Black Former Archbishop’s Affair Raises Celibacy Debate, Racism Fears
ATLANTA (AP) _ The resignation of the nation’s highest-ranking black Roman Catholic clergyman because he was intimate with a woman has renewed calls from critics of mandatory priestly celibacy for a change in church policy.
Atlanta Archbishop Eugene Marino resigned last month because of his two- year relationship with a lay minister, Vicki R. Long, church officials confirmed this week. They previously said he resigned for health reasons.
Ms. Long, 27, has filed a monetary claim against the archdiocese for an undisclosed amount.
Neither Marino nor Ms. Long have commented about their relationship. Bishop James P. Lyke, the acting administrator of the Atlanta Archdiocese, would not say whether the relationship was sexual, describing it only as ″intimate.″
Lyke sought to play down any questioning of the church law on celibacy, which dates from the Middle Ages. ″I don’t think one mistake provides an occasion to bring about a discussion of celibacy,″ he said.
But advocates for optional celibacy within the church say Marino’s prominence will provoke debate and call the celibacy requirement an eroding symbol of church misogyny.
Pope John Paul II strongly supports the requirement. During his 1987 visit to the United States, he said that a priest’s love for Christ must be paramount and is ″at the foundation of our commitment to celibacy. This love also makes it possible for us, as servants of God’s kingdom, to love our people freely and chastely and deeply.″
But Richard McBrien, chairman of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame, does not agree with the church’s stand on celibacy.
″Celibacy is unrealistic and it’s counterproductive now,″ he said.
″The priesthood as we’ve known it is falling apart ... because of a stubborn refusal to change.″
McBrien said about 15 percent of priests have resigned since 1970 and officials expect seminary applications to decline 40 percent by the year 2000.
Cathy Grenier of Good Tidings, a Pennsylvania support group for women and priests, said Catholic mandatory celibacy also is a feminist issue.
″The attitude toward women is that if a priest touches a woman he’s tainted,″ said Mrs. Grenier, who married a former priest. ″If women were not believed inherently evil and dirty, there’d be no problem with marrying us.″
Terrence Dosh, who runs a national support group for priests who later married, said Marino’s stature drew attention to a widely disregarded church problem.
″In the past 25 years, 19,000 American Roman Catholic priests resigned and married and 110,000 in the world resigned and married,″ he said. ″It takes the situation of a bishop to draw attention to it.″
Dosh and McBrien also said Marino’s resignation could hurt black Catholics, who make up only 2 million of the 53 million American Catholics.
″Any leader of a group who falls, they’re (Catholic hierarchy) ashamed about it,″ Dosh said. ″The people in charge in Rome will be reluctant to put someone like him in his place.″
McBrien said he feared that ″people are going to say, ‘Well, he is black and ... they have different sorts of urges and needs.’ That’s racism of the worst kind but it will be an effort on the part of certain figures in the church to gloss it (Marino’s resignation) over.″
Lyke, who is black, said he hoped any racial backlash would be minimal.
″The church deals with racism internally,″ he said. ″It would be a terrible expression of racism if we retreated on our progress.″
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops last year endorsed a National Black Catholic Pastoral Plan that calls for integrating African-America n symbols into worship and increasing black membership on church policy-making groups.
The number of black Catholics in the United States has grown from 900,000 to 2 million in the past 20 years, partly helped by immigration from Haiti and the West Indies.
Meanwhile, Bishop George A. Stallings of Washington, D.C., founder of the breakaway African-American Catholic Congregation, on Friday asked Marino to join his congregation.
″Roman Catholics intuitively know that Archbishop Marino’s dark night of the soul is not a personal failure but a failure ... on the part of the Roman Catholic church to deal realistically with the issue that a call to ordained ministry is not synonymous with celibacy,″ Stalling said in a statement.
Stallings, accused last year by a former altar boy of having a homosexual affair with him, formed his own independent congregation and declared new church laws contrary to Roman Catholic teachings. His congregation allows birth control, optional celibacy for clergy and ordination of women.
Stallings would like to install Marino as an archbishop of his new congregation’s western diocese in Los Angeles or southern diocese in New Orleans, said Stallings’ spokesman, William Marshall Jr.