What Do Italian Priests’ Mistresses Want You To Know?

by Jimmy Akin

in Benedict XVI, Canon Law

A group of 40 or so mistresses of Italian priests, including Stefania Solomone (pictured), want you—and especially Pope Benedict—to know that they don’t like priestly celibacy.

That’s why they’ve written the Pope a letter (Italian original) on the subject.

The occasion was Pope Benedict’s statement that

“The horizon of the ontological belonging to God also constitutes the proper framework for understanding and reaffirming, in our day too, the value of sacred celibacy which in the Latin Church is a charism required for Sacred Orders and is held in very great consideration in the Eastern Churches . . .

“It is an authentic prophecy of the Kingdom, a sign of consecration with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord”, the expression of their gift of self to God and to others. The priest’s vocation is thus most exalted and remains a great mystery, even to us who have received it as a gift. Our limitations and weaknesses must prompt us to live out and preserve with deep faith this precious gift with which Christ has configured us to him, making us sharers in his saving Mission.”

The mistresses particularly objected to the phrase “sacred celibacy,” who seem to have determined to write their letter “from the moment we heard the reaffirmation of the sacredness of what is not sacred in the least.”

This episode just fills me with sadness.

The discipline of celibacy (i.e., remaining unmarried, which implies continence, or abstaining from sexual relations as its corollary in Christian morality) for the service of the Kingdom has been part of Christian patrimony since the time of the apostles. Jesus himself recommended it in the Gospels, though he noted that it was not a gift given to everyone.

How that discipline is applied in particular ages and in particular spheres of the Church is something that has changed over time.

There is no reason in principle why the Church could not change its discipline regarding clerical celibacy in the future. The question is whether it would be prudent to do so, and what form of revision—if any—would be beneficial.

A Catholic can thus legitimately hold the opinion that the Church should modify or even abolish the discipline of clerical celibacy.

There was a period after Vatican II where there was a great expectation that a change in the discipline would be coming in the near future, which created unrealistic hopes in many. It also, no doubt, helped alienate many priests when these unrealistic expectations were not fulfilled, leading many of them into sexual sin (with adult women; wanting permission to marry a woman doesn’t correlate with desires to have sex with children) or out of the priesthood entirely.

The pressure was so great that John Paul II judged it prudent to take the subject off the table, even though it is a matter of Church discipline rather than dogma, and so he and others at the Vatican repeatedly stressed that the subject was not up for discussion.

Pope Benedict has taken a somewhat different tack. In the 2007 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, he allowed the subject to be discussed among the participants. As one might expect, reports at the time indicated that some of the Eastern bishops, who deal with the practical difficulties of a married clergy, were the most vocal in stressing that the Latin Church should not abolish its discipline on this point. So the topic was discussed, and that bishops recommended that it not be pursued further (at least at this time). That’s right there in the propositions that the bishops delivered to the pope as recommendations (see Proposition 11).

So on the one hand, my heart goes out to Pope Benedict, who has been singularly unafraid of dialog on points where the Church could change its discipline, including dialog on this point in particular. Yet as this story gains traction in the world press, he stands to be shoved into the media mold of “mean old celibate pope”—when in reality he has been willing to have the subject of revising the Latin Church’s celibacy discipline be seriously discussed!

My heart also goes out to the mistresses, because they have a human desire to marry those to whom they are romantically attached and are genuinely pained at the situation in which they find themselves.

That’s the position in which mistresses commonly find themselves.

But the thing is . . . they’re mistresses.

They are living a life that is objectively sinful.

They are violating very basic and well-known elements of Christian morality. It’s hard to claim innocent ignorance in this case.

The same thing goes—even moreso—for the priests with whom they are involved.

One can feel for the emotional distress over the situation in which they find themselves, and one can understand their petition for a change in Church law that would allow them to regularize their situations, but at the same time there is a tragic dimension to their situation that remains unacknowledged in their letter: They are, in fact, living in sin.

And it’s a big one, overlaid with sacrilege because priests are involved—a factor that weighs even more heavily on the priest in the relationship than one the mistress, because the priest is responsible for his consecrated person in a way that others are not.

It is a tragedy that these people attached romantic feelings to each other—something that they knew from the beginning was wrong.

So reading the letter is a mixed experience.

In certain passages they make insightful points (particularly regarding the psychological dynamics of their situation). In other passages they articulate positions that a Catholic may legitimately hold.

But then they get into stuff that is flat-out rationalization.

They play the victim card repeatedly, and there is an element of truth to the idea that they are victims—but not as much victims of the law of celibacy (as they would maintain) but rather victims of the men who have been playing with their affections to fulfill their own psychological and sexual impulses.

I’m sorry, but there are lots of people in the world who are romantically off limits to every single one of us. These people include all children, all members of our own sex, all married members of the opposite sex except our spouse, and—if we are married—every other person on the planet except our spouse.

To become romantically or sexually involved with any one of these people is a sin, and anybody with even a basic education in Christian morality knows that.

