I was brought up in a Franco American household and neighborhood and did not speak English until I turned seven and entered parochial school. That’s where I picked up my second language–half the day was taught in French and the other half in English. My Dad worked in middle management in an Anglo world, embarrassed about and struggling with his French accent. He did not want us to lose our heritage but made sure we had elocution lessons prior to entering high school and adulthood. Being bi-lingual was second nature to me and I always felt I could get by with what I had. I didn’t realize that I would lose much of my French once I moved away from that environment. Was it meant for me to also learn Italian so that I could communicate with Paolo Camellini, founder of the International Married Priest Movement, and eventually write letters to the Vatican?
In 1962 or 1963, my sister Pauline recommended me when her boss was looking for an assistant in Rome. He was moving there for a year to help build railroads in a third world country. Pauline and her husband couldn’t go because he was studying law at Catholic University. I was hired, but the project was cancelled just before I moved.
CITI’s international connection began early on when I met the very distinguished married priest and president of the German movement, Rev. Dr. Heinz-Jurgen Vogels, at one of the religious conferences I was attending in the U.S. Heinz was intrigued with the Rent A Priest program and believed it needed to be introduced to the international community.
Heinz Jurgen Vogels
In early 1993, Heinz informed me of an upcoming conference of the International Federation of Married Priests in Madrid, Spain, the following August. The attendance was expected to include married priests and married bishops from approximately 25 to 30 different countries. As one of the co-founders of the Federation, Heinz encouraged me to attend and said that if I were to travel there, he would arrange for a presentation of CITI/Rent A Priest to the general assembly.
I had not been to Europe in over 15 years, never to Spain and did not speak Spanish, so I invited my sister Pauline to come with me. She was always eager to travel and was fluent in the language. Pauline had also just taken an immersion course in France in order to brush up on her French. I promised Pauline a week of traveling in Spain after the conference, so she agreed to go with me. Our trip would include touring Madrid and visits to Avila where St. Teresa of Avila’s convent was, as well as Segovia where John of the Cross was buried.
Pauline and I in Madrid, Avila and Segovia, 1993
Pauline’s invaluable language skills became apparent as soon as we landed in Madrid. She was able to read signs at the various train, subway and bus stations, as well as communicate with agents whenever necessary. We were travelling to Alcobendas, pretty far from downtown Madrid.
I honestly don’t know what I would have done without Pauline with me. We started in Boston after she flew in from Washington D.C. When we arrived in Madrid, we took a subway to the train station, and then a train as far as it would go. From there, a bus as far as it would go. I have no idea the name of the town/village where we were dropped off, luggage and all, but there was still some travelling to do to get to the conference site and we were tired and frustrated. We dragged our luggage along a dirt path until we saw someone we could talk to. Pauline’s Spanish helped us locate the only taxi driver in the town, who was on siesta. A very kind gentleman walked us to his home to awaken him so we could get to our final destination. The taxi driver obliged.
Looking for the taxi driver
On our way to the conference center, the driver carried on a conversation with Pauline. He apparently asked her what we were doing there. She replied that we were attending a married priest conference. He almost stopped the car, turned around and said, “There’s no such thing as married priests!” She then translated the facts as I was feeding them to her, good practice for what she would be doing the next few days.
The retreat house was a medieval Dominican convent, circa 1500. It was like walking into a sauna and steam room–100 degrees and 100% humidity. Absolutely no air. Anyone who has been to Spain in August would understand. Of course, it had no elevators, no pool, and no air conditioning. People looked at us skeptically as we struggled up two flights of stairs with our enormous luggage. After all, we were two American women traveling to Europe for two weeks.
Our room just fit two cot-sized twin beds with old springs, one chair, one small bureau and a corner sink. I don’t remember where we put the suitcases. There simply was no room and it was so unbearably hot that everyone on the floor left their respective doors and windows open in order to catch what little breeze that might come between 3:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M. Fortunately, the large assembly hall was air conditioned, so there was respite for a few hours a day.
The dining room looked like a scene from the movie “Oliver” where the young orphaned boys eat their porridge at every meal. The room had a cold cement floor, long metal tables and a hollow sound throughout. Meals were announced by an old school hand bell. As I look back now to most religious conferences I attended, I most always came home a few pounds less.
Married priests from all over the world were in attendance, many with their spouses. There were close to 400 representing 25 nations. One priest, Jon Hermann, had hitchhiked for a month from India, in order to reach the Conference on time.
