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Women Use Self-Help to Ease Frustrations of Loving Priests

ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

Corinne Clark is in love with a Roman Catholic priest--she dated him on and off for seven years. If she had her way, she would marry him and work by his side.

But the church requires priests to be single and celibate, and in the end her priest chose the church over the woman--a decision she thinks no man should have to make.

That, she says, is one of the reasons she formed a support group for women who are, or have been, involved in relationships with men of the cloth.

One goal of the group, Men of God . . . and the Women Who Love Them, is to help women deal with the problems associated with their forbidden relationships with priests.

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“Women in these situations feel very alone and scared and have a lot of guilt,” Clark, 40, said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to have someone to talk to in a non-judgmental atmosphere.”

Clark’s support group is one of many cropping up around the country as offspring of a national nonprofit organization known as Good Tidings. The group was founded in Canadensis, Pa., in 1983 to advocate optional celibacy and provide a source of support and advice to women and priests in relationships.

Groups like Celibacy Is the Issue and Corpus, the national association of married priests founded in 1974, have fought for optional celibacy for years.

While advocating the same cause, spinoffs of Good Tidings also provide women and priests with a place they can go where they will not be judged for getting involved in relationships while the issue is debated.

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Church officials are aware of the existence of these groups; they say they will not comment on their activities.

“We’re like a brokerage house. What we try to do is form small branches all over the country,” said Catherine Grenier, who was studying to become a nun in 1980 when she married her husband, who was a priest. “It’s important to have support at the local level.”

The Greniers don’t know how many groups have been formed, but said interest has increased dramatically since they established Good Tidings.

“There’s a very strong underground network that is growing,” she said. “We started out hearing from about 17 or 18 people in 1983. Since then, we’ve talked to about 1,500 priests and women--primarily women. Now our newsletter mailing list usually hovers around 1,000 people.”

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“Often the priest deals with the relationship in his own secret way,” Grenier said. “The painful part is that when a women gets involved with something like this, there is no one she can talk to, no one to confide in. For a woman it’s a whole different world. Dating a priest puts her in the position of being alone forever.”

That’s exactly how Clark felt before she contacted the Greniers, who put her in touch with other women in Connecticut to whom she could relate.

As a result, she decided to form her own support group. Five women showed up for the first meeting in mid-July, she said.

“We talked about how isolated we feel. How we are women in the shadows,” Clark said. “We also talked about the institutional church and the frustrations involved in not having optional celibacy, and how we believe that God calls both celibate and married men into priesthood.”

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One of the goals of the support groups is to encourage the priest to make a decision to either leave the church and get married or give up the relationship, Grenier said.

The priest Clark became involved with never broke his celibacy vow because neither of them believed in sex outside of marriage, Clark said. They are still friends, and see each other from time to time, but that’s not the way Clark wants it to be.

“I’m in love with him and I would like that fairy-tale ending, which for me would have to be to marry him, for the Catholic Church to allow married priests and to work along side of him,” she said.


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