In Catholic Philippines, father-priests seek blessing from Pope Francis

January 14, 2015
(Roman Catholic priest Father Elmer Cajilig smiles as he poses with his common law wife Kristine and their children after a holy mass at a chapel in Lambunao, Iloilo on Panay island in central Philippines January 11, 2015. Church leaders in the Philippines consider Cajilig persona non grata for failing to adhere to one of the most important tenets of the priesthood - abstaining from sex. Although celibacy is not expected to be directly raised during the Pope's visit to the Philippines this week, some in the Church hope that the pontiff will in time listen to their pleas for change. In the Philippines, which accounts for about half of Asia's Roman Catholics, a handful of priests have been asked to leave the priesthood for fathering children. Picture taken January 11, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

(Roman Catholic priest Father Elmer Cajilig smiles as he poses with his common law wife Kristine and their children after a holy mass at a chapel in Lambunao, Iloilo on Panay island in central Philippines January 11, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

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.

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,” 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 recognize us.”

Although celibacy is not expected to be directly raised during the Pope’s visit to the Philippines this week, some in the Church hope that the pontiff will in time listen to their pleas for change.

In the Philippines, which accounts 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 Siva baptized the five-month-old son, and fourth child, of fellow Catholic priest Hector Canto. Siva officiated at Canto’s marriage in 1997.

There are already high hopes the Argentine Pope will change the Church’s traditional approach to issues such as sexual morality by becoming more welcoming to gays and easing restrictions on divorced and remarried Catholics.

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

Read the full story by Erik de Castro here.

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