I’ve seen the story of the elderly priest who has been ordered to cease living with his girlfriend or be removed from the priesthood pop up in several international media, and while I usually don’t comment on such private matters, this fact is a reason to do so.

The priest, Father Jan Peijnenburg (who is not the emeritus archivist of the diocese, who has the same name), is 81 years old and has been living with his female friend for the past 46 years. Both are pictured to the left. Newspapers make of this friend his girlfriend, which would seem likely, because Fr. Peijnenburg is also the author of several recent leaflets in which he agitates against priestly celibacy, leaflets which he mailed to numerous people, the diocese claims.

Fr. Peijnenburg seems fairly resigned. If it’s a choice between his living with a woman or the priesthood, the priesthood will loose, he has said.

I can understand both parties in this case. The diocese is right when they say they can’t allow one priest to do what other priests are forbidden to do, even more so when this priest publically agitates against Church law. On the other hand, Fr. Peijnenburg has been ordered to make a change in a life that he has led for 46 years. That’s half a lifetime in any reckoning. Has the diocese truly been aware only since the leaflets have been mailed round? If so, it points to a pretty weak awareness of what its priests are up to. If not, why wait almost five decades before doing something?

Personally, without knowing the details, I think it would suit the diocese to be a little less rigorous in this matter. They are essentially right, but they have left it until virtually the very last minute to do something. But, the same goes for Fr. Peijnenburg. I can’t imagine he didn’t know what the laws of celibacy for priests entail. And if he disagrees with them, he should have drawn conclusions from that opinion. He has no reason to act all defiant when the diocese finally figures out what’s going on.

The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch seems to be cracking down hard on all sorts of errors and abuses, and it is about time it did. But since the diocese took a long time to do so, and thus allowed the errors and abuses to develop and continue (I’m also looking at San Salvator, for example), it would do well to get on a slightly smaller high horse and adopt a more pastoral attitude in dealing with these cases. But then again, the very same goes for the people who commit the errors and abuses…

Photo credit: Brabants Dagblad

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