Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mexican bishop bucks Vatican on ‘reporting’ of laity hopes for married priesthood

I continue to be interested in this story because here is a bishop who is really commited to his people and to providing pastoral care that is in sync with their culture.

Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY (CNS) – A Mexican bishop is bucking Vatican orders to erase a phrase in his pastoral plan that notes the desire among his indigenous communities that married permanent deacons be ordained priests.

The phrase is not fanning the hopes of a married priesthood, but simply reporting the feelings of many indigenous Catholics, said Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas in Mexico's Chiapas state.

The phrase remains in the pastoral plan "because the faithful have the right to be heard by their pastors. To listen is not the same as to approve," he said, in a Jan. 24 statement posted on the Web site of the Mexican bishops' conference.

Bishop Arizmendi said he does not support a married priesthood.

He issued the statement after several Mexican news organizations reported on a Sept. 26 Vatican letter complaining that the diocese still had not eliminated the phrase nor had it made changes in its program for training married men to be permanent deacons.

The Vatican made the letter public in mid-January. It was signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. It said that the phrase, which is found in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan and the Diocesan Directory for the Permanent Diaconate, can no longer be used by the diocese.

The Vatican suspended the diaconate program in 2002 and no permanent deacons have been ordained since 2001. Bishop Arizmendi has been trying to get Vatican officials to reinstate the training program.

The cardinal's letter was a follow-up to an Oct. 26, 2005, letter in which the Vatican official denied the bishop's permission to reinstate the diaconate program. The 2005 letter said problems forcing the 2002 suspension had not been resolved. It said it is "feeding in the faithful" the expectation that a married diaconate is a step toward married priests and an "underlying ideology" promoting an autonomous church.

Bishop Arizmendi, in his Jan. 24 statement, told Vatican officials that "we sincerely ask your forgiveness for the headaches we give you."

He noted that he is not the only bishop reporting requests for married priests from Catholics and added that popes have made exceptions to the celibacy rule to allow married priests.

The bishop said that the 2006 Vatican letter negates the 2005 changes he made in the phrase after the Vatican raised initial objections. The revised phrase added wording saying that the church "will continue to admit only celibate men to the priesthood."

The phrase to which the Vatican objects is in paragraph No. 58 in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. It initially said:

"Enlightened by the Spirit and guided by the universal church's magisterium, we listen with attention and we evaluate the request of some communities that married indigenous deacons be admitted to priestly ordination after adequate formation and disposed to accept in faith the decision of the Holy See."

The 2005 revision said:

"We listen with attention to the request that some communities are making so that married indigenous deacons can be admitted to the ordained priesthood. And we help them evaluate their request, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the universal Church's magisterium, clearly cautioning them that there is no hope that the church changes its practices, which come from the gospel and many centuries of tradition, and that it will continue to admit only celibate men to the priesthood."

Bishop Arizmendi said that the revised text was sent several times to the Vatican.

"We didn't change the first part of the text because we must continue listening to our people. But we insist (on) the necessity of the celibate priesthood," he said.

Bishop Arizmendi said that he is also revising the diocesan diaconate directory so that it conforms more with the universal church norms and the Mexican bishops' national directory.

Meanwhile, vocations programs have caused nearly a doubling of candidates for the priesthood, he said. In 2000 there were 16 seminarians and now there are 31, he said.

In a 2006 interview, the bishop said that ordaining married indigenous men as permanent deacons was a vital part of evangelization efforts in his diocese in which the origins of 75 percent of the population are completely indigenous.

The bishop said tat there is an urgent need to restart the diaconate program as his 335 permanent deacons and 84 priests are not enough to minister to the more than 1.5 million people in his diocese.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Celibacy is also THE ISSUE in the USA

Lest people start to think that celibacy and the priest shortage is just a Latin American problem, a January 14 article in the Sun-Sentinel (FL) which is mostly interviews with seminary students eloquently describing their commitment to God, the Church, their vocation and its demands, contains this statistical blast:

...While the number of American priests has fallen from about 58,000 to about 42,000 over the past 40 years, the Roman Catholic church has added almost 1,000 parishes. More than 3,000 churches lack a resident priest, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

The reasons for the shortage are simple: the celibacy requirement and the lifelong commitment, said Dean Hoge, a sociology professor at Catholic University of America.

"If either of those could be eliminated, the problem would be eliminated," Hoge said. "Making such a lifetime promise of loyalty is too much for most Americans."
The CARA Web site, by the way, is an excellent source for detailed statistical data on this issue. And, just as we reported earlier for Chiapas, celibacy also appears to be THE ISSUE in the USA. While the number of priests declined from 57,317 in 1985 to 41,794 in 2006, during the same period the number of permanent deacons more than doubled from 7,204 (1985) to 14,795 (2006).

It's not that American Catholic men don't want to serve the Church. It's that they no longer want to give up a wife and a family to do so.

