The Bride Behind the Altar

The issue of mandatory celibacy imposed by the Catholic Church is a highly sensitive matter for the Vatican. In fact this issue is considered taboo. Paradoxically, it is easier to talk about child abuse and finances, topics considered "less dangerous". The secret love stories between women and priests threatens much more hierarchies, because they include a number of issues that the Church has no intention to deal with: mandatory celibacy, common-law marriages and most importantly the children that might result from these relationships. For now the Vatican has chosen to remain silent, but things might be about to change. A group of women who have been or are currently in elicit relationships with priests have written a letter to the Pope demanding the priest's right to marriage. And this letter that twenty-six women sent to Pope Francis is not the first. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI received a letter from 10 women who were in stable relationships with priests for many years and they threatened to come out, creating an earthquake in the Catholic Church. Yet both Popes have chosen to turn a blind eye to the matter. This documentary will disclose an image of the Church that seems to be in stark contrast with what the new Pope wants to present. It tells the story of stolen love; stories that begin by a wink and turn into a nightmare, often with tragic farewells. In intimate and touching interviews the women speak about their experience of being in a relationship with a priest. Also a number of priests who have decided to leave the Church and get married to the woman they love disclose the obstacles and challenges they faced. This documentary also reveals the true reason for mandatory celibacy in the Church through interviews with critics and experts.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

SOUNDBITE [English]Laura:“Dear Pope Francis, My name is Laura and I speak on behalf of many women who live with a burden like mine. I have been in a stable relationship with a priest for many years. We love each other and speak about children and grandchildren as we were a normal couple. Unfortunately we cannot get married because the Church continues to impose celibacy. A priest can only choose to leave the Church or live in secret forever.

Dear Pope Francis, I would like you to reflect upon my words. In your opinion, what problems would it cause the church if priests could marry? In your opinion, wouldn't it be an example for Catholic communities? In my opinion, a priest who is married and has children would be a great example of family for all. But have you ever wondered how many women have not been able to have children because of the celibacy imposed on priests? How many women have had an abortion because the person with whom they have conceived that innocent child is a priest? Do you know that the fruit of love must be silenced or thrown away because the church does not accept it? Have you ever wondered, your Holiness, if all this is right?

The world is not changed by beautiful words alone. We women are an example of suffering, and with our silence we endure the pain of not being able to love the person that the Lord has brought us to. We women will not know what to answer when we will be asked who daddy is. Why does the church impose this ordeal upon us? Is it God who demands it?”

SOUNDBITE [English] Maria Grazia Filippucci, Author of a letter to the Pope: “We met when we were children, we were about 12 years old. Then when we were about 18, he started to come to Italy to visit me, but he never told me anything about his feelings. For me he was a very good friend that was a bit strange, because his parents put him in monastery when he was about 14. Then when I was 26 he came to visit me, as he did several time and he came out saying me that he was always dreaming to stay with me. And so we started a relationship and it was very nice. Just the fact he was very very close to ordination.

So in this year we met several times, but after this he told me “look, everybody is expecting to be a priest, I really like to stay with you but I can't. I can't because everybody is expecting me to do this. I can't go back, it's too late, so please try to accept my decision and let's close the relationship here”. It was very hard for me, but I decided to respect him.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Maria Grazia Filippucci, Author of a letter to the Pope: The worse thing was that he invited me to the celebration and I had to go. I went to his monastery, I slept there and it was very very hard. At that point he was not contact me anymore, and I didn't phone him and I didn’t write because I wanted to respect his will. But the next year in summer he phoned me asked me to meet me again and spend the holidays together in summer. So we went to a camping place in north Italy and of course our relationship started again. But after 5 days I exploded, and I said “look, we aren't a simple couple to have holiday together. You decide to come back, and it's ok, we can even have a relationship but I need to know what you expect to me, because then it's up to me to decide if I want to be the lover of a priest or not. I want to know who I am for you, and what is my position.

At that point he was in shock and he told me “I am sorry, it was a mistake, I shouldn't come. Let's close everything here”.

