ROME (RNS) Anna Ferretti has been married for more than 40 years, and she and her husband are the proud parents of four children. There’s only one catch: Her husband is a Catholic priest.

“At first we had to do everything to keep our love secret,” said Ferretti, who lives in Naples. “But it was impossible to hide such strong feelings, and we decided to make our relationship public.”

A number of women married to or wanting to be married to Catholic priests are petitioning Pope Francis to reconsider the church's stance on celibacy.

A number of women married to or wanting to be married to Catholic priests are petitioning Pope Francis to reconsider the church’s stance on celibacy.Photo courtesy Gregory Dean via Shutterstock

Ferretti met her husband, Natale Mele, when she was a student and he was a priest running youth programs in the city’s archdiocese.

Mele technically gave up celebrating Mass and hearing confessions when they got married, but in the couple’s eyes — if not in the eyes of the church — he’s still a priest because he never formally renounced his vows. They’ve lived together ever since.

“Our marriage is not registered in the church,” she says, “but it is written in heaven.”

Last month, a group of 25 Italian women wrote to Pope Francis to ask him to lift the ban on priestly celibacy so that they can live openly with the priests they love. The women found each other on Facebook; Ferretti is not officially part of that group.

“We love these men, they love us, and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond,” they wrote to Francis. “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.”

It hasn’t been an easy road. In Italy, the women are sometimes called “God’s rivals,” competing for the time and attention of the men they love. Even when their love is reciprocated by a man of the cloth, the women find that their families and friends often reject them. They’re sidelined in their careers and forced to hide emotional and sexual expression.

So far, their campaign has fallen flat. Many of the women don’t want to go public, to protect their reputations and the careers of the men they love. While not addressing their campaign directly, Pope Francis has nonetheless signaled that mandatory celibacy could be up for discussion.

Returning from the Middle East in May, Francis told reporters that he believed that Catholic priests should be celibate, but he noted: “Celibacy is not a dogma. It is a rule of life that I appreciate very much and I think it is a gift for the church, but since it is not a dogma, the door is always open.”

That’s little comfort for couples such as Ferretti and her husband, who were shunned by their families as well as local priests and bishops when they announced their love for each other. The priest who married them later got married himself.

“Maria,” another Italian woman who fell for a priest when she was 18, declined to give her real name or disclose where she lives because of the challenges she has faced in her personal and working life. She and her husband have been together for more than 40 years and have two children.

“I had a lot of trouble in the beginning because my husband wanted to remain a priest and even though he loved me, he did not want to renounce his ministry,” she said in an interview.

“Our relationship was secret for 15 years. My family — especially my mother — did not accept it at first and did not speak to me for several years, until her grandchildren were born. I have also suffered many reprisals and great damage to my career.”

25 women have expressed their views on the role of women, peace and social justice in a controversial new book entitled “Dear Francis, 25 women writing to the Pope."

Twenty-five women have expressed their views on the role of women, peace and social justice in a controversial new book titled “Dear Francis, 25 women writing to the Pope.”Creative Commons image by interno18

For the women, it’s not just about honesty, but also protection for the women. As Maria put it, the church needs to “wipe out the hypocrisy that allows a cleric to have secret sexual relationships without any commitment.”

While some Catholic clerics — including popes — have been sexually active and even married in the past, celibacy has been a standard requirement since 1563 — reaffirmed by the Council of Trent, which was convened by Pope Paul III, himself the father of four.

Catholic and Orthodox church officials in North America recently asked the Vatican to let married men become priests in Eastern rite Catholic churches (there’s been a ban in effect since 1929). Beyond Francis’ comments, there is speculation that celibacy could face fresh debate at the Vatican after recent comments by the secretary-general of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.

“My wish for the Italian church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favor of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced and homosexuality,” Bishop Nunzio Galantino told the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper.

Vittorio Bellavite, spokesman for the Italian branch of the global reform group We Are Church, said the church needs to confront the reality that mandatory celibacy is hurting the church.

“There is a growing conviction in the church that we can and should return to what was normal in earlier centuries,” Bellavite said. “At least so we have two situations — a celibate priest or a married priest.”

