I Have a Story for Pope Francis about Priestly Celibacy

New York Times

February 13, 2020

By Mimi Bull

Who pays the price when a priest breaks his vow?

Want the human story on priestly celibacy? Talk to someone who’s paid the price.

I am bitterly disappointed by the news that Pope Francis will not be relaxing priestly celibacy rules in remote parts of the Amazon. The idea — intended to make it easier to recruit priests in underserved areas — was supported by a Vatican conference in October, but in his papal document, released on Wednesday, Francis ignored their suggestion.

My interest in this isn’t the mild curiosity of a lapsed Catholic. I am the child of a priest who broke his vow of celibacy and left a legacy of secrecy that was devastating to him, to my mother and particularly to me.

To hide my father’s broken vow, I was told that I was adopted. I did not know until I was 35 that my “adoptive mother” was actually my grandmother and my “adoptive sister” was, in reality, my mother. But even then, I wasn’t told the whole truth. At the time, I was told my father had been a businessman from Pennsylvania.

If only I had known that my real father was the beloved young pastor of our local Polish parish in Norwood, Mass. He was a regular guest in our home, and we attended weekly Mass in his church. He died at the end of my freshman year at Smith College. I didn’t find out until the age of 50, on the day of my birth mother’s funeral, that the man I adored as “Pate” — my own nickname, short for the Latin “pater” — and the community knew as “Father Hip” was my father.

I was more fortunate than most children of priests. The man and woman I now know to have been my birth parents, chose to raise me, nurture me and, in the depths of the Depression, give me as normal a life as they could manage within a complex web of secrecy. My father chose to be involved in my life; he referred to himself as my “guardian,” and I found out after my mother died that he had held this title legally.

Nonetheless, all the secrecy took a toll on a sensitive child. I knew I was somehow different. I knew instinctively that there were things I could not mention casually — the frequency with which my mother, Pate and I got together alone, for instance, including trips to Boston for dinner. Secrecy became second nature.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.