A document questioning the Roman Catholic Church's position on mandatory celibacy signed by Father Joseph Ratzinger (today Pope Benedict XVI) along with several other German theologians, including a couple that are now Cardinals, has just been released after 41 years in hiding. Where was it and how did they hide it for so long? .
I pose this question on secrecy from a very personal standpoint. I am now a married priest, though formerly a celibate Roman Catholic man for several years. Since the publishing of my new book, Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle Between Faith and Love, I have experienced first-hand and have been able to confirm that there appears to be an increase in the number of people who are unable to join a healthy debate on issues, such as celibacy, contraception, remarriage and so many other non-biblical rules within the Roman Catholic Church. People and clergy who question the Church's positions on these type of issues should not all be dismissed as "attacking" the Church.
It is not my purpose to speak ill of any particular religious group or church, especially not the church of my baptism. Yet, in the recent past, whenever I have made references to the fact that a small number of Roman Catholics have expressed a good amount of religious extremism or "fanaticism" in their direct correspondence to me, my words have been taken out of context and misquoted to mean something else. I also received a surprising amount of hate mail and vulgar words from people who consider themselves "devout" and who claim to love their priests; though often admitting they have never bothered to read what I have actually written and go as far as to claim they don't need to read my words in order to give their opinions about them. Incredible! Religious intolerance was not even the topic of this article.
It is apparent that some - though not most - Roman Catholics feel threatened when anyone dares to question or even make known certain well protected secrets of the institutional church. Many priests have actually already done this and continue to live as Roman Catholics; Father Daniel Cozzens, Father A.W. Richard Sipe, Father Thomas Doyle, etc. - just to name a few. Dilemma omits most names while revealing eyewitness accounts of secretive situations and their contexts. My personal "secret" of faith and love appears in an institutional context, exposing what at times appears to be a cult of secrecy and even deceit. I wonder how the same hate mail writers feel about Pope Benedict XVI having questioned mandatory celibacy for priests four decades earlier. Are they angry that the cat is out of the bag about the Pope's letter and other dissenting views being expressed from various church leaders throughout the world? Nevertheless, I am sure that most of the hate mail from some extreme Roman Catholics reaches me, partly because I chose to openly express the love that my wife and I share today, while serving as a priest in the Episcopal Church. One must wonder if bishops who covered up cases of child abuse receive as much hate mail.
There is no doubt that a "culture of secrecy" is still alive and well in the Roman Catholic Church, even years after the Church had pledged greater transparency in all matters. Recently, a former colleague of mine by the name of Father Thomas Euteneuer who for 10 years served as president of one of the largest Pro-Life organizations in the world -- Human Life International -- reappeared after seven months "in captivity". I say he was in captivity because the official version was that he was "called back" by his bishop to the Diocese of Palm Beach, but that is not really what happened. When a priest is called back he is given some sort of assignment. After months of total silence, it became public that Father Euteneuer was involved in some sort of sexual relationship with an adult woman and the Church chose not to make any formal statement about it for months. I was not aware of his departure until I called HLI and the Diocese to ask for his mailing address in order to send him a copy of my new book. I got a very strange and ambiguous response from both places. That is when I suspected they were hiding something. In this concrete case: How can the church just hide or say "no comment" about the whereabouts of a prominent and internationally known priest? Especially a priest who was so visible, to the point that he even went on prime-time television to tell Sean Hannity of Fox News that he was a "bad Catholic" for his position on the use of artificial contraception and that he would surely "deny him Holy Communion" if he attended his Mass. How does an institution like the Church get away with hiding someone so prominent for so long and nobody questions why?
The Roman Catholic laity -- conservative or not -- deserves greater honesty from its leaders. That the laity has received far less is a matter of record. Unfortunately, too often, this is the way the Church continues to operate -- in secrecy. Most of the people sitting in the pews have little knowledge of just how much continues to be hidden.
It cannot be considered a sin for the faithful to question church leaders and the way they run day-to-day operations. Only religious extremists -- who cannot tolerate to hear anything but their side of the story -- shy away from healthy debate and justified criticism of the culture of secrecy that continues to exist in today's Church. Lay people must not continue to simply pray, pay and obey; they should feel challenged to speak out.
So I dare to ask: Where did they hide a 41 year-old document questioning celibacy signed by the present Pope and how many other things are being hidden by the ongoing ecclesiastical culture of secrecy?
A priest with a hidden girlfriend is obviously not the greatest "secret" in the Church.
Father Albert Cutie is a former Roman Catholic Priest, now a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. He is the author of "Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love" -- a New York Times bestseller.