PS: For those who want to continue to follow the Chiapas story and who speak Spanish, the Mexican news site Proceso.com.mx offers an excellent summary of Bishop Arizmendi's response (“¿Sacerdotes casados en Chiapas?” -- "Married Priests in Chiapas?") and also gives greater detail on Arizmendi's previous statements about the lack of priests in his diocese and his stress on the importance of “continuar la búsqueda de una formación sacerdotal inculturada” ("continuing to look for inculturated priestly formation"). The urgency of this is underscored by his remark that there are slightly over 200 indigenous priests and 300 indigenous seminarians in Mexico. The total number of active priests in Mexico is around 15,000 so, whereas indigenous people make up 13% of Mexico's population, only a minimal fraction of the Catholic clergy is indigenous.

The Vatican may not understand why this is relevant, but people like Bishop Arizmendi who work on the ground in significantly indigenous areas like Chiapas sure do.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Priests are scarce in Argentina"

This has been the headline in several Argentinian media sources lately.

Those who follow this blog regularly know that we've been devoting considerable bandwidth to the marriage of Fr. Gumersindo Meiriño, a Spanish priest who was working in the Argentinian Diocese of San Tomé. Since his December marriage, Fr. Gumersindo has been suspended from his priestly functions.

However, in light of recent data from the Argentinian Bishops' Commission on the Ministry, perhaps the Argentinian Catholic Church -- and the Vatican too, of course -- should reconsider their position towards married priests like Fr. Gumer.

In an article on InfoBAE.com dated 1/23/2007, the president of the Commission, Msgr. Carlos Franzini, is quoted as saying that there is a chronic shortage of priests in the country. And indeed the Commission estimates that it has fewer than half as many priests as it needs to attend to its 8,800 parishes in more than 60 diocese. While Buenos Aires still enjoys an adequate ratio of one priest for every 4,000 people, in some poorer and/or more rural diocese such as Gregorio de Laferrere, Lomas de Zamora or Merlo-Moreno, the ratio is one priest to every 14,000 inhabitants. This has meant that there are places where Mass is only celebrated once a month and many priests are covering two and even three parishes at a time. This is a serious problem in a country like Argentina which is rural and spread out and where the distances within a diocese can be vast.

And the future doesn't look much brighter. Seminary enrollment has decreased about 5% annually since 1996, largely due to the sexual abuse scandals and the celibacy requirement. At the moment there are fewer than 1,600 candidates per year, with a 35% drop-out rate prior to ordination. A further 19% of those who do get ordained leave the priesthood, mostly to get married.

In an interview on Rafaela.com, Ricardo Mauti, the rector of the Seminario Mayor de Santa Fe, states pointedly that the lack of willingness of young men to make a commitment has led to fewer and fewer priests but he adds that "Asegurar tener una vida de celibato y los votos de la vida consagrada son cosas que tampoco ayudan a los jóvenes a tener una vida consagrada" ("the certainty of having a celibate life and the vows of the consecrated life are things that also don't help young people to have a consecrated life").

And the consequence, as the bishops warn plainly and Rafaela.com dutifully reports, is that in the rural areas of Argentina where churches may not see a priest for weeks, the Catholic faithful fall into the hands of the evangelicals who have an effective presence in those regions.

I hope the Argentinian and other Latin American bishops (because this is NOT a strictly Argentinian problem) will raise these issues loudly and clearly at the 5th CELAM Conference when it meets in Brazil later this year. Pope Benedict XVI will be present, the loss of both priests and faithful to the evangelicals is a topic on the agenda, and it's time for someone to connect the dots for the Vatican.

Gumersindo Meiriño: "I feel a peace I can't explain since I got married and I don't understand the turmoil it caused"

We reported earlier in this blog about the marriage in Argentina of a Spanish missionary priest, Gumersindo Meiriño. Fr. Gumersindo is also, and continues to be, a regular columnist for his local newspaper, El Lector which has faithfully and lovingly kept this story alive over the last month. A recent visit to their Web site yielded this interview with Fr. Gumer from the January 10, 2007 edition of La Región, a newspaper in his home diocese of Ourense, Spain. Click on the link to read the original version in Spanish. Translated here into English by Rebel Girl.

Gumersindo Meiriño, the priest who got married in Argentina, says that he is very happy since he got married and he now has "a peace I can't explain." He is surprised at the controversy of his marriage and indicates that he communicated his decision to the bishop of Ourense who, he says, should clarify his words with respect to the prayers for his return to the priesthood. The strong debate that has raged around his wedding surprises him. But Gumersindo Meiriño, the priest from Ourense, says he is happy.

How did you meet your wife?

A mutual friend introduced us at the entrance to the Santo Tomé cathedral. We collaborated in attending to the sick, spirituality seminars, and talks about spiritual counseling. In recent months, our relationship widened while writing a book which is at the printer. María Benetti is a Reiki master and a promoter of Christian Reiki, but especially she is a heart who knows how to love and has assisted many people who are suffering. Reiki is just a tool for helping sick people.

When did you decide to get married?

I spent some time asking God to enlighten and guide me. After thinking it over well and praying, I told her one day that I was going to stop being a priest and that I wanted to share my life with her. We talked about the repercussions that this could have for my life and hers. And she said yes. All that was left was to set the date.

