Emmy Award-Winning Priest Weds Actress Who Was His Parishioner

Times Staff Writer

An Emmy Award-winning priest who was a technical adviser on “The Thorn Birds,” a television miniseries based on a novel about a Roman Catholic priest who fell in love with one of his parishioners, was married Sunday to an actress who belonged to his parish.

Terrance A. Sweeney, 42, and Pamela Susan Shoop, 38, a television and film actress, were married at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades by three Episcopal priests.

Sweeney said he had asked 33 Catholic priests to perform the ceremony, and all had turned him down because the marriage is against church law.

“I know in my heart that there is no contradiction between being a priest and being married,” Sweeney said outside the church before the ceremony. “Priests are men. They are human beings. They fall in love. The only thing that is unnatural about this is the laws of the church that say we can’t.”


He stood with his arm around his bride for photographs before the ceremony.

‘He’ll Always Be a Priest’

“He loves the priesthood as much or more than he loves me,” said Shoop, who was being married for the first time. “He’s a priest and he’ll always be a priest.”

The wedding means Sweeney is automatically suspended as a priest.


Asked how he would deal with the fact that he was, for practical purposes, no longer a priest, Sweeney tried to answer and then briefly broke into tears.

“With . . . great pain,” he said.

Sweeney had been a Jesuit for 24 years, until he quit the Society of Jesus in August, 1986, rather than obey a Vatican order to cease his work on a survey he was conducting of U.S. Catholic bishops’ feelings about celibacy and women’s ordination.

The survey, based on 145 responses from 312 bishops, found that nearly one-fourth of those responding would allow Catholic priests to marry.


Father Joseph Battaglia, director of communications for the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, called the marriage “a moment of sadness because he is a priest, but we hope it is also a moment of mature decision as well for Terry.”

Battaglia said there are probably 20 or 30 priests in the Los Angeles area who are in the same status because they married. There are also others who have sought what the church calls “laicization,” a kind of annulment of priestly vows that returns a priest to lay status and allows him to marry in the church, he said.

Sweeney met Shoop in 1985 when she was a prospective parishioner at the Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church in Beverly Hills, where Sweeney said Mass. At the time, his brother and her father were both dying of cancer, they said. And discussions about those deaths drew them closer.

The former Jesuit walked into the Episcopal church on Sunday still wearing his Roman collar. But when he appeared a few minutes later to talk to reporters, he had changed into a tuxedo. He said he does not expect to put the collar back on and has not said Mass since he resigned from the Jesuits last year.


‘Future of the Church’

“I didn’t decide until half an hour ago what to wear,” he said. “In my heart I think this (the marriage of priests) is the future of the church. But I know people who would be scandalized by seeing me now in a collar here. I am not trying to defy Rome. I’m just trying to express a truth.”

Shoop said that since announcing her engagement a few months ago, she has heard that there may be hundreds of women in the United States who are unable to marry the men they love because they are priests.

“I won’t be walking down the aisle just for myself, but for all the women who have ever fallen in love with a priest,” she said.