Friday, March 18, 2011

Dissident priests face a new Inquisition

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)

On July 15, 1834, Spain officially abolished the Inquisition tribunal. In the past were more than 350 years of persecution of Jews, Moors, Lutherans, scientists, writers and humanists by a State iron-bound to the Catholic Church. The story, fortunately, has changed considerably since then. Or not so much? Cases like that of Father Manel Pousa, a known and respected figure in Catalonia for his social work and who will probably end up being excommunicated after confessing in a book that he paid for an abortion for a young woman, remind us how the Spanish Catholic hierarchy has failed to travel the road to modernity.

José Antonio Pagola, José Arregi, the priests of Entrevías, José Mantero, José María Castillo...In recent years, there have been dozens of cases of priests who have been persecuted, one way or another, by the Spanish Church hierarchy, especially since the cardinal of Madrid, Antonio María Rouco Varela, has been ruling it with an iron hand.

The control of orthodoxy

Some have been separated from their faculty chairs, others "reduced" (sic) to lay status, and several have been suspended a divinis or forced to leave the Church. The case of Manel Pousa is the most serious sanction from the perspective of canon law. Nonetheless, persecution of anyone who gets out from the control of orthodoxy is constant.

"Obedience is to conscience. And conscience only comes from God." Javier Baeza is in charge of the St. Carlos Borromeo "pastoral center", better known as the "red church" of Entrevías (Madrid), who, for three decades has worked with immigrants, drug addicts and youth at risk of social exclusion. Four years ago, Rouco Varela decided to close the parish, citing "grave errors" in the liturgy. The three priests, Javier Baeza, Enrique de Castro and José Díaz didn't always celebrate in albs, the absolutions were collective, and, sometimes, a cracker or bagel was used for the consecrated host. Rouco was met with opposition from the whole neighborhood and a good part of the base Church. They didn't give in and, for a change, managed to bend the will of the Cardinal of Madrid.

Four years later, the "pastoral center" continues to operate as it did before the persecution. "At the Church level, there's no relationship, though the new vicar visited us a while ago," Baeza noted. On Sundays, at 1 p.m., Mass is still celebrated, there are prayer groups "where problems are shared" and, of course, social work continues at St. Charles Borromeo. Even weddings and baptisms are still celebrated, with implicit permission of the hierarchy that, after trying to put an end to the "red church", had to backtrack and allow the three priests to remain with their parishioners.

"I still don't know why what happenened, happened," says the priest, who doesn't conceal that they are "ignored" by the "institutional Church". "They support us if we are censuring politicians or talking about poverty, but they don't accept when we are critical of the functioning of the institution." Despite the pressure, the priests of Entrevías have not considered leaving. "There are many things I don't have in common with the Church, but I'm not leaving, just as I don't leave my family although I get angry at my father. The Church is my home too, not just that of the hierarchy," Javier Baeza concludes.

The Mantero case

The one who did have to leave the priesthood and the Church was José Mantero, the priest from Valverde del Camino (Huelva) who was suspended a divinis after publicly admitting his homosexuality in the magazine Zero. Along with the former Carmelite Antonio Roig, Mantero is one of two Spanish priests "dismissed" by Rome after revealing their sexual orientation. Together, they both complained that "the Church has lost all shame and ethics" by turning homosexuals into "its new enemy."

Mantero tried to continue fighting from within for the inclusion of homosexual Christian groups in the Church, but the pressure from ultraconservative groups and the hierarchy's close mindedness to any approach to the gay world, ended up undermining his hopes.

Twenty years of persecution

José María Castillo is one of the most prestigious theologians in our country. On May 13, the Public University of Granada will grant him an honorary doctorate. Society thus acknowledges the worth of this professor who, in 2007, left the Jesuits after a harsh persecution that lasted more than 20 years. In 1988, he was punished along with Juan Antonio Estrada by the withdrawal of the placet of the hierarchy as a professor of theology at the University of Granada, according to Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope, because of his views on the dogma of the Trinity. José Arregi also had to ask to leave, in this case, the Franciscan order, after a confrontation with the new bishop of San Sebastian, the ultraconservative Jose Ignacio Munilla. The Basque theologian accused the prelate of conducting a "purge" among the more progressive clergy.

Thinking differently

"I'm only asking that there be room in the Church to think, teach and act differently, and that views that are considered wrong are combated only with arguments of reason," says the former Franciscan. "If Christianity is not to become a museum piece or a sect, there must be huge fundamental changes: the democratization of all institutions, critical reading of the Bible and dogma, a mystical and transformative spirituality beyond dogmatism and moralism, acceptance of the principle of secularism." Something that doesn't enter the minds of Munilla, Rouco and company.

The last known case is the investigation opened by the Vatican against Basque theologian José Antonio Pagola and his book, Jesus: An Historical Approximation. The most reactionary sectors of the Bishops' Conference managed to get the publisher to withdraw the volume (after selling more than 80,000 copies) and destroy the copies. Pagola, who remains a priest, is facing possible sanction of his works, and even the withdrawal of his venia docendi (permission to teach), the closest thing to "excommunication" for a professor. And it seems that, 350 years after it was repealed, the Inquisition in the Spanish Church has come alive with a vengeance.

The Church's double standard

In May 2006, one year before the death of Marcial Maciel, Benedict XVI ordered him to lead a retired life, banning him from celebrating Mass in public. So the Holy See already knew about the excesses of the pederast founder of the Legionaries of Christ. However, the only action against him while he was alive was the suspension of his public life. He was not suspended or excommunicated, as might happen with Father Manel Pousa. The double standard has been a constant in the history of the Church. Thus, for centuries pontiffs who had women, children and lovers, survived while clerics were severely punished -- even ending up burned at the stake -- if they broke celibacy.

The excommunication of Pousa could result from "collaboration" with an abortion, despite the explanation of the priest alluding to a "lesser evil" and supported by his fight for life. Rome seems determined to convict him. However, no priests convicted of child sexual abuse have been excommunicated.

Photos (top to bottom): Manel Sousa, Javier Baeza, Jose Mantero, Jose Maria Castillo, Jose Arregi, Jose Antonio Pagola.


  1. Always Madrid, always Madrid. Can we ever get these people out from our backs? Since Philip the V, later Ferdinand the VII, and Franco, always interfering in Catalan affairs!
    Let Manel be, the good that he’s doing vastly outweighs the transgressions of Cañon law.

  2. In the Mantero's Case... he gives thanks for being gay... so he should also give thanks to be an apostate, and others give thanks for being adulterers, and liars.

  3. Pedro, with all due respect: Being homosexual is not a choice while being an apostate (or an adulterer or a liar) is, It is time for the Church to recognize the reality that gays and lesbians are attracted to people of the same sex because that is their nature, that is how God made them, and it isn't a mistake (because God doesn't make mistakes). And the Church should adjust its teachings on the subject to conform to that scientific reality. Until it does so, the Catholic Church will not be a comfortable place for LGBT people to be, spiritually.