervously, but betrayed an absolute unblushing understanding of the hard mysteries of life, combined with an innocence that was sublime.
Informed about John’s background in psychology, Annie one day approached John asking him to analyse her crazy mind. To a certain extent, John was able to explain some of her idiosyncrasies, reactions, thoughts and emotional turmoil. He was also willing to help her understand some bewildering aspects of religion, its mysteries which had puzzled her and for which she had never gotten a satisfying answer from any of her priest friends. Not always one had to be a psychologist to grasp a friend’s state of mind and help him or her with simple gestures and words of comfort.
Day after day their friendship grew stronger. They always found some time to sit down for a beer and confide their problems to each other. Because of her restless nature and unpredictability, for sweeping through a room and through the hearts of people like a tempest, John gave her the nickname of Stormy. He enjoyed her company very much and even invited her to his parish to spend Saturday afternoons playing cards with him and the other confreres. Some other time Annie helped out at weddings by singing Ave Maria while John accompanied her at the organ. She had a beautiful contralto voice.
Annie had become an integral part of John’s life. At that point she was the only one he met who could understand his life and his story. She would treasure it and from her questions more important details would emerge. Piecing them together, Annie could help him understand himself and to make himself more useful, patient and understanding. Often John wondered why couldn’t they stay together forever and why couldn’t people around them understand and accept? People would just criticize, ridicule and try to break them apart. But neither would allow that to happen because day after day, their love for each other just grew stronger. The two were living a great adventure, the greatest adventure of the world, the adventure of true love and they wanted to live it in full and taste all the flavours of this unique adventure.
One evening, while walking along a secluded seaside cliff, John asked Annie if she wanted to become his wife.
“More than anything,” was Annie’s answer.
“We must find a way, faster,” John said.
“Well, you are the reverend,” Annie said, “you can celebrate our wedding right here, under the stars with only God as our witness.”
And so they did celebrate their wedding under a canopy of twinkling stars and with the indulgent complicity of God himself. From that moment forward they considered themselves husband and wife.
It was time to take action, John thought. If he could not openly continue his missionary work with Annie on his side as wife, then he had to decide which of the two to elect as his life purpose, no matter what the consequences. The first step, to return to his layman condition had to be requesting dispensation of his vows from the church authorities, which in itself was a lengthy, bureaucratic, complicated process, filled with countless obstacles, heart-breaking situations and decisions. Despite the many hurdles, however, the two lovers did not falter and faced all difficulties with courage and determination. A year and a half later they were joined in matrimony in the Duomo di Milano by the bishop himself
Not many priests have the necessary courage and endurance to fight for their right to happiness and love, and that is due to the fact that most become an outcast in the eyes of their own families first and then the world around them. Most cannot count on that much needed support to get through the transition, spiritual, emotional and psychological. Some are deeply troubled by a sense of futility, failure and even guilt because of the abrupt way they broke with the order and the priesthood. Yet there are many who have become successful businessmen, married and with children, who still keep in touch with their former superiors and continue to live within the Christian spirit of the Catholic Church and contributing better to their community through their practical experience within a family unit. It is their belief, and rightfully so, that the Lord does not love them any less than those who remained in their priestly activity.
The woman who falls in love with a priest must prepare herself to be most understanding, patient and forgiving. Sometimes it will require more giving than receiving. She must be strong to help, guide and assist him through difficult moments of depression and doubts because a priest, despite his outer austere shell, deep down, is extremely vulnerable and in need of all the support and love he can get.