UPDATE 3/15/2011: The Archdiocese of Barcelona announced today that it has initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the abortion that Fr. Manel Pousa admits to having payed for, to see if it falls under the guidelines for canonical punishment by latae sententiae excommunication. The Archdiocese tempered its statement by saying that "these obligatory proceedings under canon law do not preclude recognition of the social work that this priest has been doing for many years to serve the most needy in our society."
A Marist priest working with the poor in the Archdiocese of Barcelona is in hot water for a recently published biography. Fr. Manel Pousa has been called to account by the Archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach, who was bothered by some of the revelations contained in journalist Francesc Buxeda's Pare Manel. Més a prop de la terra que del cel ("Father Manel: More About Earth Than About Heaven" -- Angle Editorial).
In the book, Pare Manel, as he is known among the people he works with, reveals that he has a "special woman friend" with whom he says he doesn't live and with whom he does not have sexual relations. Pare Manel also calls for optional celibacy and expresses his support for women priests.
More seriously, the priest, while asserting that he is primarily opposed to abortion, admits to having paid for a young woman to have an abortion that was medically necessary to avoid life-threatening bleeding. He has indicated that he believes the Church is too simplistic. "Problems cannot be solved according to prefabricated morality as Catholicism claims. I'm interested in the individual person. It's true that there are ethical principles but there are reasons, for example, that lead certain women to have abortions. I've paid for abortions. And the Spanish Bishops' Conference doesn't realize that the Gospel doesn't condemn, but offers liberating measures."
In the biography, Pare Manel also says that he performed religious ceremonies on request to solemnize the civil unions of homosexual inmate couples.
Pare Manel, who was honored in 2009 with both the Creu de Sant Jordi from Catalunya and the Medal of Honor from Barcelona, was born in Granada in 1945 but his family moved to Barcelona when he was four. He is a priest at the Santíssima Trinitat parish in the Verdum i Roquetes neighborhood of Barcelona, where he converted the rectory into a shelter for ex-prisoners. He visits prisons throughout the region, helps children in poor neighborhoods in Barcelona and their families, and gathers private and public funds for his Fundació Pare Manel. The foundation has also received considerable support from local celebrities such as singer Joan Manuel Serrat, the late Pepe Rubianes, Tortell Poltrona, Sergi López, Miguel Ríos, Joan-Lluís Bozzo y Tricicle, former soccer player Bakero, and his childhood friend Carles Flavià, a showman and former priest himself.
In an interview with El Periódico in 2008, Pare Manel says he became a priest after being involved in a youth movement in the Church in the 1960s. "I was very idealistic, a hippy, and my greatest role model was a man who was a priest. I wanted to be like him." He has been a priest for 35 years.
He has described his work as heartbreaking. "In these neighborhoods, heroin has done a lot of damage. I've seen 14-year old girls shooting up, and a lot of drug trafficking. It was a lawless city."
"You never get accustomed to seeing so much pain and suffering, but you learn to go home and think that you are doing all you can do. In the jails, I have many friends and I do for them what a friend would do for you. Sometimes they fool you, but those are the occupational hazards."
Now Pare Manel faces a different occupational hazard -- an irate and embarrassed hierarch.