Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Can priests be friends with girls?

Full disclosure:: One of my best friends is in the seminary and should he continue he'll be ordained to the transitional diaconate this coming May. So I'm sure you know where this is going.
Getting our scandal on.
There's the age old question of whether or not men and women can be just friends but to put the Catholic twist on it we're making those men priests. This all came up because of a group I'm in on the 'book. A woman and her fiance befriended a new seminarian in her town and instead of being congratulated for ya know being a good person like any 2nd grader would be when they were nice to the new kid on the playground, she was immediately warned of the potential dangers of this new friendship because ya know, people talk.

Of course we should always be vigilant in avoiding occasions of sin but I think this particular argument leads us into such scrupulosity that it itself is an occasion of sin.

There tend to be two mindsets people discuss when this comes up. One being that it could give rise to scandal should someone see you and think you possibly could be romantically involved and the other being that by golly you could just slip down that ever so slippery slope and actually become romantically involved.

So here's my beef: I am not responsible for what some busybody in the table next to me thinks. I'm not. Not ever. If I go out to eat with my friend and someone thinks "Well surely a man and a women together can mean nothing other than sex and lots of it." then they've got their own problems. Certainly, as a married women, I should do my best to not do things to make someone think there is something going on between this man and I. No footsie, no hand holding, no googly eyes but I think that goes without saying. As it would for him, he's not just representing himself but the Church and he needs to protect that image.

But protecting an image does not mean devoiding oneself of meaningful relationships. Imagine if the church decided instead of attempting to befriend those who disagree with us to cast them off as to not appear as if we are associated with them and protect our image. Should Strange Notions be taken off the internet because the discourse with atheists could make people think Catholics don't believe in God anymore? 

The priesthood can be a lonely vocation. These men have offered up their lives to God to serve him, they take a vow of obedience, and lets not forget about the whole celibacy bit. They are doing everything our culture says is wrong and backwards for the sake of God and for us the least we can do is foster friendships with them and maintain the ones we already have. 

My friend has given up so much to join the seminary (like moving 1000 miles across the country) and it's only going to be more painful as we get older. He watches us graduate from college and get real jobs, get married, have children, children he'll likely baptize and not that he won't enjoy it but it's a constant reminder of what he gave up and he'll go home to an empty house. We shouldn't further isolate these men in hopes of keeping some nosy old busybody at bay.

And for the sake of that nosy busybody in the society we currently live in I don't think we would be safe by just avoiding hanging out with men. Surely one could see my friend Hilary and I together and think that we were a couple. Should I no longer go shopping with her unless both of our husbands are with us? But then couldn't they think we're swingers? Might as well stay at home I guess.

See the scrupulosity? Instead I think we shouldn't waste our time thinking of every possible worse case scenario and instead enjoy our friendships and show the world that we can live faithful lives happily. We can foster friendships and encourage each other in public. Priests are people too and they enjoy movies, and food, and beer just like everyone else. It is not a sin to have a priest as a friend so let's just keeping doing what friends do and let the nosy busybody take care of his or herself.

What do you think? Do you have priests/seminarians as close friends? How do you maintain your friendship?

21 comments:

  1. Bravo! Jesus was friends with with Mary & Martha of Bethany, and with Mary Magdalene.

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  2. I know the situation to which you are referring and I can't remember if I commented or not. While I agree that she should continue to be friends with him, I also feel like there was an overreaction to the caution that was offered by her mother--someone whose job it is to do that. From what I remember, all she said was to be careful and that's a reminder that she may have needed if not now, sometime down the road. It doesn't mean that she was intentionally doing anything inappropriate, but the reminder will continue to be in the back of her mind so that she may be more attuned to an instance where she realizes that this priest may be having unwise feelings towards her through no fault of her own. It happens.

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  3. My best friend from college is now a priest. We are in different cities and don't get to hang out much anymore, but I would hate to think that's what other people are thinking. He is the Godfather to our second daughter and we love and miss him dearly.