The U.S. delegation in Madrid, 1993
My presentation to the assembly
My friend Heinz arranged for me to be able to set up a small table in order to distribute Rent A Priest materials and information to other countries. I was hoping to find a few lay people interested in starting similar movements in their respective home territories. (I didn’t realize that we were probably the only lay people there.)
The Rent A Priest table
Soon, a reporter came up to me and said, “I have an interview with Paolo Camellini. Can you point him out to me?” My heart stopped! I shockingly and quietly replied, “Camellini is here?”
I had to find him.
The following is from my journal dated September 12, 1993:
How I remember Paolo Camellini.
Piercing Eyes. Stares. Frustration. To encounter someone several times over two/three days, wanting so much to share thoughts and not being able to because of a language barrier. Like what I would envision were I mute.
I remember at times looking in the corner of a room and find him staring at me. Stares that said, “Who are you?”, “Where did you come from?”, “You’re not what I envisioned God would send.” The latter comment causing the biggest insecurity on my part. (Even after a year and a half in this very public advocacy–public in religious circles at least–I would hear “until the lay people get involved, we will get nowhere.” I sometimes feel they expected a clone–someone like them. I’m so unlike what they have/had in mind to attract [as an advocate]. I am ignored. But, while they keep looking for that ‘person in the pew’ with the credentials that will make them more comfortable, I am able to accomplish a lot in their behalf.
When I read Carla and Paolo’s story in David Rice’s SHATTERED VOWS in the early days of my research about married priests, I was so moved that I called David in Ireland to get their address. I was ready to fly to Italy to tell the Camellini’s of my own experience. I just felt we were connected. It never occurred to me that Paolo would even be at the conference. When I finally pointed him out to my sister Pauline, she said, “Why, he was sitting right next to you at the first general session.”
Nothing else mattered except to find an interpreter, find Camellini and hope for a private meeting. A new friend at the conference , married priest Salvatore Umana from New York was the interpreter during our hour conversation. (As I relive the experience and write this, it still gives me goose bumps.)
Though that meeting must remain private per his request, I will share with you the messages we both had received:
1. We must pray that priests be allowed to freely choose between celibacy and marriage, so that the sinfulness in the priesthood can stop.
2. Vite, vite, vite!…[hurry, hurry, hurry]. Too much time has been wasted–too much damage has been done.
My first meeting with Paolo Camellini, Founder of the International Married Priest Movement
Madrid, Spain, 1993
As I walked out the door, Paolo gave me a blessing and said, “I believe everything you have told me. I can read it all over your face. Know that you don’t have to look…God will find you wherever you are, whenever there is a message for you regarding your mission.”
Paolo and I communicated as best we could through interpreters over the next eight years. In those days, the Italian language programs for computers were not very sophisticated, so much would be lost in translation especially at my end.
I would see Paolo two more times: once in Assisi in 1995, where he had invited me to present a paper at the second international Synod of married priests. Our second and final encounter would take place in 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia, in conjunction with the next meeting of the International Federation and Paolo’s final Synod, the Synod of Jerusalem, at which he invited me to preside.
In Assisi, ten to fifteen papers were presented over a four-day period by married priests and bishops from as far away as South America, as well as by others like myself and a married priest couple, Donna and Rev. William Podobinski from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A Holy Spirit event, the participants were asked to present their own spiritually inspired papers. From across the globe, the outcome was the same–Home Churches–like it was in the beginning.
Two other papers from probably the only two lay people in attendance, concentrated on the scandals of the church. One was on the corruption in the Vatican, presented by a retired judge from Venice. Mine dealt with clergy sexual abuse, with evidence from several countries.
(One month prior, I had retired from my employment and returned to college to learn how to do statistical analysis. I had been unable to find anyone interested in researching clergy sexual abuse and mandatory celibacy, but knew it needed to be done. I was drawn to the studied because my own cursory research indicated that there might be a difference between child sexual abuse among the general public vs. celibate priests. The demographics were different regarding both predators as well as victims. I had spoken with survivor support organizations, an FBI investigator as well as well-known researchers on the subject. There was a lot of encouragement to continue the work.)
Like in Madrid 1993, there was frustration in 1995 between Paolo and me because of the language problem. There was so much we wanted to discuss spontaneously, but were unable to do so. We did enjoy being together and Dick and I had the opportunity to meet Carla and their son Daniele for the first time. An interpreter from Rome, plus Heinz with his knowledge of eight languages, were able to assist with whatever communication we were able to have.
With each visit, a blessing, a smile and a hug. Paolo was very tiny, my little “Piccolo” as he would call himself. I was so tall next to him. It was fun standing side by side.