Not being able to marry or to become romantically involved with someone is not something surprising. It is the norm for every single human being with respect to almost every single other human being.

If you want to marry someone, great. Go out and look for someone you legitimately could marry, but you are not a victim because a particular person you’d like to marry has already taken a vow (or made a promise) of celibacy any more than you are a victim if the person you’d like to marry has already taken marriage vows to someone and is thus one among the billions of people not romantically available to you.

This is just life.

And I’m not sure that’s something the authors of the letter get. At times reading it, describing the struggles that they and their paramours experience, one hears echoes of what ordinary people face and fear. Do priests get lonely? Sure. So do lots of non-priests, including lots of married people. Do they get depressed? Of course. So do lots of people of every age and every condition.

We all experience unpleasant things in life, we all have struggles and pain, and we all encounter situations that would be different in a more perfect world. But the ability to claim victimhood is limited when one has become involved with a person who is not lawfully available to you and with whom you are conducting an objectively sinful affair.

It’s one thing to advocate a change in the Latin Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy (or the Eastern Churches’, for that matter, because they have a version of it, too). It’s another thing to portray oneself as the victim because you are engaging in a relationship that is objectively sinful from the beginning and which you knew to be objectively sinful when you entered it.

If you want to advocate a change, fine. But don’t do so portraying yourself and your paramour as victims and ignoring the real and objectively sinful character of your relationship. You are in control of your actions and your choices. Don’t pretend that you’re not.

As St. Paul, who knew a thing or two about celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, wrote: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

What are your thoughts?

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Karl May 30, 2010 at 8:01 am

They want you to know that priests are human and all their “religious education” does not remove their personal and cultural weaknesses. Is this a surprise?
They are the same in the United States.
Being in the positions that they occupy priests do significant, scandalous, damage when their deeds run contrary to what is actually taught in the Catholic Church, when their superiors cover for them and when the Vatican fails to intervene, even extra Canonically if necessary. Yes, we know that the Pope is not the CEO, but if wrongs are not addressed with certain justice, the Catholic Church is nothing but a scandalous, empty gospel, snake oil peddler. If the teachers are corrupted, it is time to remove those teachers. A priest is a teacher. The abuse scandal is the tip of the iceberg of clerical corruption.
No one is perfect but something must be done to give laity far greater, inexpensive, access to justice in the Catholic Church. What exists now, simply, does not address the harm being done on a daily basis by legions of priests and their bishops. The situation is criminal and scandalous.
The celibacy issue is really a distraction, to grab attention. If change comes with greater justice for the laity then something good could come of this. Celibacy is NOT the problem. Lack of accountability of the priesthood is a HUGE problem!

bill912 May 30, 2010 at 8:22 am

“They want you to know that priests are human and all their ‘religious education’does not remove their personal and cultural weakness.”
“They” said NOTHING about “personal and cultural weakness”; they don’t think that their and their paramours’ actions are “weakness”. What they want us to know is that they want the Church to change to suit them.
“The abuse scandal is the tip of the iceberg of clerical corruption.”
That “iceberg” is 25-50 years in the past, but it is a handy stick to beat the Church with.
“… the harm being done on a daily basis by legions of priests and their bishops.”
Examples, please, and evidence supporting same and supporting that same involves “legions”.

David B. May 30, 2010 at 9:24 am

“They are the same in the United States.”
Yo: “A group of 40 or so mistresses of Italian priests.” (my emphasis)
Unless they’re all in a long-distance relationship, they are not American.
P.S. “priests do significant, scandalous, damage when their deeds run contrary to what is actually taught in the Catholic Church.” Yes, seriously sinful behavior is scandalous. That includes having a mistress.

Hans May 30, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Karl wrote:

Lack of accountability of the priesthood is a HUGE problem!

So what you’re saying here, Karl, is that you want these priests removed from active ministry until … .
Until when?

Maureen May 31, 2010 at 7:50 am

If the priests involved really loved these women, they’d have left the priesthood and gotten married. But they didn’t. So if Pope Benedict okayed this tomorrow, I seriously doubt those priests would marry them. If anything, they’d either continue to string them along, or dump them and try to marry somebody younger.
So basically, here we have forty women who are delusional about their own bad choices, and very gullible about what their boyfriends tell them, and who will inevitably end up with nothing but regrets — and they’re blaming the Church, instead of their good-for-nothing excuses for lovers.
This is also a perfect time to remind people that in the Eastern churches, you either have to marry _before_ you’re ordained, or you never ever marry. So if they were Byzantines or Maronites, their scummy priest boyfriends still wouldn’t be marrying them.
(Of course, it’s also possible that many members of this mistress group are really just stalkers. Sensational news doesn’t get much vetting for accuracy. You will recall that many female stalkers claim to be dating the guy they’re stalking, even if the guy doesn’t even know them and only met them by way of being stalked.)

