Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A suspended priest vows to go on

By Soledad Vallejos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Página/12 (Argentina)

"If anyone asks me for a Mass or confession, I'm going to keep on doing them," said Fr. Nicolás Alessio, whom the Church in Cordoba tossed from its ranks because, by publicly declaring himself in favor of equal marriage [for same sex couples], he committed a "pertinant rejection of doctrine." The obligatory separation of Alessio from public ministry came after a canonical trial initiated by the provincial Archbishop Carlos Ñáñez in July last year, a few days after the law was enacted. The ruling established, punctually, that Alessio was banned from "practicing sacred powers publicly", which means celebrating Mass and any other Catholic sacrament, receiving confessions and giving communion. With the decision, "the Church remains consistent with the attitude it had last year," said Alessio in a conversation with Página/12. "It's undemocratic, authoritarian and opposed to all those who think differently." Therefore, even though he doesn't seek to continue belonging to the institution, he said he will continue practicing as a priest.

The sentence, which he refers to as "censure", only affirms "what they think: that equal marriage is an aberration, that homosexuals are dangerous sick people who are to be pitied but not granted rights." While the institution still doesn't admonish "pedophile priests" such as Bishop Edgardo Storni and Father Julio Cesar Grassi, he is being punished for "thinking differently." "In this way, the hierarchy affirms what it thinks, and it also seeks to discipline others who may think differently." The priest, 53, was also ordered to leave the rectory where he has lived the last 27 years.

When you argue that your removal is intended to discipline, does that indicate that there are other dissenting voices within the institution?

Here in Cordoba, we were a group of priests who supported equal marriage, for example. But there are others in the rest of the country too. And there are Christian faithful and religious who supported and support it. But through this measure, they want to impose fear. They want to make clear that whoever thinks differently and dares to say so becomes a target to be tried and censured.

Archbishop Ñáñez prevented you from ministering in your parish in the middle of last year, when the trial began.

That was an interim measure while the trial was being held. Now that the trial is over, this ruling has been dictated and the injunction becomes final. I'm prohibited from the exercise of ministry in any public place. Obviously I don't care; I've run myself out of the clerical status. I don't want to be complicit in this structure. But on the other hand, a lady asked me to offer Mass in her neighborhood recently. I'm going to do it, because I don't recognize the legitimacy of the ban. My ministry comes from God's people, not the bishops. If someone asks me to confess them, if I'm asked to help a patient who needs the anointing of the sick, I wouldn't be averse to administering these sacraments, because ministry is a gift for the people and not something the bishops control.

Is that how these months have gone by?

Yes, trying not to create too much tension in the parish community, so at the weekend Masses I ran off and let the interim priest carry on. But I didn't leave the community.

How's your life going to be from now on? How will you survive?

This was my work. And I have a job for at least two more years, as adviser in the Chamber of Deputies, in the block of Luis Juez's party. I advise Deputy Susana Mazzarella, who still has two years in office, on education issues. Between now and two years from now, I'll have to look for other work, because the truth is that one ends up like this, out in the street.

Was it easy for you to start working in the political world?

No, but I had a history of many years of commitment to the poor, the piquetero movements with the reclaimed factories... My social activism has a long history.

None of those things created friction with the church hierarchy?

No. Yes, we have had differences, especially with Cardinal (Raul) Primatesta. But nothing like this absurd thing ever happened for thinking differently. What Archbishop Ñáñez has done is an absurdity, it makes no sense. Only a terribly authoritarian institution could go through with this process.

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