Anthony J. Girandola Sr., 72, lawyer, former Catholic priest

September 06, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Anthony James Girandola Sr., an Annapolis lawyer and a former Roman Catholic priest whose celebrated 1965 stand on married clergy led to his defrocking and ostracism, died Monday of a heart attack at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Severna Park resident was 72.

Mr. Girandola, ordained in 1948, had served parishes in Connecticut for 15 years before attracting national attention in the mid-1960s for publicly challenging the Catholic Church's stance that priests remain celibate.

In 1965, he married Lorraine Hughes, a Baltimore registered nurse whom he met in 1963 while a patient at the Seton Institute.

After being ex-communicated, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Rhode Island. He and his wife then moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., where they founded the St. Dismas Ecumenical Center for priests who had left the church to marry and other Catholics denied the sacraments.

"I wanted to found a guest house for my fellow lepers," he told Newsweek in 1966.

His crusade became the subject in 1967 British Broadcasting Corp. documentary "Priests Who Sin," and a Life magazine feature.

He wrote "The Most Defiant Priest," which earned the 1968 Mark Twain Award and a place on the New York Times best seller list.

At his death, he was writing "Fathers Should Get Married: Ring Around the Collar."

"He was a trailblazer. But he wanted the best of both of worlds," said Anthony L. Crucetti, a former Upstate New York priest, who attended the seminary in the 1940s with Mr. Girandola and left the priesthood in 1965.

They were ignored for decades by their fellow seminarians who refused to invite them to reunions. They lived in fear that someone would call them "Father," and expose their former lives.

"We had it rough. I knew former priests who couldn't get jobs and wound up working as janitors or laborers. Today, it's very easy. Priests today don't face the same sort of problems we did," Crucetti said.

"It came down simply to the fact that the church left him," said Rev. James Marvin, retired from the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.

"He certainly had more courage than I ever had. But that's been Tony's life -- he's always fought for the underdog and the disenfranchised," he said.

Mr. Girandola moved to Maryland in the 1970s and after working as a technical writer at Westinghouse, he enrolled at the University of Bridgeport Law School. He graduated in 1982.

After passing the Maryland bar, he was an assistant Anne Arundel County prosecutor and, at his death, was an Annapolis criminal lawyer.

"It was astonishing. Through all of this he never once said anything negative against the Catholic Church," said his wife of 32 years.

"His focus shifted to helping people with the resolution of criminal problems. It gave him a new sense of recognition," she said.

Mr. Girandola, who still occasionally wore his clerical collar, often was asked to perform marriages. He attended Mass at St. John's Roman Catholic Church in Severna Park, and was active at St. Paul's Anglican Chapel in Crownsville.

Looking back, he said that he had made peace with the Catholic Church and continued to study new canon law and problems in the church.

"You would attract a much different clientele of people into the seminaries if we opened the doors to marriage," he told the Tampa Tribune in a 1995 interview.

"Pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse would drop drastically," and dioceses around the nation would not be closing churches because of a critical shortage of priests, he said.

He often said that once ordained, he could not be divested of the priesthood.

At peace with himself and no longer feeling guilt or remorse for what he had done, he told The Sun in 1981, "Every day, I try to be a priest to everyone I come in contact with."

Summing up his father's life, a son, Anthony J. Girandola Jr., of Durham, N.C., recalled a favorite passage that he often quoted from Robert Browning's "Andrea del Sarto: "

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

Mr. Girandola was born and raised in Hartford, Conn. He received a doctorate of divinity from St. Bernard's College and Seminary and was ordained in 1948.

Services were yesterday.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by two other sons, Christopher R. Girandola of St. Mary's City and Joseph L. RTC Girandola of Athens, Ga.; a brother, Rudolph Girandola of Allentown, N.J.; five nephews; and a niece.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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