Bellavite said there was another, more practical reason to change the rules — a shortage of priests in many countries.

“We have to guarantee the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday. That is not happening in many parishes,” he said.



  1. Cue up the obligatory pedophile priests jokes, hurled by liberal groupthinkers not realizing the hilarity has worn out. Perhaps they were “born that way”? I’m sure there is a armchair scientist among us willing to tell me that the “born this way” sexual variant justification only extends to adult homosexuality excluding all other forms of sexual deviation, and why.

    • Oh please.

      I am happy at least the priest is in a consensual relationship, with an adult, which is legally recognized. I got no complaints.

      Besides, “The Thorn Birds” references are more appropriate anyway. :)
      It would have taken nothing short of thunderbolts from above for a man, even a priest, to turn down the loving attention of Rachel Ward in her early 80’s prime.

      • “Oh please” is not a logical argument if that was the attempt.

        And I agree with you, I have no complaints either.

        I posted only to trump the patent liberal spew before it started, in the hopes I could keep some of the litter posts from cluttering up the board. I know, I know…no one gave me the job of admin…but honestly we all know that the spew was coming.

        • You are trying to claim people of a certain political disposition will make a type of joke. I am trying to disabuse you of the notion as a member of the group you disparaged.

          You appear to be a very angry person. Someone who has given into irrational hatreds and biases, damaged. Was there something in your life which hurt you in a way that you feel the need to take it out on people who are not ultra-conservative christians?*

          You strike me as someone a little too young for the Thorn Birds reference. OK. I can understand that.

          *I am being entirely facetious here. I don’t know how many passive aggressive Christians use that approach when talking to atheists as an excuse to write them off as crackpots.

          • Big girl panties, larry. Try yours on once in a while.

            You automatically reverted to conditioning. All claims of hate, bigotry etc just cause I don’t agree with you or think you are smart. Next you’ll be crying for a massive government to legislate my thinking.

            Not everyone you meet in life will like you or agree with you. Does not mean that makes then a hater, or that yoy need a new law to protect you exclusively from reality.

          • As I see it, you are the only one with the raging hostility issues here. Throwing around ad hominem attacks, trying to level personal insults, being all around disagreeable. Not the sign of a pleasant individual at all.

            I bet you didn’t even check out the link for the link about The Thorn Birds. :(

    • Lies Nats: So you think that the sexual abuse of youngsters is a “joke.” Do you have any kids? Were they ever sexually abused? Were you ever sexually abused?

      Your consideration that clerical pedophilia, superbly substantiated, is “hilarity” is as evil as the sexual abuse itself. Shame on you. You make religion a shame.

      And if you cannot see any connection between the deprivation of natural, normal sexual satisfaction and clerical depravity, that only means you are not at all of Jesus, his precepts, or anything good that might be in the Gospels.

      The church has made a harbor of itself for sexual deviates with its disgraceful attitudes toward sex and its outrageous deprivation of sex that is natural to its clergy.

      Your attitude and your assertions are all “lies,” Nats!

      • Chill. I was not the first to use humor as a tool to point out the clergy pedophile issue. Liberals did that. So I reject any shame you wish on me, flat out and fully. I’m just telling you guys that those liberal jokes aren’t funny, so in a twisted sorta way we are on the same page.

        • Lies Nats: Humor has no place in such serious issues as pedophilia. For that matter, when people are seriously discussing sex, as in the required celibacy of Catholic priests, humor is totally out of place.

          Perhaps you should find a “humorous” blog!

  2. What about the priests who want to marry the women they love?

    Celibacy has always been an absurdity, ever since it was instituted to prevent the spouses and children of clergy from inheriting church property. One gross evil was replaced by another.

    Celibacy is unnatural. Celibacy has been the root of awful evil in the church. There is nothing more sacred about celibacy than marriage.

    The church needs many corrections. The clergy, from parish priest to pope, are unable to institute those needed corrections. The people in the pews who pay all the church bills, including the hush money and court awards to the victims of rank clerical pedophilia, should be fully included in all rules and other actions of the church.

    The current structure in which the clergy hold their claimed secret and sacred power of the sacraments to keep the people in the pews docile must be ended. Martin Luther was right. The “priesthood” is of all the people, not only those chosen by insiders to perform official functions and keep everyone else in their control.

