By Virginie Larousse (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Le Monde des Religions
March 5, 2014
In her book, Le droit d'aimer ("The Right to Love", Kero, 2014), Anne-Marie Mariani lifts the veil on a sensitive subject -- the children of priests. And she hopes to make the Catholic institution react on the issue of clerical celibacy.
At age 16, Anne-Marie Mariani learned from her uncle that she was born of forbidden love between a priest and a nun. Shock. She didn't know this whole past, her parents having left the Catholic Church a long time ago. But this secret weighed heavily on the family's life. Today, through her rare intimate testimony, Anne-Marie Mariani wants to lift the veil on the "children of secrecy" who, she states, are much more numerous than one could imagine. Moreover, she has created an association, Les Enfants du silence ("Children of silence") to give them a place to be heard and to demand that the Catholic Church give its priests "the option to fall in love, marry, and have children."
In what context did your parents meet?
My mother, who was orphaned very young, had taken refuge with the Dominican sisters in Marseilles where she lived. Because of loyalty to the latter who had helped her so much, she took the veil. My father, he was a very good student. So his parents decided to make him enter the seminary. You have to understand that at the time, it was very prestigious. Even though my mother and my father got into religion without having a real vocation, they bloomed a lot in that environment. My mother, a nurse, worked in a dispensary in Oran with other nuns. My father was a charismatic priest, much appreciated by the faithful. They met in Oran. Love came quickly. So then Mom made a request for exclaustration, to get authorization to leave her religious state. When I was conceived, she no longer wore the habit even though she had not been definitively relieved of her vows. For Dad, it took a lot longer. His superiors did everything to stifle the scandal, even offering money to my mother if we would disappear, then arranging my adoption by a host family -- which Mom refused. It wasn't until I was 3 that he was finally able to join us and begin a lay life.
How was the return to civilian life?
Bad. The couple formed by my parents was subjected to rumors, insults. Everyone knew their situation, more or less. In the eyes of the people, they had broken a taboo. My parents had to live with tremendous guilt, feelings of shame.
Did they keep the faith in spite of these trials?
Absolutely. I think they quickly understood the distinction to be made between the teaching of Jesus and what men have done. My parents are a shining example of faith, courage, love. They have done nothing contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. Human beings, throughout their lives, are constantly evolving. Their lives are made of successive sincere promises. The vow of chastity is extremely difficult to respect in the long term, and not everyone has the same ability to endure loneliness and continence. Is it a crime to fall in love?
Does your association, Les Enfants du silence, receive a lot of testimonies similar to yours?
Of course. I created this structure with the help of the association Plein Jour, which supports the companions of priests. There are numerous children of priests and religious throughout the world. For most of them, their parents had already quit their orders when they were born, which let them live a more or less normal life. But for others, as was the case with my father, they're born when the latter was still in active ministry. That situation is much more difficult. Behind all that, there's a lot of hypocrisy. The bishops are aware most of the time. But if the thing becomes known outside of ecclesiastical circles, they're kicked out. Without a penny, without housing. Into the void.
Is the Catholic Church as intransigent today on this issue as it was in your parents' time?
I think so. Anyway it's surprising that the Vatican, up to now, hasn't had the slightest word about the children of priests. You just have to read the Gospels to see that Jesus valued the presence of children. So I'm astonished that priests are thrown out of the institution on the pretext that they have given life. Would they be worse churchmen for having experienced parenthood themselves? I don't think so. Instead, the institution would come out of it truer, more just, more in harmony with its followers. I think my father would have ardently wished to remain a priest. But he wasn't allowed to. Pope Francis seems a little more open on the issue since one of his aides, Msgr. Parolin, recently said that priestly celibacy was a tradition, not a dogma. That said, I am not very optimistic.
You're saying that on this issue, the position of the Catholic Church doesn't conform to the message of Jesus.
Priestly celibacy is not a divine law but an ecclesiastical one. It was introduced by Pope Gregory VII in 1074, which means it wasn't mandatory before that date. Jesus never made such a request. Most of the apostles and disciples who surrounded Jesus, apart from Paul, were married. Jesus also healed the stepmother of Peter, who was the first pope in history! In addition, the Jewish tradition Jesus came from strongly encouraged having children. If the Church enacted this law in the eleventh century, it was primarily for financial reasons -- it allowed it to recover property that would otherwise have been bequeathed to the children of these clerics. Also, a single man is easier to control than a married man, and he's less expensive. Although I remain deeply Christian in my heart, this situation disgusts me . My parents loved each other, against all odds. This was their strength and it's what makes me admire them today. However, loving -- daring to love -- is fully consistent with the Gospels.