Monday, May 14, 2012

Law v. Spirit: Peruvian priest suspended for supporting gay rights

Fr. Gastón Garatea, a priest in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, has had his priestly faculties suspended in the Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, by Cardinal Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani, according to the conservative Catholic news agency ACI Prensa "because of his support for the gay agenda." According to ACI Prensa, the decision was made by the Archdiocese after a long process and there will be no statement issued on the matter.

The offense apparently stems from the 2011 presidential elections in Peru, in which one of the first round candidates, Alejandro Toledo of Perú Posible, ran on a platform that included a proposal to legalize civil unions between same sex couples. At the time, Cardinal Cipriani criticized the proposal as being "against the law of nature" but Fr. Garatea publicly supported it, saying "we can be against marriage between people of the same sex, but there's no problem with civil unions."

The punishment seems quite harsh given Fr. Garatea's very cautious stance on the subject. His support seems only to extend to civil unions. When asked about gay adoption, the priest expressed concern about whether a same sex couple could present a "normal world" to children.

Raúl Humberto Rodríguez Chalco, journalist, sociologist and president of the education association AEDES, believes the real reason for the suspension goes back to Fr. Garatea's service on the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación which studied the internal armed conflict in Peru between 1980 and 2000. Writing in Los Andes, he says that the commission singled out Ayacucho where much of the violence and human rights abuse was taking place and pointed out that the Catholic Church's response was inadequate and that it was often completely silent about human rights. At the time, Cipriano was Archbishop of Ayacucho.

Rodríguez Chalco also points out that Cipriano, a member of Opus Dei, restricted the pastoral activities of prominent liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez for a period of time, and cites numerous other conflicts between Peruvian bishops and progressive priests and religious.

Fr. Garatea has also clashed with the Church on mandatory celibacy. In an interview last month with Caretas, an adviser to the Social Responsibility office of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, said that mandatory celibacy has been erroneously extended to cover all priests. He said that it was good for those who live in religious orders such as himself but that it should not be required of diocesan priests who live in their own homes.

Along with the suspension of his priestly faculties within the Archdiocese of Lima, Fr. Garatea will no longer be able to serve in his current role at PCUP.

Statements of Support

Since the suspension of his faculties, Fr. Garatea has received statements of support from numerous sources.

From Federico Arnillas Lafert, president of the Mesa de Concertación para la Lucha contra la Pobreza, of which Garatea was a former president: "In the name of the members of the various offices that make up the Mesa de Concertación at the national, regional and local level, and in my own name, I want to express our solidarity and gratitude to you. You have been, and are, a permanent source of inspiration for our work as well as for many other initiatives that are taking place today in different parts of the country..."

From the leadership of the Federación de Estudiantes de la PUCP: "We reject this measure that impedes Father Garatea from celebrating Mass and performing the sacraments. This Peruvian priest and theologian has been carrying out admirable work, caring for the poorest in our country and serving the Church in different places...We urge that Father Gaston Garatea's priestly faculties be renewed. It's essential to be aware of the work he does and demonstrate that the conservative and orthodox Catholic position isn't the only one."

From Mons. Luis Bambarén, emeritus bishop of Chimbote: "First of all, my solidarity with Father Gastón Garatea and my grief because he has been suspended from his pastoral work. I have known him for more than 40 years. He has performed many responsibilities...In this case one has to take into account that according to the Code of Canon Law, for the bishop to take this measure there must be first a fraternal corrrection, second, an admonition, and third, the reasons for suspension must be laid out in writing. This hasn't happened. We don't know these reasons and the Cardinal should say what they are because it is a public measure..."

Fr. Garatea has said that he will comply with the suspension that bears evidence to his own assessment of the Church -- "They care more about the law than the spirit. There's a lot of talk about canon and not so much about the Gospel."

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