By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
In the wake of revelations that he is the father of a three-year-old girl, the popular pastor of a parish in Valle d’Aosta in Northern Italy, where both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spent their summer vacations, will take a year-long sabbatical to reflect on his future as a Catholic priest.
Fr. Paolo Curtaz is a well-known figure in Italian Catholicism, the author of several books and a popular spiritual guide who maintains a web site with homilies and materials for retreats (http://www.tiraccontolaparola.it/). The Italian bishops’ conference recently used Curtaz in an advertising campaign designed to encourage Italians to designate a portion of their tax payments for the church.
When Benedict XVI arrived in Valle d’Aosta for his summer vacation in 2005, Curtaz jokingly welcomed him by saying, “Your Holiness, be careful, because while you’re here I’m your pastor.” Benedict responded by pledging to be “an obedient parishioner.” Curtaz exchanged similar words with John Paul II in 2004.
This week, however, news broke that Curtaz had stepped down as pastor of his parish, and will take a year-long sabbatical to reflect on his future. During this period, according to the agreement between Curtaz and his bishop, Giuseppe Anfossi of Aosta, the priest is not to exercise any public ministry.
The move follows disclosures that Curtaz, 41, is the father of a three-year-old female child. The identity of the mother has not been revealed, but Italian news reports suggest it’s a local woman in her 40s.
A statement released by the Aosta diocese on May 31 said that Curtaz has not been suspended and that he remains bound by all the obligations of the priestly office. Further, the statement indicated, his status as a father is not incompatible with his identity as a priest; living together with the woman involved, on the other hand, or further violations of his obligations of celibacy, would not be acceptable.
“We will help Fr. Paulo in his journey of thinking and deciding about his priestly ministry,” the statement said.
The Code of Canon Law does not contain any penalties for priests with children, but it does provide for sanctions against priests who marry contrary to their vows of celibacy.
In an e-mail sent on Thursday to around 45,000 subscribers to his web site, Curtaz wrote, “I am a priest, I remain a priest, and I want to be a priest.”
“For me, what’s under discussion is not celibacy, but how I can live, if possible, my profound call without abdicating my responsibilities [as a father] which, believe me, I’ve always undertaken with conviction and effort,” he wrote.
“I want to confirm that I’m serene in my convictions and in my choices, and that the difficulty, in any case, is being created by this pernicious and insistent violation of privacy, my own and that of those I love. I’m unhappy that these events may have caused anyone to suffer, and for that I ask forgiveness.”
“As you’ve seen, I ended up on the front pages of national newspapers on a wave of gossip, this time clerical gossip,” Curtaz wrote. “The news of my resignation as pastor, which was confirmed by the statement of the curia, was something everyone already knew. What’s less known is the fact that, in harmony with the bishop and following a long and sincere discernment, I have arranged a sabbatical year of reflection.”
Curtaz added that the choice “belongs exclusively to my private sphere as a man and a priest, and all the attempts to dredge up details surrounding what happened should be named for what they are: gossip.”
Curtaz added that he wanted to “reassure the many persons who have been upset by the frenzy of news that has come out, and to thank people for their many expressions of esteem.”
“What’s under discussion for me,” Curtaz wrote, “is what I want to reflect on during this year – how I can exercise my ministry in this church that I have served, and that I love loyally, and if this church needs what I’m in a position to give.”
“Everything else,” Curtaz added, “belongs to the most intimate sphere of conscience that every human being should respect, and to the interior journey of every believer.”
“I’m going through a difficult moment,” Curtaz wrote. “Prayer for one another, which is born in the heart and leads to the truth, is a beautiful gift that believers give to one another.”