Re: “Catholic priest hid affair with employee, Maine bishop says” (Dec. 4, Page A1):

I knew Monsignor Michael Henchal in the past. When my late husband and I were planning to visit Rome, his good suggestions on where to visit were helpful.

I expect his decision to follow his heart instead of church law was not done without anguish. Were there other ways he could have handled this predicament? Perhaps – but none without suffering.

Michael Henchal is only one of many priests who have suffered from the Catholic Church’s clerical celibacy requirement.

St. Peter, one of Jesus’ first apostles, had a mother-in-law. For the first 1,200 years of the church’s existence, priests, bishops and even popes could marry. In fact, 39 popes were married.

It was only in the early 12th century, and only in the Western Rite’s Roman Catholic Church, that the law of celibacy was imposed upon its priests. And, that was partly due to disputes over inheritance and church property.

Read online a delightful perspective by the National Catholic Reporter’s Arthur Jones in his April 12, 2002, essay, “Celibacy’s history of power and money.”

This stricture came close to being lifted during the 1971 Roman Synod of Bishops following the celebrated Vatican II Ecumenical Council (1962-65). Then, in 1993, Pope John Paul II publicly stated that celibacy is not essential to the priesthood.

It is past time for the Catholic Church to embrace optional celibacy. Why continue to hamstring our priests as we have done? When they fall in love, why put them in impossible situations where they must choose between law and love?

When asked about a “gay lobby” within the Vatican itself, Pope Francis responded: “Who am I to judge?” In like manner, can we not “forgive” Michael Henchal?

Elaine G. McGillicuddy

Portland