Founder of global Wordnet TV network Fr. Michael Manning is taking a leave of absence from his public ministry after news recently broke of a past affair that ended over two years ago.
The Diocese of San Bernardino confirmed on April 7 that Fr. Manning had engaged in an intimate relationship with his second cousin, Monterrey County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Kotowski.
News of the affair came to light when correspondence between the two was sent to the local San Bernardino Sun.
“It's very hard when you care for someone, but I love my priesthood more,” Fr. Manning told the San Jose Mercury News. “I admit the fact of my sinfulness. I've done wrong. That's why I've stopped.”
The 70 year-old priest founded the non-profit Wordnet in 1978, and the Catholic television ministry has since gone worldwide. He has appeared on several national TV shows including “Larry King Live.”
“The reality is I was living two lives: one as a priest who was vowed to celibacy and another life as a sexually active man in our sexual intimacy,” Manning wrote to Kotowski in the leaked correspondence.
He told Kotowski that he struggled with the hypocrisy and deception involved in keeping their relationship secret.
“The burden of deception in hotels, and with the community with whom I work and live has become overwhelming,” he wrote.
Kotowski, 59, recently said that she and Fr. Manning are “kindred spirits and soul mates,” telling the Monterrey Herald that she hopes the news of her relationship with the priest will increase dialogue within the Catholic Church over clerical celibacy.
“The reality is that we love the Church, we're committed to the Church, but I'm hoping a dialogue will open up (about) obligatory celibacy, the whole question of celibacy,” she said on April 6. “Is it right for all people?”
Kotowski said the since the relationships ended, the two have been embracing celibacy. “It's a struggle, but we know God is calling to us, so we honor that,” she said.
Kotowski also told the Montery Herald that she doesn't think she did anything wrong or illegal.
Fr. Manning has maintained that the celibate life is beautiful and legitimate calling, and he says that the affair was wrong.
“I think we're all sinners and I'm not above admitting we're sinners,” Fr. Manning said. “The important factor is what do you do after you sin? Can you accept forgiveness? And I've been able to accept forgiveness for what I've done.”
Although Fr. Manning's network has not confirmed his involvement in the future, John Andrews –spokesman for the San Bernardino diocese – said the priest is being encouraged to take time away from his public work.
“And that was something that we and Father Manning mutually came to, (that) it would be good for him to take a leave of absence,” Andrews said.
“It's unfortunate that this has happened, and that is not the conduct that we expect from the priests and it's not consistent with the vows a priest takes,” Andrews told the San Jose Mercury News.
“At the same time, in our faith, you always have an opportunity to seek forgiveness from God and reconciliation. Father Manning has done that and we support him in that 100 percent.”