Priest baptizes children of 2 married priests in Iloilo
LAMBUNAO, Philippines — Children of two Catholic priests were baptized on Sunday as the priests renewed calls for the abolition of the mandatory celibacy among the clergy.
Timing the baptismal rites four days before the historic visit of Pope Francis to the country, Fr. Hector Canto and Fr. Jose Elmer Cajilig called for an end to the centuries-old celibacy rule saying many children were suffering and growing up without fathers.
“We appeal for compassion and mercy from Pope Francis for the priests and their children. Baptizing these children is giving them dignity,” said Fr. Jesus Siva who officiated the rites.
Canto and Cajilig also wore their liturgical vestments and co-celebrated the Mass with Siva.
Siva, 54, who has two sons aged 15 and 13, also officiated Canto’s wedding to Cynthia Diamante in 1998.
About 80 of friends, relatives and parishioners of the three priests attended the rites at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Lambunao town in Iloilo, about 48 kilometers north of Iloilo City.
Canto’s daughter was baptized as Gabriel Opcel for “optional celibacy.” He has three other children aged 7 to 14 also with Opcel as part of their first names.
One of his children, Mikhael, served as an altar boy during the baptismal rites.
Canto said they originally scheduled the baptism for December 2014 but moved it to Jan. 11 in time for the papal visit.
“We are hoping that changes will happen in the Church. I don’t want to leave the priesthood,” Canto, 53, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He said they saw the Pope as open-minded although he had no illusions that changes on the celibacy rule would happen soon.
“Sooner or later, change will happen. But it may not be during my lifetime,” he said.
Siva, Canto and Cajilig have been calling on the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, believing that “celibacy is a gift” and should not be mandatory to all priests.
Despite objection from Church officials, Siva officiated the highly celebrated marriage of Canto and Diamante on May 31, 1998 at the Mt. Zion chapel in Barangay (village) Balagiao in Lambunao.
In June 1999, Church officials revoked the two priests’ license to solemnize marriages. Since then, they have not received assignments but they have been holding Masses every Sunday in Balagiao and in the town proper among the parishes they organized.
Last year, the National Statistics Office granted licenses to Canto and Siva to officiate civil weddings.
According to Siva, mandatory celibacy has advantages but has also caused “a deluge of problems.”
He has insisted that the rule has no basis in the Bible and can be changed.
“What is happening to most children of priests whose fathers have not acknowledged their responsibility? They (children) and their mothers are told to hide the truth or transfer residence,” Siva said.
Many priests, who have children and partners, are “still hiding,” according to Siva, who has appealed on the faithful to be compassionate to children of priests.
“We have not left our priesthood. We have not changed our religion,” he said.
Cajilig’s 27-year-old partner Kristine Joy Catalbas, is thankful that her partner has openly acknowledged their family and his responsibility.
“I cannot imagine the difficulty of the partners of priests who have not been acknowledged,” she told the INQUIRER.
She also has her share of “painful” condemnation and criticisms. People have blamed her for pursuing a relationship with a priest. But she said she has accepted these criticisms and has made her critics understand her.
Irene Castor, 64, one of those who regularly attend Mass officiated by the priests, said she was not bothered by priests having children.
“We pray to the Lord. What is important is that we have a priest who serves us,” she said.
Evelyn Lubay, who also attended the baptismal rites, admitted that priests with partners and children have not been accepted by all residents in their community but she thought it would be better for priests for to admit having partners and children.
Canto said they had no plans to attempt to seek an audience with the Pope during his visit.
“We are nobody. But we hope he hears us,” he said.
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