Did you communicate this to the bishop of Ourense?

Yes, by telephone. He recommended that I be patient and devote some more time to thinking it over, that there was no hurry. I told him that I was very clear and sure about the step I was going to take.

Why didn't you seek papal dispensation?

Dispensation is not required to stop being a priest. There are ex-priests who live in the world with their wives and children who don't have it. It is necessary in order to get married in the church. I never sought to get married in the church because I know that I still don't have the necessary conditions. However, I intend to do so. I have not done it yet because it is a long process which I have to start in person in Ourense, talking to the bishop. I had three alternatives -- living a double life being a priest and with María Benetti, presenting ourselves as engaged, or marrying in a civil ceremony, with the hope that they will give me dispensation. I picked this last alternative because it seemed the most correct one with respect to my wife and the church.

Are you content with your new life as a layperson?

Yes, I'm content and I have a peace that I can't explain.

Was it hard to make such a complex decision?

I had moments of deep prayer and reflection, trying to see which path God was proposing to me. I made this decision conscientiously and from the heart. It seems to me more honest to listen to the voice of the heart and of love, than to a human law which has given many fruits and which I respect such as celibacy. I faced a direct choice: obeying the heart or the celibacy law. And love won.

Did the Diocese of San Tomé really censure you?

Yes. The diocesan administrator sent a letter to be read at all the masses in all the parishes where I had worked several days before the wedding. It said that they were suspending me from all of my priestly functions. And what stunned my friends the most is that it warned that anyone who attended the wedding was committing a mortal sin and would not be able to receive communion. Can you imagine, my mother would be committing a mortal sin by attending my wedding? Many people felt hurt. People were asking each other on the street: "Are you for or against this?"

What do you think about the bishop of Ourense asking believers to pray for your return to the priesthood?

I have received e-mail from all over the world with what he said and I don't want to take it out of context. If he said what he said, I would interpret that he didn't understand well what people were asking him. It was the letter of the diocesan administrator of San Tomé that provoked the scandal, not my marriage. I tried to do it in the most discrete way possible. There are hundreds of marriages of priests and none has produced this turmoil. The bishop should clarify his words because they are confusing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Too many deacons in Chiapas?

Who knew that you could have too many deacons? I always thought we appreciated all men and women who wanted to serve the church more deeply in whatever capacity but, based on the latest account in the Mexican newspaper Vanguardia, it does not appear that the Vatican shares this view.

What did the diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas do to incur the wrath of Rome? Well, they ordained too many married men as permanent deacons -- to be precise, 339 deacons, or three times as many permanent deacons as in the diocese of Mexico City which has a population 800% larger than Chiapas. Most of these men, who had been working as lay catechists, were ordained under the previous bishop, Samuel Ruiz, who was operating under the assumption that the Church would soon accept a married priesthood.

The population of Chiapas is basically indigenous and celibacy is generally not an accepted concept in indigenous communities. In fact, the Vatican was also distressed that the diocese only has 80 priests (45 diocesans and 35 religious). It should also be mentioned that Bishop Ruiz was well-respected for his commitment to and understanding of his people and their culture. In 2000, he received the Simon Bolivar International Prize from UNESCO for his labor on their behalf.

But what really caught the Vatican's attention, according to the letter Cardinal Arinze wrote, was a provision (No. 58) in the Diocese's Pastoral Plan drafted in 2004 by the current bishop, Felipe Arizmendi, and his associates. This provision said: "escuchar con atención y discernir la solicitud de algunas comunidades para que diáconos indígenas casados puedan ser admitidos a la ordenación sacerdotal, previa formación conveniente, dispuestos a asumir la decisión de la Santa Sede."

Now, for those who don't speak Spanish, all this really says is that the diocese is commiting itself to listen to some communities that have appealed for the ordination of married indigenous deacons to the priesthood, with proper formation and based on a final decision of the Holy See. However, this clause and the Diocesan Directory for the Permanent Diaconate were deemed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to contain "serious doctrinal and pastoral ambiguities" and the diocese was ordered to remove provision 58 from its plan until rewritten and to stop diaconal ordinations.

Responding to the news reports which were based on the Vatican's Notitiae, Bishop Arizmendi said that provision 58 had been amended and that they had never pushed for the ordination of married men. However, while Arizmendi stated that he felt celibacy was good for priests in the Latin American Church, " no podemos dejar de escuchar las voces que se oyen en sentido contrario, no sólo entre nosotros, sino en la Iglesia universal." ("we cannot stop listening to voices on the opposite side, not only among us [i.e. in his diocese] but in the universal Church.")

Reading between the lines: This is not the last the Vatican will hear from the hermanos y hermanas in Chiapas on ordaining married deacons to the priesthood. As we would say : "Es lógico."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Homeless campaigner Abbé Pierre dies, aged 94

I hope all who read this blog would take a moment to pray silently in thanksgiving for the life of this priest, Abbé Pierre, who was one of the bravest, most compassionate, and most admired figures in the Catholic Church in France. He was also an advocate for married and women priests as you will see from this article, from the Irish Web site, RTE News (1/22/2007):

The death has been announced of Abbé Pierre, the Catholic priest who abandoned wealth to campaign for the homeless in France. He was 94.

