Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pare Manel: Faith in Practice Isn't Simple

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.


  1. I heard mentioning sometimes this Pare Manel. He works in the neighborhood were a cousin of mine lives. Trinitat Nova.
    But specially Roquetas (Little rocks) is a troubled neighborhood with a more than average level of juvenile delinquency.
    He’s a good man that works with the people in the streets. Still if he’s acting too much a part form the rules of the church, I can understand that he’s being admonished by the bishop or cardinal. Paying for an abortion when the mother is in danger, I can understand, but marrying a gay couple, he should know better. Marriage is between a man and a woman and I hope that he doesn’t get fired like the Argentinean priest, because Pare Manel is a very good neighborhood priest and needed.
    But I have the feeling that the Catalan bishop may be more going through the motions of a reprimand or admonition or whatever he had to do with Manel, I think that he may be more tolerant than the Argentinean.
    Priest that keep insisting in marrying gay couples should becomes Unitarians or something else. As per having a “special woman friend” I see no problem here, most of men need one, and I have the feeling that it may happen often. I.E.: Read the story of Fr.Bérenger Saunière, he had it made over there at Le Chateaux.

  2. He's not really "marrying" the gay couples. It's more like a religious blessing of a civil union, civil unions being what's legal in Spain.

    I also expect that the reprimand will be more pro-forma, especially since the question of gay marriage/civil unions is not hot right now in Spain as it was in Argentina when Fr. Alessio was suspended. BTW, Fr. Alessio took the stand he did in support of his sister who is a lesbian and in a stable relationship with another woman.

    The point of both these stories is life looks different when you move from an impersonal doctrine written in a book to the faces of people you have come to know and love. Unless you're a completely rigid and heartless person, your perspective and decisions change. That's the lesson of Jesus. Well, the Pharisees said to Him, you're eating with sinners, you're working on the Sabbath, you're talking to a woman who is also...gasp...a Samaritan! And Jesus responded that "the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath", i.e. that the law of love trumps any man made law or code.

  3. Then…Is everything allowed under the law of love? This is a genuine question, not an attempt to be sarcastic or funny.
    So…no rules of any kind? No guidelines of what is wrong or right? No guides for behavior or morality if once sais I love this or that or that person or the other and I can do whatever I like because I love such or him/her?
    When does love stretches so much that it begins to beget consequences of bad judgment? I know that in the life of Jesus we find many examples like the one you mentioned and I know that the Jewish law was very strict on some of those rules, but still…many societies and institutions are build upon those rules. Some are unjust and unloving, in the past somewhere even cruel and criminal, well…the past…and still in the present in some societies and/or communities.
    This is the great dilemma, what to allow and what not. When to be loving and forgiving and when we need to be strict and disciplinarian. When to stand behind laws and regulation and when to try to have them removed because we think that are unloving and unjust. Sometimes we can’t even like a person that is different from us or annoying and but… we are supposed to love “the whole world” as brothers and sisters.

  4. Hello R.G. here me again :-( …with more tidbits about Pare Manel, he is in hot water with the bishop again.
    I talked with my mother this morning and she watched an interview with him in TV3. She was laughing when she told me what was about. Seems that he made some comments regarding the great disasters in Japan. The interviewer asked him if he believed in God. Manel said that since he is a priest, he believes in God, but it seems that sometimes God is absent or not there, as in nowhere to be found.
    Also he was ask about his special woman friend, and he answered why not, even Jesus had one, Mary Magdalene !

    So now, besides the stuff related to his book, he has to answer to Bisbe Sistach again.

    More in this Catalan web :

  5. Neither of those things is particularly shocking. Many very saintly people go through periods of feeling that God is Spaniards are experts on this, no? I mean, the phrase "dark night of the soul" was coined by that great Spanish mystic San Juan de la Cruz, so Pare Manel is in good company! Also Santa Madre Teresa de Calcutta...

    Decir que Jesus tenia una amiga especial en Maria Magdalena es simplemente decir la verdad segun lo que se sabe de El. Pare Manel says that he has never had sex or lived with this woman and, presumably, he believes the same thing about Jesus and MM. There is nothing to discuss, because otherwise the archbishop would be discussing this with him. As it is, the archbishop is simply trying to investigate the circumstances of the abortion Pare Manel says he paid for. Canon law provides for certain exceptions in which automatic excommunication is not incurred. It may be that this abortion falls under those exceptions, in which case Pare Manel will be asked simply to confess to having committed a mortal sin, be absolved and told not to do this again, and life will go on. Pare Manel is not the first priest to have helped a woman get an abortion, nor will he be the last.

  6. To be honest, I had some of these (At my own humble level since I can’t compare myself to any of these Christian luminaries) nights of the soul too. And to be honest, I am not sorry because I think that is part of the spiritual growth. To doubt is to seek and to seek is implicitly to believe. I am not saying “I want to believe” as the famous UFO poster sais, I am saying I believe but also I want to know, and this is not lack of faith, is human nature. Those that just believe because scripture or dogma says so, may miss the inner personal experience of seeking, trying to find answers to very conflicting realities, ( As Manel sais when confronted with the street reality of his barrio) and sooner later climbing to the next level because, sooner or later when you seek ,even on doubt, you are going to have an epiphany, the epiphany will take you to a higher level of consciousness closer to the direct sight of the soul, in which, believe is irrelevant because you are directly experimenting.
    Zen masters do that deliverlly with their disciples. They confuse them so much and make them feel son unsure about their acquire knowledge that at the end, they have no mental handles where to grab themselves and eventually they experiment a internal epiphany about the inner realities, that is not measurable or arguable, just is.
    And I think that J. Krishnamurti followed a line of teachings along those lines also, but I can’t be sure since my occidental intellectually trained mind had always difficulty getting his teaching and this probably why.
    But life will do it for you. Confuse you and keep you in owe among all the pain, evil, suffering and disasters that happen in the world. And as many that doubt, I can see my father –If he were here after this mess in Japan- seating on his chair in front of the TV watching all this worldly turmoil and with his hand shaking up and down up, asking: “How can God if he's there, can allow all this!!!”
    Perhaps the only answer that I can offer to him (And now is too late) would be: So we be reduced to nothing except love for each other.