Stefania Salomone, an Italian woman who signed the widely publicized open letter [English] [Italian] to Pope Benedict XVI calling for an end to the Roman Catholic Church's priestly celibacy, is part of a Web discussion for women who are in relationships with priests. Yet she remains the only public signatory to the letter, which she says has been endorsed by more than 40 women.
Although it is oxymoronic to give presumptive credence to an unverified number of anonymous women, Salomone's assertions apparently ring true to Cristina Odone. A Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman, she wrote:
But I think the women have a point when they speak out against the hypocrisy of the status quo. I came across, when editor of The Catholic Herald, hundreds of priests. Many of them had “housekeepers” who adored them and … well, who knows what goes on behind net curtains in the priest’s house? Tongues wagged, but only mildly: the priest looked happy, worked hard, and his parishioners looked away. This was so routine an arrangement, that for centuries canon law specified that the priest’s housekeeper should be past child-bearing age, so that the Church would not be embarrassed by the fruit of a carnal relationship.. . .
For too many priests, loneliness is their lot. Once, they had parishioners vying with one another to see who could wine and dine him; now they are derided and worse. When this was a less secular society, priests always knew they held a certain status in our community; now they are in the habit of being treated like pariahs. One brilliant and witty priest I know is taking a year’s sabbatical. Free of his dog collar, he has found himself in many situations where strangers heap scorn upon the priesthood and talk of priests as synonymous with kiddie-fiddlers. “There is so much hostility out there,” he told me, sadly.
The British/Scottish group Sonflowers is an organization of who have affairs with Catholic priests. It was founded by Adrianna Alsworth. She has addressed the desire for anonymity and the need for mutual support:
I know of many older priests who have been in long-term relationships which are an open secret in their parishes.
Sadly, all the stress and responsibility is placed on the women and it’s a heavy burden to bear. If the relationship becomes public, it’s the woman, the Church’s silent mistresses, who get the blame.
She sees celibacy as doing harm to both the community and the priests. For example, she has observed:
Young men spend six years in a male environment at seminary then are thrust into parishes where they feel isolated. They are often sexually immature but have enormous power over people.
Salomone's letter further argues that celibacy is not only destructive but also unscriptural:
We are trying to reaffirm -- although many Christians already know it -- that this discipline has nothing to do either with the Scriptures in general, or with the Gospels in particular, or with Jesus, who never spoke about it.
Quite the contrary. As far as we know, He liked to surround Himself with disciples, almost all married, and women. You would say to us that Jesus also lived as a bachelor and the priest is simply matching Him with his choice. A choice is good. But a rule can never be a choice, if not forcing its meaning. If, moreover, it is defined as a charism, it can not therefore be imposed or required, much less by the Lord, who wants us to be free, because love is freedom, always.
Her goals are simple and realistic. She told CNN she has not heard from and does not expect to hear from the Vatican:
I don’t really care, to be honest. The important thing is to call attention to this problem.