This priest is married

This priest is married
Roman Catholic priest Father Jess Siva, despised by church leaders, poses with his common law wife Bemma and children.

Every Sunday morning, dozens of Roman Catholics gather at a small chapel on an island in the central Philippines to listen to Father Jess Siva share his personal experiences as a priest, and as a parent.

Father Siva, 54, has been celebrating Mass in the town of Lambunao for the past 15 years, giving communion, performing last rites for the dying, hearing confessions and officiating at marriages.

But while his small flock admire him, church leaders in the Philippines consider him persona non grata for failing to adhere to one of the most important tenets of the priesthood - abstaining from sex.

"This is a very serious problem within the Church," Father Siva, who is the father of two boys from a relationship with a member of his congregation's choir, told Reuters. "I hope Pope Francis will recognise us."

The head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Francis began a five-day tour of the country yesterday.

In the Philippines, where about 80 per cent of the 100 million population is Catholic, accounting for about half of Asia's Roman Catholics, Siva is not alone. A handful of priests have been asked to leave the priesthood for fathering children.

On Jan 11, Father Siva baptised the five-month-old son, and fourth child, of fellow Catholic priest Hector Canto. Siva officiated at Canto's marriage in 1997.

Last year, the Pope said he believed priests should be celibate but that the rule, which dates back over a thousand years, could be changed someday.

"Celibacy is not a dogma," he said when asked by a reporter whether the Church might consider allowing priests to marry as they can in the Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches.

TIME TO CHANGE

Father Siva, who was ordained a priest in 1986 and started living with his partner 12 years later, is making little headway in persuading the Church's local leadership that it is time to change.

The archdiocese of Jaro, which includes the town of Lambunao, frowns upon his actions, saying the priestly activities of Siva, Canto and another priest, Elmer Cajilig, are "illicit".

"They are on their own," Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo told Reuters. "They have violated our rules on celibacy. We do not recognise them."

But the country's bishops have done nothing to stop the ministry of those three priests.

Monsignor Victorino Rivas of the neighbouring Archdiocese of Bacolod said cases of priests with families are confidential and that there are no statistics on their numbers.

In many remote communities, residents accept priests who fathered children because of the shortage of clerics.

"What's more important is there is a priest in our village," said Mr Jeremy David, a member of the Lambunao chapel choir.


This article was first published on January 16, 2015.
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