TWO WOMEN belonging to a little-known support group for the lovers of Roman Catholic clergy in Slovakia have spoken out against what they call "bullying" from Church leaders.
Renáta, who founded the Love and Celibacy club years ago, told the Pravda paper that the group's several dozen members lived in constant fear of their secret liaisons being discovered.
"Our members mostly fear that their partners will be bullied by the church hierarchy. If a bishop discovers the truth he will immediately suspend the sinning priest or post him to a distant diocese so he can't meet his partner," she said.
Alena, who described herself as the group's spokesperson, said that the women, many of whom had been living with priests secretly for years and had borne children, were desperate to end the lies in which their lives were enmeshed.
"The Roman Catholic Church's edict on celibacy dishonours marriage and marital sexual relations. It leads to unhealthy relations between priests and their partners, the birth of illegitimate children, and encourages homosexuality between priests and church workers," said Alena.
She said the club's last meeting, held at a secret location in central Slovakia, had shown how torn the women were between speaking out and protecting their lovers. "We couldn't agree on anything, whether we had been abused by these priests or not, whether we should reveal this or keep it a secret."
Marián Gavenda, spokesman of the Confederation of Slovak Bishops, said the Slovak Church supported celibacy as a Roman Catholic institution, and that there was "little point" in discussing what to do about priests who broke their vows.
Slovakia has some 2,000 Roman Catholic priests, but little is known about how many of them practice celibacy.
The Slovak Church has in the past handled the matter quietly and uncompromisingly. Banská Bystrica Bishop Rudolf Baláž has revealed that five years ago he pushed three priests out of the order for lapsing on celibacy.
One of the defrocked priests, 29-year-old Milan Graus, now says: "Celibacy is absurd, because it has led many priests to lie. I know some of the women from the Love and Celibacy club, and I think they're doing good work."