His death was announced by President Jacques Chirac who said France had lost 'an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness'.

Abbé Pierre was passionately committed to caring for the outcasts of the affluent society and became one of France's most admired men.

Born in 1912, the fifth child of a Lyon silk merchant, Henri-Antoine Groues gave up his family wealth to become a monk.

He took the nickname Abbé Pierre during World War II when he was a resistance chaplain and forged ID papers to smuggle refugees out of France.

He founded his first Emmaus community in 1949, an anti-poverty, self-help project where homeless people could collect, repair and resell second-hand furniture.

In the icy winter of 1953-54, he set up soup kitchens and persuaded authorities to open Metro stations for thousands of homeless people who risked freezing to death.

His actions that winter made him a household name.

In a 2005 book, Abbé Pierre admitted that he had broken his vow of celibacy 'on rare occasions' and called for married and female priests in the Catholic Church.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Some Dissenters Quit the Church But Don't Stop Being Catholic

Some Dissenters Quit the Church But Don't Stop Being Catholic
By Jeff Diamant
Religion News Service
Saturday, January 20, 2007

She grew up Roman Catholic, but like millions of others, Rebecca Ortelli came to disagree with church teachings on contraception, communion and priestly celibacy, among other things.

Many Catholics drift away from the church or join other denominations. But Ortelli, 57, wanted to maintain both her Catholic identity and her worldview. And she didn't want to feel one was inconsistent with the other.

So 20 years ago, she did what a small number of defiant Catholics are doing. She joined a church with many lifelong Catholics of similar views, a church that borrows heavily from Catholic rituals even though it's not part of a Catholic diocese.

"I don't think I should have to give up my Catholicism. That's part of who I am. It makes me who I choose to be," said Ortelli, whose church, in Nutley, N.J., is called the Inclusive Community. "I like some of the rituals that we have. They're important."

At the Inclusive Community, she and her husband, raised a Lutheran, receive Communion each Sunday from former Catholic priests who left the church -- and its priestly celibacy requirement -- to marry.

The Inclusive Community meets in a small chapel of a Congregational church, has a $16,000 budget, and draws maybe 15 people most Sundays. In those ways, it is similar to most "underground" churches, said Kathleen Kautzer, a professor at Regis College in Weston, Mass.

It's unclear how many "underground" Catholic churches are in the United States. Most are small, many unstable. They lack networks and are often unpublicized, so no one knows whether they are increasing or decreasing in number.

Kautzer estimated that there are 200 and that they probably attract much less than 1 percent of the 67 million American Catholics. That is a small number, considering that polls show significant opposition to church teachings on contraception, abortion, divorce, and priestly celibacy.

Still, in the aftermath of the clergy sex abuse scandal, these churches offer a different path from the one taken by most Catholic reformers, who have sought -- unsuccessfully, so far -- to change church rules and hierarchy.

Most members of underground churches are "really liberal people who are divorced, gays and feminists," Kautzer said. She added to the list former priests and former nuns who have married.

"The reform movement is full of those couples," she said. "Their whole life was the church, and they left . . . because they couldn't handle the conservative direction the church was going in. They said, 'This institution is not going to change in my lifetime, so what else can I do but to find a faith community where I feel comfortable?' "

Among those couples at the Inclusive Community are Fred and Terry Quinn. Fred Quinn was a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Newark when he met his future wife, then a nun with the Caldwell Dominicans, at a labor rally in Jersey City in 1969.

Fred Quinn has presided at services at the Inclusive Community, which is technically part of the United Church of Christ denomination. Most members were raised Catholic, and many are Protestants who married Catholics, Quinn said.

The Inclusive Community's chapel is set up to be, well, inclusive. Two crosses are on the Communion table -- one with the body of Jesus, the other without, respecting Catholic and Protestant traditions, respectively. The Communion host can be taken with either wine or grape juice.

In Rochester, N.Y., the Revs. James Callan and Mary Ramerman lead what is perhaps the biggest church of its type in the country: Spiritus Christi, which grew out of Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church.

In 1998, the Catholic bishop in Rochester was told by the Vatican to remove Callan from Corpus Christi. Callan had blessed gay unions, given women prominent roles at the altar and offered Communion to non-Catholics.

In 1999, Spiritus Christi opened, with Callan as priest. The congregation was made up of 800 people upset by Callan's removal from Corpus Christi. Spiritus now has 1,500 members, said Ramerman, who was Callan's associate pastor at Corpus Christi, in violation of church rules against female priests.

"As a church, we've always been on the liberal side," Ramerman said. "We have . . . very strong outreach to the poor and a strong message of inclusion. Those are the two pillars, the same pillars we had when we were Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church."