Narration: Yet another torn inside the Catholic Church is love itself. Not the love that leads to marriage or family, but a hidden, silent, impossible love: the love between priests and women. The key issue is the mandatory celibacy. The Vatican refuses to deal with this despite the appeals and letters send by many women to the Pope, the result is that the number of secret relationships and children born to them is incalculable. Maria Grazia's secret love is just one of many. An illegal love in the eyes of the Vatican which lasted more than twenty years. After their forced separation when young, the two lovers met again as adults. Maria Grazia is a divorced mother of two, her lover is now a career priest posted abroad. They are still in love, but again the end result is separation. This is what always seems to happen, and the ones who carrying the sense of burden are always the women.

SOUNDBITE [English] Maria Grazia Filippucci, Author of a letter to the Pope: “We have very good days! And we were always speaking and speaking! And I told him “ok, let's try to organize ourselves. I don't care of the fact of living together, your role is there, you are working there, you are satisfied with your work there, you are doing big things. So I don't want you to renounce to this. I have my own life here. So, who cares? You are coming here each 3 years? We waited 20 years! There is no problem! We can continue like this: Just we know that we are very close, that we are together.

It was perfect until January, everything started in September. At that point he started to jump some appointments He started to be strange, more cold... and I didn't understand what was going on. I asked him: What’s happened? Where is the problem? and he told me “I don't know, I'm very confused. I'm ok with you, but I have to think about it”.

We are 52 we can start a new life together wherever you want! I don't know what else to say! I just want you to accept yourself as a man.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Maria Grazia Filippucci, Author of a letter to the Pope:Do it. A that point, you have to take a decision I'm closing the relationship... And so it was. On 10th September I wrote him an email and I told “I'm very sorry to see that may friend Marcus does not existing anymore. And this will be the day in which I'm celebrating the funeral of Marcus. Now just Padre Marcos is existing, and I'm not interested in him. With this I'm closing. The only thing I'm asking you: don't come again in my life”.

What shall I say.... The only thing I can say is that I feel really sorry for him. Because he can not accept himself, and this is cruel for me. The fact that he is not able to accept that he is a normal man.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa:“When you walk out of the door of the sacristy to the altar you are wearing clothes which are outside time, which can have an aphrodisiac effect, which put you in a completely different world. Attraction is intrinsic in that. And a woman can easily fall in love with a status.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Paddy Agnew, The Irish Times: “You, the priest, your role is to serve! And to serve God but also to serve the faithful. But you are not there because you are more important than them. Priests need to become more normal, they are not functionaries of God, they need to be able relate to everybody and anybody, and to deal with a normal role, dealing men and with women. I read the letter that women wrote to the Pope, they found their selves in a very difficult situation because they are living in the penumbral, in the dark. I would like to know: what are the figures? How many such people are? How many women are experiencing relationships like that?”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Stefania Salomone, Author of a letter to the Pope:.“The desire to write the letter came from something the Pope said about the importance of celibacy. And I felt a sort of uncontrollable anger and I decided: I have to write to him. We wanted to do it, and above all we wanted to sign it. because we have nothing to hide. What are we supposed to be ashamed of?”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Maria Grazia Filippucci, Author of a letter to the Pope:. “I personally was not expecting them to answer, because is too embarrassing for them, probably it's too big. So they prefer to ignore our words. We came out with our story, with our face, with our name. I think can be useful for the women to understand that this is nothing to be ashamed. That is normal, is human, if there is somebody that has to be ashamed is the church.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Stefania Salomone, Author of a letter to the Pope:.“That was the moment in which I discovered the ruse that people linked to the church are subject to. And it really is a ruse.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa:“I'd always seen the question of celibacy as a tension in imitation of Christ. Then I realised that that was a trap. Celibacy isn't a norm imposed by the gospel, it's not a rule. The aim of the Council was that celibacy should impose moral order, and as well as this ethical and moral need there was a material need – to protect the church's assets. A priest who has a wife and children has an obligation to support them, and if he doesn't have his own job then the church must support them. So the clerical structure must protect the assets and uses celibacy as a tool. If the church removed economical administration from priests today, two thirds of them would leave.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Paddy Agnew, The Irish Times: The reason why the celibacy became very important. It was because the church was worry about the property: if a priest dies and has 3 children, would the children claim the church property? That is true, but you have also to say that for the catholic teaching the celibacy is a gift, a gift that not everybody has, and it is a gift because the priest is married to the church. That is not an easy marriage.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Stefania Salomone, Author of a letter to the Pope: “I don't believe that an institution exists, particularly in the name of God, which can take away a right like that of marrying or of having a sentimental or sexual life, a life of deep relationships. And so I wanted to highlight that in the letter.

