LOVE IS ALWAYS by Michael Miles is a book about a Catholic priest who marries a woman and then seeks to continue his ministry as a priest. While progressives might look upon the story as a challenge to Rome, it is actually an occasion for shame for those involved. Fr. Miles sidesteps as unloving and intolerant those who would criticize his actions. However, what he does is worthy of real rebuke and the publication of his scandal is evidence of his lack of repentance.
He violates his promise of celibacy, made to the bishop, but also by extension to the Church and almighty God.
He made both a priest friend and his bishop into accomplices in his ecclesiastical crime and seriously sinful matter.
While Archbishop Hunthausen was implicated by his toleration of a potential act of schism from the Holy See; his replacement, Bishop Curtiss, erred by his passivity in allowing the disobedient priest to remain in the parish and pretend, poorly it should be added, not to be a priest. It was a sham, pure and simple.
Since he was barred from marriage by his vocation, his bond with Joan was counterfeit, subjecting them both to a situation of sinful cohabitation and fornication. He risked damning, not just himself, but the person he claimed to love.
He sought to hide his transgression from the eyes of Rome, implying of course that the universal Church had no say over him or the enforcement of discipline.
He ingratiated himself and his family upon a parish and the pastoral council, leading to hostility between parishioners and Church authorities; threatening the Catholicity and the souls of the laity.
He reveals himself to be the friend of dissenters. It should be no surprise that he questions Church authority to impose discipline on other matters. He fails to respect celibacy as a special love (all its own), but further, repudiates the teachings against artificial contraception. I would not be surprised if he rejected the view that homosexual attraction as a sexual disorientation, too.
One good thing about the book is that it allows Fr. Miles to burn his bridges behind him. Even if the Church should one day relax the discipline regarding priestly celibacy— such renegades and heretics will never be allowed to function as priests again.
A false compassion and romanticism allowed something to happen that never should have started. Many priests who leave for a woman often get divorced; a sign that one broken promise often leads to others. LOVE IS ALWAYS, not simply until something that looks better comes along.
Sin and evil does not always wear a scary mask. Fornication and rebellion against the Church might be disguised as tenderness and freedom; but, it remains a whirlpool that threatens to draw us into the darkness. Feelings are important, but should never take precedence over human integrity, the value of obedience, and the imposition of the Gospel as proclaimed by the teaching authority of the Church.
When I wrote this book review back in February of 2006, there was an immediate negative reaction. I was attacked personally: “WOW! This reviewer is obviously angry about something. Jealous? Hiding something? It has been about 20 years since I read LOVE IS ALWAYS, but I remember it as a wonderfully, heartwarming love story between a man and a woman, and the struggle he had with his church and the vows he took as a priest. The author and his wife were friends of one of my coworkers and I met him and had him sign my copy of the book. Granted, I am not Catholic, so I have a very difficult time understanding why the Roman Catholic church cannot enter the 21st century and allow its priests and nuns to marry. Maybe there would be more young men and women interested in serving the Catholic church if they were allowed to get married? And, maybe there would be less of a problem with priests sexually abusing children if they could come to terms with their own sexuality?”
Am I Angry? Maybe, but definitely upset…why? It has nothing to do with jealousy because I find the man reprehensible. I can appreciate falling in love, but promises are made to be kept. If the priest cannot keep his, then how can we expect our married laity to keep theirs? Adultery is the price we pay and it is a terrible sin. Most priests in the West are celibate, and despite the protestations of malcontents, we are so by choice and by obedience. Spiritually married to the Church, the priest must be a man of truth if he is to preach and witness to the one who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. We all have challenges and crosses to bear. Every vocation and direction in life is an opening of certain doors and the closing of others. This is as it should be.
I love the Church. It upsets me when priests in particular think they can substitute their own notions and practices for Church teachings and fidelity. It upsets me when priests give scandal to the faith and to their vocations by their disobedience and deceit. It upsets me when priests commit serious sexual sins and then urge others to follow them in their corruption.
The fact that such things do not bother certain permissive critics, or that they would mock a priest who tries to be faithful, says volumes about their own beleaguered faith and impoverished character.
But maybe I am too harsh? The critic here admits that she is not Catholic, and yet she presumes to understand how serious a matter this is regarding a priest. The Church teaches that a priest who attempts marriage (without laicization) is not truly married. That means, no matter how affectionate and loving, his relations with a woman would all constitute a matter of fornication, ranked as a mortal sin. As a priest, he cannot pretend in conscience that he does not know Catholic teaching. How can a man say he loves a woman and then to be so selfish as to damn her with himself in the eyes of God and the teaching Church? Sometimes “real” love means letting go of someone…for his or her sake…and for our own sake and the promises we are bound to keep.
Just as married couples make a promise to each other and to God, so too does the priest in embracing celibacy. He vows that this is the particular way that he will love others. His single-hearted love for God flows over into his love and service of God’s people. He surrenders genital love to be a special sign of contradiction for the kingdom…a path praised by St. Paul.
The critic asks, “Maybe there would be more young men and women interested in serving the Catholic Church if they were allowed to get married?”
There might be a few, but we already have thousands of married deacons among our ordained clergy. A married clergy has not resolved shortages of men seeking vocations in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches. Indeed, some of the Methodist seminaries are predominately female. No, the problem is not sex and marriage but faith and courage. God will give the gift of celibacy to those whom he truly calls to the priesthood and religious life in the West. It should be noted that over half of the priests who left ministry to get married are now divorced and in second or third marriages. Once you break a solemn promise to God, it is easier to do it again and again. Currently we are reaping a vocations increase from young men from traditional families. I suspect the future of the Church and the priesthood is looking up. There will be no wide scale relaxation of the discipline of celibacy.
In any case, what upsets me here is not the prospect of married clergy, and we have them in our deacons and in Eastern rite clergy and priests ordained from the Episcopal and Lutheran confessions into the Catholic Church. No, what upsets me is the breaking of promises, lying and the corruption of others.
Finally, the critic asks, “And, maybe there would be less of a problem with priests sexually abusing children if they could come to terms with their own sexuality?”
Certainly priests should come to terms with their sexuality, and do so before taking their vows; however, one can be a celibate and chaste sexual being, without recourse to marriage and sexual congress. What you imply is the fallacy that unless men or women are married, they are necessarily incomplete and unfulfilled. This is not the case. Consecrated celibacy is a wonderful expression of love, witnessed by both our Lord, Jesus Christ, and St. Paul. Catholic clergy who fall are often in the news because our message seems so high and demanding. But, while others may not have so far to fall, and thus do not always make the news, married ministers have their own share of scandals. An evangelical in the news some time back who resigned over gay acts is a case in point. As for child molestation, the terrible truth is that most cases are incestuous and happen in families. A married priesthood might have made the problem far worse, although perhaps less reported.
Despite a few rascals, most priests are good and holy men. They are faithful to their promises, despite the cost.
That is what the priest in the book could not do and so he was a failure and a disgrace. The story might seem romantic and tender. But beyond the subjective elements, it is a terrible tragedy. I am sorry that the critics were unable to see this side of the story and felt compelled to attack me.
Why would you such a critic attempt to psychologize me, the reviewer? Does she know me and my priesthood? I just celebrated 25 years as a priest, and I would not change a thing about the demands of this vocation.