In Morristown, N.J., a retired priest leads Mass for about 50 members of the lay Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful on the first and third Sundays of the month, said Maria Cleary, director of Voice of the Faithful's New Jersey chapter.

"We're all people who have made a lifelong commitment to the Catholic church," Cleary said, "but for a variety of reasons have become disillusioned. . . . They feel that this is an alternative for them, that they're worshiping with like-minded Catholics."

She said many services like hers "don't publicize themselves because they . . . don't want to be shut down." She agreed to be interviewed, she said, because "I feel very strongly, we can't keep our light under a bushel. It doesn't make any sense for us to be hiding."

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Married Priest

Every time I read one of these stories about the married priests from other denominations who are allowed to waive into the Catholic priesthood while "our" guys are forced to remain celibate or leave the ministry, I feel the unfairness of it deeply. Why can this Episcopalian man become a Catholic priest while all the men in CITI, CORPUS, etc... who have been lifelong Catholics are excluded? Something is very wrong with this picture.

Anyway, a few excerpts from this story will give an idea of what I hope will be the norm some day for everyone in our Church.

A Married Priest: Archdiocese of Los Angeles to obtain services of converted Episcopalian married priest
By Lisa McKinnon,
Ventura County Star
January 19, 2007

Like all prospective Roman Catholic priests, Bill Lowe has studied for tests packed with questions on dogma, Scripture and church history.

This week, however, the Camarillo man faces a query that makes him unique among his peers: What to get wife Linda for their 44th wedding anniversary, which just happens to be today?

"I'm sure we'll be going out to dinner," said Lowe, 68, who with Linda has three grown children and five young grandchildren.

"But beyond that, I'm a little perplexed," he admitted.

Perhaps he can call on help from a higher source: A former Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism after retiring in 2001, Lowe is in the process of becoming the first married priest to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles under the guidelines of a little-known liturgical program called the Pastoral Provision.

Established in 1980 with the blessing of Pope John Paul II, the provision welcomes into the Catholic priesthood clergymen who have left the Episcopal Church, even if, like Lowe, those clergymen happen to be married.

...Discussions also swirled around the subject of what to call Linda, with tongue-in-cheek results.

"Someone suggested 'Mrs. Father.' She loves that one," Lowe said. "Her favorite, of course, is 'Linda.'"...

Anyway, Mr. Lowe is scheduled to be come Deacon Lowe on February 10th and will probably become Fr. Lowe later on this year. One more step towards the married priesthood. May that door be open to everyone someday. Go here for the rest of the story...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gay rights supporter splits from priesthood

I found this article by Michael Clancy from yesterday's Arizona Republic to be quite interesting, although it has more to do with church reform than with celibacy. Here are the most relevant excerpts and you can go to the newspaper Web site for the full article .

A Catholic priest who clashed with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted over gay issues and other matters has left the priesthood after taking a yearlong leave of absence.

Chris Carpenter said he is concerned about the church's outreach to gay members and "the current state of church leadership."

"The enforcement of church doctrine and liturgical practice are taking a step backward to the pre-Vatican II era," he said, referring to the 1960s council on adapting the church to the modern world.

"Attempting to turn back the clock and re-create a time when the Catholic Church enjoyed greater authority and respect culturally is not a realistic way to deal with current problems and challenges."

..."From now on, I won't formally identify myself as a priest or as 'Father' or dress as one," he said in a statement.

Carpenter, who was ordained in 1995 by Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien and served for more than eight years as pastor of Christ the King parish in Mesa, was a leader in the gay-advocate group No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice. He was one of nine priests who signed the organization's Phoenix Declaration, which affirmed the right of gay men, lesbians and others to participate in Christian churches.

Olmsted ordered the priests to remove their signatures in May 2004.

Six of the priests who signed the document are no longer working as Catholic priests.

Carpenter said the bishop's order destroyed many priests' efforts to bring gay members back to the church, wounded relationships with other Christian leaders, and damaged hopes for a good relationship with Olmsted.

It's wonderful that these men have had the courage to stand up for justice in our Church but it's too bad that because of this bishop's intolerance, he has lost several valuable priests.

The No Longer Silent Web site has also posted the letter of one of the signatories of the Phoenix Declaration, Fr. André Boulanger, to Bishop Olmsted. The letter challenges the Church's teaching that homosexuality is an "intrinsic disorder." Fr. Boulanger, who has retired, states that "in the end I found it necessary as a matter of conscience not to withdraw my name from the Declaration. Not so much because I know the Declaration to be fair, just and a document in keeping with Christian principles, but because of the manner in which the topic of homosexuality is addressed in many documents and pronouncements issued by church authorities."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Interview: Galician priest married in Argentina

Here is an interview with Fr. Gumersindo Meiriño, a priest who got married in December 2006, that appeared this week in La Voz de Galicia. An English translation by Rebel Girl appears below the original.

Entrevista: Cura gallego casado en Argentina
Firma: Arturo Lezcano González
La Voz de Galicia


Se casó con una colaboradora aún siendo sacerdote y el escándalo lo envolvió en Argentina en el último mes. El ourensano Gumersindo Meiriño, doctor en teología, aclara que la polémica fue provocada por la postura de la jerarquía eclesiástica ante su boda y proclama que el amor de Dios está por encima de todas las cosas.

