Statement about my marriage by John Wijngaards
On the 21 February 2000 I received from Rome the indult that released me from the ecclesiastical obligation of celibacy. Shortly afterwards my long-time friend and Housetop colleague Jacqueline Clackson and I married in a simple Church ceremony in the Netherlands, which was a great joy to us and our families. I wrote a letter to all members of Mill Hill Society to explain the background of this latest development.
When, on 17 September 1998, I wrote to the Holy Father to inform him of my decision to resign from my active priestly ministry in protest against Ad Tuendam Fidem, I stated explicitly that this was not a question of priestly celibacy. I simply wanted to be officially released from my priestly duties on account of a serious conflict of conscience over the ordination of women. My letter to Rome was followed up by personal visits to the relevant Vatican departments by Mill Hill’s Procurator General in Rome, and on one occasion, even by my Superior General. The consistent answer we received was that Rome acknowledges only the standard procedure for laicisation. When I was handed the form, I found out that the whole process focuses on celibacy and that, under oath, I would be required to reveal all relevant facts in this matter – and here things became really interesting.
During my priestly work in India, I found out that traditional spirituality at home and claustrophobic teaching in the seminary had prevented me from gaining sufficient knowledge to undertake the obligation of celibacy. My spiritual director, who was also a professor of moral theology, told me that I could legitimately apply for dispensation. I decided not to apply for dispensation, because I knew I had a genuine priestly vocation and I felt responsible for the people entrusted to my care.
During my preparation for the priesthood the question of celibacy had not received adequate attention. This was not due to a deliberate policy of deception, but resulted from a repression of discussions on sex, an exclusion of normal female company, a wrong emphasis on celibacy as a necessary ingredient of the priestly ministry (which it is not), a general climate of religious enthusiasm which, however good in itself, lured even those without a calling to the celibate state into accepting it without appreciating the consequences.
I felt trapped at the time. I decided that my priestly ministry, which I knew to be a genuine vocation, should come first in the circumstances. I did not do anything that could cause harm or scandal to any person, but in my conscience I did not feel bound to celibacy. The deeper cause of the conflict lies, of course, in the Church’s antiquated insistence on imposing celibacy as a necessary condition for the priesthood. While, no doubt, arising from admirable monastic ideals, this policy is bound to force well-meaning candidates with a true priestly vocation, into a celibate style of life to which they are not called and in which they miss the love and support of a faithful companion of which they may have a natural, human need. Anyway, to come back to the recent past.
The process of laicisation in 1998 brought all the orginal facts to light. When the indult came, early last year, I was free to marry. I did not see any further reason to deny what I have known for half a century: that I have both a priestly vocation and a calling to married life. As I wrote to my Mill Hill colleagues at the time, the new turn of events has, paradoxically, brought new freedom and joy into my life.
John Wijngaards Thursday 5 April 2001
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