Relationships often start like that, with intimacy. You'd tell him anything because you're not afraid of him, he'd never do the things you're scared of to you. Obviously, at the beginning you deny it, because it's a hard situation. You've heard people talk about and you hope it won't happen to you. And you think you're the only one... “Has this only happened to me? Have other women been through it? I doubt it...” and so on. And that's where things start getting complicated, and the stereotypes, worries and sense of shame appear.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:58

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Stefania Salomone, Author of a letter to the Pope: “And then the sense of guilt about doing something bad that other people don't like creeps in. And the fear of what will happen. Where can this relationship go? How can we make it part of our lives? What will people say? And the tug of war starts.

I've been through certain situations, felt certain things... And in particular, I've felt the sense of shame that was especially strong in the priest I was involved with. It was so hard for him to admit to certain feelings, as though they couldn't happen to someone like him. And so I felt rejected, even though I'd never made demands, I'd only expressed my feelings. But what I felt wasn't nice. He said quite clearly, “This can't happen to me, I can't have feelings, because a priest doesn't feel these things.” When I heard that, I was shocked – I said, that's not reality! He had to save himself from this situation, it was too wrong. It was too wrong.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Priest: “The priest factory is called a seminary, and the word seminary derives from seminare, or to sow.

The main purpose of the seminary is to train good, skilled workers for the care of souls. Desire the will of God, and never your own needs. Kill the man to give birth to the priest.

What they teach us is that the world is evil and without moral and religious principles.

They teach us that the world is exposed to the temptations and assaults of the devil, who endlessly repeats the same tactic: tempting man in his weak spot.

Man must atone for the original sin. Man has committed an act of disobedience: he was tempted by a woman. Women are a mortal danger. Women are the devil.

The priest must be like a corpse. This means that his superiors can do what they wish, and he must do nothing. The priest's typical day begins at dawn. We are awoken by a religious song. Then we have twenty minutes to wash and make our beds. Personal hygiene is a sore point. There are rules to follow: first, lowered eyes - we must not look at each other, and we certainly must not be close to one another. We have to take off our trousers under the covers, and wash ourselves without removing our cassocks. The geography of the body, according to the spiritual masters, is divided into wholesome and less wholesome areas. The unwholesome parts should be washed as little as possible, and quickly. When you wash those parts, it is necessary to think about death, hell, and Jesus on the cross. The Church has always seen the body as a necessary evil, like an enemy that has to be defeated, or a donkey to be constantly subdued, like a corpse that shows no sign of life.”

TIME CODE: 25:58_30:00

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa:“When the seminary was imposed by the Council of Trento in all the diocese it was a huge revolution, because it imposed a training for priests which hadn't previously existed. Over time, from the 17th century on, it fossilised, creating an enclaveinside the church and society which produced totally emotionless people, detached from reality, isolated from the world.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Sante Sguotti, Priest from 1991 to 2008:“Human nature is frowned upon, it's corrupted by the demon. If you are what you really are, you're wrong. The seminary has cast-iron rules. Needs are repressed and you must not act in accordance with your needs or desires. You must do precisely the opposite of what you would naturally do, so you are ready to obey. And so, instead of being appreciated and involved, your humanity must be crushed. You have to get used to looking sad when you are happy, and looking happy when you are sad.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa: The seminary is a place where people are regimented for a purpose, so when a seminarian leaves the seminary he is affectively immature, and in their parishes priests are very fragile. Because as soon as they find themselves falling in love, they don't know how to stop because it's an attraction they've never experienced before. And it's attractive for that reason, and they don't see that this type of training is counterproductive because it creates people who are unstable from that point of view.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Sante Sguotti, Priest from 1991 to 2008:“I was happy to be a priest. I didn't feel lonely, I was content, I had my community, they loved me and I got a lot of things done. But it was as though my self-sufficiency, my being enough for myself, made God sad. Human beings can't be enough for themselves, they're not made to be enough for themselves. I met Tamara along with all the other parishioners when I came to the parish of Monterosso. I fell in love, and I felt like a better person, not worse or wrong. I felt more content, happier. Everything was more beautiful: colours looked more beautiful. And so I said to myself, I want to live this feeling, I don't want to repress it or throw it away.

