A reader of the Iglesia Descalza blog raised this issue in comments on an earlier article I had posted about Fr. Alessio. "Maria" was irate: "What is really obnoxious is that while this priest [Alessio] got immediately suspended, there are priests that participated actively in torture sessions during the last dictatorship in Argentina, found guilty of this and currently in jail, and still are part of the church; never got suspended and moreover, still celebrate mass in the jail. I'm talking of Christian Von Wernich, in case you are curious." I was curious and, fortuitously, found this recent piece by journalist Washington Uranga which neatly sums up the double standard that's alive and well in the Argentine Catholic Church...and, if we think about the differences in how Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Bishop Robert Finn have been treated, in the U.S. Catholic Church too. -- RG
By Washington Uranga (English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 14, 2013
José Nicolás Alessio "has been penalized through dismissal from the clerical state by the Congregation for the Clergy (Rescripto Protocolo No. 2012 3423/F), dated February 6, 2013." Thus the institutional Catholic Church closed the chapter on the former pastor of San Cayetano in Cordoba, who had already been sanctioned and suspended by Archbishop Carlos Ñañez for speaking in favor of marriage equality. The decision is a very different approach to that used in other cases in the same Church.
Christian von Wernich, a priest who was sentenced to life imprisonment on October 9, 2007 for crimes against humanity, was found guilty of 34 cases of illegal deprivation of liberty, 31 cases of torture and 7 aggravated homicides. He continues to exercise his priestly ministry in prison. Julio César Grassi, a priest in the Diocese of Morón, was convicted of two acts of sexual abuse and aggravated corruption of minors, and at first he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on June 10, 2009. The sentence has been appealed and there is still no final resolution. Grassi continues to exercise his priestly ministry. No doubt to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church speaking in favor of marriage equality merits a much more severe and harsh punishment than involvement in genocide or sexual abuse against children and youth.
Tomorrow, the Catholic hierarchy begins its first plenary assembly of the year in Pilar, without this subject on the agenda. There will be time to analyze the current social and religious situation of the country, and the repercussions of Jorge Bergoglio's election as Pope Francis. The deliberations will be presided by the Archbishop of Santa Fe, José María Arancedo, who met on Thursday with President Cristina Fernández.
The Vatican resolution against Alessio is the conclusion of the canonical (church) process that Ñañez himself initiated against the priest in 2010 because of his public pronouncements. Since then, "as a precautionary measure", Ñañez banned him from publicly celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments -- functions of priests. On that occasion, Father Alessio said that "they've punished me for thinking differently" and said Archbishop Ñañez is "fascist, reactionary and incapable of understanding diversity."
The one now in charge of broadcasting Alessio's punishment is the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Córdoba, Salesian priest Dante Eduardo Simón, who was concerned with clarifying that due to the resolution, the priest "has automatically lost the rights that belong to the clerical state and from now on is no longer bound by other related obligations." As if that were not clear, he said explicitly that Alessio "remains excluded from any exercise of the sacred ministry, according to the rules that apply to priests who have been downgraded." And yet because of doubts, Father Simon finished by saying that "this downgrade is not subject to any appeal."
In press statements, Alessio had claimed that the institutional Catholic church "is more concerned about the bed of Argentines than about their table" because "it's very concerned to know who goes to bed with whom, but has never gone out to march to defend the table of the workers, the unemployed and the poor."
Dante Simon asserts, however, that Alessio wasn't punished for thinking differently. According to the spokesman, "in 2010 there were many accusations against him for imparting the sacrament of marriage in a manner contrary to what Catholic doctrine says," clarifying that it was specifically about "having married same-sex couples and divorced people."
In a recent article on the occasion of Bergoglio's election as pope, Alessio suggested that in order to really move towards a "poor" Church, Francis should "appoint another person as bishop of Rome to be responsible for that diocese, appoint a lay person to be responsible for the Vatican State, require all priests who are 'ambassadors' -- the apostolic nuncios -- to work in parishes and that lay people also hold their position, and, above all, as 'Pater Pauperis' (Father of the Poor) that he plant his feet in a diocese of some Third World country and from there offer his service as pastor of all."
Alessio also asked the Pope to "lift the censures, reprimands, penalties, and bans on all theologians, biblical scholars, pastoralists and faithful who have had trials in the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at least from Vatican II to date." To move towards an "inclusive" Church, he suggests "appointing a committee of experts in the humanities and social sciences to propose soon a document where it clearly distances itself from homophobia, clearly rejects the theory that regards homosexuality as a 'grave disorder', values the ideology of 'gender' as an indispensable contribution to the respect for diversity, and puts all church sexual morality up for discussion." And finally, he requested that the Church allow "all priests who have been reduced to lay status, if they wish, to be able to take charge of communities and parishes for pastoral service, put up for discussion the issue of celibacy in particular and the figure of the priest in general, and allow the faithful laity to be able to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments too."
For the now former Father Alessio, "these gestures, more than just friendly gestures, would make it clear that we have started moving in a different direction." Alessio is no longer recognized as a priest by the Catholic Church. Von Wernich and Grassi continue to exercise their priestly roles unimpeded. Beginning Monday, the bishops will discuss various topics. This will not be part of the agenda or their immediate concerns.
Photos: Nicolas Alessio (top), Christian von Wernich (bottom)