La Capital (Argentina)
Nicolas Alessio, the priest from Cordoba, from the Enrique Angelelli group, will preside at his last Mass today as pastor of the parish in Altamira, where he came 26 years ago, having just turned 24 and sporting a cassock. He had decided to leave the priesthood to devote himself to partisan politics following the injunction he received from Cordoba's bishop Carlos Ñáñez for supporting homosexual marriage, among other reasons which he elucidated during an interview with the Zona de Noticias program on the Rosario radio station FM Meridiano.
Why are you leaving the priesthood?
What's happened is the following: During Benedict XVI's administration, because this has to do with Rome and the Vatican, there has been less and less space within the Church hierarchy, within the institutional Church to think differently, be creative, be closer to the people. So we are experiencing a very harsh ecclesial winter. And in Cordoba this reached a maximum point of conflict when the bishop decided to sanction me, start judicial proceedings against me, fence me in by blocking me from the ministry simply for being in favor of egalitarian marriage. And that was the limit for me and I said "enough" -- I no longer want to belong to the Catholic Church hierarchy, I'm leaving the clergy, I'm leaving this priestly caste that is moving further and further away from the life of the people. But I'm not leaving my faith or my beliefs, I'm not even leaving this conflictive Church. I'm leaving the hierarchy. I no longer want to be part of the priestly caste.
How did you make this decision?
On the one hand with chagrin because one continues to dream of a different hierarchy. On Wednesday we remembered the martyred bishop Enrique Angelelli, who was someone who also dreamed of a different Church. So there is a bit of chagrin when we realize that we are tilting at windmills. On the other hand with a lot of hope and confidence because one knows that one is trying to be faithful to the Gospel, to be faithful to a people's Church, one that is more fraternal, a Church of the poor. And on this road, one is not alone, there is a long history of martyrs, of censured priests, of bishops who were also reined in by Rome. In Argentina, we've had the example of Jorge Novak, Miguel Esteban Hesayne, Jaime De Nevares, very valiant bishops, not to mention Angelelli, of course. So one feels very much accompanied and that one is not alone in this quest for a Church that is truly more faithful to the Gospel.
And how have the faithful in your parish taken your decision?
With a lot of sadness. I have been there in Altamira for 26 years, I have grown together with this community, we have many very important popular projects to keep going and sustain. The people feel a bit torn apart by my leaving, but we all understand that sometimes we have to look with hope at new roads to travel. And at the moment we are in mourning, accepting a rupture, a crisis, but also looking at it confidently and with hope.
Are you going to devote yourself to politics?
I was never far from the social and political problems of the people. I remember that ever since the democracy began, I and the other priests in the Angelelli group have participated very actively in the union fights, the picketing, neighborhood struggles, the fight for human rights, and I will continue on that path because I think that every struggle that has to do with life, for people and their dignity, is consistent with the Gospel.
What do you think about celibacy?
That it's an absurd law today, that it's an attack against the basic human right to happiness, to form a family, to be able to form a couple. It's one of the laws of the Church, among many, that should urgently be reformed now.
Are you thinking of getting married and starting a family?
No, at the beginning no. At the moment it's not an issue that grabs my attention. Obviously it's one more possibility, it's a perspective I'll have to take into account, but at the moment it's not one of my main concerns but rather, on the one hand, how to continue with this tear that is being produced in the community and then continue my commitment to serve the people.
Do you have a job?
I have an odd job, to put it that way, working in the Chamber of Deputies with a legislator in the education field. That little job will last four years, if they don't run me off, as a legislative mandate. And then I'll have to look for work.
What would you say to priests who have set their sights on a different Church but who continue to be within the structure?
I don't think I'm the model to follow in the slightest. I reached a limit. Perhaps other colleagues think that they should keep fighting from that space that the church hierarchy gives us. That place no longer helps me to live with dignity. It is not quality of life, and it has even threatened my health. So I decided to go. Now, to the colleagues who have decided to stay, I would encourage them to keep on fighting in this struggle as long as they can, but if at some point they are in a situation like mine, that they have the courage to leave, to forge a new path.
What do you think of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio?
Bergoglio really had a disastrous attitude about this controversial issue of the egalitarian marriage law. His letter to the Carmelite nuns talking about "the war on God" and saying that those of us who thought differently were "instruments of the father of lies", seemed to me to be a real disaster. I think that in this matter, the bishops were too foolish to understand freedom, diversity, and equality.
What do you think about abortion?
It's a very difficult subject to bring up because it generates a lot of fanaticism, but no one can be in favor of abortion. We all know that it is a very traumatic situation for the pregnant woman, an event that nobody wants. Now, what we have to think about is whether the law that currently regulates this matter favors life, because if we take into account that there are poor women (many, not just a few) who die because they get clandestine abortions because the law pushes them into that, or they remain seriously harmed physically, we should see if the law is really good for the health of the population and, if not, it should be modified. And it should be debated calmly. Nobody is in favor of abortion, but neither can we continue with a law that condemns hundreds of poor women to death or physical damage, because those who have money go to private clinics and have their abortions in peace and quiet.
On August 7th, you're offering your last Mass?
Yes, I'm going to be with all the parishioners of Cordoba who will come to pray for peace, bread, and work as they do every August 7th [Feast of Saint Cajetan, widely worshipped in Argentina as the patron saint of labor]. And for me it is a marvellous time to be able to say "I am with you" and next year, hopefully, I will be on the other side walking in the street like just another person, but celebrating this popular feast with great pleasure.