There were many highlights in 1999. The much anticipated Clergy Sexual Abuse Victim Study was finally finished at Framingham State College, later covered in my book along with other studies, THE BINGO REPORT: mandatory celibacy and clergy sexual abuse was published in 2005*. Rent A Priest sister organizations had been developed in Denmark, South Africa and Canada. The Denmark organization was formed by a married priest and his wife, and a few other colleagues, while the action in South Africa was started by a lay woman with a publicity background, yielding a goodly amount of news and TV coverage in that country. The Canadian movement had difficulties because of the ties between church and state as well as the varying marriage laws in each province.
1999 was also the year of the next International Federation of Married Priests meeting and International Synod, this time in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the third and final time I would see Paolo.
He arrived late at night from Rome. I enlisted the assistance of married priest Michael Aparo from Connecticut, so that Paolo’s visit would be as comfortable as possible in terms of communication. Others helped: Tony Marotta, Francis Arcangeli of South Africa and Umberto Lenzi of Washington State, who translated the talk I had prepared for the Third Synod. Heinz was the moderator and I presided.
Mike Aparo and Paolo Camellini, Atlanta, 1999
Paolo and I were both so happy to see one another. We hadn’t seen been together in four years since the Synod in Assisi in 1995. It was joyous!
Left to right: Joan Lang, Rentapriest Canada, Louise, Paolo, Frances Minderlein
The married priest conference was held at a vast college campus and we had quite a walk in between buildings for workshops, meals and housing.
From my Journal, August 18, 1999:
After a few days, Paolo motioned for me to sit with him at lunch…just the two of us. Oh my! But, how would we communicate? We began speaking a very unusual French, so well that we carried on a conversation for almost an hour. We understood each other. All I could think was, “Thanks, God. Thanks, God. Thanks, God.” Paolo told me that I was his “soul mate,” after Carla, of course. I felt the same way, after Dick, of course.
Later in the week, Paolo said, “Nous avons un Paolo/Louise nouvelle Francois grammaire.” (We have a new Paolo and Louise French grammar.) Our own language. Very few could have understood the communication that the Holy Spirit gave us during those two weeks.
The Atlanta Synod, known as the Jerusalem Synod, which occurred after the Federation meeting followed the same format as in Assisi in 1995. Attendees presented their spiritually inspired messages, which at the end of four days had the same thread:
*Proclaiming that the Pope should release more autonomy to the Bishops
*The Bishops should be elected by the people
*There should be an international meeting of people from all religions to discuss issues of the turn of the century
Jerusalem Synod, Atlanta, Georgia 1999
After the Synod, Paolo and Heinz came to our home in Framingham for a visit prior to returning to Europe, and to prepare a document on the Synod commentaries for the Vatican and the news media. Heinz and I worked on the English version, after he and Paolo had prior discussions.
Heinz and Paolo, Boston, 1999
Paolo Camellini Signing the Atlanta/Jerusalem Synod Document
Heinz Jurgen Vogels Signing the Atlanta/Jerusalem Synod Document
Louise Haggett Signing the Atlanta/Jerusalem Synod Document
The Press Conference to release the Atlanta/Jerusalem Synod Document
While Heinz and I would prepare the English paper, Paolo spent his time quietly walking around the backyard, rosary beads at his side, at times sitting under a tree where he had placed a chair that would face the house. He sat and prayed. He also enjoyed our dog Benji. The feeling was mutual and Benji would follow him around in the yard.
Benji wearing Paolo’s hat
Paolo became intrigued watching Dick clean the pool, so whenever a leaf fell in, Paolo would pick up the net and remove it like it was his new charge.
Paolo in Framingham, 1999
We took them to a German restaurant in Boston, then an Italian restaurant in Framingham where Paolo ordered spaghetti and meatballs. He howled when he saw the huge American portions and kept saying, “familia”–big enough for a whole family. I had never seen him laugh so hard.
The visit was one of the highlights of my life. Our home has never been so blessed as with the presence of both Paolo and Heinz, and it was the last time I would see Paolo for he died the following April in the year 2000, after having a stroke in his rose garden at the rectory where he lived.
When I first met Paolo in Madrid in 1993, I felt haunted by him. I still felt haunted by him in 1999. He had a certain kind of mystique that I still cannot explain. For me, however, Paolo was the culmination of my need to frame the work I was drawn to do. It was time to go find the married priests and put them back to work, serving those with spiritual needs not being met by the church.
It’s amazing that the invitation I received in 1962 or 1963 to work in Rome for a year would have happened just about the time of the Second Vatican Council when the discussion of optional celibacy in the priesthood was put on the agenda by Pope John XXIII.