Women Who Love Priests Ask the Vatican to Ax the Celibacy Rule

A group of Italian women have written a letter to Pope Francis, asking for an end to the Catholic Church's requirement of celibacy for priests. Their reason? They say they've all been in (or would like to be in) secret relationships with men of the cloth.

That's according to the website Vatican Insider, which covers doings at the Holy See (and via the Telegraph). "We love these men, they love us," the group writes, "and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond." While there's been talk in recent years of how relaxing the celibacy requirement might help, say, recruitment, this isn't a perspective you usually hear:

"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."

"This continuous giving and then letting go is soul destroying. When this enormous pain leads to a definitive separation, the consequences are no less devastating and both parties are often scarred for life," they added.

Right now, a priest who falls madly in love with someone can break it off, carry on in secret or leave the priesthood. (You can trust me on this because I recently read The Thornbirds.) Not an appealing set of options. The 26 women say they're just a "a small sample" of those in their situation; according to the Telegraph, there are 6,000 men living in Italy who've left the church to marry, compared to 33,000 currently serving.

It's not particularly surprising the women would appeal to the man with the rep as the chill Pope, but it still seems like a pretty long shot. Francis hasn't exactly started tearing up previous papal bulls on matters like this, and in the book On Heaven and Earth, he stuck to the traditional line:

"For now, I am in favour of maintaining celibacy, with all the pros and cons that some with it, because in ten centuries there have been more positive experiences than errors… Tradition plays an important role. Catholic ministers gradually chose celibacy. Until 1100 some opted for it and some didn't … it is a question of discipline, not faith. It can be changed. Personally I never considered marrying."

Here's a thought: If it's just about discipline, let's replace the celibacy law with something like, I dunno, mandated vegetarianism. But of course, it's not like the Church has quite the same history of skepticism toward hamburgers as it does women.

Photo via Getty.