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  4. It is so important for us to be there to be friends with our priests. It is a lonely life -- yes, it's all for God and it's a joyful life, too -- but that doesn't mean they don't have friends!!

    So........I'm with you!!

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  5. Totally with you on this. He needs his friends and if he's home and not out in clericals, there shouldn't be any scandal. Seriously, if you're not sitting next to him playing footsie or clasping his hands, people need to shut their mouths and not assume the worst.

    Pastor's wife take: I also see the other side of the coin because I'm married to someone who has to be super careful because there are some women who could have lunch with him and think it means something romantic that it doesn't. They then cause D.R.A.M.A. so any time he meets with a woman for a meal, there has to be another man present.

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    1. I should also mention that if I wasn't allowed to be friends with my Catholic priest and Protestant pastor friends, I'd only have a handful left. I find they have a sense of humor that I need at times.

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  6. One of my best friends is a seminarian too. And, if it weren't for him, the other seminarians, and my spiritual director (who is also a priest and a friend) our work picnic last week would have been one of the worst few hours I'd experienced in the last 6 months or so. Seriously, it was me and the priests/almost priests! (There was a very funny conversation that ensued about regarding calling the seminarians "nearly reverend" or "not quite reverend" - seriously we were dying laughing!).

    So, yes, women and priests/seminarians can be friends. And should be friends. Becoming a priest does not mean no interaction with women, and if there aren't good, healthy friendships to gain experience from how are they ever to be comfortable with women or know when a woman is being inappropriate towards them (because there are women out there who seek out priests to try to get them to leave for them...just as there are women who go after married men purposely).

    Love this!

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    1. My Lutheran seminary is part of a theological consortium with the Josephinum and the Methodist Seminary of Ohio (Methesco) so we have Consortium Day every year. The year I was there doing post-grad studies, I was the only female student that bothered to go to the program that day so I was at a table full of seminarians. We totally had a ball.

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  7. Yes, I have a priest as a friend, and it's ridiculous to suggest we shouldn't be friends with them. They are people, and goodness, what better friend could you have than a priest?!

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  8. Yes. Everyone needs friends, and priests are people too!

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  9. My brother is a priest and he does not feel like he has "given up" anything to serve the Lord as a priest. When it's a sacramental calling, just like being called to marriage, God will bless the journey. He has a parish and loves it when he's invited to peoples homes to share in their joys as well their sorrows. He had lots of friends before he was ordained and some are still his friends. But, as life goes on and people move on, some of those old friends have faded but many more have emerged. It just watched this video about vocations and I love the way the priest explains how celibacy is not a sacrifice, but a gift. http://bustedhalo.com/blogs/video-answer-the-call

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  10. Yes, this "worst first" thinking is terrible. I think it reflects a larger cultural problem of friendship losing a distinctive place. The cultural messages encourage people to see two people (men or women) together as either sexually involved or on their way to it. It's very discouraging to have friendship get lost in the mix.

    I don't know any priest friends--you are lucky!

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  11. I agree that we need to reach out to priests and welcome them in our home and lives. That being said, I think extreme prudence and caution ought to be exercised when it comes to that friendship. I think couples should have priests over for dinner or maybe groups of women or women and men. I think lots of one on one time could be problematic. I think I don't agree with the argument that it should not cause scandal that you have dinner alone with a young priest friend Would you also feel comfortable have dinner alone with another married man? Even if that married man was your best friend from college. I would say no. Bring along another mutual friend or better yet your spouse. I just feel that members of a God's community can obviously be friends with one another no matter their state in life, but prudence is so important. I have seen priests, even older ones after years of faithful service, fall into temptation. I've also seen this same imprudence lead to infidelity and divorce in marriages of very big catholic families, daily communicants. My husband and I have seen marriages broken and vocations compromised and so I guess we come from a different perspective. People like to say prudence is the same a prudishness. I think you can be warm and loving and friendly while still exercising propriety.

    But as far as reaching out to priests, I totally agree with you! I think families should make a big effort to invite priests over and include them in their lives. It can nourish their vocations and help fortify them in their struggle to lead their flock.



