National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  August 15, 2003

Iowa peace activist priest resigns, 'can't live celibate'


Frank Cordaro, a long-time peace activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, has resigned from the priesthood. He said, “I just have to be free of the promise of celibacy.”

In a letter to family and friends dated Aug. 1, Cordaro wrote: “There were many issues that contributed to this decision, the most influential and pressing being my promise of celibacy. After 18 years of priestly life, I’ve come to the painful realization that I just can’t do it.

“I’ve come to a place in my life that I need to be free of my promise of celibacy. My need for intimacy, companionship, a soul mate and partner is too strong for me to remain celibate. It is best for my health, heart and my soul for me to be free from this promise.”

Cordaro told NCR, “I decided that I needed to live it [the vow of celibacy] faithfully and honestly or not at all.” He said that he had not always been faithful to the vow and now was a time for “making right.”

Cordaro was ordained for the Des Moines diocese in June 1985. He helped found the Des Moines Catholic Worker community in 1976. He has been arrested countless times for his peace activism and has served a total of 44 months in prison for civil disobedience over the last 20 years.

He spoke with NCR via cell phone as he stood on the shoulder of a highway across from the front gates of Offutt Air Force Base, home of the Strategic Air Command, near Omaha, Neb. He and fellow Catholic Workers were holding a three-day vigil commemorating the anniversary of the A-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He mentioned two events that contributed to his decision to resign from the priesthood. “Celibacy has never been easy for me.” Two years ago, after a heart attack that almost killed him, he said, “I started to seriously reexamine my life.”

The heart attack “impressed on me the shortness of life and my need to live it honestly and truthfully, especially in my personal relationships. Soon after, I began to seriously question my continued promise to be celibate.

“I finally faced up to that for me, I was putting myself at odds with my integrity,” he said.

Secondly, he said, recent scandals in the church have led Catholics to demand honesty and full disclosure from its leaders, a demand, he has also made of church leaders. “I decided that I can’t be asking bishops for honesty and transparency if I can’t live honestly myself,” he said.

“I am entering into a new life, much to my chagrin and grief, because I love being a priest,” Cordaro said. He said he loved the sacramental life and rituals, parish work and preaching the scriptures.

In his letter to family and friends, he wrote passionately about the Catholic church. “The Catholic church is the faith community of my birth and family. My first and most significant encounter with the ways of Jesus came through a Roman Catholic community. The Catholic church has given me so much. I will never, ever be able to repay the church in kind.”

He told NCR, “I’ve got no complaints. I love the church. I even love the fights -- and I have had plenty of fights, but that is because I love the church.” In 1999, Des Moines Bishop Joseph Charron suspended Cordaro for a year because of Cordaro’s outspokenness on issues of church authority, women and sexuality.

Cordaro returned to the diocese after that year and had worked since as “pinch hitter” filling pastoral posts left empty when other priests got sick, died or went on sabbatical.

The Des Moines diocese said that on Aug. 1 Cordaro began a one-year leave of absence. At the end of that year, Cordaro told the NCR he expects to leave the priesthood officially, but he is going through what he calls “the universal process” of leaving.

“I’m not just walking away,” he said. “That is the last thing I want to do.”

He will be living at the Catholic Worker in Des Moines. “This frees me up to devote my spirit and energy to peacemaking efforts that I have been devoted to all my life,” he said. “I am joining a long line of former priests who have joined the Catholic Worker.”

His next court date was to be Aug. 13 when he was to be tried for trespassing on an Iowa National Guard Base. He had gone there to dissuade Iowa guardsmen from going to fight in Iraq.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is

A copy of Cordaro's letter to family and friends can be found on the documents section of

National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2003

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