Books of Note
The Priesthood in Italy
Maria Corbi & Giacomo Galeazzi,
L’ultimo tabý. Storie vere di amori segreti nella chiesa,
Cairoeditore, Milano: 2007, Pp. 237.
True Stories About Secret Love in The Church

Corbi and Galeazzi are journalists who met and interviewed the priests and religious they write about. They collected a dozen “love stories.”  The authors retain the real names and places in some instances in other cases they disguise identities, but all the stories are true and set in Italy. The book is not anti Catholic. It is simply a report about some problems and sufferings of vowed celibates falling in love. The theme is reminiscent of Jane Anderson’s account of Priests in Love[1] in Australia. The authors group their accounts into five sections.

Part I.  Here the authors report on the biographies of three couples and married love:

All the characters are well known from the Italian media and Internet. The men—who have left the priesthood to marry—and their wives recount their stories without disguising their identity. Together they tell the stories of how they met, the prelude and the consequences of their relationships. Without hesitation they speak about the good they discovered and the difficulties they endured. From a certain point of view these are stories with happy endings, or to use Andrew Greeley’s mindset, “comedies of grace.”

Part II.  This section contains three dramatic stories about difficult love:

First:  Claudio and Lucia are members of Legionaries of Christ. After falling in love they conducted their clandestine affaire de coeur in hotels and hide-a-ways. Lucia, overcome by a sense of guilt, struggled to quit the relationship and left. Both suffered in the break up, but each solved the pain in different ways. Lucia, like Heloise, decided to renew her celibate obligation and life. Claudio, although very unhappy in the order, continues living with his religious community, but waits and hopes for another love.

Second:  JÚzef is a priest and teacher. Helena is his student. Their relationship was special. In symbiosis, he became the master and she the disciple. When he received a promotion to Rome she went with him. Still her patron, he found her a job and a suitable apartment. Father JÚzef was the celebrant at her wedding. But the marriage was a failure and ended; she was not able to have a normal sexual life with her husband. The dependent relationship with Father Jůzef continues and flourishes.

Third:  Claudio is a parish priest who met Camila, a lonely mother, through the Internet. After some time they began meeting in her apartment and sleeping together. The relationship is enduring and satisfying, but Father Claudio has never told Camila that he is a priest and serves a parish. He presents himself as a married man whose marriage is in crisis. He has the intention to talk with her about his situation without saying the he is “married to the church.”

Part III.  Here the authors tell two stories about rejected love:

The first priest is a chaplain in a convent of nuns.  During spiritual direction he becomes attracted to a novice and she is enamored with him. In spite of the mutual attraction he is unable to sustain this kind of relationship. The young novice tries to sublimate her feelings. But as the feelings build she tries to express her affection for him, but he is the one overcome by emotion.  The priest has a crisis, faints and ends up in hospital. The novice transfers to another monastery to continue her training.

The second story is the account of a young and gifted priest teaching religion at a high school. He falls in love with one of his pupils and she with him. Little by little they develop a sexual relationship. It was easier for the girl to get into the affair than out of it. When she wants to be free from the priest it becomes even more complicated and seems impossible. Even the parents cannot do anything to extricate their daughter. The administration of the catholic school protects and defends the priest. The girl is forced to move to another city and change schools.

Part IV.   Again, two stories are paired, here dealing with impossible love:

Father Angelo gets into trouble when the police discover him in flagrante delecto with a transsexual person. His partner, Emmanuele, came to Italy from Brazil and works as prostitute. Angelo’s crisis crescendos when he makes a public confession to his parish.

Father Robert is a homosexual who tells his story of struggles, defeats, and success. It is a classical tale, but a story infrequently exposed or affirmed by Catholic priests.

Part V.  The authors finally enter into a more theoretical dialogue:

Former priest Carlo Vaj, a professor of Diandra University (Phoenix) and author of Totem e il Briccone[2] talks about his interesting interpretation of the psychological profile of a priest/religious that make use of dreams. The content and tone reminds one of the works of Eugen Drewermann.[3]

Giovanni Franzoni is the former Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. He does not consider obligatory celibacy the main problem for the church or the priesthood. The major problem is truth and honesty. He highlights that the first step toward solving the sexual crisis today would be that priests who are living sexually active lives should be obligated to acknowledge it.  They should officially and legally recognize the woman they are with, take care of her and their children.

The authors conclude the book with a short epilogue that includes a dialogue between Giovanni Nicolini[4] and Antonio Socci.[5] They debate the issues of celibacy, honesty, and the future of the church.

[1] Jane Anderson, Priests in Love, Continuum International Publishing, New York: 2005.

[2]Carlo Vaj, Totem e il Briccone, Ecrg, Genoa: 2005. Vaj continues his work as a psychotherapist, and professor.

[3]Eugen Drewermann, theologian and psychotherapist has been the most significant, prolific and bestselling theological writer in the German language over the past quarter century. Drewermann shows that religion, including Christianity, turns violent mentally, spiritually, and even physically if it uses fear as a motive for faith- fear of exclusion from the group, fear of hell and fear of God. Cf. The first full-length introduction to his work in English :Matthais Beier, Ed. Violent God-Image: An Introduction to the Work of Eugen Drewermann

[4]Dom Giovanni Nicolini is the Director of Caritas Bologna

[5]Antonio Socci, Franco Zeffirelli and other European intellectuals have issued a document that has become known as The Socci Manifesto that supports the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI to foster frequent celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. The text is available in Latin and English. It emphasizes the historical and cultural values of the traditional Latin Mass.