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    1. I would disagree with you, Kathleen. When my son was in the hospital in 2011, my (then un-married) ex-boyfriend called my cell phone and told me that he wanted to take me to dinner and get me off of hospital grounds. My husband completely approved (heck, he and my ex are good buddies) and it was probably the best thing that could have happened. If there had still been feelings for me on his part or vice versa, that would be one thing; but if the friendship is strictly platonic, it shouldn't cause scandal.

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  12. Kathleen's comment was spot on. Of course women can be friends with priests, but caution must be exercised, just as one would exercise in a friendship with a married man. Although, I'm not married, but I'm not sure I'd be too comfortable with my husband having close female friends or having close male friends myself.

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  13. I agree with you, Katie. People can't live without intimacy. I'm not talking about sexual intimacy, of course, but deep authentic human relationships. And I feel that we help other people in their vocations, especially priests and religious when we give real friendship. I think of John Paul II when he was a simple parish priest going on camping trips with young people. I think the close friendships he formed with them helped form him as a priest, and likely his Theology of the Body too.

    Two of my closest friends are male and when we lived in the same community we three were often together, especially for Church functions because my husband isn't Catholic and didn't want to go with me. When we met new people they'd ask me, "Which one is your husband?" and I'd say "Neither!" It was kind of funny. The rule I have in regards to my friendships with men is that I can't share anything with them that I wouldn't share with my husband, because my husband is my best and closest friend and I wouldn't want to create a situation where I was more open with someone else than with my husband. I think that would be a red flag for me.

    And recently, while my husband was traveling for work, I did end up having dinner with one of them. Maybe it helps that I usually have at least one of my kids with me, but I knew, especially as an extrovert, that I better get some friend time in, so I wasn't just hanging by myself all week. Also I make sure my husband is okay with it. If I knew he would not be comfortable with me having dinner with one while he was away, I wouldn't do it out of respect for him.

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  14. My mom had always had priests as friends, in the most chaste of ways. She goes hiking with her spiritual director as a part of their meetings.

    Now I have a brother who's ordained and another in the seminary. They are both careful about ALL their relationships, but they continue to have female friends. (I should add that they're a part of an order, the Oblates of St Joseph, so their relationship with the other men in their order helps keep them healthy and chaste. I don't know how diocesan priests do it.) I'm grateful to the women who show them kindness because they're far away from the rest of our family. So yes, I agree that women and priests can and should be friends.

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  15. Having a brother who is now ordained, and being friends with various seminarians and priests over the years... I have to go with a little from column A, a little from column B. The truth is, as a married woman (period) I feel an obligation to more closely monitor my relationships with men than I did when I was single. So, in that sense, I believe caution should be used in every male/female relationship. Others have hit the nail on the head - if you ever find yourself saying something that you wouldn't say (or even thinking it) if your partner was there with you, it's crossed a line. On the other hand, I tend to worry less about friendships with other happily married (or ordained) men, than with my single friends - because I know I'm less likely to say or do something that might be misinterpreted as flirting, etc. I think the crux of what I'm getting at is I believe the same rules apply to priests as to married men. Their vocations are equally important and equally sacred, and as a friend, it's our job to help build them up! I don't stop talking to my male friends when they get married, so I don't stop talking to my male friends who become priests, either. :)

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  16. I agree whole-heartedly. I have many priest and seminarian friends, some I knew before they joined the seminary. They all bring such joy to my life, and I know they will continue to do so as our family grows.

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  17. thanks for this post! i have several close friends who are priests (and religious sisters for that matter!). i've noticed generally they are fine with having lunch or dinner or going to a concert with me one on on but for biking/canoeing/etc i always bring a group of friends (including a least one other guy) along to be prudent per their request. i love my spiritual brothers and fathers! even st. therese was good friends with a seminarian (there's a book of their letters called maurice and therese or something like that) and had an intimate spiritual relationship with him that was really beautiful.

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