¿Cómo resumiría la vida de un sacerdote gallego que se va a Argentina y termina colgando los hábitos por amor?

Dios es amor. Y yo me siento como un juguete en manos de Dios. Nunca pensé viajar a América y nunca pensé casarme, y resulta que encontré a la mujer con la que quiero compartir mi vida. Ahí está la mano amorosa de mi Padre Dios.

¿Por qué se ha montado tanto revuelo?

Pienso que el revuelo lo creó la famosa carta del administrador diocesano en la que se decía que el que asistiera a la boda caería en pecado mortal. ¿A usted le parece que mi mamá, si pudiera asistir a la boda de su hijo, estaría en pecado mortal? El papa Benedicto XVI escribió su única carta encíclica sobre el amor. Y creo que es la máxima ley que debemos cumplir los que queremos seguir a Jesucristo, que amó, según el Evangelio, hasta el extremo.

El celibato: ¿es hora de debatirlo abiertamente?

Yo valoro la vida fructífera de tantos sacerdotes célibes, pero es una ley eclesiástica y como toda ley es revisable. Es un debate abierto dentro y fuera de la iglesia.

Su esposa, ¿qué ha encontrado en ella para dejar el sacerdocio?

María es distinta y quizá lo más maravilloso es su espiritualidad. Eso es lo que más me impresionó, su capacidad de amar a Dios. Me dice que si yo estoy bien, ella está bien. Dígame si usted no se casaría con una mujer así.

¿Se atrevería con una novela sobre su historia de amor?

Sí, es una buena idea. ¿Conoce algún editor que le pueda interesar?


He married a colleague while still being a priest and has been wrapped up in scandal in Argentina over the last month. Gumersindo Meiriño, a doctor in theology from Ourense [Spain], clarifies that the debate was provoked by the church hierarchy's position on his wedding and proclaims that God's love is above all other things.

How would you sum up the life of a Galician priest who goes to Argentina and ends up trading in his robes for love?

God is love. And I feel like a toy in the hands of God. I never thought I would travel to America and I never thought I would get married and finally I met the woman with whom I want to share my life. The loving hand of my God and Father is there.

Why has there been so much commotion?

I think that the commotion was caused by the notorious letter from the diocesan administrator where he said that anyone attending the wedding would fall into mortal sin. Do you think that my mother, if she could have attended the wedding of her son, would be in mortal sin? Pope Benedict XVI wrote his only encyclical about love. And I think that this is the greatest law to be obeyed by those of of us who want to follow Jesus Christ, who loved, according to the Gospel, to the extreme.

Celibacy: Is it time to debate it openly?

I appreciate the fruitful lives of so many celibate priests, but it is a church law and, like any law, it can be reviewed. It is an open debate within and outside the Church.

What did you find in your wife that led you to leave the priesthood?

Maria is unique and perhaps the most marvellous thing about her is her spirituality. This is what impressed me the most -- her ability to love God. She says to me that if I'm OK, she's OK. Tell me you wouldn't marry a woman like that.

Would you dare to write a novel about your love story?

Yes, it's a good idea. Do you know an editor who might be interested?

Footnote: The same newspaper also managed to get a statement from Fr. Gumer's former bishop in the Diocese of Ourense, Monsignor Luis Quinteiro, who declared himself to be "profoundly saddened" by Fr. Gumer's decision to marry and his failure to listen to the clear recommendations of the diocese and church authorities in Argentina. "We deeply regret Gumersindo Fernández Meiriño's leaving the responsibilities he freely assumed at the moment of his ordination, as well as the scandal and confusion his behavior may cause among the faithful." And the bishop asked the faithful to pray for "our brother" to come back to the priesthood in full communion with the Church.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Gadfly priest challenges mandatory celibacy in new book

Gadfly priest challenges mandatory celibacy in new book
Associated Press
January 5, 2007

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio - A former seminary president who drew national attention to the number of gay Roman Catholic priests tackles mandatory celibacy in a new book, calling it burdensome and unnecessary.

The Rev. Donald Cozzens says the requirement is hurting the church at a time of priest shortages.

"Many, if not most, of the inactive priests would be serving in our parishes if it were not for the law of celibacy," Cozzens writes in "Freeing Celibacy."

"Celibacy used to go with priesthood as fish went with Fridays," Cozzens said in an interview. "Over the past 40 to 50 years, I would argue that more and more Catholics are questioning the need to link celibacy with priesthood."

A celibate priest himself, Cozzens has written four other books on issues and problems of the priesthood. In his 2000 book, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," later translated into six languages, he used interviews and studies to contend that the Roman Catholic Church had a disproportionately high percentage of gay priests, nearly half of all seminarians and priests.

Cozzens' previous writings made a valuable contribution to the debate over homosexuality by raising the issue at a time when many priests and bishops were pretending it didn't exist, said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the conservative journal First Things, who upholds the Catholic teaching that same-sex attraction is disordered.