    When one studies the history of the so-called sacraments, it is easy to see it was developed only to give the clergy power over non-clergy. Additionally, only two of the so-called sacraments have any biblical standing. Even those two, Baptism and Communion, have been exaggerated beyond sensible gospel meaning, even allowing for the mythological standing of all biblical writings.

    Arius was right. Athanasius was wrong. And Constantine, who called the Council of Nicaea, wasn’t even a Christian. That council like all of Constantine’s murders, even of his family members, was arranged for his political advantage. Study your history.

      • Another joke, totally out of place. Obviously, you don’t know your subject or you wouldn’t have to resort to childish humor in responding the very serious topics.

    • Sorry, celibacy is not necessarily unnatural. St. Paul even encouraged it , and there are many very happy celibate priests. Many people in the secular world also never marry because they are so devoted to their profession. They may not be strictly celibate, but they stay unmarried because of they dedication to their vocation.

      Luther was NOT right as you claim. He was correct about a priesthood of the laity, but the Catholic Church holds the same theology. The Catholic Church as well as Luther also believed in a ministerial priesthood as well! And I have studied history beyond Loriaine Boettner. your presentation of history is not quite accurate either! Its revisionist history to see the development of the sacraments solely as a power play! Your Protestant interpretation is simply wrong and ignorant of actual history done by objective secular and Catholic historians. To claim Constantine was definitely not a Christian reveals your lack of subjectivity. While the nature of his Christianity is questionable, real scholarship does NOT outright reject his sincerity. The fact you even bring him up shows your prejudice and lack of real objectivity and familiarity with serious scholarship, and your reliance on discredited Boettner-like sources!

      • An apostle encouraged it, therefore it is a perfectly natural way to interact with the world at large. Apostles/saints are not divine beings nor pure perfect examples of humanity. The response lacks a certain level of objectivity to say the least.

        There are plenty of schools of thought on the value of celibacy for clergy. Catholics are not the only religious group to have this kind of policy. But it does appear contradictory to what we know about people craving human contact from a primal level.

        Although people may avoid marriage due to the nature of their work, there are no other professions outside of clergy which PROHIBIT marriage or enforce celibacy as a precondition to the job. Doing something voluntarily and having something enforced against you with threats of livelihood are two different things.

        As to whether celibacy is necessary for Catholic priests, I reserve judgment on that. It does seem to cause problems for the Catholic Church. Whether they consider the problems great enough to change policy after 500 years remains to be seen.

  3. Can you tell me why murder is wrong? Can you tell me why stealing is wrong? Can you tell me why polygamy is wrong? Can you tell me why war is wrong? Can you tell me why “cheating on a spouse is wrong?” Can you tell me why beating your child is wrong?

      • Can you tell me why murder is wrong or right? Can you tell me why stealing is wrong or right? Can you tell me why polygamy is wrong or right? Can you tell me why war is wrong or right? Can you tell me why “cheating on a spouse is wrong or right?” Can you tell me why beating your child is wrong or right?

          • You are so right, Athiest Max. Troubled people are not able to rationally comment on serious topics.

          • Thank you. I didn’t realize I had left out the “n”. I would not consider me to be troubled. I just want to know why anything is considered “right or wrong”. Can you tell me why?

    • If your only answer is “God told me”, God help us all!!!!!

      Anyone who has to ask the question lacks the basic kind of human conscience and connection to others that people consider sane. We call such people sociopaths.

      Everyone, even the people who claim God is the source of morality, relies on their conscience. Their empathy, their ability to understand fellow human beings.

      One does not act in a harmful, malicious manner to others because they don’t want the same to happen to them. One also doesn’t do such things because we are human beings with feelings and connections to others. We understand that people don’t want to be robbed, killed, cheated on… We understand the harm it causes others and those around them. So we know we don’t want to be the one to cause that kind of harm.

      People who claim to get their moral guidance from religion are not acting morally. They are avoiding moral thinking by outsourcing it to capricious and arbitrary authority. It allegedly forecloses and denies the use of one’s conscience. There is nothing more relativistic and amoral than, “I am doing what I am told is OK”.

