Almost 10 years have passed since I last wrote to you, but when I read Sister Marie Henrik's letter of November 11 entitled "The celibate choice" I experienced an interaction between my mind and my pen to the following effect.
I was delighted to have an insight into Sister Marie's confidence and clarity of intent when she declared: "Priesthood is the greatest gift a human being can receive . , . When a man has freely chosen to give his whole life to God ... and then later is willing to give up his priesthood for the love of a woman, he shows
by this act how little esteem he has for the priesthood."
Fr Bernard Haring, CSSR, the eminent German moral theologian, writing in your newspaper a few months ago, would seem to disagree. He believes that in some cases it is more honest to give up the priesthood and live as a conscientious layman than to persevere in the previously chosen religious vocation and fail to live up to the required standards of the calling. I understand from this that Fr Haring implies he thinks the choice is not quite as simple as Sister Marie would lead us to believe. Whose opinion are we to accept — Sister Marie's or Fr Haring's?
I know several cases which have involved former priests and religious in much heart-searching before arriving at their decisions. Incidentally, the crisis in more than once case has not been assisted by the respective Superiors and fellowreligious!
I believe, like Fr Haring, that there are many honest people among the ex-priests and former religious, and this quality alone could be invaluably employed in the education of' today's youth who find hypocrisy repulsive. Would I were confident about the honesty of 100 per cent of the priests and religious who remain! Quite honestly, I fear what the youthful perceptive eyes detect among is priests and religious!
It seems almost incredible now that people were once prevented by a law of the Church from receiving Holy Communion simply because they had eaten their breakfast. It seems equally incredible that once the celebrating priest used to be the single communicant regularly at the last Mass on a Sunday.
In the light of the fact that marriage and priesthood do not by themselves exclude each other 1 am sure there will come a day when people will be puzzled that the faithful were once deprived of the Mass by a law of the Church demanding an unessential quality.
Already it is encouraging to realise that some former priests and religious are being permitted to play their part in Christ's Church in a revised but nonetheless valuable role. Long may this trend continue.
Life is too short, and the work to be done too great, to fail to utilise their expertise. In the meantime let us try to practise a little charity and understanding: "So always treat others as you would like them to treat you" (Matt. 7:12). Who knows this might one day prove to be an insurance policy? A West Country Celibate Name and address
Sister Marie Ilenrik's letter of November I 1 has the charm of simplicity. Unfortunately, her claim that priests who leave the ministry as at present constituted "have themselves chosen to give up their priesthood" is simply false.
At the end of November, 1970, for instance, when I was formally questioned in Highgate by Fr R. McConnell, CP, who had been appointed by Cardinal Heenan to conduct the canonical process in respect of my application for dispensation from all the onera of the priesthood, 1 stated under oath (including also an oath of secrecy while my case was still sub Justice) that I had always been glad to be a
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priest, that I would still welcome any opportunity of exercising the priestly ministry consistent with my conscience, and that I was seeking only a dispensation from my canonical obligations for reasons of conscience.
One of those reasons of conscience I had earlier referred to on May 15, that year when..writing to Pope Paul VI, I stated: "I acknowledge the value of positive celibacy. but cannot accept that any positive law can substantially limit my freedom to marry."
I also have personal knowledge of other priests who have left the official ministry, but whose consciences have not allowed them to have recourse to the laicisation process, precisely because of its implicit assumptions about the subordination of human rights to canon law.
It is debatable whether or not the
process implies these assumptions; it is certain that many priests believe it does. It is also a fact that some priests outside the official ministry have both married and chosen to continue to celebrate Mass.
As a religious vowed to strive
after perfection Sister Marie states she is expected "to prove that God is sufficient to fill a human life." She also regards celibate priests as being "in the same case, but even more so."
But would there have been Fran
cis of Assisi without Claire? Would there have been Jane Frances de Chantal without Francis of Sales? Would there have been Dominic Savio without John Bosco? At the very least. these are relevant questions. In recent times Rene Voillaume has probably done most to help us all appreciate the importance of mutual love in the life of grace. ( Dr) Colin Hamer Clapham Common, London, SW4,
May I inquire whether Sr Marie Henrik really intended the outrageous implications of the last paragraph of her letter of November II? At risk of being unfair, since some of her earlier remarks were quite reasonable, I quote: ". . ex-priests and exreligious are not suitable for pastoral work or for teaching religious education . . . Those who teach religion or preach it to others must first live it themselves."
Perhaps Sr Marie will concede to me the potential at least for living a Christian life (which is what 1 presume she means by "religion" above), since I did not leave religious life specifically to marry, and in any case had not made my perpetual commitment.
But what about my many friends whose courage and faith led them to leave at a much later date? Some of them believed that their true vocation lay in marriage; others knew that they must trust in the Lord and leap into the unknown; all of them prayed and suffered before making their final decision.
Would Sr Marie deny them the right to teach religious education in our schools, and to work for Christ in our parishes? Would she, moreover, deny our schoolchildren and parishioners the benefit of the experience and spiritual insight of these people?
I am not saying that all ex-priests and ex-religious are leading exemplary Christian lives, but it is my considered conviction that most of them are making a valiant effort.
Obviously some tragic mistakes and wrong decisions are made, and I always feel a certain sadness when I hear of people giving up priesthood or religious life for something or someone else. But I am content to believe that usually Our Lord is with them in their new choice, and that He certainly knows better than I— or Sr Marie Henrik.
(Miss) Ruth Wood London, SW9.