"It was that climate of, 'Let's pretend that we don't know about it,' that Cozzens blew the whistle on in a constructive way," Neuhaus said.

There were about 16,000 active priests nationwide in 2005, a 27 percent decline from 1965, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. About 3,200 parishes were without a resident priest in 2005, compared with 549 in 1965.

Cozzens distinguishes between what he calls the charism, or gift, of celibacy, which he says is an approach freely chosen by only a few priests and nuns, and celibacy as a requirement.

"I am trying to say to the church, the charism of celibacy needs to be celebrated, the obligation of celibacy needs to be reviewed," he said, interviewed in his office at John Carroll University in this Cleveland suburb.

Cozzens teaches religious studies at the Jesuit school. At the time of his 2000 book he was president of St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland.

In almost three decades as pontiff, Pope John Paul II was adamant that the church would not change its celibacy requirement. As recently as November, a Vatican summit led by Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed mandatory celibacy for priests as a nonnegotiable job requirement for showing devotion to God and the people they serve.

The Vatican requires celibacy of priests ordained under the Latin rite, although married men can become priests in the Eastern Orthodox rite. The Vatican has accepted some married Anglican priests who came over to the Catholic fold.

The church also has about 30,000 deacons worldwide, including about 15,000 in the United States. Deacons, who can marry, can perform many duties in the church, including baptisms and marrying people, but cannot serve Holy Communion.

Celibacy as a universal requirement took hold in the 12th century, but priests and bishops were able to marry during the previous millennium.

Some studies seem to support Cozzens' stand.

A 2002 Catholic University of America study found that 56 percent of priests said celibacy should be optional.

A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who studies and writes about celibacy, estimates that 50 percent of Catholic clergy are sexually active at any given time. Church leaders have questioned that finding.

Anyone studying to be a priest is aware of the celibacy requirement and should not be surprised by its imposition, said the Rev. Mike Woost, a theology professor at St. Mary Seminary.

Celibacy "is the way we embrace our love of God and our love of God's people," Woost said. "This is the way we try to image to the rest of the world the importance of God's reign in our lives and the life of the world."

He said a bigger hurdle to attracting more priests is low pay and lack of material comforts.

Cozzens also says that ending mandatory celibacy could help weed out candidates for the priesthood who have an underdeveloped and immature understanding of their own sexuality.

"I don't think it's fair to say that mandatory celibacy is a clear cause of clergy abuse, but it may be a factor in a number of cases," he said.

In 2004, the National Review Board, a Roman Catholic lay watchdog panel investigating the church abuse scandal, concluded that celibacy did not cause the crisis but the church did not effectively screen out "many sexually dysfunctional and immature" priests or properly train seminarians for the celibate life.

Woost also questioned celibacy's role in the church abuse scandal, noting most of child abuse in society at large involves men who are married. Cozzens responds that it is a question of proportion, since there are far more married men than celibate priests.

Cozzens, 67, a priest for 40 years, says he still isn't sure whether he has embraced celibacy as a choice or has found ways to conform to the requirement.

"Celibacy has worked in my life and that is due to the grace of God," he says.

A moment later, however, paraphrasing poet T.S. Eliot, he confesses that, "At times I feel it's cost not less than everything."

Woost said Cozzens remains a priest in good standing whose books help potential priests.

"Raising these issues at the very least has caused us to continue to try and articulate more clearly why it is we as priests embrace a celibate lifestyle and what's at the core of that for us," Woost said.

Another priest who has written books questioning celibacy said the practice is unlikely to change under Pope Benedict.

The Vatican sees mandatory celibacy as a way of preserving institutional control even in the face of a shrinking priesthood, said the Rev. Michael Crosby of St. Benedict Friary in Milwaukee and author of the 2003 book "Rethinking Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Thanks be to God

I wanted to share this column by Fr. Gumersindo Meiriño that originally appeared in Spanish in El Lector, December 18, 2006. Fr. Gumer married the lady he talks about in this column several days later.

I write these few words in a small office. Around me are the birds with their morning songs and the sun that appears with force to illuminate and give heat to life on the planet earth. A little further downhill, runs the Uruguay, tame and calm. Mixed with the song of the birds, the noises of men begin to be heard. People going by on their bicycles to work, children to the school, another car. Lifting my eyes, I see the observant palm, the roses red with splendor, the green, red and yellow plants, the celestial blue of the sky that reminds me of Our Mother of the Miraculous Medal. And in front of these events of life, only one word occurs to me: THANKS.

Thanks be to God who gives us so many things each day that we do not know how to appreciate. Eyes, hands, a face, a nose, feet… Thanks because He shows His singular beauty in nature, the sun, the birds, the stars, the trees….We keep watching TV shows; we rise at daybreak to watch the weddings of the powerful. But is there a greater spectacle than the setting of the sun, when we watch it from the heart?

