Connect to share and comment

My father, my lover: Priests struggle with celibacy

Women who have had relationships with priests pen open letter to Pope Benedict XVI.

Stefania Salomone in her home in northern Rome. Salomone started a website for women who, like her, have had relationships with priests. (Veronica Venturini/GlobalPost)

ROME, Italy — They are used to secrecy, to hiding their feelings, to waiting in the shadows for their men. But now a group of women who have had intimate relationships with Catholic priests has decided to speak up against celibacy.

As sex abuse scandals once again rock the Catholic Church, the 39 Italian women who are, or have been, in longtime sentimental and sexual relationships with Catholic priests have penned an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, denouncing compulsory celibacy as a “torn up shroud.” In the letter, the women describe the closeted lives they lead as companions to priests and ask the pope to consider that, perhaps, their men can only fulfill their priestly duties with their lives fulfilled by marriage.

“In order to become effective witnesses to the need for love, they need to embody it and experience it fully, in the way their nature demands it,” the letter said. “Is it a sick nature? A transgressing one?”

A Vatican spokesperson, as is usual in these cases, declined to comment on the letter or on the women's stories. But several women who signed and supported the letter agreed to speak with GlobalPost about their relationships with priests.

Antonella Carisio, 41, had always been engaged in parish life, so she didn’t think there was anything wrong with spending a lot of time with Edecir Calegari, the Brazilian priest with whom she ran the parish youth center. Then one evening in June 2006, when she was driving him back to the parish house, she says Calegari kissed her.

“I wrote him a letter that night, telling him I was sure it had been a mistake, that we should forget about it,” said Carisio. When they met again the next night, to “clarify” things, he kissed her again, “and that’s how our relationship started.”

It lasted for two and a half years. Calegari often slept at Carisio’s house. She says he even insisted on being introduced to Carisio’s son as his mother’s partner, not just as the local priest. “Everyone in my family knew, even my grandmother. They were all very nice to him,” she said.

Eventually, the couple was discovered: A fellow priest found one of Carisio’s letters in the parish house and reported Calegari to their superiors. He was moved to Rome and the two vowed to stay together: “When he left, he even gave me an engagement ring.”

But close to the Vatican and under constant scrutiny from superiors, Calegari quickly recovered confidence in his priestly identity, and agreed to do something he had promised Carisio he would never do: go back to Brazil as a missionary.

Calegari now says that he regrets “deeply” what happened, “also because I hurt her. It was a mistake.” He said he is happy in Brazil and thinks that putting an end to the relationship was the right choice: “I never thought of leaving the priesthood. Antonella and I were very close, she was a friend and a confidant, but I was never in love with her.”