      Its all false anyway. The irony is that one uses their conscience to determine which parts of their scriptures are relevant to a moral situation and applies them. Although they deny acting upon personal conscience, that is exactly what is being done.

      • But if we have no purpose to live then why would we care if we are killed? If we all have that conscience of right and wrong where did it come from, and how come millions of people don’t have it? Were they born without that genetic “gift”? If so, who determines that they do not have it? How do we determine that they are sociopaths? Maybe we are the sociopaths and they are the ones that have it together? Why do we say they are wrong and we are right? Because natural selection would say, “Survival of the Fittest” right? So, maybe they are the next form of evolution, and we are supposed to follow them and kill all the religious people like our ancestors.

        How come atheists have never been persecuted, but religious people are constantly persecuted? Would an atheist die for what they believed in a Colosseum? If so, why if there was no purpose?

        You said we do not act harmful or malicious to others because we don’t want the same to happen to us? If we do act awful to others does that mean we want the same to happen to us? However, I believe, in this sense, you are somewhat correct. If I did not know Jesus Christ and this joy he brings, I would feel very cheated if I was not constantly told about it. So, I am going to “Do unto others as I would have them do unto me”. Here are three you tube testimonials you should see. You may hate it or love it, but just watch it.

        • Why do you insist that someone has to die for beliefs?
          There is no need for it.

          Why do you insist that we cannot know who is a sociopath? If you feel no empathy for people, then you would be a sociopath.

          The joy you claim to feel for Jesus is very much like the joy a child feels toward having a very competent and protective parent.

          The search for a parent is rooted in one’s infancy and – like baby teeth – we would lose this feature as we grow into adolescence. Religion, however keeps this infantile desire for a parent active.

          When grown-ups feel these things we call it a delusion. Your “joy of Jesus” is rooted in an infantile stage of life which you have refused to grow out of.

        • Who says we need a stated purpose to live? Its nice to think if we have one, but it is unnecessary to the act of living.

          We call people who cannot conceive of right and wrong insane. It is actually the most basic and oldest test for legal insanity. We consider them to be defective to society and normal existence.

          “How do we determine that they are sociopaths? ”

          By their behavior. The same way we determine anything with others. Although sociopathy can be beneficial to many individuals it is never considered inherently moral. Moral does not always mean successful in life.

          “Because natural selection would say, “Survival of the Fittest” right? ”

          Where psychopaths and religious nuts go wrong here is “fittest” is not fittest of the individual but of the species. If we are all stabbing each other in the back, we don’t get very far as a species. Morality creates a level of social cohesion which allows groupings of people to operate in a sane fashion. “Morality” based on outside, arbitrary and capricious standards, such as based on religion creates conflicts to that cohesion in a macro sense.

          “How come atheists have never been persecuted”?

          Because you are a liar.

          They have been persecuted and continue to be so. They are denied recognition in our military, they are the subject of pernicious fictions and slanders, they are attacked by religious types in all forms both official and unofficial.

          “If we do act awful to others does that mean we want the same to happen to us?”

          We invite it to happen to us. That is why people invented the words “reprisals”, “revenge” and “vendetta”. We did not need Jesus to tell us “do unto others…” it is the most basic moral concept for ALL societies because it is the most rational basic level of human interaction. Nobody ever needed to hear about Jesus to know about reciprocity.

          Btw I won’t open youtubes as a matter of principle. If you can’t explain your point in words, I don’t care what you will have to say. Laziness is not to be rewarded.

  4. The inhumanity of religion is in the rights it denies
    and the indignities it commands.

    Should so and so get married or not?
    Consenting adults should not need to consult anyone!
    Who is so lacking self-respect that they cannot decide this
    without consulting the celestial air pocket?
    The religious!

    Religion needs to be abandoned.
    Good for nothing, inhuman nonsense.

    • The biggest contradiction of all is to supposedly love “God,” you must give up loving people. The Catholic Church’s attitude about sex makes everything about sex dirty. Yet that same church is unable to honestly address the sinful, criminal behavior of it’s celibates. That’s because required celibacy is a sin and a crime in itself, and the church cannot admit that.

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