A well-known San Bernardino priest with a large television ministry will take a leave of absence in the wake of the public disclosure of an affair with a school-system administrator in Northern California, church officials confirmed Thursday.
Father Mike Manning, a popular TV minister and technology pioneer who developed sermon applications for smart phones, will step down “to take some time to reflect on what he’s gone through and why it happened and to look at that in the context of his priesthood to get himself oriented so he can go forward positively,” said John Andrews, director of communications for the Diocese of San Bernardino. “Whenever a situation of sin with a priest happens that’s often what is recommended or decided.”
The decision to take a leave was reached mutually by Manning and local church leadership, Andrews said. Manning belongs to an order within the church called the Society of the Divine Word, which has ultimate responsibility for his pastoral assignments.
Manning has acknowledged a sexual relationship with Nancy Kotowski, the Monterey County superintendent of schools, which is an elected position. Kotowski is described on Manning’s Wordnet Production’s website as “Father Mike’s own cousin” and the author of a currently sold-out tract called “Dealing with Teenagers.” Published reports have clarified that Kotowski is a second cousin.
Manning told church colleagues that he had broken off the affair at least two years before its public disclosure in the San Bernardino Sun and other publications.
The Sun published excerpts of personal correspondence between Manning and Kotowski. Manning, who could not be reached, has not challenged the authenticity of the correspondence.
"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, according to the paper.
"We've been such good friends, and there's a deep love we have for each other," he wrote in another excerpt. "The sexuality was secondary. It's very hard when you care for someone, but I love my priesthood more. I admit the fact of my sinfulness. I've done wrong. That's why I've stopped."
Manning’s program, “The Word in the World,” is seen weekly on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, reaching more than 200,000 households, according to Manning’s website. His programs are also broadcast on Catholic TV networks in the U.S. and on the American Forces Network. Manning has been hosting and producing religious programming since 1972.
His books and booklets include “Life Full of Surprises,” “Questions and Answers for Today’s Catholics,” “Why Do Catholics Leave the Church?” and an autobiography, “On Camera and Off.”
“He’s a one of a kind in our diocese, for sure, in terms of doing media ministry in using television and the Internet to talk about the Catholic faith in a way that inspires people,” Andrews said. “His ministry has been very important here and it’s reached far beyond our diocese.”
Kotowski, 59, has a long career as an educator, education researcher and policy expert and public official. She did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday but spoke briefly for another article, reportedly calling Manning her “soul-mate.”
"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 told the Monterey Herald. "Is it right for all people?"
Andrews said that Manning appeared committed to remaining in the ministry.