Saying “I've fallen in love with you” was very hard. Moving a mountain would have been easier, because you're doing at 30-40 what you didn't do at 15 or 16, and you can't always make up the difference.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Sante Sguotti, Priest from 1991 to 2008:“The woman finds herself in a situation where she wants to live this love normally, but she can't. And in addition, she has to accommodate all the needs of a parish. A priest isn't free, he's not free on holidays, there are periods when he can't... And the priest finds himself saying, “wait, let's see next year, this isn't the time...” There's a procrastination which sometimes become infinite, and so there's a promise which isn't kept.

I wanted a child and I asked Tamara if she wanted to have a child with me. The fact of a child led to the choice to leave the church. And then there's the war that the Curiawages against you. And it's one thing if you leave saying that you made a mistake,that you didn't know what you were doing when you became a priest. But if, like me, you go with your head high, explaining the reasons for your choice and criticising celibacy, all hell breaks loose. One monsignor told me, “Carry on like this and we'll destroy you, we'll have you begging.”

I found dead cats in my letterbox, I got bullets in the post. At one point I had to stop because I was scared for my wellbeing, so many people had told me to watch out. And anyway, if a bishop is willing to cover up a pedophile priest, is there any crime he wouldn't commit?

Where you live all doors become closed, people start staring at you. If you start any business there are people who immediately shut the door on you. And you have to find a home and a job. It's not easy.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa: In the Catholic church, everything depends on the priest. Even buying a brush or matches. So what does the priest lose? Everything! Because he decides everything in the church. If you haven't got a good head on your shoulders and a trade, from this clerical perspective you lose everything. And there are many who don't want to leave because it's an easy life. They have job security, they manage their own money, they're publicly recognised as being important, so they have a role which is bigger than themselves. And then they wear the habit, which is as much a way of being as a uniform.”

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Stefania Salomone, Author of a letter to the Pope:“That's the reason for not leaving the church: the difficulty of becoming a normal person. And the real difficulty of finding a job. Priests study for years but their qualifications are useless: they can only teach theology or religion. They have to learn everything from scratch and there's no telling if they'll accept the first job that comes along. They want to teach because they need a desk. “They've taken my pulpit, give me a desk.” It's a cage that's not easy to open.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa:“A priest who takes off his habit enters a state of anonymity that leads to death! They go from having a sacred status to an abyss of anonymity and poverty! Because nobody helps them!”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Sante Sguotti, Priest from 1991 to 2008:“Everybody thinks, a priest has never done anything so what can he do? He's never worked, that's what most people think. Because of my decision, I got a license to drive trucks and coaches, and I thought that at least as a truck driver I'd find something. I've been a truck driver, condominium manager, solar panel installer, painter, electrician, carpenter, jack of all trades.

One day a real estate agent turned up at my house and left Tamara a note saying to get in touch about a church. I called him. There was a church near my house, I saw it every day on my way to work, and the sight of it made my heart race... I said, I can't afford it, because they were asking €40,000 – way too much for me.

When I told Tamara, she was frantic. My friends were against it too, but in the end I went through with this madness. There are people whose hobbies are football or fishing, mine is restoring this church. I joined the seminary with the idea of being a different kind of priest, so my idea was to change the church, improve it, do something different. This is what the church is like today, it needs improving and restoring. So it's symbolic too.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Federico Bollettin priest from 2001 to 2007:“There was a problem in the church in Padova - one priest in four decided to leave and get married. What did so many priests leave the church in Padova? A lot of my friends from the seminary lived with priests who had secret relationships. So a lad of 28 who does his best to say 'no, I'm not going to fall in love' sees certain things and thinks, why should I sacrifice so much of my life, for who? When everybody knows it's unnatural. All the things they taught you in the seminary fall away and at a certain point you say, it's all rubbish.

I've never regrettedchoosing to become a priest because in that moment I was doing the right thing.”

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Federico Bollettin priest from 2001 to 2007:Then, as the years went by, through the people I met, I understood things that I hadn't before.

