By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
No Roman summer would be complete without a Catholic soap opera, and this year it has been provided by Fr. Sante Sguotti, a priest of the Monterosso diocese near Padua. Sguotti has acknowledged falling in love with a 40-year-old local woman, separated from her husband, and helping her name her one-year-old child. He has made conflicting statements, however, about whether he is the child’s father.
Sguotti told a crowded press conference inside his parish church yesterday that he intends to become a “chaste fiancé” of the woman on December 2, the first Sunday of Advent. He said he won’t get married, and plans to stay within the limits on priests imposed by the Code of Canon Law, albeit at the edge of those limits.
The local bishop has reportedly asked Sguotti to resign the priesthood and barred him from celebrating Mass.
tSguotti also said that he hopes to meet with rebel Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, no stranger to Roman theater himself. Milingo broke with the church in 2001 to marry a Korean acupuncturist and member of the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Milingo later reconciled with the church, only to break away again and found a movement called “Married Priests Now!” campaigning for the abolition of mandatory clerical celibacy.
Sguotti told reporters yesterday that falling in love with a woman is actually a boon to his priesthood.
“A person can’t be a good priest or nun or anything else in life unless he has experienced love at least once,” he said.
“Life in the seminary, where all contact with women is forbidden and you are banned from going to bars, swimming pools and movies, is wrong because it warps your personality,” Sguotti said. He also argued that the Church's celibacy requirement meant that “only the most closed and narrow-minded priests, the least humane ones, get ahead.”
Sguotti called upon all priests who are in similar relationships to step “out of the shadows” and to acknowledge their situation publicly.
The Bishop of Padua, Antonio Mattiazzo, told reporters he was profoundly saddened by Sguotti’s comments, and that he shared the suffering of the faithful as well as Sguotti’s parents.
“Mercy is a great Christian virtue, but it doesn’t remove the need to shine light on the truth,” he said.
Last weekend, Sguotti informed his 800-member congregation of his situation from the pulpit. According to local media reports, most lined up in support of Sguotti. Some began to sport T-shirts with the slogan, “Don Sante is my Father” – under the circumstances, some wags observed, an potentially ambiguous expression.