Much has been made of Clelia Luro de Podesta's open letter to Gustavo Gutierrez at the time of his visit to the Vatican this month. The letter, originally published as an editorial piece in Tiempo Argentino (9/12/2013) and picked up by a variety of left-wing Catholic media and bloggers, caused quite a stir. Because Luro de Podesta says in her letter that during one of her regular phone conversations with her old friend Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, she reminded the pope of the incident between Gutierrez and her husband and the pope remembered it, the right-wing Catholic media and bloggers have also used it to "prove" that there is no rapprochement between the famous liberation theologian and the pontiff. So you can form your own opinions about the controversy, we bring you the infamous letter in English, followed by a reflection from Eduardo de la Serna, a priest and member of Grupo de Curas en Opción por los Pobres de Argentina, who well remembers the event in question and puts Luro de Podesta's feelings in perspective.
An open letter to Gustavo Gutiérrez by Clelia Luro de Podestá
Dear Gustavo: I am Clelia Luro, the companion of Jerónimo Podestá. Remember? You had traveled to Cordoba to give a talk to the Priests for the Third World. They had invited Jerónimo for the first time through (Fortunato) Marimachi. Jerónimo left very contentedly for Cordoba. It was the first time the Priests for the Third World had invited him. The next day, Jerónimo reappeared back home. I asked him what happened and, answering, without hiding his pain, he said, "They threw me out. Gustavo didn't want to begin if Jerónimo was in the room."
I thought, "Liberation theology, what liberation does it uphold? Clerical liberation of false values? And I felt sorry for you. I also knew that you had behaved the same way with Leonardo Boff, the best theologian the Church has today.
[Pope] Francis called me on Saturday and I reminded him of that episode and he answered that he remembered because I had already told him about it when he was still our Cardinal Bergoglio.
Gustavo, if liberation theology leads us to be judges of our brothers and sisters, we will have to make a liberation from that theology. What will happen when the Church reforms this law which is just a law made by men and sees a way to support priestly couples and optional celibacy? Will you change your opinion then?
Leonardo Boff did not give up his struggle or leave the Church. He was thrown out in an unfair decision by the Institution. For the Church as People of God, like in Vatican II, he wasn't condemned, nor was Jeronimo who always felt himself to be a bishop of the Church and like Paul chose the Gentiles. All those who suffered the persecution of clericalism, he compensated those punished by a law that did not respect the primacy of, and respect for, conscience as sanctioned by Vatican II.
God willing, today with Francis who is rescuing the Church as People of God, the punishments will end. They belong to the past and the clerical spirit that is disappearing to come to be One, that the world might believe!
Reflections on Clelia Luro's open letter to Gustavo Gutierrez by Eduardo de la Serna
Today, the newspaper Tiempo Argentino (September 12, 2013) has published an "open letter by Clelia Luro de (sic) Podestá to Gustavo Gutiérrez". And a few things occur to me:
To start with, few things are more right and healthy than defending someone one loves (or has loved), and the letter seems to be written with that purpose. But this event, which took place in the early 70s doesn't seem to merit an "open letter" more than 40 years after the event occurred. I met Jeronimo at a few meetings, but not as an active bishop since he had been cast out of the ministry before I was ordained, but from all my priest friends who knew him, I have only heard compliments and praise. However, it's well known that married priests had been specifically asked not to participate in the national meetings of MSTM [Movimiento de Sacerdotes para el Tercer Mundo -- Priests for the Third World Movement], something that was told in writing to the regional groups by then MSTM secretary Miguel Ramondetti. I imagine that Gustavo, invited by MSTM, would have been consistent with the criteria of those who had invited him. I don't know how Gustavo behaved with Leronardo Boff, but I was at a theological meeting in Brazil in 2000 and Leonardo was there with Marcia and so was Gustavo. [Note: I observed the same thing at the most recent theological gathering in Brazil in 2012. There did not seem to be any problems between the two though Gutierrez was only present via Skype due to an orthopedic injury. -- RG]. The statement that Leonardo Boff is the best theologian of the Church seems to me to be highly debatable. Many of us, for example, think that Gustavo is a vastly more serious and deeper theologian than Leonardo, without failing to acknowledge the latter's contributions.
I'm not yet able to state that Francis is changing the Church. I deeply wish it were so, but it's still too early even to insinuate it (and he himself has said so). If, as has been said, mandatory celibacy is rethought, that would not be a substantial change, surely (though many of us wish it and would celebrate it). And if mandatory celibacy were abolished tomorrow, it would be starting tomorrow that those who -- like Jeronimo -- chose to form a couple, would be within the "church discipline." I'm not saying "within the Church", of course. I'm in no way insinuating it. I'm simply saying that within the norms the Church sets for itself -- many of which ought to change (celibacy being one of them, although I don't think it's the fundamental one), they are what's there today.
Jeronimo's presence at the MSTM meeting was the straw that broke the camel's back for the breakdown of the Movement. All of us who go on in this spirit know the pain that breakdown brought, the distances and conflicts. This in no way casts a shadow on Jeronimo, and no one is saying that he was responsible for it, since it was already brewing, but the necessary debate about celibacy that is due in the Church will not be resolved by old divisions in the light of seemingly new times, but by contributing as much as possible so that the Church will be a credible sign of God in the midst of the world, a space of "freedom, justice and peace, so that all may find in her a reason to go on hoping."