The Rev. Michael Manning confirmed by phone that he had the relationship with Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Kotowski, when questioned about copies of correspondence sent to this newspaper that appeared to point to the two breaking off the relationship more than two years ago.
“We’ve been such good friends and there’s a deep love we have for each other,” Manning said. “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.”
Kotowski briefly reflected on her relationship with Manning that spanned decades.
“Father Mike Manning is a very dear and close friend of mine,” Kotowski said when reached at an anti-gang conference in Washington, D.C. “Our friendship has grown over 30 years, and we share a deep commitment of faithful and dedicated life of service in our respective work. I have nothing more to publicly say about this personal and private matter.”
Manning, 70, started the nonprofit Wordnet, a Catholic television ministry, in 1978. Wordnet’s programs are filmed and edited in the ministry’s downtown studio.
His TV show, “The Word in the World,” can be seen weekly on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
He has appeared as a guest on several national TV shows, including “Larry King Live.”
Manning, who at one time led St. Anthony Parish on Western Avenue, is a member of the Society of the Divine Word, a missionary community with 6,000 members in 62 countries.
In 2006, he was presented with a medal, the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice Cross, which means “for the Church and the Holy Father.”
Gerald Barnes, bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino, requested the award for meritorious service from Pope Benedict XVI for Manning’s decades of service in the Catholic Church.
Manning teaches at retreats and on religious tours around the world.
His ministry’s website at www.wordnet.tv is saturated with teaching materials for sale. Visitors to the website are invited to donate to the ministry, which the website says needs 800 donors giving about $25 a month to cover all expenses.
The website also offers a pamphlet written by Kotowski titled “Dealing With Teenagers.”
The pamphlet, which costs $2 but is listed as out of stock, is marketed as coming from “Fr. Mike’s own cousin, Nancy Kotowski.”
Manning said that Kotowski, 59, is his second cousin.
Marriage between first cousins is legal in California, while 25 states prohibit them, according to a website for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Six states permit first-cousin marriage under certain circumstances, according to the website.
A biography posted at www.electnancy.com says Kotowski has 35 years of experience in education and holds several degrees, including a doctorate in education policy and organization from USC.
The biography says she was recognized by the Peace Corps as a Volunteer of the Year for her education development work in Cameroon, and that she sits on several boards, including the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
Manning wouldn’t say how long he and Kotowski were sexually involved.
The correspondence appears to reveal a conflicted priest struggling to remain faithful to his calling.
“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.
He told Kotowski that he battled hypocrisy, and deception was heavy on his heart as he feared people finding out about the relationship.
“The burden of deception in hotels, and with the community with whom I work and live has become overwhelming,” he wrote.
Manning said he and Kotowski realized their sexual relationship was wrong.
“I think we’re all sinners and I’m not above admitting we’re sinners, ” Manning said in the phone interview. “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.”
Manning said he is convinced of the importance and beauty of celibacy and that he told key staff at Wordnet about the matter.
Going forward with the ministry is “probably going to be very awkward,” he said, and he is considering taking a break.
John Andrews, spokesman for the diocese, said Manning is a pioneer in Catholic television and that the diocese supports him as he moves forward.
“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 said. “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.”
Manning said that before being questioned about the correspondence, he discussed the matter with his confessor only.
He said he will ask his supporters for their understanding and their prayers.
“That’s the neat thing with Jesus. There can be the chance of starting again,” Manning said.