Priest falls in love in the parish: he leaves the priesthood and gets married in church


By John

From the cassock to the wedding dress. Achille Melegari said the fateful yes on the other side of the altar from where he celebrated mass for thirty years as a priest in various parishes of Reggio Emilia. The 63-year-old former priest from Reggio Emilia left the priesthood in 2017 after falling in love with a woman he met in the parish. She, Gerardina Bellassai, 62 years old – originally from Salerno, but for some time in Reggio where she is known for having long been the leader of the City Angels (the group of street volunteers who assisted homeless people, migrants, drug addicts and prostitutes) – has now become his wife.

They had already married six years ago in the municipality, but before they could do it in church they had to wait for the dispensation from the Holy See for him and for her to have their previous marriage with her ex-husband annulled by the ecclesiastical court. Once the documents arrived, they were able to get married at the altar of the Madonna della Neve oratory in Cavola di Toano, in the Reggio Emilia Apennines. A wedding celebrated in great secrecy by his friend Don Gigi Milani, with few guests. Achille waited for her bride dressed in a pearl gray dress and a sporty white t-shirt under her jacket. Gerardina instead arrived in total black. «I wore the cassock this time», jokes “Dina”, as she has always been called by everyone. «We have finally fulfilled our dream, the desire to get married in church has been with us for a long time. Despite the evils we have had to suffer, we are believers and Catholics. At the local bar they made bets on how long our relationship would last… However, love always triumphs in the end and now we are ready to leave for the honeymoon among the fjords of the North Sea with the dream of seeing the Northern Lights together”, the two told Qn-il Resto del Carlino which told the story.

«It was emotional to hold Dina’s hand, look her in the eyes and say yes», said Melegari, who had bid farewell to the pastoral mission with a letter to the faithful in which he spoke of his spiritual crisis saying that he «no longer felt happy” with the collar. The former parish priest believes the time has come to open up the possibility of getting married to priests. “I don’t want and don’t feel like being a symbol – he said – but if I have to have my say, I’m close to the thinking of the Eastern Church: first you get married and then if you think it’s appropriate you ordain yourself a priest. As Saint Paul writes: ‘when the Lord call, stay in the condition you are in. I believe we need to raise the age for receiving ordination, there are men who become priests too young and are not mature enough to do so conscientiously. The establishment of a parish has not been designed for the life of a married priest. In Italy we would like a great revolution, but I think we are not ready yet.”