Saturday, January 27, 2007

More on Abbé Pierre

This is in reference to my previous post on this French advocate for the homeless:
The translation is by Richard Sipe, whose website deals with RC priests, celibacy, and sexuality.

Abbé Pierre, the fabled Rag Picker of Paris, is considered a living saint and a national treasure of France. And he speaks the truth. In a memoir he recently authored with Frédéric Lenoir he speaks clearly about the subjects all other priests, at least in the United States, avoid (or lie about) when they write about the priesthood—their personal reality.

He speaks with candor about his occasional sexual encounters with women when he was a young Franciscan priest. The experience made him unhappy, “because it made me feel untrue.” I have read a library of books extolling the priesthood and speaking of the joys of celibacy, none have ventured to talk candidly about the experience in personal terms. None have really told the truth. Everybody admires St. Augustine. Nobody imitates him…………(I am in the process of reviewing 10 current books on priesthood and celibacy, and will post them later.)

Pierre’s experience did teach him something about love and sex: “I understood that sexual desire, in order to be completely fulfilled, has to be expressed in a living relationship, tender and trustful. I had chosen a life that could not allow such a relationship. I could have only made a woman unhappy and I would find myself being divided between two irreconcilable choices of life.” (Chap. 5)

“Truth can only exist in simplicity, not duplicity. We [priests] have to reject any hypocrisy so omnipresent [in our church]. Sex is an extremely powerful vital force; it is possible for anyone to yield to sexual temptation. But it is completely different for a priest or religious to be sexually active. He can cause his victim decades of suffering.”

The Abbé is realistic as well as idealistic, an element so glaringly absent in current literature about priests and celibacy, but so demonstrable in the lives of celibate saints: “I know priests who have lived for many years in concubinage with a woman they love; they reach a degree of inner reconciliation. They continue to be good priests.”

Of course, the reality of good priests in stable and responsible sexual relationships (with women or men) raises questions, “crucial for the church that involve the marriage of priests and the ordination of married men.”

“As for me, if I had married or become involved in a love relationship (une relation affective particulière) I could never have accomplished what I have. My vocation required unlimited flexibility. But I am convinced that in the church there is need for both married priests and those who practice celibacy who can dedicate themselves totally to prayer and the service of others.” (Chap. 6)

Practical and prophetic this priest in his testimony confronts the question not only of homosexuality, but also of homosexual marriage and adoption. (Chap. 9)

Not surprisingly Abbé Pierre has nothing against the ordination of women to the priesthood. (Chap. 10) And in the following chapters he considers freely the possibility of a loving sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

This testimony of a “living saint” may delay his canonization by Rome, because he has committed the greatest crime—telling the truth about the priesthood and celibacy. Scandal. But his truth telling will not bring him the fate of Joan of Arc either. Canonized or not, the great hope is that his example—simple, eloquent, personal testimony—will inspire other priests who are writing about the priesthood and celibacy to risk honesty in their efforts to rehabilitate the image of priests.

It takes (saintly?) courage to speak the simple truth about sex and celibacy. This demonstrates that it is not impossible for a priest to do so.

{I am indebted to Maceij Bielawski of Verona for introducing me to this book and assistance in translating the passages}

That having been said, Abbé Pierre was a Holocaust denier. Douglas Johnson highlights:
"n 1996 the Abbé Pierre found himself involved in a bitter controversy which had nothing to do with his work for the homeless. That April, the French writer Roger Garaudy, a former communist who had converted to Islam in 1982, announced that the Abbé agreed with his view that the Holocaust was a myth invented by the Americans and the Jews of Israel. There was consternation when the Abbé confirmed this. The only explanation that some could find was that the Abbé's sympathy for the Palestinians had influenced his judgment.

For the first time in his life, the Abbé found himself unpopular. He eventually rescinded his support for Garaudy, but as he had isolated himself in Italy and Switzerland, some confusion remained. Eventually, the Abbé returned to France, staying in various religious homes. He made few public appearances, and said very little. Public sympathy for him revived, but there were no longer any discussions about a possible canonisation."

His sympathy for the Palestinians is commendable, and I share it, but denying the Holocaust is inexcusable.

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