I was drawn to people who were in difficulty. After I went to Africa in 1997 I started meeting the Africans in Padova, the prostitutes and the homeless. My wife was in difficulty too, she had just arrived from Africa and had been sent out on the streets as a prostitute, she didn't like her life here. I felt as though my sexuality had been abused because I couldn't express it, they felt abused because they had to sell their bodies at someone else's orders. So there were these two wounds which met: mine and my wife's. At the beginning I thought it was me helping her, then I realised that it was her helping me.

The day that priests were given leave to visit their parents, I went to her because I felt that she was my family. At a certain point, when it was no longer friendship but had become love, what I'd been taught in the seminary made me feel guilty. There was a conflict inside me: there were two ideas of goodness which I felt could coexist, but which mother church - who had educated and shaped me - said could not. So I had this tension inside me that wasn't the tension of good against evil, it was the tension between one good and another.

I didn't want to run away from the situation, I wanted to face it and live it. And that made me decide. Because I could have gone to the Bishop and said, send me to Brazil, far from her, so this thing will pass. With respect to before, I'm a richer man now, not a poorer one. I'm not inferior to before. For the law of the church I'm still a priest, even though I'm not practicing. That doesn't give me any comfort, because at the moment I'm not a priest for the others, because I don't practice. A person's happiness comes first of all from the rules invented by man.”

TIME CODE: 45:00_52:06

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Chloe Barreau daughter of Abbot Jean-Claude Barreau:“My father was a Catholic priest. As an adolescent I learned about this story and how incredible it was when I saw the archives, the papers, the TV and radio shows. And I discovered this incredible story that fascinated me from a romantic point of view - it's a love story that battles obstacles, a love that has to fight against tradition, morals, the bourgeoisie, and from that point of view it touched me. When I saw the curiosity it inspired, I wanted to tell my parents' story and, as I'm a film director, I made a film about it. When my parents fell for each other, it was love at first sight. They confessed their love to each other and began a relationship, and for two years they were together secretly. Nobody knew, because it was so unthinkable that they didn't even need to hide themselves, they just lived their love affair in secret. Then they decided they couldn't go on like that and that they had to get married.

Obviously, he wasn't the first priest to do it, but for the first time in France there was a public debate about priests marrying, because my father was very well-known. He didn't leave the church quietly. The newspapers fell in love with the story, which had all the ingredients of a perfect scandal, because he was a handsome, successful young priest who suddenly turned against the church and decided to leave. It was big news in France and was on the front page of all the papers and on TV and the radio. But what's interesting is the hypocrisy of the church: when my father told his bishop that he wanted to leave and get married, his bishop secretly proposed that he remain a priest. He said, “you can be lovers, I'll turn a blind eye”. This hypocrisy is very lucid, because there are many priests who continue to be priests and at the same time have a relationship, a secret family. It's very common, and the church is aware of the problem but for its own reasons decides to close an eye.

My father didn't want to be the spokesman for priests marrying, for him the biggest problem was the crisis of the church, the fact that the church had nothing to say to people, that it was de-Christianised because it spoke about morals, and things that were of secondary importance to the message of Christ. He found himself taking a position on priests marrying against his will, but the important thing for him was the crisis of the church. He made a personal choice, he didn't change the church, he didn't change the world, but he changed my vision of the world, and from that point of view I'm grateful to him.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Stefania Salomone, Author of a letter to the Pope:When the relationship produces children, there's total hypocrisy: they say, have them adopted so they don't cause problems, or suggest having an abortion, or the woman is offered money to disappear. I've heard some shocking things.”

SOUNDBITE [Italian] Paolo Farinella, Priest of San Torpede, Genoa:“The bishops recommended putting the children in orphanages, to isolate the mother. I've heard of priests suggesting their partners have an abortion. Totally unworthy and immoral. There are truly awful situations where the priest says to the woman he's had a child with, “It's your fault that I'm in this situation, it's your fault I'm not a priest anymore.”

I know a lot of women who are literally slaves. They don't even manage to make a complaint about it. And I know of situations where the priest has several relationships at the same time. It's a nice life - he's got it all!

So the problem of celibacy is one that doesn't just involve the sexual organs – it's a structural problem, which involves the existence of the clergy itself. The moment that celibacy is abolished, the church will change, it will be forced to change its structure! But it's precisely this structure that doesn't want to change! I think that facing the problem of celibacy means facing the nature of the church itself, the structure of the church, and rethinking the church's way of speaking and being today.”

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