A priest, married and hurting
Edgar A. Saco is a married priest who now works in the City Cooperative Development Office of Davao City. After reading my column last week, he sent me this open letter wishing to share his personal thoughts with our readers. I am pleased to provide him with my space in the newspaper.
“Priesthood is a vocation, a call from God. God in His goodness calls very few individuals to this kind of life of course. He uses human instruments, circumstances, events in life, and even simple reasons such as mere attraction to manifest this rare calling. The individual who is chosen and who responds, makes prayerful discernments and makes the bold decision to enter the seminary. Therein he is prepared academically, formed morally, guided spiritually, physically practiced doing such things as house-cleaning, manualia, sports activities, pastoral exposure, and the like. During his formation he is academically prepared, observed, evaluated, encouraged, tested, respected, and guided. Normally there are mortalities along the way. Many have the potential to be good priests someday. Some are even considered as the best and the brightest. However they do not make it to the priesthood or religious life for one reason or another.
“For those who are ordained, a number leave the ministry for innumerable reasons… This is the reality. Here in Davao there is an organization of married Catholic priests, one of several organizations of Catholic married priests in the Philippines.”
When Pope Francis made his papal visit to the Philippines in 2015 after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” devastated much of Leyte, Saco wrote a letter to the pope asking for an opportunity to join a dialogue with him. Here are excerpts from the letter.
“Greetings of Peace!
“We are ordained Catholic priests with the honest intention to serve God the rest of our lives but we went out of the ministry when our human nature asserted itself. During our younger days while searching for our future we felt and we were convinced that God called us to the priesthood… We courageously decided to enter the seminary knowing full well that we were entering into a lifelong commitment. We underwent the rigors of seminary training with the help of our formators, lay and religious alike. We delved into the academic arena, nourished our spiritual life, indeed controlled our worldly attachments. We struggled to maintain the balance between the secular and the spiritual realities, willingly sacrificing our human and family ties in the process.
“Humanly speaking, we lived abnormally in a normal situation for the sake of Christ. Certainly, we were in the world but not of the world, as the Holy Scriptures would put it. This was logical, acceptable, and justified because ours is a vocation — a call from God, not merely a profession.
“Passing through the process of rigorous priestly formation, we eventually were ordained to the priesthood… Many persevered in our vocation. However, a good number decided to leave the ministry for various reasons which our human understanding could not simply fathom. Certainly, our seminary formation was not in vain because whether in private corporations or government service, whether in nongovernment organizations or in academe, or in business, what we mentally and academically accumulated from our seminary education were put to good use.”
Saco closes his letter asking for a “rare chance to be with you in dialogue, Holy Father, as a loving father to his sons and daughters.”
If the Almighty in the sacrament of confession can forgive even the most heinous crimes, why can’t the Church forgive priests who violate their vow of clerical celibacy? Somehow I am reminded of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. After squandering his share of the family’s wealth, he returns to his father seeking forgiveness and asking to be treated as a mere hired hand. The father filled with compassion, puts his arms around him and kisses him and orders his servants to prepare the fatted calf for a celebration “for this son of mine was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Something inside tells me that there should be some mechanism in Church proceedings that would allow priests, who violate their vow of clerical celibacy, return to the arms of a loving Church instead of being shunted aside and treated like pariahs. Yes, there are problems that may arise. But they are not insurmountable.
From a practical standpoint, the training and education that a seminarian undergoes leading to priesthood makes him a valuable member of the community. We should be able to make use of this asset for the benefit of all—the Church, the community, and the individual himself. We are facing a shortage of priests with vocations becoming lesser in number. The Church cannot continue to grow if it persists in living in the past.
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