Thanks be to God for what He is making me experience during these last months. The closeness of a family in which I grew up and who loved me not because of how important my work was but because I was their son, their brother, their brother-in-law, their uncle. The titles that were placed behind my name didn't matter to them; for them I have always been Sindo -- that is how I have been called in my house since I was a little boy. Except my mother and my father who, when they were angry or in an ironically affectionate tone, would call me "Don Sindo" or "Don Gumersindo".

Thanks be to God for the person whom He has put by my side. First as my companion in the mission and later as an inseparable companion. She woke me up from my arrogance. She taught to me to love God in a new way. When I thought I was a wise man based on all the things I had experienced, she taught me to pray the Lord's Prayer and to put on faith in Jesus each morning, trusting completely in Him. And soon our first "little child" will be born, a book that is called "Reiki Crístico" ("Christian Reiki").

Thanks be to God for those good friends who accompany us, who have understood our new way, who have given us breath, who are noble, sincere and friendly people. Among them, thanks to the evangelical pastors who have prayed for us and with us. Thanks be to God for my brother priests who are my friends, who have shown themselves to be such in these moments, and who are good people. Thanks be to God also for those who have not understood my way and my decision. Because of what I have shared with them, I will not stop loving them just because of this.

Thanks be to God for the friends who do not understand me, because my role was more important than the person for them. They help me review my life every day.

Thanks to you who read this article every week and have a good heart and good will because you will continue to read it, although now it will only be called "Buenas Noticias de Gumer" ("Gumer's Good News").

"Amor" is in the air in Argentina

You gotta love this beat...especially when it involves reporting the wedding of a priest in a small town — in this case, the marriage of Fr. Gumersindo Meiriño to María "Goli" Benetti in Gobernador Virasoro, Argentina. As can be seen from the photo below, the December 22, 2006 ceremony was front page news in the local tabloid El Lector where it was hailed as "La Nupcia del Año" ("Wedding of the Year"). If you care to register and view the actual news accounts in Spanish, they can be found here in PDF format. A somewhat confusing pastiche of the news stories in HTML format is available at Corrientes Noticias. A good summary of the story in Spanish also appears at Misiones Online.

El Lector newspaper cover

Fr. Gumersindo is a priest and theologian from the Orense Diocese in Spain who came in 2001 to do missionary work in the Diocese of Santo Tomé in Argentina. The diocese claims he was there under contract — a contract that was rescinded in early December when Fr. Gumer's intention to get married became known. Fr. Gumer says he signed no contract and that he was working simply under a verbal agreement with the local bishop, Francisco Polti Santillán.

Fr. Gumer's priestly faculties were suspended on December 4th. El Lector, which has published a regular column by Fr. Gumersindo, points out "Esta suspensión le cabe a Gumersindo dentro de la Diócesis de Santo Tomé, lo cual indica que , si él quiere puede celebrar misa en la Diócesis de Posadas o en cualquier otra." So he's suspended in Santo Tomé? No problema. Just move over to Posadas and keep on ministering! That may not be so easy, but Fr. Gumer has indicated that he hopes that he and his wife will be able to resume their pastoral and evangelical work in some way.

Gumer met María when she came as a lay missionary from Buenos Aires. They were evangelizing, giving seminars, and working on a radio program together. They also collaborated on a book about Christian Reiki therapy (Maria is a Reiki master). Gumer says that Bishop Polti knew and approved of this work as well as the comfort the two were providing to the sick and the dying in their mission area.

Gumer says he never thought he would leave the priesthood when he met María but, he adds, "the Lord's ways are not our ways." He made inquiries into seeking dispensation from his vows but decided not to wait since he was advised it might take years. He states that he does not believe it would influence his case since he got married in a civil ceremony. "I'm fully aware that a step is lacking under church law. I'm also fully aware that under God's law, the first [commandment] is to love God above all else and one's neighbor as oneself. We made the decision to get married based on Love."

Fr. Gumer says that he and María have received a lot of support for their decision from parishioners — especially young people. The Diocese of Santo Tomé has been less supportive. A letter was sent to the parishes in that diocese not only indicating his suspension, but also warning that anyone who attended Gumersindo and María's wedding would be commiting a mortal sin and would not be in condition to receive communion.

And it is this last threat that most drew the ire of several priests who wrote in to El Lector in support of Gumer and María. From Italy, one "Padre Luis" writes: "Why are those who attend a civil wedding in a state of sin?...I thought love came from God and if two people love each other and decide to make a civil pact, aren't they within God's law?" He goes on to write about priests and bishops who have children out of wedlock and says, "I would like to ask the parishioners who listen to the word and receive the sacraments from these priests. Are they in a state of sin? How many such priests are there in the Church?" And he concludes, "Thank you, Gumer and María for showing us that love exists."

To which I can only add "Amen" and, on behalf of CITI, "felicitaciones y bendiciones en su matrimonio" — congratulations and blessings on your marriage — from your brothers and sisters here in the U.S.

P.S.: Fr. Gumer continues to publish a regular spiritual column "Noticias de Gumer" in El Lector. The columns that are available online are quite lovely and, if you can read Spanish, worth a look.