Art May 31, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Catholics in other countries laugh at us. Okay, we all know it isn’t right, but the fact that many priests have maids who do more than the dusting is not surprising. There was even a bishop in Brazil who actively lobbied to get rid of the celibacy requirement in the 19th century. He was silenced, of course… eventually. But he lived openly with his lover, and it was not uncommon in Latin America to come across even famous figures in history who were the children of clergy.
We can be all aghast about it, but this has been going on in the Catholic world for some time. Personally, I don’t think we should get rid of the mandatory celibacy requirement, as it is a practice that has been at least the ideal in the West for 1600 years, and God knows we have been chucking enough of these practices out the window in the last half century. But at the very least we should not be shocked that it causes all sorts of problems.

steven May 31, 2010 at 3:49 pm

“”If the priests involved really loved these women, they’d have left the priesthood and gotten married.””
The priests have already demonstrated that they do not ‘love’ these women–if this story is based on facts. A truer expression of love would be to maintain the celibate life they had vowed to keep.

Karl May 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

“But at the very least we should not be shocked that it causes all sorts of problems.”
And, most troublingly evidentiary of the mainstreaming of scandal until scandal is so ubiquitous that is is no longer scandalous, is this, above, your comment!
Read Archbishop Burke’s treatise on Canon 915. It speaks of this ubiquity of scandal.
That we are not shocked by such behavior is good reason for the Catholic Church to take a serious, hard, fresh look at these many problems of corruption among the clergy and make it far, far easier to have them held to account by the laity, whose live are often destroyed by lousy behavior of clerics. Yes, and the lousy behavior of the laity who are part of the conspiracies sexual or whatever!
It is here:
“The priests have already demonstrated that they do not ‘love’ these women–if this story is based on facts. A truer expression of love would be to maintain the celibate life they had vowed to keep.”

meilinPR June 1, 2010 at 12:02 am

David B.,
Karl didn’t say the priests involved in these cases are American, he said that the priests from the United States are just the same as those Italian priests. Big difference.
These women are truly shameless. This is not surprising, but seriously, if you’re going to sin, at least don’t tell the whole world about it. I wonder if their “lovers” approved of this (Maureen’s hypothesis that maybe these women are just stalkers rings true to me).
I agree with steven that if these priests really loved these women, they wouldn’t dare touch them.

Burnt Marshwiggle June 1, 2010 at 6:05 am

Since NFP does not compound the evil of fornication and being unmarried constitutes serious reason for having a child, are these priests and mistresses willing to learn and use Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy?
Perhaps they could show they will exercise restraint and self-mastery at least when the mistress of the priest is fertile. Or do these priests expect their mistresses to do violence to their fertility by taking oral contraceptives?
I don’t know the full details but if the mistresses began to respect their fertility, maybe they would start to respect themselves and normalize the situation.

Tim J. June 1, 2010 at 6:56 am

“But at the very least we should not be shocked that it causes all sorts of problems.”
Celibacy is not the cause of these problems, Art. That’s like saying that marriage causes people to have affairs. Celibacy is not the problem, selfishness is the problem. We live in a relentlessly self-centered society. These mistresses are just further evidence of that.

steve dalton June 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm

So, these priests and their mistresses are sad because they can’t get hitched because of priestly celebacy. Well, I got several soltions for you poor folks. 1. Repentance. The priest does pentance and resumes his calling and puts alway his lover. 2. The priest gets lacized, putting away the priesthood, and marrying his lover. 3. The priest and his lover leave the church, he become’s an ECUSA priest or a fundamentalist pastor and she becomes a. his wife, b. a ECUSA priest, c. a lesbian activist, d. a Wiccian activist e. a fndamentalist pastor’s wife. 4. They start their own sect and make up their own rules. Now, see how easy that was?! However, I’d recomend only the first option, sincde it leads back to eternal life.

Burnt Marshwiggle June 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I remember an Italian saying that the priests in Italy had mistresses that everyone knew about. I thought it was slander and calumny at the time. Ah well, a human organization with this many problems wouldn’t survive two weeks. God must therefor be actively supporting it.

JBalconi June 5, 2010 at 2:57 am

Marshwiggle, it is unsurprising considering the Italian tradition for well-off married men to have a mistress. In fact, there were articles during the last big downturn (’90s) about how the “other women” were angry that their lovers weren’t keeping them in the style to which they had become accustomed; e.g. apartment and allowance.
I admit my first reaction to reading Jimmy’s column was to think “Thieves protest doors, locks”. Then I was reminded of all the other times that I’ve seen mistresses of the mighty going to the media with tales of struggling against grim forces of oppression… or something. A whore may be a whore, but she wants to be seen as something more, no?

Tabs June 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I think that God wants the priests to love these women. The best, most honest expression of that love is to work to get them into heaven. To do that, a priest must first hold fast to his faith and his vows, and then must be a good shepard to lead the women to God. Honest love is more sacrificial. There’s no sacrifice here, just use. I feel sad, too…

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